Doing the Stanford Dish Trail

A great hike to tighten the gluts and see fantastic views of San Francisco and Stanford University.

The Stanford Dish or the ‘Dish’ as the locals call it is an old ranch turned hiking/jogging trail. Located between Junipero Serra Boulevard and I-280, the land is owned by Stanford University and is open to the public every day.

I decided to walk the loop one Saturday morning around 9:00 which I thought was early until I noticed that the parking spots were full. I drove down the road and discovered a middle school but had to drive around a couple of times to wait for a free spot.

Stanford Dish

What is the Dish?

The Dish is a radio telescope locate in the Stanford foothills. It’s pretty massive with a 46 meter (150-foot diameter). Built in 1961 by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and funded by the US Air Force, the Dish was originally used to study the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Later is was used to communicate with spacecraft and satellites and even transmitted signals to NASA’s Voyager aircraft.

How do I get to the Dish?

You can enter the main entrance from Stanford Avenue but keep in mind, U-turns are prohibited, so you have to slow down and reverse-angle park, if you are lucky enough to find a spot. Alternatively, you can drive down Stanford Avenue to the Lucille M. Nixon Elementary School (1711 Stanford Avenue) and park there outside of school hours unless you want your vehicle to be towed.

From the middle school, the walk to The Dish is about five minutes past some nice Stanford homes tucked away in the lush greens.

Stanford Dish Hiking Trail Tree

The Main Loop Trail

The main loop trail is about 3.5 miles and takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to walk. I thought it would take me longer because after the main entrance the trail had a steep incline, I would have estimated the percentage, but I was breathing heavily and feeling embarrassing unfit. Apparently it’s a 15% incline but gradually levels off thank goodness.
Along the way, you pass by a few reservoirs to a ridgeline and finally the Dish. Yes! You have arrived at your destination.

Along the trail, you’ll pass by cows, some curious squirrels, maybe even some deer, wildflowers, as well as hawks, woodpeckers, and bluebirds. The paved trail is wide and there’s plenty of room for strollers, walkers, and runners to share the road.

Stanford Dish Hiking Trail Cows
As you cruise back to your starting point, in my case the main gate, don’t forget to say thanks and good-bye to the gate guard.
On a clear day you can see the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west, the San Francisco Bay, and Stanford University.

Stanford Dish Hiking Trail

If you are ready to ‘Do the Dish’, go early, really early, bring plenty of water and remember the Dish is open only during daylight hours.

A Deprived Expat’s Fish Taco Recipe

It’s not easy being an expat, especially when you’re deprived of fish tacos.

This post is mainly for any of my readers deprived of your favorite home foods, especially since you are living the ‘good life’ across the pond somewhere. Therefore, today’s post is about fish tacos. Why? Because it’s Cinco de Mayo of course. And because fish tacos rock!

We don’t have access to fish tacos around these parts and when I first heard about them, the idea sort of turned me off. Yes, I like fish. In fact, I eat fish at least twice a week, but fish and tacos just didn’t seem a likely combination. But then on a recent trip to California, I decided to try them. I was hooked from the first bite and took every chance I could to eat them.

Fish Taco Recipe

As I was looking for recipes for our Cinco de Mayo celebration, the idea of a plate of fish tacos made my tongue jump for joy (again).


So, What is a Fish Taco?

It’s simple math really. Fish + taco = Fish taco. Hee-hee, let’s break it down even further.

Fish tacos were reborn in Baja, the second earth’s second-longest peninsula off the Northwest coast of Mexico, but have been extremely popular in Southern California for many years.

Let’s step back a bit and give credit where credit is due. Anthropological evidence shows that the indigenous people living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate tacos filled with small fish. Praise for fish tacos, now onto the recipe. 🙂

A Simple Fish Taco Recipe

You can make fish tacos (Tacos de Pescado) with a hearty white fish such as, salmon, cod, tilapia, or even with shrimp (Tacos de camarones). The taco filling generally consists of shredded cabbage, a sour cream or Greek yogurt-based dressing, and fresh cilantro. Interpret your own fish taco recipe as I have below.

Ingredients (Makes 4 medium-sized tacos)

  • 1 pound (450 grams) salmon fillets (cod, tilapia, or shrimp)
  • Flour
  • Creole seasoning
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Sunflower oil
  • Cooked corn kernels (roasted adds an intense flavor)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh basil
  • 1 lime
  • Mexican oregano
  • Chipotle (optional)
  • Soft shell tacos
  • 1/2 red or yellow pepper, thinly sliced
  • Arugula

Fish Taco Yogurt Salsa

In a medium bowl, mix together Greek yogurt and 1/2 teaspoon each of ground Mexican oregano and fresh lime juice until the consistency is not too runny. Add sea salt and chipotle to taste.

Cooking Instructions

  1. Heat a heavy pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Season fish on meat side with Creole seasoning or salt and pepper.
  3. Lightly dust the fish with flour and shake off the excess.
  4. Add a tablespoon of sunflower oil to the pan.
  5. Cook fish pieces until lightly golden brown, break into chunks, and set on a paper towel.
  6. Remove excess oil from pan and lightly fry the tortillas, they should still be soft to handle.

To serve, place fried fish pieces in a tortilla, add the healthy colorful toppings of your choice such as roasted corn, red pepper slices, fresh cilantro, fresh basil, yogurt sauce, and arugula. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo by cooking some healthy fish tacos served with a glass of refreshing Aguas Frescas.

¡Buen provecho!


The Bodacious Redwoods of Big Basin

Big Basin Redwoods National Park is home to the largest grouping of massive redwoods that you must see to believe.

The plan was to drive north to Muir Woods really early one Saturday morning to participate in a hike with a ranger, but the sound of rain drops on my window was too tempting. I simply turned off the early alarm and said, perhaps another day. But as my time in Silicon Valley came to an end, I discovered Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and just in the nick of time.

A fallen redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
A fallen redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The last weekend before my flight back to Germany, we had a strong desire to see some redwoods. We have some baby redwoods in Germany, but wanted to see the ma and pa of redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods National Park.

As fate would have it, a strong rain storm was predicted for my last weekend in California and the dream of seeing the redwoods was quickly fading away. The Saturday storms were monumental and as much as that region of California needed rain, I was disappointingly going to have to give up the idea of Visiting Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

California State Parks
Morning views at Castle Rock State Park on the way to see the Big Basin redwoods

Saturday evening every hour on the hour I methodically checked every weather app and channel I could in hopes of a glimmer of light, but the forecast was rain, winds, rain, and more of it. Sunday morning a glimmer of hope crept through my window—the sun attempting to shine through the grey clouds which told me let’s do this, but do it fast. I checked the weather apps again and they confirmed we had a 3-4 hour window to enjoy the park before the next downpour.

The long and winding road

I had been warned that the drive to Big Basin Redwoods State Park is full of hair pin curves and indeed it was. Normally, I have no fear of twisty windy bends but trees and debris had fallen making the drive a bit more problematic, so I enlisted my husband to drive. Actually, my driving was scaring him, so he was happy to take the wheel. 🙂

Road to Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Road to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is about 30 miles (48 km) from Palo Alto and 22 miles (36 km) northwest of Santa Cruz, so if you’re in Silicon Valley it makes a nicer alternative to the very crowded Muir Woods State Park north of San Francisco. The drive to the Big Basin is pleasant and slow due to the turns, but if you start early you’re virtually alone on the road.

A humble view of the redwoods from Big Basin Redwoods State Park
A humble view of the redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

When we arrived at the park headquarters there was the 1930s lodge-style building with redwoods all around to greet us. After a short chat with the ranger, we paid the $10 fee to park in the headquarters area, where parking is limited, especially on a sunny weekend day. If you don’t mind a hike, you’ll find free parking near China Grade Waddell Beach, or Whitehouse Canyon Road.

All trails lead to the redwoods

Since we only had a few hours of sun and dry weather, we began our hike on the Redwood Trail. It’s an easy 0.5 mile long flat hike that is also wheel-chair accessible. We began our journey by purchasing the Redwood Trail map for 50¢ which provides descriptions of some of the signed areas of the trail. The Redwood Trail features some of the most immense old-growth redwoods in Santa Cruz County and is a great starting point no matter your hiking experience.

Largest Redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Father of the Forest tree at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Height 250 ft (76 m), circumference 67 ft (20 m).

Next we hiked half of the Sequoia Trail since the skies were becoming cloudy and returned through the camping grounds then back to HQ. The Sequoia Trail is an easy to moderate 4 mile hike that will take you about two hours to complete and will lead you to the Sempervirens waterfall.

Never thought I could find a slug adorable, but …

As much as I was impressed by the massive redwoods with a gentle appeal, I was hoping to see more of the park’s diverse flora and fauna as well as foxes, coyotes, and perhaps a bobcat from afar of course.

We were lucky that day as we found a couple of Big Basin’s little creatures–the Pacific banana slug. The bright yellow slow-moving slug feeds from the forest floor which is full of organic matter, plants and mushrooms. I normally cringe at the site of the slimy looking brown slugs we have here, but the Pacific banana slug is really cute.

Do not touch or get too close to the banana slugs! They are sensitive delicate creatures that just want to live life in peace and cut off their mating partner’s penis after copulation. Yes, they really do that!

Pacific banana slug at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Pacific banana slug at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

After the slug sighting, the downpour began just as the weather apps had predicted. We ran back to HQ and vowed to return to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park soon. Next time we’ll attempt some of the more strenuous trails such as Ocean View or Berry Creek Falls. But for now, we’re off to Santa Cruz where the ocean beckons us with sun, rolling waves, and if we’re lucky, we just might find a restaurant serving a bowl of delicious clam chowder to counter balance the calories we burned hiking.

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service turns 100! Celebrate the Centennial by visiting one of America’s great national parks.

Po’ Boy History

I like my Po’ boys dressed, and you? Before you ask, read on to learn about Po’ boy history and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

Po boy sandwich
Po’ boy sandwich

Around 1910, brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin left their Acadiana region home in Raceland, Louisiana, for the big city of New Orleans. Both worked as streetcar conductors and about 12 years later opened a coffee stand which would eventually make Po’ boy (also po-boy, po boy, or poor boy for your Northerners) sandwich history.

Imagine New Orleans in July 1, 1929, hot, hot, and even hotter after heated negotiations with union streetcar motormen and the street car owners went icy cold. There were around 1,100 streetcar workers union jobs in jeopardy and things really started to heat up when the street car company invited non-union workers or “strike breakers” from New York who were known career criminals to run the street cars. This really upset the union supporters and more than 10,000 New Orleanians gathered downtown as strike supporters gathered and then burned the first car operated by a strike breaker.

Sympathetic to the cause, the public avoided the streetcar transit system for about two weeks. Times were hard for the union workers, so businesses donated goods and services to the union including the the Martin Brothers, former union streetcar workers themselves, who said “Our meal is free to any members of Division 194.”

The free meal ended up being a sandwich, but not just any sandwich and whenever the Martin brothers saw one of the striking men coming, one of them would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.’ Hence the Po’ boy sandwich is born.

What is a Po’ boy?

Now, a “real” Po’ boy contains Louisiana fried shrimp, oysters, soft shell crab, catfish, crawfish, Louisiana hot sausage, fried chicken breast, or roast beef. Equally important is that a Po’ boy isn’t’ a Po’ boy unless it’s served on New Orleans Po’ boy French bread which has a crisp crust and a fluffy center.

You see, traditional French bread has narrow ends which doesn’t usually get eaten, so the Martins worked with a local baker to develop a 40-inch loaf of bread that retained it’s uniform, rectangular shape from end to end and simply filled their Po’ boys with your favorite meat or fried seafood.

How to order a Po’ boy

My first experience to a Po’ boy stand was quite embarrassing. I was a newbie to the Crescent City and when the waitress asked me what kind of Po’ boy I wanted. I replied in my most mid-western accent asking  “What varieties of poor boy sandwiches do you have please?”

She graciously pointed to the menu wall and the seafood and meat combinations overwhelmed me, so I asked for an oyster poor boy. Then she asked me if I wanted it dressed or undressed? Luckily, a bystander helped me out explaining that a “dressed” Po’ boy has lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise and an “undressed” Po’ boy contains only the meat or seafood filling placed on the Po’ boy bread.

Since then I flock to New Orleans or anywhere is Southwest Louisiana, as often as possible because life without my dressed oyster Po’ boy is simply unbearable.

Five New Orleans Activities under Five Dollars

Five New Orleans Activities under Five Dollars? Yes, you bet and most of them are free. New Orleans is a wonderful, yet expensive city to visit. The hotel prices are relatively high especially during events such as Mardi Gras, Essence Festival, Jazz fest, and the Voodoo festival. Save your money for the excellent Creole and Cajun cooking by spending your day or evening checking out the following five New Orleans activities under five dollars.

NOLA St. Charles Streetcar
New Orleans streetcar, ©

St. Charles Streetcar – Using the streetcar in New Orleans is an affordable and unique way to get around and experience the city. Riding the old rumbling streetcars is as charming and romantic as it was 150 years ago when they first ran. Not much has changed since then, you’ll still pay the driver cash, sit on really hard mahogany seats as you dazzle at the brass fittings and exposed ceiling light bulbs, figuring out how the seat backs reverse, so you can ride facing your companions.

Don’t expect air conditioning, flat screens displaying the daily news, or automated announcements on the forest green streetcars that ride on neutral ground (New Orleans word for the median in the middle of a street). Just remember to keep your head and limbs inside the car at all times,otherwise  you may get knocked in the head by a telephone pole or trees.

There are three different lines, St. Charles, Canal Street, and the Riverfront, each of which originates from downtown but take you to different parts of the Crescent City. I love the St. Charles line which runs through the tunnel of oaks on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District making frequent stops near sites such as, Audubon Park, historic monuments, antebellum mansions, quaint B&Bs, restaurants, and local shops.

Most conductors call out the stops if you tell them where you want to go. If not, to stop the streetcar, simply pull the overhead wire.

Price: $1.25 per ride.

Cafe du Monde – The original Cafe Du Monde in the New Orleans French Market has been around since 1862. Open 24/7 except for Christmas Day, it’s the perfect place to enjoy Cafe Au Lait using chicory coffee which was developed by the French during wartime. During those years coffee was hard to come by so chicory, the root of the endive plant was roasted and ground—this enhanced the flavor dramatically reducing the bitterness.

Beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde ©, photo by David Richmond
Beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde ©, photo by David Richmond

The perfect complement to a Cafe Du Monde Cafe Au Lait is a plate of hot beignets (French-style doughnuts) that are served in threes and piled high with powdered sugar.

Cafe Du Monde Cafe Insider Tips: Never wear black, expect to pay cash upfront for your order, wipe your seat before you sit down, and do not under any circumstances breath while eating a beignet. Otherwise, you’ll have powdered sugar over you and your table guests.

The lines at the French Market location are long, but move fast and you’ll enjoy the time resting your feet between sightseeing in America’s most fascinating historic city while listening to Dixie jazz from the nearby pavilion.

Price: About $5 per person

Magazine Street – No need to empty your wallet while on vacation. Just walk along the historic Magazine Street. For six miles you pass by a mix of Victorian cottages and Greek Revival architectural wonders that house antique shops, art galleries, outdoor cafes, and quirky boutiques. Better yet, you’ll be tempted to shop, so just leave your wallet at home. 

New Orleans Magazine Street
Magazine Street. ©, photo by Jean-Paul Gisclair

Magazine Street is an eclectic, family area of New Orleans and the perfect place to watch the eight parades that will roll down Magazine Street for Mardi Gras as you attempt to catch the free beads, cups. toys, and doubloons.

Price: Free (to window shop) 🙂

Global Green House Homes – Go green and take a healthy walk or bike ride to the first Global Green House home, finished in May 2008. The sample home is currently a building for developers, contractors, and residents to learn how to rebuild green. 

Green homes in America
Global Green house in New Orleans. ©Global Green USA

The Global Green House project began after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, especially the Lower Ninth Ward. Global Green, in partnership with Brad Pitt, sponsored an international design contest in 2006. The Holy Cross Project was designed for five single-family homes, an 18-unit apartment building which will include views of the Mississippi River and downtown New Orleans, 75% to 90% lower energy bills.

Price: FREE

The French Quarter

Every time a friend or family member comes to New Orleans for the first time, I take them to Bourbon Street. I do forewarn them that they should go with an open mind and expect to see just about anything since that section of the French Quarter can be pretty raw and outright raunchy. Nonetheless, one really must visit it at least once while in New Orleans.

Mardi Gras French Quarter scenes ©, photo by Alex Demyan
Mardi Gras French Quarter scenes

My favorite time to visit Bourbon Street is near Heure bleue (twilight). During the magical hour I capture the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky for perfect photos—but mainly I want to avoid drunken party-goers. No worries though, the New Orleans police officers don’t tolerate nonsense.

Along Mardi Gras’ most famous parade route and beyond the bars, strip clubs, a walk on Bourbon and Royal street provides visitors with an up-close look at 18th century New Orleans. Namely the amazing architecture including the rod-iron-lace balconies and hidden outdoor patios found on Bourbon Street extending 13 blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue.

On nearly every corner or beyond every patio, you hear live jazz at it greatest during the day and evening as well. It’s touristy, charming, heavenly, and a definite must do while in New Orleans.

Price: FREE