Ecstasy at Esalen

Heritage Culinary Artifacts

He kept asking if I was able to ‘feel it in my marrow.’
Indeed, I could.  He was that good. 
But that’s not where my head was at. 
Not at all. 
Rather, I kept envisioning long, sterling silver spoons,
weighty and hallmarked,
their tiny scoops filled with whipped, savory clouds
studded with crunchy Maldon salt. 
Ah, the earthy flavor of bone marrow:  the mass of life with which we satiate
our darkest hungers. 
My reverie extended to thick slabs of warm brioche,
a fading Barolo from the late 70s, a worthy companion. 
Could the questioning yogi, a tall, exccedingly thin man now standing in front of me
possibly guess at my thoughts?
Bone marrow was not on the week’s menu, but I had come anyway. 
For a yoga and mediation retreat.
Apparently, to heal my marrow. 
Esalen Institute, situated on 120-acres hugging California’s pristine
Pacific coastline in Big Sur, was within easy driving distance
from my home in Napa Valley, yet a world away. 
Esalen offers more than 500 workshops each year on topics often devoted to yoga,
massage, ecology, spirituality, and meditation.
My travel mate and I took the opportunity to make a few stops
on the way to enlightenment,
searching for treasures from California’s Central Coast for my shop,
This covered casserole is a clever, functional work of art created by a
San Francisco artist.  Its figural handle shows a woman hitting her tablemate
in the face with a pie. 
Makes me think of Rubert Murdoch for a variety or reasons. 
Perfect for preparing roasts, ragus and bean dishes. 
Fully functional and in exceptional condition.
Created and signed by San Francisco artist M. Smitty, 1983. 
Measures 8" high and 12" in diameter.  ($310)
Most stirrup cups hail from England but California’s Central Coast is horse country,
so it makes sense I would find such an unusual piece so far from its home. 
Stirrup cups are handed to the rider at the
beginning of the hunt, filled with a morning shot of whiskey to toast success. 
Thanks to the cup’s ingenious design, the rider is able to easily balance his drink and the reins. 
The boar’s head is well done and rather rare. 
Measuring 5" tall and 3" in diameter.  ($185)
One of my favorite recent finds.  A blush pink Depression glass barrel with a brass handle and
spout dispenser, a black porcelain stopper and black porcelain base. 
In excellent condition, this is a highly unusual piece and would be brilliant
on the counter filled with olive oil, wine, wine vinegar, bourbon, Pastis…… 
The base and barrel measure 8" tall and 9" in length.
American, 1930s.  ($410)
 The night prior to our stint at Esalen, we arrived into the small, seaside town of Carmel.
I lived in Carmel for a year, many moons ago.  I always liked the idea of living in Carmel-by-the-Sea more than I actually cared to live there.  The name evokes salty air, golf courses, Doris Day and those crazy cypress trees, their low branches
carved into long, witchy fingers by the winds.  While the natural area is so incredibly lovely,
with its lagoons and harbors and mountains and wildlife,
it’s too white and too wealthy. 
And the food sucks. 
I nursed my indignation with a sunrise walk on Carmel’s divine beach;
the locals playing with their dogs
and catching up on gossip while standing in the gentle surf. 
Invigorated, we had a quick breakfast in Auberge du Carmel’s quite proper dining room,
filling up on hot tea and very retro but tasty orange-cinnamon rolls.  
Big Sur lies further to the south, a magnificent drive along a blissfully undeveloped coastline.  We tucked into a decent lunch of oysters and strong French beer
while sitting outside in the sun at Ventana Inn,
watching the hawks ride the air streams in the hills surrounding us.
We arrived to Esalen just as the sun was beginning to set;
a more prolonged and ecstatic sunset I cannot recall. 
Esalen Institute is … well, it’s truly an institution.  Hippie parties in the 60s, drugs, motorcycles, Hollywood, rock-n-rollers, free love; it’s the stuff of legends.  Timothy Leary stayed and Hunter Thompson worked in the kitchen.  Joan Baez taught a class.  Various Beatles and Stones, as well as heavy thinkers in Gestalt and psychology passed through, all leaving their scholarly mark while looking for peace, love and to score.  (And while I didn’t see any free love nor any rock stars, I did enjoy a bit of California’s finest herb each afternoon during our long lunch break; sitting in the sun, watching for passing whales and migrating Monarch butterflies).
The property retains its California counter-culture, 1960’s vibe, but I noticed more than a few guys waiting in line for lunch who were members of an entirely different counter-culture; the banker-casual shoes and the dress-up of a button-down shirt worn loosely
by guys from nearby Silicon Valley.
The accommodations were clean, private and sparse.  Like visiting a convent on a fine piece of land, which the elders of Roman Catholic Church are hiding from the courts.
The evening sky was black but for the stars.  We wore little headlamps
to get around the property at night. 
Not that we stayed up late.
Deeply sated on ocean air, green bud, meditation, yoga and granola, dark bread and kale,
we were asleep by 9:30 each night, books and magazines untouched.
Mornings were spent in an huge yurt on a bluff, listening to the surf and meditating with the rising sun.  Afternoons, we practiced yoga, listening to our bodies (mine wept) and feeling our marrow.  All of the Institute’s guests and members took meals together in an earthy/crunchy cafeteria, the walls of which were done in knotty California pine.
We waited patiently in line
to fill our plates with good greens and grains,
much of it produced on the property.
Esalen is well known for their outdoor baths, which are perched on a rocky ledge 50-feet above the crashing Pacific surf.  Unreal.  Natural hot springs flow from the ground at 119 degrees at 80 gallons each minute. These same healing waters have been flowing for centuries, providing respite for Esselen Indians and other seekers.  I sat in the late-afternoon sun, naked with a bunch of other naked strangers, staring at the sea.
The migratory whales seemed as curious about us as we were of them, coming as close to the coastline as they dared. 
The sea lions, however, couldn’t have cared less;
happy to rest their heaving bodies on the rocks below.
At week’s end, my body ached, but I felt nourished, relaxed and rested.  The screaming in my head had been momentarily silenced.  My karma must’ve been awesome at this point, because driving home through Monterey,
I found a few more goodies.
This chalkware piece is colorful, fun and functional.  This string holder is perfect for a kitchen counter, hunourously dispensing kitchen twine for tying up chickens, herbs and bratty children.  In fine condition with great colors.
Measures 8" wide and  7" tall.
California, 1930s.

This handsome and unusual ice-cream scoop is made with mixed metals;  brass and stainless steel.  While its design is timeless, it is the use of brass that makes this a unique piece.  Measures 10" long.  American, 1940-1950s.  ($62)
A platter like no other!  The bull is slightly raised and appears angry at the thought of being
roasted on the spit below.  Large in spirit and in size, it measures 19.5"long and 14.5" tall. 
In very fine condition. 
California Pottery, mid-century.  ($285)
The cheese knives are each works of art; radiant mother-of-pearl handles,
incredible detailing on the band work and English hallmarked blades. 
In very fine condition, these gorgeous cheese knives each measure 7" long. Set of six ($110)
The lines on these three pieces are absolutely amazing.  The covered creamer, covered sugar bowl
and covered honey pot are each in excellent condition and
have a lovely creamy brown coloring.  Each piece is marked with the
raised “raymor by Roseville” script mark and shape number.  Raymor Modern Stoneware
is a Mid-Century Modern line introduced by Roseville Pottery in 1952. 
The line was designed by freelance designer Ben Seibel,
and it remains one of the most popular patterns with mid-century afficionados. 
Creamer 4.5" tall.  Sugar bowl 6" wide.  Honey pot 4" tall.
American, 1950s.  Set of three pieces.  ($385)
The figural iron dog knife rests are exceptional.  Great detailing on
heavy pewter in outstanding condition. 
Dachshunds, perhaps?  Whatever the breed, they are eye-catching.  Bark less.  Wag more.
Each measures 2.8" long. 
Set of six ($225)
After a week of staring at the mighty Pacific and eating greens and grains, I was craving something rich from the sea. 
Our final stop before home was to liberate supper from the depths of Monterey Harbor.  Adoring abalone, I’ve been known to cruise Route One towards Mendocino, furtively asking random men by the side of the road if I can score half of their limit of two.  Divers are only permitted to free-dive for abalone.  No scuba allowed.   It’s a tough morning of work; the murky waters are very cold and sharks are known to feed in the kelp beds where abalone are abundant.  The harvesting of this delicious sea snail is highly regulated by the state.  It’s illegal for divers to sell their catch, so I’d offer to trade a good bottle of wine
along with a donation to their favorite charity.
Not often successful in my attempted bribery, I took to ordering from the
Their little storefront is at the end of a long pier, lending a distinct authenticity to their product.  Below the pier, attached to nets, is their abalone farm.  The red abalone is fed tons and tons of kelp, harvested from the same the waters.  It takes more than four years to grow an abalone to market size; at least 3.5” in shell length, weighing a quarter of a pound.
Ugly-sexy, right??
Once home, we pried open their tough shells and removed the meat from the luminous mother-of-pearl linings.  I opened an old bottle of Champagne and got busy cleaning the abalone, trimming off the mantle. I spent the next 20 minutes with a wooden mallet, tenderizing the meat.
I melted an enormous block of Italian butter until sizzling and tossed in the abalone cutlets, dressed skimpily in a dusting of flour. Once lightly browned and flipped, I added a handful of French capers and the juice from a couple of Meyer lemons.  I deglazed the pan with a bit of the 1985 Champagne, it’s tiny bubbles sending up a cloud of mingling aromas.
I could indeed feel it in my marrow.
If any of the treasures in this newsletter move you,
or would make a wonderful gift for someone you know, write to me. 
May I be of assistance? 
Contact me directly at
and I would be very pleased to discuss details. 
Please know each items is unique and one-of-a-kind, 
so when they’re gone, they are gone. 
I will do my best to fulfill your wishes.
Until next time.