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San Diego is known for its perfect weather, muscley beaches, boardwalks with beach cruisers and roller bladers, and hard bodies. It is America’s hot spot for an endless summer, it is sun and surf at its finest.

It is also the home of my dear Aunt Charlene, her admirable husband Bill, and my gorgeous cousin Melina and sweet cousin Justin. I could take or leave San Diego, it is a great city as far as they come but its not my cup of tea. However I had to make the long drive just 5 miles from our hot and steamy southern border to see this family of mine that has always shown me so much love and kindness.

We got into San Diego late at night and had our beds already made up for us and warm cookies in the oven. This is the kind of treatment you get at my family’s house. Who wouldn’t drive 2000 miles for this? Aunt Charlene had already started making the pie for tomorrow’s dinner.

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In the morning we woke up and Hilary, Aunt Charlene and myself went to a pleasant and transformative yoga class (it can change your life) and returned to the house to find Bill in the kitchen surrounded by aromas and steam of bacon, sausage and sweet apples to top the dutch baby that was rising in the oven. Our cups of coffee were bottomless. We chatted and laughed, loosened up from the Warrior poses that brought us strength for delving into the sizeable feast that was to come.

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Dutch babies are an Olson family tradition and I felt proud to be able to share it with Hilary. If you ever had a sleep over at my house growing up, lived with me as an adult, or visited my family with me then you have had the opportunity to experience the life and times of the Dutch Baby.

Here is how you make them:

What you need: eggs, flour, milk, butter, a blender and a round dish or bowl that can be put in the oven at high heat (deep cast iron skillets work best)

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Place the pan with a few tablespoons of butter in the oven while it is heating. This is essential to the essence of the DB. As the butter melts, it will start to brown a little bit and be perfect for when you pour in the batter.

As the oven preheats, get out your ingredients. The general rule is about an egg per person that is eating (but if you have 3 people you might as well do 4). For every egg you need a 1/4 of flour and a 1/4 cup of milk. Simple!

You want to prepare the batter just right before you put it in the oven. It is important not to let it sit. Put the eggs in the blender and whip for 30 seconds, slowly add the milk, whip for another 30 seconds, then slowly add the flour, whip for another 30 seconds and you have DB batter.

Slowly pour into the hot pan, watching the butter swirl around and pool in the middle. Place in the oven and wait for the magic to happen. Depending on how large the batch is, you want to bake it between 25 and 30 minutes. Keep a close eye on it the last 10 minutes. You should see the baby begin to rise, slowly at first and then it will puff up, quadrupling in size! It is amazing and so fun! Once it is sufficiently puffed the DB will be ready and should be served immediately. Quarter it and enjoy.

Optional toppings:

lemon and powder sugar

syrup

berries

apples sauteed with cinnamon and butter

(funny enough, I just searched for a photo of said scrumptiousness and came upon this woman’s blog post about them, which is almost identical to this one, but she has some pictures. Hilarious! http://kathdedon.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/dutch-baby-pancakes/)

Bill and Charlene had warmed up berries and apples together with cinnamon and sugar and boy was it tasty. Paired with a sausage patty and some crispy bacon strips, this was the perfect breakfast with the perfect company.

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This is how I felt after brunch- full and happy. San Diego is also worldly famous for their zoo. People come from around the globe to see their collection of animals and amazing habitats that have been created for them. They have taken the animal’s native plant species and brought them to the zoo so they will feel right at home. It is not uncommon to see the animals splashing in their waterfalls, climbing on vines and looking content.

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Normally I leave zoos feeling a bit sad but at the San Diego Zoo they have put in a lot of effort to create enjoyable experiences for the animals and guests. The admission is steep, but includes a tram ride over the whole zoo which Hilary and I found quite pleasurable and exciting like we were riding over the top of a real jungle canopy.

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The animal kingdom is truly fascinating and is something that all ages from the smallest children to elderly and even young and restless people like myself can enjoy. The colors and adaptability of these creatures is astounding. Where as we change the habitats around us to fit our needs, animals and plants develop to fit into their habitat and survive. From the pink of the flamboyant flamingo

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to the stripes of the mighty tiger,

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we crept past one exhibit after another enjoying the complexity and beauty of through snapshots of the world’s eco systems until day light fell to dusk and we had exhausted ourselves trying to comprehend the mating rituals of the quirky tapir.

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The animalistic instinct to search for the next meal hit hard and we headed back to Aunt Charlene’s house where we were invited by the fabulous smells of cooking with love for the second time of the day. Her and Bill were cooking up a storm and had a maple bourbon cocktail in the shaker waiting for us when we got home. What a life! And to boot, Melina my cousin was there to join us.

DSC01315She is single, gentlemen! Oh oops, that’s not her, sorry.

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While Char and Bill cooked we all laughed and told stories and had the good fuzzy family feeling you get when you are in the company of loved ones that happen to be jovial and funny, which lucky for me, they all are. And we were treated to another fabulous meal of big succulent shrimp with a sanguine tomato sauce over fresh rolled pasta with some wine and prayer to wash it all down.

DSC01335Upon popular demand we got Bill to showcase his musical skills for us at the piano. He is in an Irish traveling folk band that has been recognized by the country of Ireland and received cultural awards. He has brought music into my Aunt Charlene’s life in a big way and you can’t help but smile and laugh when you see how much fun they have together singing. Their love emanates from the keys and swirls in the air landing like dew drops on a fresh spring flower. They have battled cancer together, one of many obstacles that have tried to keep them a part but it just makes their love grow stronger and sweeter like honey turning into wine.

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Meyer lemons are the candy of citrus fruits. The normally sour lemon will make your mouth pucker and turn your eyes inward but the Meyer is like a lemon drop, so full of flavor you can taste its essence from smelling the rind. As timing should have it, it was lemon season in San Diego and Aunt Charlene has a Meyer Lemon Tree, from which she felt so inclined to make the best lemon meringue pie ever known to mankind.

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The rest of the evening was spent in Downtown Little Italy, Melina’s neck of the woods, a very cool and trendy neighborhood with amazing food and drinks and a lot to see, just blocks from the harbor. She escorted us to the oldest watering hole in San Diego, The Waterfront, where we cheersed beers to good family and good friends, and then later to good bars as we danced our way into the smallest hours of the next day to the DJ’s choice picks of hip hop and block rockin beats sweating out a little meringue with each booty shake.

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5 thoughts on “San Diego: Dutch Babies and Zoo Animals

  1. I made a Dutch baby last week for company! Even sauteed apple slices in cinnamon and butter, too. My favorite way, though, is with lemon and sugar. Wish I could have shared Charlene’s lemon pie. She is a fantastic cook! Gets it from her mom, my sister Betty!

  2. Oh Stephanie – we would love to have you return, anytime you are able. Love, love sweet adventuring niece!

      • Miss you too baby. I think of you every day since you’ve been here! Especially when I go out to my little garden and hope it all grows. Our heritage from my grandmother/your great grandmother/and of course your own mama.

  3. I giggled with the reading of this post, especially at the well intentioned (?) selection of pictures and discussion of persons. I salivated at the thought of a beautifully puffed DB and mouth watering lemon pie – yum !

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