Today I woke up with red eyes, sweaty and hot. I had a terrible dream, and apparently didn't sleep all too well. But I jumped out of bed because I knew I had to be ready early to go on an outing with Liz and her friend Ron.
Ron used to work with Liz in the County Appraiser's office, and in fact still works there, though she has long ago retired from that job. He lives in Huntington Beach, north of us, and she often goes up there on little day trips with him. Today they let me tag along as they walked the trails of the estuary at Bolsa Chica. I used to take the bus up there years and years ago, before the trails were built, to look at the egrets and herons, among other creatures that inhabit that place.
Today we began to see interesting wildlife as soon as we started our walk, when a posse of stingrays appeared in the shallow water, congregating not far from shore. In the background, small silvery fish of an indeterminable kind flashed as they jumped from the surface occasionally, perhaps to distinguish themselves among the hundreds and thousands in the schools filling the channel. This made them attractive to the many shorebirds: plovers, curlews, terns, egrets, sandpipers, and herons, calling out and wading into the water looking for a meal. Every once in a while, a tern or egret would dive into the water and come out with a slippery sliver of fish flapping from its beak.
We walked and walked, as the day got continuously hotter, then decided to head to lunch at a Mediterranean grill called the Olive Pit. The place was clearly popular, as a line stretched toward the door. The menu offered attractive alternatives of mezzes like roasted vegetables, hummous, baba ganoush, and lesser known ones as well. Or one could craft a lunch out of a mixture of a protein, salad, or 2 mezzes, which was my choice.
FFrom the list of choices including things like fried calimari, seared ahi, chicken, beef, and lamb gyro (and more), I had the homemade lamb sausage, roasted mushrooms, and roasted artichokes. Aside from a tad too much salt (I don't generally salt my food much at home, preferring to use garlic, spices, and lemon instead), the meat was full of flavor, and the artichokes were amazingly large and tasty. I confess to being unsure what to do with artichokes at home, being daunted by the sheer labor of getting to the hearts in order to cook them. Of course, I eat canned and marinated artichoke hearts, but seldom buy a whole artichoke, though they are plentiful and often quite cheap here in either the large or baby sizes.
Afterwards, it seemed a shame to go straight home, so we headed for the freeway and Joe's Italian Ice, where one can get an authentic Italian water ice like those I grew up with in Philadelphia. Though the concrete magnified the heat so that the air felt as if we were in the desert rather than so close to the shoreline, the water ice froze our brains and made it hard to speak. Still, it was amazing and delicious, with chunks of cherries and the flavor of fresh watermelon in my mixture of those two flavors. I don't understand why water ice has not caught on more in this area, which seems to me perfect for it. Philadelphia steak sandwiches are readily available and authentic, but water ice is rare and even when one finds it, not usually made this well. The quality of ingredients shines through, and perhaps that is why this dessert is not more available throughout this area. People just don't want to put the time or money into making it right, as Joe's does. Too bad it is so far from home, and would take an age to get to on surface streets!