My first night was spent with a few of my cousin's friends. Before we left, I was given the chance to cook in Chuck's fully-equipped kitchen, stocked with all the goodies us food-nerds love. I made a quick tomato, cucumber, fresh mozzarella, and basil salad drizzled with some of his prized olive oil from a local producer. With tupperware in hand, we headed off to Fair Oaks Park, where we planned to see an amateur band. I was expecting a bunch of old guys dressed in bleach-washed Levi's and denim vests wishing it was still 1983 and they weren't balding. Wrong I was. These 20-somethings completely surprised me. As they played "Benny and the Jets," and I drank my Chardonnay, I was coerced by my cousin to get up and dance. So there I was, shaking my hips, hands in my wild hair, as Todd Morgan and the Emblems whisked me away into dreamland. The aura I felt around me was unlike anything I had experienced before. Everyone young and old was dancing. There was no judgment or rude facial expressions - only smiles.
Awakening the following morning, I called my mom with the excitement of a child on Christmas day. To an outsider, it is difficult to explain this world; I only can say that every stereotype about California is true. It is one of the most stunning places on Earth. For breakfast, I was greeted by a dutch baby, a Swedish pancake, which atop the slightly crisp surface, I dribbled golden honey. Alongside, I was handed the sweetest sliced nectarines. It was absolute perfection. A few hours later, I came prepared with my swimsuit, goggles, and cap. I swam laps, feeling something arise in me that hasn't been present since my days on the high school swim team. As I talked to myself underwater and felt every breath rush in and out of my lungs, I realized how much I missed this feeling of invigoration - having all the power, yet none at all.
With my stomach beyond the point of hunger, I devoured edamame, miso soup, and inari rolls. Let me say again: any sort of food here is just lovely. And later that night, I fell into a sleep unlike any other I have had since my arrival in Sacramento.
As Saturday arrived, I found oatmeal waiting for me. As I grabbed myself a bowl which I sprinkled with shaved coconut and almonds, Chuck's girlfriend, Jeanine, stepped into the kitchen. Already having plans in mind, we headed off to the Farmers' Market for the items our recipes called for. I cannot stress enough: if you haven't been to a California Farmers' Market: GO. I took about fifty pictures looking like an absolute lunatic with my wide eyes and stupid smile spread across my face. I kept repeating to each vender, "I'm not from around here." But I didn't care what I looked like, because I felt as though I stepped into a new dimension of food. My exposure to produce has been so limited through living on the east coast. And I finally realized this as I stared at the shiny strawberries that needed no sugar to macerate; the golden apricots filled to the brim of the cardboard box they inhabited; the pastel green tomatillos about to burst with ripeness. I have never seen such beautiful food. EVER. I could not believe I had been forced to eat such under-ripe, low-quality produce for the past nineteen years of my life.
Jeanine and Chuck explained to me how different California living is from my hometown, stressing the idea that while food is extremely important, health is at the forefront of everyone's minds. Where Rochesterians focus on work, technology, and restaurants, Californians socialize about their gym memberships and swim club. I hope that one day I will get to that point, but for now, I think I'll just relish in the glory of the food here…