Serenity Now! Ojai and Montecito, Village Life.

My longing for an Epic Voyage is almost crushing. Have you ever analyzed your favorite travel, have you created a list? What does it look like? Is Beach Therapy your go to? Is it adventure and the African savanna’s whispering to you? Or are you craving the majestic calm beauty of Bhutan?

I’ve been safely venturing to boutique properties I hadn’t visited due to a much more intense travel program, and I’ve truly enjoyed re discovering the wine country, Malibu, and Santa Barbara again. Epic Adventure is in planning stage, I will triple vaccinate and mosey to Morocco, Madrid, and Paris.

San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito

New clients asked, how do we create a combo Journey? A new Travel Recipe Series. I.E. we are considering the Maldives and Singapore – and yes they have read my posts on the two Four Seasons in the Maldives and understand my obsession with the magical seas. One of my most favorite Journeys was to the Maldives and despite the long trek, you will want to stay longer than planned!  It may sound exaggerated, but it is true: there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the staggering natural beauty of the Maldives fully and accurately. Note to the dear Four Seasons GM – who invited me for a two-week exploration, sending clients soon, promise!

Discovering that SW airline fly’s direct from Oakland to Santa Barbara, I reserved immediately! I can’t tell you how many times United has forsaken me on their SFO/ SBA routing. My elderly godmother and ancient aunties deserved a visit, off I went.

Ojai Valley Inn, Ojai

Summer heat and pink moment sunsets at the Ojai Valley Inn didn’t disappoint. Two legendary properties, the Inn, and San Ysidro Ranch in the hills of Montecito are a great combo. Sun and the sea. Frank Capra used a long view shot of the Ojai Valley to represent the mythical paradise in the classic film Lost Horizon. In 1923, Edward Drummond Libbey, a wealthy Ohio glass manufacturer and philanthropist, commissioned California architect Wallace Neff to build a private Ojai Country Club. The architectural remnants of the original Spanish-colonial-style design are still in evidence; the hotel offers a little over 300 spacious and tastefully decorated rooms, a relaxing spa, four pools and several restaurants. I’ve always loved sitting beneath the massive Oak Tree terrace for lunch or dinner. The property spreads across a gentle rolling hillside into a deep green valley punctuated by massive Oak trees; the rambling flow of Spanish Revival style buildings resemble a picturesque village of red tile roofs sheltering white stucco walls, typical of what you might view in remote Spanish or Tuscan villages. I met a lovely mom and daughter enjoying a week together, bicycling into town and I shared in my favorite retail therapy boutiques. Several VV Chic Summerland and Montecito shops have added outposts here.

Moving a bit north to Montecito, several first-class options, sadly the Four Seasons is temporarily closed, if you need beach therapy, it is truly la tragédie. Montecito exudes a quiet glam, it doesn’t scream opulence, mansions yes, but most are gated or secreted behind walls of expertly pruned shrubbery and manicured gardens, an enclave of concealed wealth. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, San Ysidro Ranch is another legendary hideaway. The Ranch has a historical guest list: Groucho Marx, Winston Churchill, Sinclair Lewis, and John Huston, who finished writing the screenplay for The African Queen while in residence. Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh exchanged midnight wedding vows on the grounds, and Camelot began here with John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooning in the cottage that now bears their name.

Ultimate seclusion and almost perpetually blessed by sunshine if the beach below is foggy. Tucked away in the leafy foothills of Montecito, San Ysidro Ranch offers a unique blend of privacy, peace, and tranquility in an idyllic setting. Thirty-eight vine-covered cottages surrounded by incredibly landscaped gardens with flowers always in bloom under a canopy of stately sycamores and gnarled oaks make this exclusive property destination unplugged from the rest of the world. Citrus groves, olive trees, brilliantly colored lantanas, lily pond, and the sweet smell of orange blossoms, fragrant magnolias, and jasmine make you think that you have just discovered a slice of paradise. Pass the guard cabin and another world awaits. Oprah and Harry live just up the winding San Ysidro Road.

The Ranch provides several premier dining settings featuring a palate of herbs and vegetables harvested from the onsite chef’s garden. The Stonehouse, a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant, is in a 19th-century citrus packing house and has a romantic full-bar lounge and separate dining room with an outdoor terrace and a crackling fireplace. For a more casual destination, the Plow & Angel offers more regional cuisine and a convivial ambiance as a local favorite. Housed in a storybook setting, the Carriage House features fireside dining with French doors opening to a private stone-paved courtyard.

San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito

Montecito is chock-a-block with charming boutiques, fancy deli’s, delicious dining, and if you perch front and center outside the entrance of the very popular Lucky’s Restaurant, you may think you’ve been transported to Palm Beach. Oh my, peacocks parade each evening… it’s splendid people watching, as Dorothy uttered to Toto – “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Safe, luxurious, easy to and fro – Our local car service can also motor you down the coast, he has been driving a client weekly to Santa Barbara since last year!

Taking a break or a vacation may save your life, we live in the country of No Vacation Nation, which is unhealthy, time off is integral to emotional health. An attorney friend once told me he billed for shower time as it was the most productive time for thinking. According to health experts you have your best ideas in the shower or on a walk—or on vacation!

Ojai Valley Inn, Ojai

Serenity Now means taking good care of yourself.

COVID-19 Survival. A toast to Sisterhood and Cooking!

I’ve been fueling my wanderlust by culinary measures — making delicious Thai spicy shrimp salads bursting with sweet pomelo – my Bangkok Journey introduced me to the Pomelo fruit – I was so obsessed, I wanted to plant a tree in my garden.  Snacking on French Truffle Frites, trying out recipes in my dusty cookbooks and digging out recipes from my travel cooking classes, now that I have more time to do so.

Whistle Pig Rye Manhattan Tipple from Jenksie!

Some of this cooking frenzy has been inspired by bountiful gift deliveries from one of my dearest friends from Catholic grade school and high school – known casually to us, as Jenksie, (there were 5 Kathy’s in our class, so she is known by a version of her last name), she has proven to be an assiduous online shopper of epicurean extravagances! Her generosity knows no bounds nor her enthusiasm and curiosity for seeking out only the best of the best! The NY Times mentioned one of her exclusive purveyors in an article about the pandemic rage for online gourmet goodies.

In the initial days of pandemic lockdown, sunset was heralded with my daily Rye Manhattan; the first gift box to arrive was a Whistle Pig 12-year-old aged Rye…a definite improvement from my daily Bulleit tipple. In early SIP, life felt fairly normal, I’m accustomed to working from home in my jammies. I even admitted it in a Fortune Magazine interview on ‘how an elite Luxury Travel Concierge survives the pandemic. ‘

Jenksie and I chat by phone every few days, comparing weather, what tennis event we may miss – she, the spring desert tournament; I reminded her that some Catholic high school girls followed Charlie Pasarell when as a college student, he played in the Ojai Tennis Tournament. Charlie is the founder of the Indian Wells Tournament that she attends every year.

Coconut Chocolates from Jackie’s Chocolates

In a conversation about my Lindblad National Geographic epic sailing adventure to the Marquesas, I shared that one of the ship waiters indulged me every night with a seemingly private ration of Chablis and off-menu Coconut Ice Cream – days later two boxes of scrumptious chocolate coconut candy arrived – and yes, my exercise program has remained in place, although with the generous Jenksie gifts, I should intensify my routine.

Friends Ranch Ojai, Pixies & Haas Avocados

We grew up in the small village of Ojai, which hosts the oldest tennis tournament in the U.S. it too was cancelled; in grade school, we could skip class if we served fresh squeezed orange juice or afternoon high tea to the guests, a day sans strict Catholic nuns, you can accurately assume we all raised our hands to help. In spring, the Ojai Valley is perfumed by citrus blossoms yielding orchards of sweet Pixie Tangerines. The ranches have been in the valley for eons, three eleven-pound cartons of Pixies arrived at my gate – in several intervals. Jenksie Joy, Pixies by the carton!

Cinco de Mayo Pixie Margarita and Haas Guacamole – from Friends Ranch Ojai & Jenksie

What to do? Pixie Margaritas, of course! Or an Ojai Silver Sunrise. Jenksie texted me multiple recipes for healthy Vitamin C enriched frothy concoctions! A few Ojai avocado’s and local Oro Blanco grapefruit, similar to a Pomelo, dotted the boxes. See previously mentioned Thai Pomelo salad. Cinco de Mayo fell during pandemic, the avocado’s and Pixie Margaritas were perfectly timed. I assume Jenksie planned that detail with her delivery schedule. Multiple texts were exchanged when UPS lost a shipment of Pixies, Covid-19 mask in place, I broke the 5-mile drive radius to visit the UPS facility and demand my Pixies! I’m convinced the Agriculture Inspector desired an 11-pound box of sweet fragrant Pixies, as it was never delivered. My social media recipes for Pixie Margaritas became the rage among our friends.

Pixie Margarita Recipe

Pomelo Salad Recipe

Spicy Thai Salad with Pomelo or Oro Blanco grapefruit grown at Churchill Ranch Ojai

Day 49 of SIP. A travel industry friend and I have shared monthly platefuls of Truffle Fries at a local restaurant – our March truffle lunch scratched 2 days into lock down – we optimistically penciled in May 1 for a raincheck. Who knew? It was the only activity on my calendar and I wept on social media that I was missing my long-awaited truffle lunch! Jenksie asked if I was lunching on chocolate truffles? No, Truffle Fries!

Are you reading ahead? Days later, elaborate gift boxes arrived at my gate bearing imported truffle salt, white and black truffle oil and truffle catsup, with recipes! A rare market run for russet potatoes; it was an exceptionally warm afternoon for cooking, but I persevered and baked several batches of truffle fries – they were divine!

Truffle Frites
Truffle oils, salts and spicy Truffle Catsup, yum!

I’m eternally grateful for my travel cooking classes and dear Jenksie for the multiple gourmet goodie provisions, reminding me of the importance of relationships. Who know fifth grade friendships would guide us through a pandemic? Two little Catholic girls who rode Jenksies horses on weekends through Ojai citrus orchards and the sisterhood flourishes!

Day 60 of SIP. A reminder of how fortunate I am to have such close friends – a very wise woman once said: You can’t chose your family, but you can choose your friends…and just like that a frozen box of McConnell’s Santa Barbara ice cream is at my gate! No recipe required!

I’m not the only recipient of Jenksie Joy. Her gesture of love and friendship is being replicated among her family and friends. If only we could meet to break bread, my treat! 

Friday Frolics – a text arrives advising me to unlock my gate, a delivery is imminent! What?! Apparently, an order from a local specialty pie firm, Niles Pies, the Peninsula delivery is now scheduled for Friday afternoon. Hours later a bulging bag of boxed pies arrives. Not a typical pie company, Niles Pies, is a small cooperative in Fremont with a diverse menu, Pie to the People is a caption on the site! My pie bounty included: potato cheddar pasties, a double chocolate espresso pie, a tomato ricotta galette, and savory breakfast treats: blackberry blossom and Mango galette, and a soon to be enjoyed Moroccan Vegetable Pie. My nine mile Friday bike ride deserved the yummy tomato ricotta galette with a frothy Pixie Margarita.

Pandemic shelter has been infinitely more interesting, delicious and manageable due to Jenksie’s generosity!  One truly enchanting prezzie from attending Catholic girls school, I’m grateful for my school days ‘sister family’ who have been an important part of my support system, my ‘posse’ spanning over 50 years. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Jenksie!

Niles Pie  tomato ricotta galette
Niles Pie Moroccan Vegetable Pie
A Pixie Margarita Toast to Sisterhood and Jenksie!

Toasting to good health, Sisterhood and Jenksie!