Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Northern California Adventure Part 2 -Beef Camp

Morning came early on Thursday. After four bottles of wine the night before, us ladieth were slow to start and we finally made it out of the Bay Area by 1:30. The plan was to stop by Spleen's parent's ranch (aka Beef Camp) in Oakdale, a small valley town on the way to Yosemite.

Spleen grew up on a cattle ranch and wove tales of canoeing down the irrigation canal, riding four wheelers or horses and driving fast on country roads in her 1964 (and 1/2!) red Mustang to see her friends who lived at least a half hour away. Digs and I used to listen in awe, as both of us were raised in Southern California and ranch life was as foreign to us as well ... winter. I never tired of hearing Spleen talk about her life on the ranch and couldn't understand why she not only desired to come to San Diego, but didn't mind leaving all of the four legged creatures on her parent's ranch. I was, and still am, gaga for (almost!) any type of animal.

It was our first summer of college and the stretch of three months without seeing each other felt way too long so Digs and I made the trek up to the 'dale to see Spleen and celebrate her mom's birthday. Spleen's directions were pretty straightforward. I-5 to 99, a bunch of other county roads I can't remember and then once you go through the town with two stoplights (they were new!) turn right, and go up a "driveway" that's almost a mile long and you're there! After a few sketchy moments of questioning what exactly determines whether something is or is not a stop light (Do they have to have all three colors? Could a blinking yellow light be defined as a stoplight?) we made it.

Pulling into Beef Camp (our knickname for the ranch not its actual name) meant, and still does mean, instant relaxation. The grass waves in the valley breezes that come at twilight. The skies errupt in spectacular sunsets. Mrs. H's garden to the south of the house yields perfectly ripe tomatoes and peppers and is shaded by an apple tree. A large trampoline in the backyard has provided endless hours of fun for the cows who watch us three jumping girls as we giggle and scream before passing out flat on our backs to gaze up at the clear country skies full of stars. It is heaven and that's even before I start in on the country cooking. Mrs. H believes in feeding her guests and there is nothing like waking up to the smell of monkey bread straight from the oven. Unless of course you're talking about Texas Sheetcake, or fluffy chocolate chip cookies (the recipe, of course a family secret, damn it) or tacos, or nachos, or ... wait for it ... El Ranchito.

El Ranchito is a family run restuarant in Riverbank and the H's have been going there for almost 30 years. It is amazing, the kind of restaurant that remembers you the moment you walk in and can tell how old your kids are because they've watched them grow up just like they've watched their own. The food is just as incredible and the first time we ate there I believe I cried--one, because I was so full and two because it was all gone. "How did you leave this place?" I'd ask Spleen over the years. While she appreciates it, she also loves San Diego--the warm weather, surfing, the laid back atmosphere, the ocean and of course, the mexican food. She has the best of both worlds--the 'dale to visit and San Diego to live. The best part about Spleen is that she recognizes the importance of both.

Spleen is amazing. If I had to pick a body organ she resembled, it strangely enough, wouldn't be the spleen (her highschool knickname) but the heart. She has a big one and wears it on her sleeve. Spleen has every reason to be the stuck up snobby girl you hate--she's 5'10, blonde, can walk out her front door and go for a five mile run without dying. She's a social worker and completely giving. She's a shark at pool, can surf with the boys, cook like her mama and her thighs don't rub together. I'd hate her if I didn't love her so much. We were put together as roommates and became friends, often times marvelling at how we were such opposites but still got along so well. I am, ahem, not 5'10, could TOTALLY walk out my front door and run 5 miles (but would die before I got through mile number one), play pool about as well as I bowl and let's not talk about my thighs, okay? This is about Spleen!

We may be opposites, but one thing is for sure. Opposites attract. And a shared love of Mexican food, guys in jeans and flip flops and a never ending game of "Would You Rather" never hurts. We were only at Beef Camp for a short time, but I still felt that same pang I always do when I leave. I feel fortunate that Beef Camp has become a second home, but I can only say that because Spleen has become family. I too have the best of both worlds.