Winter in the City

We’re entering the winter of 2008. Safely out of the grip of the “mild” winter that we’ve endured for the past four years in otherwise beautiful Bend, OR. We’re now back on the familiar turf of the San Francisco Peninsula. The City, as we natives call it … the City By The Bay.

“FRISCO” is a dead giveaway that you’re not a local. And it’s not appreciated. It’s San Francisco, or “The City.” FRISCO is a brand of “jeans” but not a way to refer to our fair city. And a sure fire way to distinguish your tourist self from those of us who care about our city.

The City is a magical place during the holiday season. The picture above is of a beautiful office and retail complex overlooking the Bay, called Embarcadero Center. I’ve been in many of the offices over the years, and the views are absolutely spectacular. I’ve been known to joke that on a clear day you can actually see Maui … some 2500 miles to the west. This year, they’ve done something a little different. The lights you see above have been replaced with smaller, lower wattage bulbs, in the interest of being a little stingy with the City’s electricity. But it still presents an awesome spectacle, and is one of many reasons to venture into town during the holidays.

The past several holiday seasons have been spent in Bend, Oregon. Center of the state, surrounded by high desert to the East, and the Cascades to the West.

I have a great friend who grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I’ve quoted her many times over the years, with regard to living in the snow. She’ll tell you that it’s great seeing the first snow of the season, but when you’re still shoveling your driveway in May to get to work, California’s looking pretty enticing.

In Bend, the first snow of the season usually arrives early in November. The trees are long past the beautiful colors of Fall, the skies have changed from summer blue to a cloudy gray. Temeratures commonly hover in the 20’s and 30’s during the day, and dip into single digits most nights. You dress differently, with layers of weatherproof garments being de rigueur. You wear shoes that are impervious to water, and hopefully won’t land you on your posterior when you encounter the ever-present patches of ice that are so common everywhere.

The snow-covered peaks of the Cascades in the distance, beginning with the skiers paradise of Mt. Bachelor, the three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, all the way to Mt. Hood, are an amazing in the winter. Trees appear almost fossilized with frozen fog and ice. The cold Deschutes River winds its way out of the high remote Cascade Lakes, through Bend up past the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and ultimately into the Columbia River … flowing south to north through central Oregon’s towns and wilderness.

For skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, and sledders, it’s a winter paradise beyond compare. For the rest of us, it’s cold, and there are way too many months when you can’t open the sunroof or put the top down. It snowed on Mother’s Day last year. Our first year there, we had snow on Memorial Day … just in time to disrupt the 10th annual barbeque that I have at the beginning of “summer.” The long frozen winter also tends to be somewhat claustrophobic. You can’t help but feeling a little “stuck” in central Oregon, since virtually all of the roads over the mountains are either a long slow miserable dangerous journey through a total white-out of a landscape … or totally impassable or closed. So trips back to The City were rare in the winter months.

One memorable trip to Bend was on the 26th of December, the year we bought our house. We had an appointment the following morning to pick out options, and time and jobs dictated that we had to drive straight up without stopping overnight along the way. The Bend trip is 540 miles each way from the San Francisco Peninsula. I’ve made the trip in just under 8 hours under the best of circumstances, which was the first time I drove up with four drugged cats in the back of the SUV. This particular winter trek ended up being 17 hours of travel time, and we ended up 75 miles south of our intended target due to a police matter that closed down Highway 97. Not my favorite winter trip north.

Once past the booming metropolis of Weed, you turn off Interstate 5 onto Oregon Highway 97, where you’re faced with about 75 miles of total white out. No lines to follow, no side markers to speak of … nada. Crawling past huge Klamath Lake was eerie. In the summer it’s gorgeous, in the winter, it’s a little unsettling.

But winter in the City has no such drama. We get a little rain, the temeratures are usually in the 50’s and 60’s, and it makes you glad to live in California, and specifically the Bay Area. Union Square comes alive with shoppers from the world over. Fisherman’s Wharf is buzzing with excitment from locals and tourists. Some of the best restaurants in the world are in and around the city, and they’re hoppin’ with business during the holidays. Virtually any kind of food or beverage you’re craving can be had somewhere in the City, and there’s probably several varieties of it.

I’m ready for Christmas this year. Thanksgiving in Morro Bay was incredible, and I’m confident that Christmas will be too. We’ve been invited to our friends’ house in Monterey, and I’ve been asked to cook “the tenderloin” that I did last year in Bend. I’ll share the recipe (which I borrowed from Fine Cooking Magazine a couple years ago) in the “post-Christmas” entry.

I’m not a particularly religious person, although I consider myself somewhat spiritual, believing that there’s something bigger than we mortals, that set this all in motion. But I do celebrate Christmas. And the group we’re visiting is half-Catholic, and half-Jewish, proving that it’s a holiday for all, as much as it is a “holy day” for the faithful. It’s my honor to contribute to the Christmas meal of 2008, just as it was a total honor to cook for my friend Flora a couple weeks ago, who will be celebrating a healthy 85 Christmases this year (and she complimented my risotto – this, from someone born and raised in Rome. Yikes). Cooking can be the ultimate way of saying thank you to people who hold a special place in your life and heart.

Happy Holidays everyone.
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