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A Catalina Island Adventure

April 3, 2011

If it seems like it’s been awfully quite around here, it’s because my husband and I took off for a few days as soon as the skies cleared up.  We decided to fly down to Catalina Island, 22 miles off the coast of southern California.  After visiting the main city of Avalon a few years ago, we decided to explore the less busy Two Harbors next, the island’s unincorporated village.

Top picture shows me happy, oblivious to the pain ahead. Bottom picture shows me out of energy, halfway to Two Harbors. No breakfast and no lunch, not a good idea. We started out at the top of the hill on the far left.

After an uneventful flight to the island (if you consider flying over the Pacific Ocean for 20 minutes in a small tin uneventful), my husband and I set off on our mountain bikes, packs on our back.  It was scorching hot in mid-afternoon when we arrived and I foolishly did not eat all day to prepare for what turned out to be a grueling bike ride to the village.  This was a stupid mistake on my part; as a seasoned rider, I should have known better than not to fuel up, oh well.  For you cyclists out there…I bonked.  Thankfully, we had plenty of water and Clif Bars to sustain me for the 2-hour bike ride.

Once we arrived in Two Harbors, we were happy to see a quaint little village. With a population of only a few hundred, Two Harbors is a camping haven, quiet and rural.  The village caters mostly to campers and boating clientele and boasts only one restaurant, snack shop and B&B (where we stayed).  The charm is in making you feel like you’ve gone to a far away island though it’s accessible via a short ferry or plane ride.

Clear blue skies welcomed us the next day and we set off to explore the coastline.  We “discovered” one beach after another, each one more beautiful than the next.  As it is quite early in the season and permits are required to drive cars on this part of the island (most of the island is part of a nature preserve), we had the road virtually all to ourselves, save for the occasional hikers, fox and one or two bald eagles flying overhead.

While much of the larger beaches are designated as camp spots we found one (picture above) that looked too inviting to pass up.  We left our bikes on the road and proceeded to the steep and narrow walking trail leading down to the oasis below.  The water was perfectly clear, blue and just as inviting as any spot on the Mediterranean.

Considering an island that is 21 miles long and 8 miles at its widest point, we covered enough ground to 1) decide that we would plan a return trip and 2) earn a couple of buffalo burgers two days in a row!

The third day met us with a bit more challenges.  Low fog over the island’s airport had us considering an extra day in Catalina but we took our chances and took off on our bikes early in the morning.  I would like to add that though one backpack may seem like traveling lightly, I learned that just because something will fit in said pack doesn’t mean that it should actually go in it.  I had an extra 20-pound load on my back with what I considered “essentials” at the beginning of the trip that ended up being unwanted weight in the end.  Still, I fared better on the 3-hour return trip thanks to a good breakfast beforehand.

The highlight of the ride, though it should have been the breathtaking views along the way, was our encounter with a large herd of buffalo (technically bison) as we neared the airport.  Earlier in the morning, we rode cautiously by one as it grazed not more than 10 feet away from us.  We thought that was a story worth telling on its own; little did we know what was ahead.

Do you want to know an easy way to forget how tired you are from riding and get the adrenalin pumping again?  Try pedaling by a few dozen buffalo, all of them watching you as they stand at the side of the road in their 1000-2000 pound glory. My husband took a few videos of the experience and since I wasn’t able to post them here, I’ll share them on my Facebook page here. It was an exhilarating experience to say the least!

To close our adventure, we did manage to fly out of Catalina after a small patch of blue sky opened up for a few minutes.  A thick layer of clouds hid the Pacific Ocean below us from view as we crossed it but we were home less than three hours later loaded with great memories of our short trip.


So you might have wondered what I posted for Teaser Thursday.  I finally got around to making my own curry paste.  It had been on my to-do list for such a long time and I was very happy to finally have a go at it.  I do plan to use the paste for more traditional curry-based dishes but I did have a specific dish in mind for this batch.  Stay tuned for the upcoming post!

Homemade Curry Paste

* From Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustards Grill Cookbook

For about 1/2 cup of paste, you will need:

  • 15 dried arbol or cayenne chiles, stemmed
  • 4 white cardamom pods (I used black)
  • 6 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 4 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 3-inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 3 tablespoons turmeric powder
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup peanut or safflower oil

Begin by toasting pepper and spices (not the turmeric powder) in a dry skillet over high heat.  Toast individually.  The peppers will take 1-2 minutes to be lightly toasted.  The whole spices, in single-layer batches, will take only a few seconds until they are aromatic.  Shake the whole spices in the pan to keep them from burning.  Set each aside as you finish toasting them.

Once the spices are toasted, combine them with the peppers and use a spice grinder until you have a fine powder.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the turmeric powder and ginger.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.  I will add here that the original recipe specifies heating the oil until almost smoking but I feared burning the spices so I did not allow my oil to get too hot.  I also only cooked the paste for about a minute before I took it off the heat.

Let cool before using and keep unused portion refrigerated.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2011 11:37 PM

    What an adventure! Thank goodness for Clif Bars and stunning blue seas to motivate you on your ride. It looks like an amazing time. And wow – love that you made your own curry paste! I’ve never tried that before, it looks fantastic 🙂

  2. April 3, 2011 11:52 PM

    I haven’t been to Catalina in a while. It’s a beautiful place, but I never got a chance to really explore it like you guys though. Sounds like you had a memorable experience with those bison!

    • April 12, 2011 6:51 AM

      Sylvie, memorable indeed. After relaying our experience to a friend, he clued us in about bison attacks published on youtube. Though there’s only been one known attack on the island, I’d say we were very lucky. 🙂

  3. April 4, 2011 5:00 AM

    What a beautiful post, Jean – look at that blue sky! I’m terribly jealous!

    I love the look of your curry paste, too, definitely one to try out =)

    Jax x

  4. April 4, 2011 5:13 AM

    Oh boy!! I was with you through this adventure…gorgeous beaches but I can only imagine how fast your heart was pounding with such large and beautiful animals so nearby. I LOVE this homemade curry – looks like a perfect curry.

    • April 12, 2011 6:53 AM

      Belinda, we were just glad they were all in a good mood that day. We had no choice but to try to pass them as that was the only road to the airport. 🙂

  5. April 4, 2011 6:06 AM

    Love your trips and you sharing them with us Jean!! What a wonderful weekend and beautiful scenery with a touch of bison suspenseful excitement. Love the curry paste you made. Nice base for many Indian dishes!!

    • April 12, 2011 6:55 AM

      Shulie, I’m so happy to finally have made my own. Now I can’t stop dreaming about curry dishes. 🙂

  6. April 4, 2011 7:01 AM

    Jean – what a great adventure! I love Catalina Island. I bet it was a beautiful flight down and the bike riding was stunning with your lovely photos. The curry paste looks simply divine. I have the Mustards book and over looked this wonderful recipe. Have a great week ahead!!! 🙂

    • April 12, 2011 6:59 AM

      Lisa, the Mustards book is the one of the first I ever bought. It’s a shame it took me so long to use it but it was worth it with this recipe. 🙂

  7. April 4, 2011 7:12 AM

    I can close my eyes and imagine how wonderful this must smell! Will try this one!

  8. April 4, 2011 7:22 AM

    Great tour of Catalina! I have been to this little island before when I lived in Los Angeles but never bothered to explore it! Now I know it was a shame! Your curry paste looks perfect and will last you a while I am sure~

    • April 12, 2011 7:01 AM

      Joumana, we were so pleasantly surprised by how pretty it was on the Two Harbors side. We definitely want to return. 🙂

  9. April 4, 2011 7:36 AM

    Awesome pictures! And great looking curry paste!

  10. April 4, 2011 8:20 AM

    Gorgeous, looks like a great trip. And a great homemade curry paste recipe!

  11. April 4, 2011 5:18 PM

    What a lovely, remote place. Seems like you enjoyed yourself. I’ve never been there but would love to visit some day. Beautiful photos. And your curry paste sounds delish. There are a couple of ingredients that I would have thought about adding but can bring a lot of flavor to curry. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. April 4, 2011 5:34 PM

    No breakfast or lunch before a rigorous bike ride? OMG, I would have passed out. Two Harbors is a quaint little town. I love the pictures! I like outdoorsy photos. It gets me so inspired and be one with nature. 🙂

    High-five on the homemade curry paste!

  13. April 4, 2011 5:35 PM

    So glad you posted this. First of all for the amazing curry paste…boy does that look delicious. But also because we were trying to figure out where to go for a few days over my springbreak and after seeing your pictures I think I now know! Wonderful place. I bet you had a blast despite the fatigue of the bike ride.

  14. April 4, 2011 6:02 PM

    I love your pictures; it looks like a such an incredible spot to visit. And this curry sauce…I think I would put it on everything. I can’t wait to try it. Thanks!

  15. April 4, 2011 9:28 PM

    Beautiful scenery all the way around your Catalina Island adventure;-)
    Thanks for sharing the pretty photos, looks like a wonderful getaway.
    Your homemade curry paste is intriguing, I’ll be curious to see what you’ll make with it 🙂

  16. April 5, 2011 1:34 AM

    I heard about this place but never been there. It’s so beautiful… I enjoyed reading your today’s post. And the homemade curry looks tasty, too!!

  17. April 5, 2011 4:27 PM

    You guys live the life. Yes you do! GREG

  18. April 6, 2011 5:52 AM

    What gorgeous scenery and my hat goes off to you for enduring such a long bike ride. But you look so happy all the time! Great healthy trip. La vie est belle! Oh, and that curry paste is definitely dynamite.

    • April 12, 2011 7:05 AM

      Hi Jill,
      The thing is, normally that wouldn’t have been a long bike ride at all. It was just silly of me not to have eaten beforehand. The #1 rule in cycling is to fuel up first–boy, was I sorry! 🙂

  19. April 6, 2011 12:55 PM

    Wow, Jean! I can’t believe you biked w/o eating and survived! I would have ended up in the ER. 🙂 Sounds like you and your husband had a great time on Catalina. That’s great that you can fly there. I don’t think I’ll ever make it out to the island again, despite the fact that it’s so close, because I can’t handle the boat ride. The last trip I was so sea sick. As for your curry paste, it looks amazingly aromatic. I’m so lazy… I use S&B curry powder. I’m sure your paste will taste incredible!

    • April 12, 2011 7:07 AM

      Judy, now I think it’s funny but seriously, I was so tired that at one point when hubby was a few switchbacks ahead of me, I thought hmm, maybe it won’t be so bad to stay the night here (on the side of the road), haha!

  20. April 7, 2011 10:46 AM

    Breathtaking! Thank you for sharing… it’s a place that I want to visit, and can’t wait for that to happen! 🙂

  21. April 7, 2011 11:14 AM

    Beautiful pictures, sounds like such a fun adventure! Homemade curry paste recipe is fantastic, awesome flavors!

  22. April 7, 2011 9:08 PM

    I’m all WOWed by the beautiful photos. the blue water, the clear blue sky – a dreamland. Definitely worth the trip only for the view.
    Thanks for sharing Jean.
    Congrats on making your own curry paste, looks great

  23. April 8, 2011 8:14 AM

    What a lovely trip! What an awesome adventure! I have always wanted to visit Catalina — thank you for taking me there! Lovely photographs. You actually gave me an idea for our B&B, where did you stay, if you don’t mind me asking.

    • April 12, 2011 7:10 AM

      Jun, there is only one B&B on Two Harbors, Banning House Lodge. If you do go, the best room (wasn’t available when we were there) is called Crow’s Nest. You get a nice view of the main harbor from your balcony. If you want more info, I’ll share with you. 🙂

  24. April 8, 2011 11:07 PM

    Wow wow your curry paste sounds AMAZING, and I am super impressed at how you made it. And your photos of Catalina take me right back to when my boyfriend and I visited a few years ago. The coast line is totally beautiful, and the water is SO blue. Once I tell my boyfriend you saw a bison he will be extremely jealous! 😉


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