Posted by: Ginny Prior | February 3, 2010

SMC Coastal Trip Featured in Hills Newspapers

SMC Travelers pose at Point Montara Lighthouse


By Ginny Prior

Many things come full circle in life. Take slow food, for instance. My ancestors would be pleased, if not a little surprised, to see that farming is fashionable again. The idea that we should eat what’s grown seasonally, and regionally, is really nothing new – is it?

And so, my trip to the San Mateo Coast, recently, was like going back to the days when my family worked the soil in a windswept corner of South Dakota. Rows of leafy green vegetables laced the land along both sides of Highway One, and terraced the hillside as it meandered toward the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s this imposing range of rocks that has kept developers away from the coastal side of San Mateo County; this and the fog which many find menacing.

But my visit was on one of those days when rain had scrubbed the landscape clean – and the sun had the ocean sparkling like sea-glass on a black-sand beach. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I prayed. I had 21 students in my charge – part of a travel writing class I was teaching at St. Mary’s College in Moraga.

As our motor coach carefully wound its way across the aptly named section of highway called Devil’s Slide, I surveyed the jagged coastline and lush, green valley below. “The devil is sleeping today,” I mused.

One thing I’ve learned about traveling with students –they need lots of free time to explore. Our first stop at Point Montara Lighthouse fit the bill perfectly. Keeper Chris Bauman showed us around the immaculate property, which is celebrating its 30th year as a hostel and 135th year as a fog signal station for ships navigating the treacherous waters offshore. My first thought was – a half hour down the road you pay hundreds of dollars a night for a room with a view like this. Here, you pay as little as $23. Remarkably, business is down – even for ocean-front bargain properties.

The students gleaned several stories from their visit, everything from the economical option of staying in a hostel to the historical aspect of a site that once served as a military installation during World War Two. They shot photos and video and hiked to the beach before boarding the bus to Half Moon Bay.

This is where the slow food part of the story comes in. Lunch was arranged at a downtown favorite – Pasta Moon on Main Street. 24 years ago, this restaurant opened with the idea of forming a partnership with local farmers. Our lunch celebrated this relationship, with course after course of fresh, seasonal offerings. A class favorite was the butternut squash and mascarpone ravioli, but the lasagna with house-made Sicilian sausage was a close second. Even the pizzas had farm fresh flavors and seasonal toppings like pear – paired with prosciutto and caramelized onions. “Imagine if you were a food writer,” I told the students. “You’d be eating like this all the time, and then writing about it. Hey – it’s a tough job,” I added, “But somebody’s got to do it,” they all chimed in.

Driving back to St. Mary’s, we took the eastern route along Highway 92. The fertile fields faded into the background as we headed over the mountain and down the other side into a world much more populated. The Victorian houses were being replaced by skyscrapers and the din of thousands of cars and a nearby airport.

I’ve thought a lot about the San Mateo Coast in the days since our return. It seems to me that the people who live there have a pretty good thing going. And the fog that blankets the region so many days of the year – is a small price to pay for giant pumpkins and other culinary delights. – Ginny Prior



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