Where Winter Wonderland Comes From

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We have discovered where winter wonderland comes from! It’s from a tiny mountain village of Idyllwild in Southern California. For us, it is undoubtedly one of the most significant discoveries of 2017.

The place is exactly what is sounds like – Idyllwild. Say it. Taste it. Feel the tremble of expectation, the urge of discovery rising inside? That’s the subtle magic of Idyllwild.

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img_20161231_120006Silence and grandeur enwrapped us upon arrival. For city dwellers like ourselves, silence was quite a unique pleasure.  And as if the majestic surrounding was not enough, there were squirrels and elks right at our doorstep. This squirrel is almost like a pet of our hosts – it comes daily at breakfast time for his share of peanuts.

Speaking of magic, Idyllwild sure enjoys a pun or two with a gullible visitor. For us, the Mountain Center pun was the best played. For you see, from its name, we expected it to be a Visitor Center of sorts, on the top of the mountain, of course. But what do we know?! It’s an actual geographical center of the mountain! Without a visitor center but with a lovely homey cafe (Mountain Center Cafe) and a gas station (with very reasonable prices).

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The other trick – quite literally, the Riddle of the Sphynx type of trick – is getting to Idyllwild. Since Idyllwild in located in the mountains (on the Hill, as locals say), the road from the surrounding plateau (Valley, as the locals refer to) is winding (from Banning, CA). And believe me when I say it’s winding. The fact that the road is called a Panoramic Highway does NOT compensate for the stress of driving up along it. 80 miles of head-spinning up-going winding-ness!

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The trick is to take a less winding route (through Hemet, CA), which is longer and therefore not suggested by the cursed GPS.

We, naturally, took a shorter route. And since we were going to celebrate the New Year there, it was winter as we drove from Las Vegas to Idyllwild, implying that it gets dark early. By which I mean that we got to Banning, the starting point of the 80-mile ascend, at dusk. Those of you with good imagination may easily envision how much we enjoyed the Panoramic Highway, driving in the dark, for the first time, not sure of the road conditions, slowly creeping like a turtle not to miss a turn. Oh, did I mention the screaming baby in the back seat? Well, now you have a full picture. Be happy you were not the driver that day 🙂

But it was all worth it! Idyllwild Nature Center, Humber Park and the downtown are a candy to the eye and joy to the heart!

The world’s largest pine cones grow at Idyllwild Nature Center grown  – at least that’s what we were told by the Canter’s ranger. Granted, those pine cones are ENORMOUS,  larger than those we saw at Big Bear Lake, and in this pic they are still closed:

 

The downtown is all rustic and wooden, with plenty delicious locally-owned restaurants and TWO huge Christmas trees! Both of which are a growing trees, a part of the community. Isn’t that precious?!

If you are not yet convinced that Idyllwild is the most idyllic place to celebrate winter holidays, I give you my ultimate reason: Wishes come true here.  Mine did. Idyllwild made my first wish of 2017 come true! I wished for snow. Seriously, having spent 5 winters in Vegas I longed for snowy New Year. And it happened! It started snowing on New Year’s Eve and on the first day of 2017 this is what we woke up to:     

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Welcome 2014 – Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year everyone!!! May the Horse give you a gentle, but exciting ride to your success this year!

This year I enjoyed easiest, most stress-less and low-key New Year’s Eve preparation for as long as I can remember – it is all in the picture

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But from where I come from the New Year is arguably the biggest deal of the year. There is Christmas (which the Orthodox Christians celebrate on the 7th January), Easter and birthdays, of course. But hardly any other celebration requires preparation so thorough and effort so arduous.

Back in the day, food stacking would begin as early as a month before the New Year. Pantries and fridges would fill up with meat, poultry, cheese, sausages, canned fish, fruit and all kinds of marinaded preserves, such as mushrooms, pickles, olives, spicy carrots, etc, etc, etc. Although, truth be told, most of the preserves used to be prepared in advance, dozens of home-made mason jars with vegetable salads, fruit juices, spicy sauces, picked cucumbers, cabbage or tomatoes, sealed during the best season for each respective produce. Today, however, this habit is dying out – supermarkets are great suppliers of any New Year’s gastronomical whims.

The week preceding the New Year’s Eve the family would almost starve. Or if you are very lucky, you’d be eating quick biters of sandwiches, fried eggs and the like. And God forbid you eat something out of the fridge without permission! Why? Because all the food in the house was being cooked and prepared for the grand finale – the New Year’s Eve table.

The staple on the menu are the so-called Russian Salad – “OlivjE” with the stress on the last “E”, as we call it; and “Kholodets” which is a cold jelly stew traditionally made of cock broth and poultry; the beet root salad; the crab sticks salad; “Fur coat covered herring” salad – my personal favorite, though does not sound appetizing when put down into letters (?); garlic cream cheese appetizer; a beet root or spicy carrot with nuts pickles, garlic and mayo appetizer; dried plums stuffed with nuts; marinaded mushrooms, spicy carrots, spicy marinaded cauliflower, home made marinaded bell and green peppers and zucchini and these are only off the top of my head list.

Then comes the main meat or poultry course with mashed potatoes for the side.

The dessert (2-3 different cakes and a variety of cookies) is usually taken for breakfast the following morning.

And the feast continues well into the next day, when friends and relations come to visit, dragging dishes to share from their own table.

And so it goes, for days, Table and TV, til the last crumb.

If any of the dishes mentioned here caught your attention, let me know! I’d be happy to share the recipe.