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After a busy stretch when I was unable to blog, I went to Kaua’i for vacation in late September. The video below shows the Waipa Farmers Market held in a field just outside the village of Hanalei on the Northshore of Kaua’i.

The nearby Foodland supermarket in Princeville is convenient but like most supermarkets, the fruit is harvested long before it is ripe. A mango bought at Foodland took one week to ripen before it was ready to eat!

At the Waipa Farmers market, the fruit and vegetable are plucked at their peak, ready for consumption soon after purchase. Some of the produce is expensive as costs are high on this remote island but items abundant in season are usually cheap. This September I discovered the bland but crispy rose apple, and the luscious heart-shaped egg fruit. The mild hard-boiled egg yolk flavor and texture made me wonder if it could be made into a vegan substitute for the Spanish candy, yemas de Santa Teresa.

One stand sold a Mayan-style spiced chocolate drink made from local cacao. It is a concoction that reminds me of chai and expresso, and which will perk anyone up on a hot, lazy afternoon!

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Last Monday, I made a trip to visit the Cartier store on Rodeo Drive which was opening a jewelry exhibit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French company.

We arrived around 11 am but the upstairs portion of the exhibit was still not ready. We looked around for a few minutes on the ground floor which had regular merchandise on display and plus some of the remarkable jewels designed in the past century and which had been gathered for the special show. I started asking questions but the sales lady did not know enough so she got a docent to give us a guided tour. For over half an hour we were treated to a dazzling display accompanied by information on the advances in techniques in design of jewelry, watches and other luxury items that Cartier so famously produces.

The most impressive piece of the show was a wreath of diamonds that held together a cascade of diamonds and deep green emerald drops. This brooch was designed for Marjorie Merriweather Post and it was accompanied by a picture of her wearing it in the Roaring 20s. Pinned near the shoulder of her dress, the cascade of glittering stones almost reached her waist.

Another celebrated jewel collector, Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor, was represented by no less than three displays. Her diamond and ruby suite was in the street window. Upstairs, her fabled engraved and heart-shaped Taj Mahal diamond that Shah Jehan bestowed on his wife Mumtaz centuries ago, hung from a ruby-studded gold rope designed by Cartier to replace the original silk cord. Nearby was her pearl and ruby necklace, featuring the enormous La Peregrina, a teardrop pearl once worn by Mary Tudor and generations of Spanish queen consorts. Next to the necklace was the design sketch on which Ms. Taylor scribbled a request to change the setting from gold to platinum. Richard Burton was a remarkable husband to lavish so many magnificent jewels on his wife.

Although we were clearly not high-rollers, I appreciated the courtesy that the store extended to us by giving the private tour. That is what I call great customer service. I was so dazzled by the display I did not take any video of the store’s exterior. Sadly yet understandably, I was not permitted to photograph the displays inside. It was a great marketing effort featuring skilled craftsmanship, rare gems, celebrity and romance.

After browsing the windows of other fabled jewelers such as Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Garrard,Tiffany, Buccellati and Bulgari, we stopped for a late lunch at McCormick and Schmick’s. Our booth overlooked Wilshire Boulevard and the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Great spot to count the Rolls Royces and Bentleys on the street. Food and service was very good. We enjoyed a salad of arugula with goat cheese, seafood in a flavorful lobster broth, and a moist thick slab of shark with grilled vegetables. Dessert was a trio of sorbets and a dainty key lime pie. A tad too dainty for my hearty appetite. After all, every jeweled bracelet we saw that morning had larger diameters than the pie!

The produce in France is quite different from what we get in California. For example, organic (biologique in French) produce is relatively rare and expensive, and for some reason, white asparagus seems much more popular with the French than the green.

White asparagus at farmer's market on Boulevard de Strasbourg, Toulouse

White asparagus at farmer's market on Boulevard de Strasbourg, Toulouse

Toulouse, one of France’s smaller but vibrant cities has several farmer’s markets which are fun to visit when traveling. On Tuesdays, the city’s elegant main square, Place du Capitole, is the venue for a market that does offer organic produce. When I was there last year, a bakery demonstrated their artisanal breadmaking. Also on Tuesday mornings, a mile or so away on the Boulevard de Strasbourg where it passes Place Jeanne d’Arc, a smaller market lines one side of the block.

If you are staying at a hotel and have no cooking facilities to make a meal out of market produce, then stop for lunch at L’Os à Moëlle, at 14 Rue  Roquelaine, just around the corner from the Boulevard de Strasbourg market . At L’Os, you can create your own first course from the buffet cart, charmingly called the chariot. This salad buffet is laden with typical items like shredded carrots, beets, potato salad, hard-boiled eggs, cold seafood including pickled herring, and olives. For the main course, the chef offers regional specialties like cassoulet with confit of duck. You can’t go wrong if you pick the region’s famous red wine, Madiran, to sip with your meal.

This is the first weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival at Japantown that continues next weekend. When I got there this afternoon, sunshine and a strong breeze which kept the the sky of clear of clouds provided fine Spring conditions for the event. My first stop was at the Peace Plaza to watch a few minutes of the martial arts demonstrations.

Peace Plaza tower and cherry tree in blossom

Peace Plaza tower and cherry tree in blossom

Martial arts demonstration at the Japantown Peace Plaza

Martial arts demonstration at the Japantown Peace Plaza

Then I went indoors into the Hotel Kabuki where meeting rooms were used for various demonstrations and exhibits: swords, traditional music, origami, paper dolls, and Ikebana. The Ikebana floral designs were breathtakingly beautiful and some were very unusual.

Ikebana floral design

Ikebana floral design

After an hour of flower arrangements, clever origami dinosaurs and spaceships, I came back out into the sunshine and made a beeline for the outdoor food stand featuring the chefs of the hotel’s O Izakaya Restaurant, who offered rather exotic grilled meats including duck hearts and tsukune (chicken meatballs). Unfortunately, the group ahead of me in line bought all those kebabs and I had to make do with walu. The skewer costing $4 held 3 cubes of the rich, moist and tender white fish alternating with 2 cubes of sweet, warm pineapple. A delicious combo.

Chef brushes skewers of walu on grill with marinade

Chef brushes skewers of walu on grill with marinade

Still hungry, I tried Okinawan soba noodles at the Festival’s Food Bazaar. The noodles were thick and surprisingly yellow. I guess I am used to brown buckwheat. A shaker of chili flakes was at the counter. It jazzed up the light noodle soup. This snack was tasty too, but in a different way. Rustic. Next week, I’ll try to return for a taste of the duck hearts and tsukune! As an extra incentive to return, next Sunday’s schedule includes a parade featuring actor George Takei as Parade Grand Marshal. I wonder if he will stop in at the origami room to see the Star Trek Enterprise spaceship made of paper.

When visiting Point Reyes north of San Francisco, I always yearn for fresh oysters. A convenient place to stop and indulge in such as fancy is the Farm House Restaurant in the hamlet-sized town of Olema. This restaurant is now part of small resort Point Reyes Seashore Lodge which also operates a conference center. As it was a mild spring afternoon, we sat outdoors on a terrace at the back of the restaurant. The terrace overlooks a well-kept garden with a creek, and the adjoining carpark.

Oysters by half or full dozen at this restaurant are offered raw with a cucumber mignonette sauce, fried with tartare sauce, and grilled as Oyster Sartains with a garlic butter heavily flavored by the Sartain’s chipotle barbeque sauce. I only tried the last two options. The fried oysters was the more successful dish as the batter was a crispy envelope that held each oyster moist inside with its juices. While I like barbeque flavors, the Sartain based sauce was a bit strong, overwhelming the delicate flavor of the oysters.

Grilled oysters with a barbeque sauce

Grilled oysters with a barbeque sauce

The oysters were described by the waiter as medium sized, but they were quite large. Drake’s Bay Family Farms where the oysters are harvested is nearby and is open to visitors.

Steinbeck country is at its finest in springtime. The oak trees on the rolling hills around Salinas are surrounded by a haze of purplish blue lupin. March is probably the best time to see the wildflowers bloom. Take the Monterey-Salinas Highway, Route 68, which exits Route 1 and continues for 17 miles (27 km) to Salinas.  Get off the main road at Corral De Tierra or San Benancio, to get into the hills for sublime views. New golf courses and macmansions are invading the territory so enjoy while it lasts.

Fields of lupin near Salinas

Fields of lupin near Salinas

For local dining, several places come to mind. Contemporary American cuisine finds its home at Hullaballoo, on Main Street in Oldtown Salinas. A few doors away is Shogun Japanese Cuisine, always reliable for sushi. In hot, dry Salinas, it is easy to forget that fish is hauled in at Monterey Bay less than an hour away. For authentic Mexican, my favorite is Mi Tierra on E. Gabilan St. This family run restaurant serves a spicy, tender birria on Saturdays and Sundays. This traditional goat stew is made with dried chiles, tomatoes and oregano, ingredients that perfectly capture the essence of the local Mediterranean climate. Chips arrive at the table with 3 salsas. The horchata, a sweet and cold rice drink, is the perfect beverage for such a meal.

If spending the day at Kauai’s North Shore beaches like Lumaha’i, Ke’e or Ha’ena, you should get lunch in Hanalei or get provisioned for your own picnic. Kalypso Island Bar & Grill (Kuhio Highway at Aku Road) has a moderate priced-for Hawaii–menu. You can get decent fish and chips. This place is unavoidably touristy.

Basic fish and chips in Hanalei

Basic fish and chips in Hanalei

I prefer to get clever and delicious local inventions like Kalo Kooler (taro smoothie) and Taro Hummus at Hanalei Taro & Juice Company’s stand (on Kuhio between Aku and Ohiki Roads).

For fine dining, go to Postcards Café. It is only open for dinner so this casually elegant restaurant is a delightful choice for refueling after a day of swimming at the beach. They have a selection of fresh grilled fish and great taro fritters. Vegetarian and vegan choices are available. From their dessert offerings, the flavor of paradise is captured in their Lilikoi (passion fruit) mousse.

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