Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

The Delicious Bones of Planning (Pre-Con Feasts)

This year, as with every year, amberley and I started planning for the run up to BigBadCon and the convention itself months in advance. It's good to build upon the delicious bones of adventures past to create precise structures for the future with just enough room and juice in it to allow for the wonderful surprises of what's to come.

We actually created a wiki for everything, including what we were doing each day, and details of the games and everything. And during BigBadCon's signups, I didn't get into several games I'd wanted to get into, including one of amberley's, and I was pretty disappointed at first, but then I realized that 1) I'd gotten into a lot of stuff I really truly wanted to get into and 2) I had room for something to surprise me in really good ways.

There were other surprises, to start, that weren't all so good.

Quince Jelly
One of which was having my temporary crown pop out the weekend before I left, so Monday morning found me in the dentist's chair getting my temporary glued back in. Ow. Still, it was necessary and the temp didn't give me any trouble throughout the trip, so I was grateful to take care of it so soon. The other thing was that I'd done an experiment over the weekend with the neighbor's quinces, and the resulting jelly was amazing, but I had a quart of juice leftover that definitely was not going to last the week I'd be gone.

So the night before I left, I was jellying and canning jars of jelly. They turned out gorgeous. I was amazed at the amount of pectin in the things, and the mouth puckering sourness of the fruit turned into this amazing depth of flavor and tang in the jelly. So I brought one along for flit, since she could have quinces but not apples and there was decidedly no apple pectin in these at all. Just fruit, water and sugar.

The trip to Oakland was flawless. John took me to the airport, and everything went like clockwork. amberley got me and we went to Pleasanton to get lunch at his local Cheesesteak place. It was delicious and the pickle their sweet peppers to put on top. We got me checked into my hotel and then ran off to Mountain View for Sugar Butter Flour, an extraordinary bakery. Though I knew that we were going to have an amazing Chinese feast for dinner, I still got the toasted almond cake and a single lavender French macaroon along with a two-shot Americano. At least the coffee wasn't laden with anything?

The toasted almond cake was light and airy and kind of like a fruity tiramisu, with layers of coffee-dosed cake around a berry filling and wrapped in a whipped cream covering and topped with lots of toasted sliced almonds. It was amazingly good. The lavender macaroon was utterly fragrant with the flower essence, crisp on the outside and meltingly tender within. The Americano had good crema and the depth of being brewed near sea level. It was very good.

Chef Chu's Peking Duck
After that, we were still an hour early for our dinner reservation, so we decided to go to Armadillo Willy's, get some drinks and sit amid the BBQ aromas until it was time.

Chrisber and Christy were already there with Teo. Trip was there, too! So we got to talk with them for a while until the table was readied. Earl and Cat showed up soon thereafter, and everyone knew that Marith was going to be a little late. amberley had ordered two of the Peking Duck, and was a little worried that it was going to be too much, since Bryant and Susan had backed out at the last moment because they were sick.

One of the interesting things is that nearly no one from the Horde comes to this restaurant anymore, and that they usually don't get to see each other except when I'm in town. With the drift of time and jobs, they've all moved away from Mountain View. Chef Chu's is no longer convenient to any of them, but they make the effort because I flew in, and it's still the center of where they've scattered. I am grateful for their efforts.

And, besides... Peking duck.

the Whole Duck
I loved that the waiter brought the lacquered duck to the table before he carved it, and with the first duck served everyone a limb and a bun. The limbs were both the wings and the legs so that everyone that wanted one could have one. The skin was crisp and delicious, and the meat still moist and tender. Sometimes the processing really messes with the meat.

We also had crab and cheese puffs, two orders of potstickers, the really excellent preserved mustard greens and pork soup, dry cooked szechuan green beans, snow white chicken, tangerine beef, Beijing beef, and a steamed sea bass with ginger and green onions. The sea bass was melt-in-the-mouth tender and perfectly seasoned.

As was the conversation. *laughs* We talked about all kinds of new books, sprinkling recommendations in all directions. I was writing everything down in one of my Field Notes booklets, and Cat wanted to actually see a real Field Notes notebook, so I handed it over. The Pitch Black series has the dot grid pages, which I really love for their versatility. I can draw on those pages as easily as I can write on them, but I kind of wished I'd brought one of the Shelterwood ones, as they're just beautiful. I filled five pages with recommendations of various types, mostly from amberley during our conversations, but also at this table, which was a filled with interesting ideas as it was with amazing food.

It was a really fun evening. There are friendships that I can just pick up where they last left off, and even if we only meet once a year, it's pretty much the same relationship it was the year before. I've known these people for so many decades, it seems ridiculous, but we're comfortable with each other at these levels, every time.

Junior MessRaisin Sour Cream CoffeecakeZachery's Rice Pudding
amberley dropped me off at my hotel, and he went to do game preparation, since he still had several to finish before the convention. I was grateful to have some downtime and digestion time of both the food and the ideas. He also gave me a stack of comicbooks to read. One was Death Vigil, and I loved it. It's about Death and her band who stop necromancers and the ending of the world, and it's really funny, too. Anyone that can mix death and humor has my attention.

So I read and slept and got a little oatmeal for breakfast at the excellent breakfast bar of my hotel, and Carl picked me up when he was able, and we went off to Santa Cruz! There we picked up flit and went to Zachary's, which is in downtown Santa Cruz, and they have the best food. The three pictures are of their Junior Mess, a signature dish with a bunch of stuff all mixed together and topped with sour cream and green onions. The raisin coffee cake was moist and tender of crumb and crunchy of topping. And since flit has a gluten intolerance, she was able to get the raisin pudding for her 'toast' side. It was amazingly creamy, dense, and thick with cinnamon! Lovely stuff.

Sadly, diony wasn't able to join us as she'd originally planned, as her child had a walk to school morning, so wasn't able to get out as soon as she'd originally wanted. It would have been fun to see her, too.

The Light House
We drove out to the water, pretty much as we always do, to see if I'd turn into a mermaid if I dipped my toes into the water. We had fun talking about what all could happen if the magic had seeped back into the world in the time since we tried this last, and how we'd figure out what to do with me if I did flop into the waters of the world. That's always fun.

When we got to the bay, Flit saw whales. The small fish in the area have, because of the drought conditions, exploded in population, and all the marine wildlife that feeds on them have come into the Santa Cruz bay, including whales. And she and I saw one lying on its side, with a flipper in the air, before it slipped back underneath the surface. It kept coming up after that, too. A huge dark presence that slipped to the surface, and with surprising ease and smoothness of motion, would disappear again.

We made Carl stop, and Flit and I piled out to stand on the rail and stare for a while before we finally made our way to the correct parking lot to take the stairs down to this dogs' beach. It's where dogs can run without their leashes as there's no outlet to either side and a single stair up to the main walk. It's very contained, and it was also very beautiful when we got there. The sky was clear, the sun bright, and it had been raining in the morning.

Not a Mermaid
And the water was cold. *laughs*

Didn't turn into a mermaid this time, but it never hurts to try.

Flit and I had fun wandering about on the sand, watching the huge waves roll in along with numerous surfers. The surf was way up with the storm that had come in that morning, and so the surfers were taking good advantage of it all. There were some very very happy dogs there, and we enjoyed their enthusiasm for a while, too.

From there we headed into town and the tea shop, where we sat down to snacks and tea of all sorts. I was so happy when I saw a simple Wuyi oolong. I really enjoy it for all that it's not a specialist's tea. It just has this body and flavor that I really enjoy when I can get it fresh, and theirs was very nice indeed. I was brave and ordered it served in the covered dish/gaiwan. They served it dry in the dish with a lovely vacuum flask of water at the right temperature for it, so I got to wash the leaves, pour the water over it and brew it to my desires.

I was so happy when I found that I could easily pour it from the brewing dish into my cup, and it was fruity, fragrant, and lovely. There were cardamom cream chocolate cups on the snack menu and they cut it perfectly into thirds to that we each got to sample a single bite of cardamom heaven. Exactly what I wanted between Zachery's and the dinner I knew was coming.

We headed back to Flit's house and she gifted me with tea samples and various other things. I was happy to hand over the jar of quince jelly.

Mobi Sushi
When Brad came home, we all went to Mobi Sushi, as we always do. *laughs* It's a really amazing California sushi place, that has bent the traditional sushi styles with a very Northern Californian twist.

The quail egg tobikio is wrapped in tuna up in the upper right, and it's called a Sunrise, I think. And it's always lovely and difficult to figure out how to eat as it's So Big. *laughs* This time I bit off the top half, got all the lovely yolk, tobiko pops, and a little of the meaty tuna and sweet rice. Then I was able to savor the rich tuna with just the rice for the second bite. I also love the texture of their pickled mackerel, it's always so lovely and dense and salty-vinegary in just the right way.

The roll in front is one of their specialities, with eel, cucumber, macademia nuts(!), spicy sauce, herbs, and sesame seeds on the outside. It's just lovely and entirely Californian.


We also got to talk for a while, and then went back to Flit and Brad's house to just sit and talk. One of the things I'd mentioned was Jet's desire for a hex battlemat, and Carl had said that he'd given them a bunch of them when he was getting rid of his. Flit said that they weren't using them anymore, so Brad went to find them, and he handed me half a dozen lovely, big battlemats!!!

I was so happy, as Jet's been wanting them for a while, so that he could build Lego Ogre pieces and play with them on a mat instead of the little cardboard map that came with the Pocket Ogre edition. He really loves the game, and also wanted them for his D&D games with his friends. So yay!!

We left around 8, didn't hit any traffic on the way back to Pleasanton, and I went to sleep early as on Thursday we were heading into Oakland to check-in at the BigBadCon hotel and do the pre-Con dinner at Pican.
Tags: food, tea, travel

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