So often I make up my mind to follow a particular path or road on my journey only to find the diversions and detours are what make life truly interesting. For the most part, life experience has taught me to go with the flow and the path of least resistance. In truth, this has been a hard lesson for me at times, but the universe is persistent in offering up the lessons until one finally has an ah-ha moment and stops repeating the same mistakes and walking the same worn-out path.

On a day
when the wind is perfect,
the sail just needs to open and the world is full of beauty.
Today is such a
day.

– Rumi

Our original plan was to spend a couple of days in the Napa/Sonoma area of California, drive through San Francisco, taking Highway 101 to Route 1 where we would skirt the ocean along the winding and stunning coastline passing through Monterey, Big Sur and landing in the Cambria/San Simeon area where we would spend the night.

I received a Facebook message from a friend who saw that I was in California where he was also visiting, so we made our first detour to Mill Valley to see him. This little diversion gave us the opportunity to see the beautiful little suburb of San Francisco that we would have otherwise passed right by, and, more importantly, we had the chance to see a longtime friend whom we adore.

While we were there, we had coffee with our friend at the Depot Bookstore and Cafe, did a little window shopping at the fabulous shops that line the town center and popped into Tyler Florence’s lovely store.

Later, passing over the Golden Gate bridge, we marveled at what a gorgeous day it was. As we made our way down Van Ness Avenue, I noticed a small parking area next to the William Sonoma corporate offices, which happen to be right on the bay near Fort Mason. So I said to Ric ” Pull over there and let’s see how good our parking karma is.” Low and behold, there was one parking space open with free, you heard me, FREE four hour parking on the waterfront in the heart of San Francisco!

We pulled the bikes off the car and let diversion number two begin!

Sunny, breezy and overflowing with sightseers, and with very few bike lanes, we fancied ourselves as a couple of bike messengers with nowhere in particular to go. We peddled furiously in the city traffic, weaving around cars and tourists alike. We also cruised the boardwalk and the pier with the salty coastal breezes blowing in our faces. It was exhilarating!

If we know exactly where we’re going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we’ll see along the way, we won’t learn anything.  

– M. Scott Peck

Back in the car, finally on our way to the famous Route 1 highway, we hit a snag. Because we had twice gotten off the beaten path, we arrived at Santa Cruz right during rush hour and ran into a massive traffic jam. Hello, detour number three.

Instead of sitting in the jam with all of the other cursing drivers, we decided to pull off of the first exit we could find. Once we were off the freeway, we figured we would grab a bite to eat while the evening commuters thinned out a bit. We stopped at the first restaurant that we saw, a little Italian bistro called Lillian’s Italian Kitchen.

To be honest, we didn’t expect much. The restaurant was empty but for one table with a couple seated.

Within thirty minutes the place was packed and bustling and we were digging into the best burrata and tomato salad that I had ever had.  The burrata was spectacular and all that it should have been atop seriously flavorful vine ripened tomatoes.

Ric had the special chicken parmesan and I had cheese ravioli with a rose sauce. Sounds simple enough, but really, this is what sets a great meal apart from the average. The quality of the ingredients and the care in how they are prepared was scrumptiously evident. We had obviously stumbled upon a local gem. Sipping a wonderful Chianti, we once again giggled at our good fortune in straying off the path.

The sun was setting as we made our way along Route 1 which made me a little nervous as I knew that it would be a treacherous drive in the dark. It was longer than I remembered it, but just as glorious as a stretch of coastline could be. Long winding roads that undulated high up on the hillsides, hanging precariously close to cliffs that drop straight down into the Pacific.

Later that evening, we lay in bed in the hotel at the ocean’s edge reminiscing about our fabulous and fun day. What struck us both was how different our day would have been had we stuck to the plan. Spontaneity and plan b, c and d were elements that took our day from nice to extraordinary. Trusting the universe to show us the way, was the lesson.

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”
― Joseph Campbell

The photo above is not the ravioli that I had at Lillian’s as I couldn’t get a good shot without being a pest to other customers eating their dinners. What I do have here is a quick meal idea using store bought cheese ravioli and a homemade vodka rose sauce.

Vodka Rose Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of minced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons vodka
1-28 or 30 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
1/2 -1 cup heavy cream (I make it with 1/2 cup but you can add up to a cup if you prefer a richer sauce)
1/4 cup fresh basil or parsley

Sauté the shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add the tomato sauce and half of the basil or parsley and heat through. Stir in the vodka and mix until incorporated and then add the cream. Heat to just below the boiling point.

Serve with penne (1 pound dry pasta) or as I do, with ravioli that has been boiled and then sautéed in a little olive oil until lightly browned. Garnish with the remaining basil or parsley, salt and pepper to taste and a bit of grated parmesan cheese.

Next stop, Paso Robles!

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