Saturday, October 15, 2011

U Pick

I have certain extraordinarily vivid memories from my childhood.   You probably have them, too.  The ones that are in Technicolor, like the ruby slippers under Dorothy's house.

Like those slippers, the memories are shiny.

So entrancing, in fact, that even years* later, they have the power to immediately transport me into a state of blissful idiocy.  Unable to simply enjoy the flashback, I insist upon incessantly talking about just how fantastic a particular experience was.  There are hand gestures. Dramatic facial expressions.  A raised voice for emphasis on the good parts. Gales of my delighted laughter echoing in an otherwise silent room as my terrified family stares at me in horror.  They exchange glances, knowing what's coming next.

Me:  So, I was thinking we should all...
Them:  NO!
Me:  (genuinely puzzled, because I am under the influence of my ruby slipper memory) But, why?
Them:  Because nobody but you thinks this is a good idea.  Listen to yourself!!! You are talking like a crazy person about something that happened when you were like, 10, or something.  Seriously, you have to stop, Mom.  You're scaring everybody.  Maybe you should go lie down.

The kids leave the room, and I turn helplessly to my husband.  He pats me on the shoulder kindly.

Him:  Remember the Spudnuts?
Me:  Oh, yeah. That was bad.
Him:  And...Julian?
Me:  But I LOVE Julian!!! We...

He holds up a warning finger. I back down. Julian is a sore point in our otherwise rock solid marriage**.

Me: Fine. Never mind.

I return to sanity, and life goes on.

Until this summer. Hanging out making duct tape wallets*** at camp one morning, one of my fellow crafters happens to mention that their family owns an apple orchard.  In Julian.

Me: (dropping my x-acto knife in excitement) But I LOVE Julian!!! Oh my gosh! I can't believe this! What are the odds that you own an orchard and I LOVE orchards!  It's like a sign, or something!  Wow!
Her:  (glancing down at my discarded knife, just to make sure I'm unarmed) Yes. Well.  How about that?  It's a U-Pick, too.
Me:  (tearing up, and pressing her hands in mine).  Really? This is like the best day of my life. You have no idea how much this means to me.  We are coming to your orchard.  Do you hear me?  We are COMING!!!  You will see us in October.  I promise you.
Her:  (carefully withdrawing her hands) Sure! Great. That'd be fine.

I begin plotting.  Clearly, I cannot take my usual approach.  Not only is it deranged, it is ineffective.

I try to guilt them into it.

Me:  So, I'm thinking of driving down to Julian this weekend.  To see that family from camp.  They were really nice.  But nobody else has to come.  I'll go by myself.  It's fine.
Them:  OK.  Have fun.

Damn.  I'm stumped.  Until the soccer schedule comes out, and I see a new path to get what I want.


Me:  Looks like the soccer game's in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday.  What a long drive!  Man, I would hate to violate The Rule.  How about if we just stay down there and relax at a hotel for the night?  I found one with a water slide and flat screen TVs.  We could go to the movies, have some ice cream...maybe even room service! Then, on the way home we could stop by and pick a few apples in Julian.
My husband:  On the way home?
Me:  Well, it's not exactly on the way, but close enough, right****?
My son:  You know, Mom, they have some pretty great apples at Ralph's.  The one by our house.
Me:  Just trust me on this.  It's great!  They have cider, and apple butter, and these adorable little shops...and there's this bakery that we stop at that has these amazing fruit bars and cinnamon bread*****...
My daughter:  Oh my god!  She's doing it again!  Dad!!
My husband:  Let's just go with the flow, guys.  (The hotel had a fitness center and a running route to the beach.  I'm no dummy.)

I was elated as we pulled into the dirt lot of Calico Ranch.  The sun was beaming down from a bright blue sky, and there was a single, shiny, ruby-red apple on the charming sign hanging by the wooden fence.  The kids hopped out of the car, and my husband grinned at me ruefully as I happily slung my camera over my shoulder and headed for the apple trees.

It's true that there's no place like home.
But I do LOVE to visit Julian.

The ranch has over 130 varieties, including heirloom apples not found anywhere else.  You can add to your personal pickings from bins at the stand.  These winesaps were standouts, as was a green apple said to be a favorite of Thomas Jefferson.  Knowing I was on thin ice, I decided against going into the history of Montecello and the former president's interest in horticulture with the kids.

Now that's a ruby slipper memory.

* OK, decades.
** When we were relative newcomers to LA, pre kids, I somehow convinced him to come with me, my mother and her sister and drive to Julian to relive my halcyon childhood days of apple picking in the country.  The four of us were squished into my small VW rabbit convertible.  The traffic was abysmal.  When we finally arrived in Julian, sunburned and parched, we wandered through quaint little shops with figurines, handmade potholders, and quilted slippers.  We went to the town museum and looked at rusted mining equipment and old black and white photos of apple farmers.  We had slices of apple pie.  We stopped at roadside fruit stands and sampled cider from flimsy paper cups and picked up jars of apple butter.  We bought flats of apples that we had no room for in the car.  My mother and I told funny stories about my dad's inept efforts to put up a tent in the dark on a family camping trip nearby (hilariously, he'd left stakes in a bag underneath the tent! Oh, that dad of mine!)  After fighting the traffic back to LA for another three hours, we dropped my mom and my aunt off.  Then, and only then, did my soon-to-be-husband turn to me and say:  "New rule.  If it takes longer to get to a place than you actually spend there, it is OFF THE LIST! I don't care how much you loved it as a kid, it's JUST NOT WORTH IT.  Is that clear?" Let's just say this edict is still very much in effect at our house.  It is known as "The Rule."
*** I know, sounds like a dorky project, but they are actually pretty cool.
**** Cleverly, even if it is a complete detour, I know it doesn't break The Rule because we have spent an entire night away from home, giving me hours of leeway.
***** Dudley's, in Santa Ysabel, just 6 miles away.  Killer bread in general, great homemade sandwiches for lunch, and these molasses fruit bars that would make anybody (except my husband), feel the long car trip was well worth it.

The kids and my husband ate nearly all of this right from the bag on the way home.  If you look closely, you can see the steam from the hot bread.  It had just come out of the oven.

Personally, though, I'd skip that hot cinnamon bread any day for one of these.  Spicy, full of ginger, cloves, and plump raisins, they are the perfect autumn treat.  Especially when you eat one with a fresh, crisp apple.  Heaven!  

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