This comes from Sacramento* where Tom and I are currently traveling to Dixon, CA, on a bus, filled with fellow food bloggers; destination unknown, to us anyways (and sponsored by the American Lamb Board). My husband is sitting next to me and I just consumed a full sandwich filled with smoky slices of lamb; it was delicious! I also ate the potato salad, all of it, and some of Tom’s. I’m a little crazy about potato salad, but perhaps not the best idea at the beginning of a bus ride in the country. I won’t go into that, but did I mention I am claustrophobic? I certainly am now! We are sitting in traffic, sun beating in, 101-degrees outside and I am listening to the cackle of many, many chatty voices, which are making me slightly insane! I do see there is a restroom located in the back of the bus, conveniently, one row behind us. I keep eyeing it over my shoulder, plotting my path, just-in-case. I’ve been recently reminded that I can get car sick while riding in the back seat and am flashing back to my childhood. I am adamently questioning our decision to leave the rental car parked at the hotel?!
* Well, it would have if I posted this last week when it was written, oops!
To keep my mind occupied (and my stomach, um, unaware), I am reminiscing the day leading up to this where we had hiked in the morning, sat in a creek (because it was again over 100-degrees), boated on Lake Wildwood, and best of all, after going my whole life unaware it existed, finally learned Zion Check, the “Family” game.
Tom and I are attending the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC) again, but this year it’s earlier in the year and in Sacramento, which turns out, is halfway between Alamo (no, not that Alamo) and Lake Wildwood. The significance of that geographic trivia has to do with our motivation for attending this year’s conference (in addition of course, to the lure of the farm-to-fork culture of the area and the generous sponsors who will be there, providing stellar food, drinks and interesting + important facts, as usual).
My (our) main motivation however, was that my cousin Julie (you might remember her from this…), lives in the East Bay Area and has a vacation home in the Sierra Nevada foothills, where we have just spent the last several days. Julie is the daughter of my birth Mom’s twin sister. We had sadly not spent but a couple short times together since we were quite young, but apparently had spent a great deal more time together than either of us realized when we were young (as documented by the numerous photo albums that we finally got through, and I mean that in a good sense).
As we arrived at their home, greeted suspiciously, by their sweet dog Angela (AKA, Angie) and (slightly) less suspiciously by her husband Joe; Julie whisked us inside exclaiming how while we were here, we needed to look through old photo albums and play the “Family” game. Growing up at my house in Alaska, we most definitely played games. We played Cribbage, Gin Rummy and such. Monopoly, Survive, Battleship, Scrabble and Yahtzee. Old Maid, Dominos, Risk. We played Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Parcheesi, Hearts and Go Fish. The list goes on. But not once though, had we played Zion Check, which Julie enthusiastically pointed out, we would be playing this trip.
The first night we popped open a bottle of champagne and caught up. Then we loaded onto their boat with a platter of cheese and our cocktails to set off on a sunset cruise around the lake. After we got back and finished a late dinner, we all agreed that the next day, Tom and I would learn the “Family” game. The next day, after breakfast on the deck, we decided instead, to escape the forecasted heat by driving 90 minutes northeast to Lake Tahoe, where we parked ourselves at a shaded table, under a tree by the lake, to have cocktails and eat crab. In Nevada (because we can). That was a good plan. Did I mention the temperature had reached 106-degrees that day?
Time was running out and we hit our last day at the lake, no more knowledgable about how to play the “Family” game than we had been any day prior. We did learn that Julie had been playing it for forty years and playing it with Joe for twenty-three of them. With no breakfast preluding, we kick-started our last full day with a hike. It was invigorating! It was hot! Damn hot (but bonus!) it allowed us to sit in a running river, yay! Upon our return, I happily watched Joe make a large breakfast, hungrily ate said large breakfast, showered (the hot stink away) and proceeded to look through many nostalgic photos. It was (now) the hottest part of the day, so we finally sat downstairs (the lake beckoning beyond the windows, but from air conditioned comfort) at the poker table to play the “Family” game.
This was a card game, it turns out! Perhaps best described as Gin Rummy meets Poker. Card play can be as ruthless…and tricky but fun. I could tell from the start that this would be no exception. We all antied up our 55 cents (no pennies accepted) and each got our 11 poker chips in return.
As Julie wrote out our “contract” (what the heckfire?!), I could immediately tell Tom was getting nervous that this game, might be over his head (he is not a card player as such, but sneakily good and catching on and beating those well-versed).
Well, I have digressed, so, to make a short story less long, I will go back to the bus ride and let you know that it ended just fine (and stomach intact). As you know, it started a little sketchy. The bus stopped in the middle of nowhere and we were concerned there might be a bit of walking involved, through cows and sheep and sunflowers, no cool air, hot sun pounding down; I did spy a cute sight though, out the window was a sweet girl and her father on a bundle of hay.
Turns out we were meant to go on a hayride. How fun, if it was not so damn hot! Our guide, Ryan (and daughter Macayla) thought the same thing, so we toured the farm in a bus. Ryan’s a 5th generation farmer and his family supplies meat to Superior Farm, which, as luck would have it, I do buy a lot of my lamb from. I have good taste!
Our final destination turned out to be Yolo Brewery which makes exceptional beer. I have that on good authority because I tasted them all! Tom and I were particular fans of the Orange Blossom Blonde (refreshing for the hot weather) and the Coconut Porter (surprisingly delicious! It was good just by itself but would make a good pairing with chocolate or as a replacement for dessert).
To be truthful, Tom and I went a little bit rogue. We did, hard to believe, we know! Rule breakers. It was so hot and we all had waited around for so long to understand what we were doing there (in the brewery) besides drinking beer, that is (kudos to Paige (the bartender who spent a short stint in Seattle before succumbing to the gray winters and heading back home) to kick the taps off on her own accord), that Tom and I opted to sit outside under the misters. Yes, I know this was rude.
However, not only were we full, we were hot. The water misters, in hot, fresh air, sounded good. Stuffed in a warehouse corner, watching a lamb be butchered sounded, not good, for me (us). There you go; we sometimes roll like that.
As we reluctantly (did I say it was hot?!) stuffed our very full faces with hallava, from the King Kabob food truck parked outside the brewery (more treats sponsored by the American Lamb Board) we decided we could stuff in some more (because they were GREAT)!!! Exceptional in fact. Now Tom and I were on our second one.
I strongly felt the need to go talk to the Man! Two Men as it were, father and son, to let them know how much we enjoyed their food. If you recall, I am a bit particular (and may I remind you, already full), so coming from me, I feel there should be put an extra emphasis on how exceptional this lamb dish was!
As I got to talking to the Owner, Rasul and his son John, I learned the lamb came fresh from a farm just down the road where Rasul says Chuck sells only the best meat. I can attest to the fact that the lamb we were eating was the best lamb of its kind I have ever tasted. Expecting the typical chewy and unremarkable flavor to which I am accustomed to finding in a food truck, I instead bit into tender morsels exploding with balanced flavor.
The two men were at first, reluctant to divulge any of their secrets, but after much conversation and interest, they gave me some information that I consider to be golden (and I didn’t even need a gold pan). How lucky did I feel when the rest of the bus missed out on the most important part of the trip – getting to know the Makers. I am reluctant to share those secrets, especially since I haven’t had a chance to try them out yet, so stay tuned…
Hope to see you there next year!?