Julian Cabin: Woods Therapy

Year-Endly Dilemma

“What do you want for Christmas?”

“I don’t know, what do YOU want?”

Turns out, at some point you already have all the doodads you really want. So traditional gift-exchange holidays can be awkward if you don’t work out some kind of deal with your S.O.

We have begun a tradition of giving each other the Christmas present of a future getaway. We sneak off to collect our thoughts, unwind after a hectic holiday season, and start the new year off with something of a plan.

Workin’ it Out

We are thinking rustic-on-a-budget, so nothing lavish. The thought of a mountain cabin is romantic! It’s woodsy, snugly, and (best of all) affordable. I have never stayed in a cabin, and Andy hadn’t since he was a boy. The price is right, so a cozy cabin in the woods would give us a chance to relax away from noise.

We narrow the area to something nearby: Julian, in the mountains between us and the desert, near Lake Cuyamaca. We search VRBO for options, and narrow it down to Pheasant Hill Cabin near Julian in a woodsy neighborhood called “Kensington-in-the-Pines.” Maybe we should have a driver for our Nissan!

Tips for Bookin’ It

  • Make sure your budget includes tax and fees. Our cabin, listed at $135 a night, was over $400 all-in for a two-night stay.
  • Read the reviews, cancelation, and weather policies carefully. It can snow in Julian, and sometimes chains are required. And in the era of Covid, things can change quickly, adding another layer of complexity to planning. We nixed any cabin without a cancelation refund policy.
  • Are they pet friendly? We wanted to bring our dog, Farnsworth, along for his first vacation.
  • Check the list of amenities. You need to know what to bring.
  • Look at the photos carefully. We wanted a small cabin with rustic charm and a fireplace. Some of the choices we looked at were basically big modern homes in neighborhoods.

But Wait…

We definitely earned our getaway! The week leading up to our trip was high-stress. Irritation… stress… lost time… not a great week! So we we are not as prepared as we typically are when we head out of town.

In fact, the very first hour of our trip is spent wearing a mask in the Apple Store while they fix my phone. This, rather than the planned leisurely breakfast at a local fave before we roll out.

Next, we forget we need gas before heading out of town. How hard can it be to find a station on the way? Harder than you might imagine. Thanks for the u-turns, Google Maps!

Oh, then the dog barfed in the car. Twice! Mmm, smell that mountain air!

We DO Get There

We arrive in Julian a little later than we want, just before sunset, and are a teensy-bit stressed. But Pheasant Hill Cabin is so cute and snuggly that we shed the stress like Farnsworth sheds fur in August.

While Andy cleans the dog barf out of the car, I pour wine and arrange a charcuterie plate. Andy wrangles the electric fireplace while I find the cabin’s stash of plush, snuggly blankets. Some relaxing music from Spotify begins to waft through the coziness. Let the chill begin!

Welcome to Pheasant Hill Cabin

Pheasant Hill Cabin is a rustic one-bedroom studio. By “rustic,” I mean, imagine that you have a second home in the mountains where you go once a month or so to do projects and hang out. It doesn’t have the finest finishes, not plush, not swank. It’s homey, warm, and friendly-feeling. It’s the kind of place you can imagine coming home to if you lived in the woods.

Everything is all in one knotty-pine, wood-lined room, except for the bathroom and a small closet-hallway area that makes the bathroom feel more remote. In a small place, feeling remote in the bathroom is comforting.

The cabin has a decent kitchen stocked with dishes, simple appliances, and everything you need to cook up some tasty comfort food. The living room has a gas fireplace and comfy couch. The bedroom is tucked around the corner, but still in the open.

Andy’s favorite is the memory foam bed and pillows that don’t hurt his neck. Mine is the huge front deck surrounded with trees, sunset view, patio chairs and table… great for cooling off my hot flashes!

The back yard is great for kids and dogs. It’s big and grassy with trees, and fenced in, so Farnsworth can “get out his zoomies” and enjoy some fresh sniffing. There is a charcoal BBQ and a fire pit that would be great for summer evening cookouts. It’s very quiet. The only noise is birds singing.

Getting Down to Business

Cold night in a cabin calls for chili!

Once we are good and relaxed, I cook up a big ol’ pot of chili stew. Since we are in a cabin, I am going a little more homey with my chili, topping it with Fritos and squeeze-tube sour cream. The squeeze sour cream is easy to transport, and Fritos are a childhood guilty pleasure.

For dessert, there’s a big bag of my homemade Oatmeal Golden Raisin Cabin Cookies. They make a great kinda healthy breakfast treat with coffee too. (Hey, raisins and oatmeal… it’s practically endorsed by Wilford Brimley!)

Lunar Halo

Once the sun goes down, it’s cold and crystal clear outside. We head to the front deck to enjoy the mountain air and night sky filled with stars. The full moon gives us quite a stellar show too with a “lunar halo” of ice crystals glowing around it.

Setting Our Dial to “Mosey”

In the morning we are up with the birds. We have no plans except to chill with some coffee and snuggle. Maybe a drive.

I went to 6th Grade Camp in near by Camp Cuyamaca, so this might be a fun place to share with Andy. We bundle up for some sightseeing and potential adventure, and find ourselves at Lake Cuyamaca.

Lake Cuyamaca, aka Cuyamaca Reservoir, was built in 1888. The 110 acres includes recreation areas, fishing, boating, hiking trails, a restaurant, and a small grocery store. You can use their parking all day for just $10, paid in the bait shop. And of course, it’s dog friendly! Be prepared though: there are no doggy poop bag stations, so you will want to bring your own.

We were not planning a hike, but the lake is calling our names. Farnsworth yearned to get in touch with his inner hunting dog and do some big sniffing.

Our plan is to stretch our legs, walk a bit, maybe get a selfie with nature. But when we pay to park, they give us a map of the 3.5 mile loop around the lake with our parking permit, so we just keep going. And we’re happy we did!

The morning is clear and crisp, the lake and surrounding area gorgeous. Along the trail we come upon a sportswear photo shoot underway! The paper map is a bit confusing, and the trails aren’t marked. We make a wrong turn on Fletcher Island that leads us to more secluded, enchanted areas! Sweet serendipity!

The most intriguing part of the trail is a marsh area with vibrant red vegetation. We learn it’s “pickleweed,” usually green, but turns bright red in the cold months. We are starving when we make it back to our car, but the restaurant is closed. Covid strikes again! Or maybe off-season.

Home on the (Kitchen) Range

Back at the cabin, I rustle us up some grub. I repurpose the chili into a huge plate of Frito nachos. We grab that and a couple of glasses of red wine, and head out to the patio to relax and watch the birds for the rest of the day. We marinate in doing absolutely nothing. Nada.

Oatmeal Golden Raisin Cowboy Cookies

Except sip wine and nibble on cookies.

Our nothing lasts into the evening, with music and more wine. Eventually it gets a bit too mountain-airy outside. The wind picks up in the trees and the nachos have worn off, so it’s time for some big cooking!

How about a comforting, slow-cooked pappardelle with a short rib ragu? This dish takes some time, but is well worth the effort. We match this hearty meal with a full bodied red wine: a Yellowstone Cellars and Winery’s 2018 Rimrock Red, gifted to us by a Secret Santa.

Slow-cooked pappardelle with a short rib ragu, and the perfect wine for our cabin adventure!

Lazy Way to Wake Up

On our way home, we plan to enjoy time wandering around Julian. But checkout is not until noon, so we take our time savoring our mochas by the fire. Our cabin came with a French press, but it was a bit wonky. So Andy MacGyvered it just long enough for us to each have a nice warm mug.

Midweek in Julian in winter, it’s very quiet. We practically have the town to ourselves. Had it been snowing though, this little one-street town would be packed with families from San Diego “going to the snow!”

History Twistery

About 1870, this desert mountain area experienced a gold rush, and Julian sprung up. That died out fast, but the quick-thinking founders planted fruit trees that still make it a popular place to visit in the autumn today.

Welcome to Julian… in off-season!

Enjoy the changing leaves, stop in at the many fruit stands and load up on Julian apples and cider. Oh, and you have to pick up a pie too. I think it’s actually in the town charter, that all visitors must get an apple pie. A pricey apple pie. You can get Julian apple pies in many grocery stores in San Diego, but they are best bought at the source. Also there are lots of historic buildings and museums open during the busy season.

We have the town to ourselves, but most shops are closed. Still, we find a shop selling goat milk products. We love goat cheese! We go a little crazy for the Drake Family Farms variety of Chèvre. Luckily, it freezes well. We scoop up plain, chocolate, apricot, and jalapeno Chèvre! Our future will be filled with spreading tasty goat cheese on crackers, fresh baked breads, and bagels. Unless the power goes out. This is California, after all.

A Gem Made of Salami

Fat Anthony’s Delicatessen in Julien

We find a newly-opened gem, not on the main street, but easy found by following the sound of Italian music. It’s Fat Anthony’s Delicatessen, and it’s only been open 11 days. Andy goes in while Farnsworth and I wait outside. He asks Anthony’s daughters to pick his favorite sandwich and make up two for us.

Okay, we’re so hungry, we gobble up our submarine sandwiches before we take a photo! (Bad food bloggers!) All I can say is, they were sooo good, filled with all the stuff you would want on a sub: piles of deli meats, cheeses, onions, tomatoes, and shredded lettuce. I love shredded iceberg lettuce! I could eat it like a snack.

Last Stop: Inaja

We snarf our sandwiches at our last stop of the day, Inaja Memorial Park in the Cleveland National Forest. There are restrooms (you may want to hold your nose), picnic tables, grills, and a short trail at this memorial park for 11 fire fighters who lost their lives battling a fire in the area in1956.

The view from Inaja Memorial Park is well worth the stop and short walk.

This is one of my favorite childhood parks. For experienced hikers, just off the main path there is a big flat rock with a wonderful view that makes a nice spot for a romantic picnic. Careful near the edge though: it’s a very long drop.

The trail around the park is only .6 mile and is studded with huge granite boulders. The elevation change is a couple hundred feet, so it’s an easy trail for families to tromp, with stunning views of the valley below.

Faint Sigh

Our only disappointment is that Dudley’s Bakery is closed. Dudly’s is just minutes from the park, and another major stop for apple pies and fresh baked breads.

I’m thinking that we need to make a fall trip to Julian a priority this year!

Papparadelle with Short Rib Ragù

A cozy cold weather comfort dish.
No ratings yet
Cook Time 2 hours
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6



  • cup pancetta chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup red onion finely chopped
  • 2 carrots peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp frech ground pepper
  • 2 lbs short ribs
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 28 oz canned petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 package pappardelle pasta fresh or dried


  • In a dry dutch oven, saute pancetta on medium heat until crisp
  • Transfer to a plate
  • Pour off grease
  • Add olive oil
  • Add the chopped vegetables and season with salt
  • Saute 5 minutes
  • Add garlic and sauté 1 more minute
  • Transfer vegetables to a plate
  • Rub short ribs with salt and pepper
  • Brown on all sides in the Dutch oven
  • Transfer meat to plate
  • Deglaze the Dutch oven with the red wine scraping the browned bits off the bottom.
  • Add beef stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, salt, pepper
  • Bring to a boil
  • Add the pancetta, vegetables, and meat back into the pot
  • Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for 1½ hours, until meat falls off the bone
  • Remove from oven, and remove meat from the sauce
  • Shred meat and return to pot
  • Cook pasta according to instructions
  • Serve garnished with fresh basil, parmasan cheese, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


This is a slow cooked meal for a lazy cold day. Serve with your favorite bread and a salad. You can also substitute polenta for the pasta.
Wine suggestions: Try Orfila’s 2017 Sequestered Pinot Noir. Or Yellowstone Cellars’ Rimrock Red. 
Keyword pappardelle, pasta, short ribs
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Oatmeal Golden Raisin Cowboy Cookies

Oatmeal Golden Raisin Cabin Cookies

You don't have to have a cabin to enjoy these wonderful, rustic cookies full of golden raisins and slivered almonds! They're hardy enough to hold up in a backpack on a hike as a nice reward at the top!
No ratings yet
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Cooling Time 5 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 3 dozen


  • 1 1/2 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 1 tsp Ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 cup Unsalted butter room temperature
  • 1 cup Brown sugar firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup Granulated sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 3 cups Old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup Golden raisins
  • 3/4 cup Slivered almonds


  • Preheat oven to 350 F
  • In a medium bowl, mix well flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt
  • Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large bowl with electric mixer until creamy
  • Add eggs and vanilla, beat well
  • Add flour mixture and mix well
  • Stir in oats
  • Stir in raisins and almonds, mix well
  • Drop dough in rounded tablespoonful onto a greased baking sheet
  • Press each doughball with your thumb in the middle to flatten them just a touch
  • Bake 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown
  • Let cool on cookie sheet 1 minute
  • Remove to wire rack to cool completely
Keyword almond, cookie, hiking, oatmeal, raisin
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!