Friday, October 5, 2018

FYI – WWII POWs in Santa Barbara: A Compelling Read

In my latest travel book, Santa Barbara Know It All, I ask in a quiz at the end of the book if World War II prisoners held in POW camps here in Santa Barbara were used in harvesting local grapes, and other crops. It’s not a trick question, because it’s actually true. Then, I heard about this book German Prisoners of War at Camp Cooke, California and its very detailed account of the exact POW camp I referenced - Camp Cooke, located in Lompoc, and now part of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

June 16, 1944
The first train load of WWII German prisoners arrived at
Camp Cooke in Santa Barbara.

The interesting and unexpected approach to this book is that it is written in firsthand accounts of 14 German soldiers captured at various places and points during World War II. Author Jeffery Geiger opens up each chapter with his own writing, then lets the German POWs reflect upon their own experiences. Geiger is well versed in this material, as he is the retired chief civilian historian of Vandenberg Air Force Base. Many of the POWs discuss their capture and their subsequent removal from Europe and transfer to America specifically California, but to other states as well. As POW Alfred Schmucker writes: "The greatest day for some of us was when a convoy of American army trucks moved in and picked up about 80% of the German POWs on July 9, 1944. Contrary to what we endured while under French jurisdiction… for the first time in 14 months we could take a shower, receive good food, and were treated like human beings."

After the men reached various camps across the US they were processed, given new clothes and then put to work in the fields picking everything from sugar beets, cotton, to tomatoes, grapes, etc.  As POW Adolf Kelmer mentions, "It was surprising to me that we were paid for our labor. The money had a significant buying power in the camp at canteen. We bought cigarettes, sweets, toilet articles and many other things that for a long time had been unavailable to us in the German army. "

What probably most people don't realize was that these POW camps, including Camp Cooke, were small cities. They had barbers, tailors, even makeshift orchestras. According to Herbert Schaffrath, "In the camp we had both an orchestra and an amateur theatrical group. The song 'Don't Fence Me In' was a popular melody among the POWs in 1945." He goes on to say, “Having a pet dog or cat in our barrack gave each of us a wonderful feeling of homeliness. When we returned from work in the evenings the little dog was always waiting at the door to greet us eagerly." Ultimately though, these were still prisoners. "Despite all the pleasant activities available to us at Camp Cooke, we all had days when our only thoughts were to be reunited with our loved ones back home," wrote one German POW.

This book chronicles 14 people - not necessarily prisoners, not even Germans - but human beings like you and me. It follows the ups and downs, the tedium of prison life, the private dreams and hopes of men living in a confined environment, and the aftermath of the war that placed them there. Werner Blanck summed it up best after Camp Cooke closed and he was released. "If I could have stayed in California when Camp Cooke was closing in 1946 I would have done so. I liked the country and the people. Looking back on my military service and my time as a prisoner of war in America, I learned that there could be no justification to use force against another. I see no reason why disagreements between nations cannot be settled peacefully."

A read of this book will restore your faith in humanity, and given our current global conflicts, we all need to know that throughout history there are good people, quietly making the world a little better; be they prisoners, guards, or simply people caught up in a global conflict not of their own making.

German Prisoners of War at Camp Cooke, California
Jeffrey E. Geiger
272 pages
Sunbury Press

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Monarch Has Landed: Montecito’s Newest Eatery

Baked Brie
Montecito doesn’t often open new restaurants, but the August, 2018 arrival of The Monarch is much anticipated, and something much needed.

After the raging Thomas Fire in December 2017 and the January 2018 mudslides, Montecito suffered greatly, as did all of Santa Barbara.
But fast foreword half a year and new growth has sprung up in the form of The Monarch, perhaps fittingly called as the butterfly…well, you know. Embracing the local-ness of our community the overarching point of the Monarch is a hyper local approach to its food. Local is a culinary buzzword these days, and hyper-local, even more so. But what is it? As the words imply, locally sourced ingredients within 100 miles of any given establishment. So what The Monarch has done is actually to list their purveyors right on their menu so you know where your food, even the hand made custom plates, comes from. The restaurant is the brain child of husband and wife chef duo, Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee.

The space focuses on beige and tan colors. The open bar and open kitchen means that nothing can hide from you. A handful of tables including some tables with couches make it feel both comfortable and slightly upscale. Copious light pours up into the restaurant windows facing Coast Village Road keeping the feel very bright. If you end up waiting for a table they will offer you complementary sparkling wine. Wines on the list are predominately local, all the wines by the glass, with the exception of French champagne and a handful of bottles for purchase. They have a nice selection of spirits including a number of Mezcal's and a few Japanese whiskeys, and will gladly make you a cocktail.

As a starter I had the Gabe’s Baked Brie ($15), a triple-cream cheese from Stepladder Creamery in Cambria rolled in a light puff pastry (photo above). The triple cream might sound heavy but it is the reverse of that – light, delicate, creamy. The Brie sits on a bed of greens - a blend of nine different herbs and wildflowers giving an earthy savory component to it – and fresh berries. The whole of this is a terrific combination of savory, sweet and earthy. One of the reasons I chose this, aside from my love affair with cheese, is that you don’t often see baked Brie on menus much anymore and it’s a departure from the norm.

Their Duck Breast and Leg ($46) is the entrée I enjoyed with lightly glazed honey, jasmine and coriander. It’s slow roasted inside their oven, then finished on the grill. Alongside the moist duck were lovely grilled carrots, potatoes and corn on the cob, sans cob, which is topped with herb butter. The kernels are small and slightly crunchy after being shucked off. I don’t eat much corn, but the texture of this was intriguing. An accompanying salad of fresh tomatoes, micro greens and fresh beans was simple yet stunning. This is what happens when you use ultra fresh ingredients  - you get an explosion of flavor, both subtle and nuanced as well as obvious and potent. I’m glad The Monarch has landed and once you visit, you will be too.

1295 Coast Village Rd.
Wednesday – Sunday 5p.m. to closing

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Taste My Town: Sampling Santa Barbara At Premiere Event

Me & The Mrs at Taste of the Town
Food and wine events in Santa Barbara are a dime-a-baker’s-dozen. But one in particular stands out for me, and it happens on September 7th – 9th, where top chefs, stellar wines, cool brews and spirits offer their best.

The Taste of the Town, now in its 38th year, has always supported the programs and services of the Arthritis Foundation - the only non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of 50 million people including nearly 300,000 children with arthritis - through health education, advocacy, research, and local juvenile arthritis support.
Taste of the Town uses wine, food, music, beer, a silent auction - all of it local to Santa Barbara - to make for an enjoyable afternoon (a partial list of who will be there is below).

So, as I said, a dime a dozen. So why this particular event?
1. Tickets are limited, so you’re not throwing elbows to find a bite of food or sample a beer or wine (one local event draws 3,000 people – waaayy too may folks impeding your progress.) Taste of the Town is easy to navigate.
2. It’s one of the coolest venues around. Held at the Rivera Business Park, it was formerly called The Normal School, then it became the first iteration of UCSB. Held under the shaded canopy of arched column walkways, a mirror pool lies dead center – and it almost looks like the Getty Villa In Malibu.
3. This is where my wife and I shot some of our wedding photos. So right there, I have sanctioned the place. I’ve attended the event and can sanction that too. For other cool events in Santa Barbara check out my March 2018 new comedy Travel Book: Santa Barbara Know It All: A Guide To Everything That Matters.                                         
Individual regular admission tickets for the Sunday afternoon Taste of the Town on 9/9/18 are $125 per person in advance, $140 at the door and yes it’s worth it. There’s also a more exclusive event on 9/7.
Tickets are available at or by calling the Arthritis Foundation Central Coast at 805-563-4685. Hope to see you there!

Confirmed Food Purveyors: Ca'Dario, Finch & Fork, High on the Hog Catering, Lilac Patisserie, Michael's Catering, Opal Restaurant & Bar, Santa Barbara Yacht Club, The Little Door, The Palace Grill, and Via Maestra 42.
Confirmed Wines, Spirits and Beers: Alexander & Wayne, Alma Rosa, Au Bon Climat, Brander, Brewer-Clifton, Cutler's Artisan Spirits, Demetria Estates, Grassini, Islands Brewing Company, Jaffurs, Ken Brown Wines, Kessler- Haak, Melville, Presqu'ile, Qupe.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Top 5 Reasons You Should NOT Buy My New Santa Barbara Comedy Travel Book

#5: You Loathe Santa Barbara.
Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who passionately hate Santa Barbara. The beach, the mountains, the natural beauty, the laid back vibe, near perfect weather and friendly people disgust them. I’ve never met them, but I’m sure there are a handful out there. I’ve heard rumors. Anyhow, if you hate it here, please do not buy my book.

#4: You Can’t Stand Learning New Things
There is a segment of the population who can’t stand to find a new restaurant to try, art galley to visit, hike to take, winery or brewery to sample. Only the standard tried and true will do. Besides, you never know what you’ll get with new experiences. Probably lice! Right? If you prefer the same tedious experiences you’ve had for years, do not buy my book.

#3:You Hate Small Towns
Small is just hugely wrong. Santa Barbara is a small town with small people, small portions, small mindsets and big taxes. Only a big city can offer variety, diversity, choice, and, you know, other stuff. Small towns like Santa Barbara and its even smaller towns like Lompoc, Los Alamos, Summerland, Montecito, Goleta and Carpinteria are like sets from a movie - there’s nothing behind the façade. And don’t get me started on the “Danish” themed Solvang! This book sounds idiotic.

#2: Traveling to You is Like Having the Plague
Let’s be honest – ‘travel’ is a ‘hassle.’ Heck, they’re practically even spelled the same! Crowds, noise, renting a car, sitting on a plane, yes even walking is laborious and hard. Who wants a bad nights sleep in some crappy hotel? Why get up to fresh air and hang out at a Santa Barbara beach – we all know the ocean isn’t even blue, it reflects the color of the sky. Plus there are kids, dogs, musicians, artists, anyone on a Segway…yeah, no thanks. When you stay at home no one bothers you (except for that weird neighbor). Don’t travel and don’t waste your money on my book.

#1: You Don’t Have a Funny Bone in Your Body.
I don’t mean literally your “funny bone” (that’s actually when your ulner nerve bumps against your humorous bone and you get that icky sensation like your arm is drunk) because then your arm wouldn’t work. You haven’t laughed in decades. I mean, why bother? The world isn’t funny, this blog post is stupid, and to smile wastes valuable calories. So please, I beg of you, don’t buy my book.

Thank you.
The dumb author who Wrote Santa Barbara Know It All: A Guide To Everything That Matters.
P.S. – Just so you know, don’t even bother buying a copy of this book at Tecelote Bookstore in Montecito, Chaucer’s or the Visitor’s Center in Santa Barbara, The BookLoft in Solvang, or the Costco in Goleta. And for Pete’s sakes don’t purchase it on Amazon!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sipping in Solvang: 6 Years of Southern Exposure (of Wine and Danish)

Discovery. Finding wines are that are new, under the radar, barely available and hard to find. Yep, that’s fun. The Garagiste Festival 6th Annual Southern Exposure kicks off on Friday night, February 9th in Solvang. Yeah, Solvang, that cool little Danish town in Santa Barbara Wine Country.

Having attended these events in Paso Robles and Solvang before has been a great opportunity, not only for me as a wine writer, but also a wine buyer and I brought a few of these wines into my wine department. (See that article HERE).
So, should you attend? Well, if you dislike the idea of uncovering hard to find wines, if you prefer to drink only what you know, they by all means stay home. Otherwise, here’s what’s in store:

10 wineries brand new to Garagiste that you haven't tasted anywhere else.

6 wineries pouring their very 1st vintage.

Over 50% of the wineries participating have never poured in Solvang before. So even for those who have attended before, they will find plenty of new wines to experience.

Only 11 wineries even have tasting rooms with regular hours - just 26% of participants - so now is the chance to explore.

No waiting in line- they keep their winemaker-to-attendee ratio deliberately low to ensure a personal tasting experience.

There will other events along as well, so check the website for those details, but if nothing else, come Saturday for the main tasting and be prepared to be wowed.

But also check out Solvang, which has its roots from 1911 when it was founded. If you get a chance visit Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates – all Danish chocolates made right here in Solvang, at 1679 Copenhagen Dr. Also known for pastries, Solvang offers several places in town to check out for butter cookies, as well as art galleries, Danish clothing and gifts, not to mention Jule Hus – all Christmas all the time at 1580 Mission Dr.

Winemakers scheduled to pour include
Ascension Cellars, Caliza Winery, Camlow Cellars, Cloak & Dagger Wines, D. Volk Wines, Diablo Paso, Dunites Wine Co., El Lugar Wines, Golden Triangle, Hoi Polloi Wines, Kimsey Vineyards, Luna Hart Wines, Marin’s Vineyard, MCV Wines, Metrick Wines, Mollie Wines, Montemar Winery, Sycamore Ranch Winery, TLO Wines, Torch Cellars, TW Fermentation Co., Velvet Bee Wine, Vino Vargas, Volatus Wines, and Weatherborne Wine Co.