To travel is to shop.
– Susan Sontag, literary theorist, novelist, filmmaker, and feminist activist, from The Volcano Lover: A Romance
For years we have spent Labor Day Weekend traveling to my hometown of Terra Bella, attending our Filipino community’s festivities and celebrating my cousin Janet and her husband Tim’s wedding anniversary with a gourmet dinner prepared by David. Two years ago, we broke tradition and celebrated their anniversary in Cambria, on the central coast of California, where they were married 14 years ago and Jacob attended his first wedding at age three months. Last year, due to family issues, we stayed home. This year, we happily returned, stuffing our dog, Rex, and his dog bed in the back seat of the car with the kids for the 4.5-hour trek.
Among the many reasons we enjoy going down to my old stomping grounds is immersing ourselves in a bucolic existence. Although this visit David had to bring his technical drawings with him, we usually leave our work at home. We are far removed from the urban/suburban world and, while unwinding and relaxing, we revel in the small-town environs – slower pace, quiet. Through the years, we have established traditions and with this visit we added a new destination point.
Growing up here, I never sought out good restaurants that best reflected the local culture. Now we rely on Janet and Tim for best places to eat. Chaguitos (1393 West Olive, Porterville, CA 93257, 559.782.1230), a favorite Mexican restaurant and panaderia, serves authentic Mexican food. Janet introduced us to Chaguitos’s tres leches cake, a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Unfortunately, when we swung by to pick up dessert for Sunday’s dinner, they had sold out. We were denied tres leches cake this time around, but we made sure to not miss another favorite sweet treat.
Janet and I headed up Highway 65 to meet Tim, David, and the kids at the Orange Works Café (22314 Avenue 196, Strathmore, CA 93267, 559.568.2658), a very popular roadside café right off Highway 65, on the way from Porterville to Exeter. The Orange Works Café is part gift shop, offering jars of jams, jellies, honey, flavored butter, seasoned olives, and other edibles made from locally grown produce. They serve sandwiches for lunch, with the tri-tip being one of the most popular, and an equally popular iced tea with a twist of orange flavor. But that’s not the prize in our eyes – it’s their homemade ice cream, a winning combination that’s part soft ice cream and part sherbet. The café is closed on Sundays and Mondays, so if you’re in town on the weekend, you have to endure the long lunch lines and get there before they close at 4pm. I’ve not had their strawberry, ginger, peach, or mango ice cream because I am so over the moon with their trademark orange ice cream, which is made with fresh, sweet local oranges – think natural orange creamsicle. I’m told they make pomegranate ice cream in the fall.
The Orange Works Café’s Facebook page alerts fans to what new concoction they will served on that day and future days – pumpkin, Almond Joy, grape, cinnamon, pineapple, lime, cantaloupe, and confetti birthday cake are just a few of the creative choices. You don’t have to trek 250 miles to experience orange ice cream or any other flavored ice cream, however, because they ship! I don’t know what the rates are, but rest assured I will definitely find out this fall. I may end up finding another favorite flavor or two. If you happen to sample their soft ice cream, let me know what you think. If you do make the trek, bring a cooler and buy dry ice for your drive back to enjoy the ice cream long after your trip to the Central Valley.
Vintage shops: old and new
Every time we come down, we make a pilgrimage to Good Goods (30924 Road 168, Farmersville, CA, 559.594.5765 or 559.280.2498) to see our friend Jim, proprietor of this wonderful vintage and antique shop. Through the years, we have bought some great finds, including an 1880s walnut dresser and mirror, a mannequin that shows off my necklaces, jewelry stands, 1950s sterling silver tray, circa 1950s coasters, and more. If I had room in my house, I would have bought one of his reclaimed vintage tables – the tops, made from thick strips of wooden lanes from a shuttered bowling alley in Fresno, resting on antique or vintage industrial metal bases such as 1930s school lockers. Jim was making these tables long before they were chic. He remembers us and the fact that I’m on holiday over Labor Day Weekend.
From Good Goods, we made our way to another traditional vintage stop, By the Water Tower Antiques (141 S. B Street, Exeter, CA 93221, 559.594.4060), which is jam-packed with such items as fruit company labels and signs, kitchen utensils, tools, garden art, and furniture. The shop is located in downtown Exeter, which features numerous murals depicting agricultural workers in the vineyards and orange groves, women working in the packing houses, cattle drives, poppies and lupines, local Yokut native Americans, harvests, food labels, old downtown, and other scenes from a bygone era. You can take an informal walking tour to see all 29 murals (three of which are shown above).
Janet then introduced me to a fairly new shop that she discovered in downtown Exeter. Rose Petals and Rust (158 E. Pine Street, Exeter, CA 93221, 559.592.3960), which offers vintage and new home décor and gifts, and refurbished furniture and custom-painted pieces, is now on our must-visit-when-we-are-in-town list. We met co-owner Jodi Giefer, who graciously let me take pictures of her beautifully curated shop and with whom we had a terrific conversation around the love of vintage and antiques.
I was smitten with the reclaimed vintage jewelry made by Laura Mason Borum, a jewelry designer from Exeter who specializes in pearl and vintage spoons. A big rack displays her necklaces, charms, and bracelets. Janet was patient with me as I admired many of her creations. You will want to carve out an unhurried afternoon to spend at Rose Petals and Rust to check out all the treasures and decide which ones you will be taking home with you. I’m looking forward to coming back again. Thanks for a great welcome to your store, Jodi!