December 20-28, 2014
The three days leading up to Christmas were spent primarily connecting with the friends and places familiar to us as long time residents of Los Angeles; Joanna also spent quality time with her Mother. One of our first stops was dinner at Paco’s on Centinela at Washington. Anyone that knows us is familiar with this place, the standard for Mexican fare that we judge all others by.
David Kelly, our former brother-in-law, and his new family, joined us. It was a nice way to start our few days on the Westside, catching up on news about his brothers and sisters, once such a large part of our lives and now rarely heard from, a common occurrence when marriages end. The next couple of days flew by as Jessica and Kris joined us that Tuesday night and we took care of errands, completing small tasks in anticipation of the next couple of days before us. Joanna and I got in a nice bike ride, down to Venice Beach and up to the Santa Monica pier, on a gorgeous blue-sky Southern California morning.
All families have specific traditions when it comes to holidays like Christmas or any of the other religious and non-religious dates we celebrate. For Christmas, ours has been stable from the first days of our marriage, remaining so for many years. We find ourselves in different times now, with the passing of older family members, divorce, and children that have grown up changing the dynamics and the logistics of the holiday. But wherever we are and whoever gathers, it is still a time to appreciate the beauty of the season.
For us the pattern has been consistent the last few years, spending Christmas Eve with Joanna’s Mother Joanne and then traveling Christmas Day to spend it with Jessica and Kris. The last two years this put us in Las Vegas but that changed this year when Kris’ parents, Kim and Marty suggested we meet at a vacation apartment they share with others in Encinitas.
And so on Christmas Day we drove down in a couple of hours, arriving mid-afternoon to a houseful of Mitchell’s, including Kim, Marty, and Kris’ brothers, Taylor and Simon. Along with their two dogs and our little Dinky (JD), the two-bedroom one bath apartment would feel busy for the next few days, but never too cramped. It helped that the view out the front window of the unit was of the Pacific Ocean, bringing the out of doors inside.
Presents got opened before we adjourned to poolside for some drinks and snacks, watching the sun set and then heading back up to the unit for home made fish tacos with Swordfish and Red Snapper purchased the day before at the Encinitas Fish Shop, two blocks away at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and I Street. The following day, Friday was filled with post holiday errands, including a phone upgrade for Jessica. We began the day by walking a mile or so to the north side of Encinitas to Juanita’s Taco Shop for a breakfast of burritos all around. I had a Machaca (normally scrambled eggs, shredded beef, bell peppers and onions) and this version, while good, was mainly shredded beef, lacking the fullness the other ingredients usually bring. Joanna though had Carnitas; delicately spiced with onions and cilantro; when sprinkled with a little fresh juice from a lime it is food you just want to have in your mouth.
Post errands and time spent relaxing, we walked down a couple of blocks to Pacific Coast Highway and J Street to Union Kitchen & Tap. It was quite crowded by the time we got there and so we were lucky to secure a long table in the bar, accommodating our crowd of eight people. With a couple of cold beers to lead the way, Joanna and I split a Roasted Beet Salad, (comprised of Beets, Candied Pecans, Fennel, Mint, Rocket, Shaft Blue Cheese, Pomegranate, and Chipotle Maple Vinaigrette and an order of Poutine, Union’s take on that Canadian classic containing Potatoes, Maple Sausage, Southern Gravy, White Cheddar Curds, and Bacon Lardons. It was just the right amount of food for the two of us, the freshness of the salad offsetting the fullness of the Poutine.
Saturday would be another full day, starting with a short (15 miles) bike ride for Joanna and I, riding south on PCH to Del Mar and back. Another beautiful winter’s day, the road was crowded up and down with cyclists, skaters, joggers and walkers, as if most of Southern California was out for some exercise.
We returned to the apartment, cleaned up, and then the whole group drove south to the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego to meet up with Jen, a former college roommate of Jessica’s at Pizza Port for beers and food before we would drop Jessica and Kris off at the airport for their flight back to the Bay Area.
Pizza Port has a number of Southern California locations and is known for their fine selection of craft beers and good pizza. We spent a couple of hours gathered around a long table, talking and drinking, the highlight for a few of us was getting a pint apiece of Pliny the Elder on draft. Brewed by Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, it is rarely available outside of the brewery there; so popular at Pizza Port that of all the beers they offer, this was the one you could only buy by the pint, no pitchers allowed.
After dropping Jessica and Kris off at the airport, we made one final stop at the Stone Brewing Tap Room in the Gas Lamp area of Downtown San Diego, located in a retail complex next to Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. One of the newer ball parks, it is a great place to see a ball game.
As described in Wikipedia:
Architects Populous (née HOK Sport) and Antoine Predock’s design pulled restaurants, administrative offices and other amenities away from the seating bowl itself into other buildings surrounding the bowl. As a result, the ballpark’s concourses are open not only to the playing field but also to the surrounding city. Unlike many outdoor ballparks, in which the batter faces northeast, at Petco the batter faces due north, and fans in the grandstands are treated to a view of San Diego Bay and the San Diego skyline beyond the left field seats, as well as a view of Balboa Park, which contains the San Diego Zoo, beyond center field. The San Diego Union-Tribune honored the ballpark in 2006 with an Orchid award for its design.
We finished up with a couple of beers at Stone and made our way back to the Apartment, spending the rest of an enjoyable evening winding down and preparing to leave the next day. One often thinks of the holidays, especially Christmas, as being tied to traditions that can’t be altered. We’ve found though that since our move to Charlotte, this holiday has become fluid for us, taking place where we gather, not necessarily dictated by a time worn ritual. What has become clear is that regardless of where it takes place, we spend it with family, that being the most important component. Who knows where the next Christmas will take us?
Encinitas Fish Shop: http://www.thefishshopencinitas.com/
Union Kitchen and Tap: http://localunion101.com/
Pliny the Elder: http://russianriverbrewing.com/brews/pliny-the-elder/
Stone Brewing Tap Room: http://www.stonebrewing.com/visit/#taproom
Petco Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petco_Park