San Francisco Part 2 – Napa Valley

So here we go with part two.  We looked at so many options for how to do Napa.  We were not staying the night there and really didn’t know what to expect or how much we could fit in.  We started the morning by meeting our driver Paul in the lobby of our hotel. He was a very nice guy who actually lives in Napa but he used to be a limo driver in San Francisco.  He drove us around San Francisco and showed us the famous Lombard Street that is so steep that you have to wind down it.

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After that we made our way back across the Golden Gate Bridge towards Napa.  One thing that I wish we would have thought about is the fact that we did not have breakfast before a whole day of drinking wine.  If I ever get a chance to go back I will make a point to stop at the Fremont Diner.  It is in Sonoma on Hwy 121 just before you get into the Los Carneros region that is shared between Napa and Sonoma.  Either way, my neighbors swore by it, it has great reviews, and I will definitely make it a priority next time.  After all, it is on the way.

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So on our drive in, we learned  a lot about wine country and how everything works.  The areas are divided up into AVA’s or American Viticultural Areas.  The areas are labeled this way because they are different landscapes which changes how the grapes will taste.  Sunny vs. Shady, Mountain vs. valley, etc.  Paul told us about a winery that will let you taste the same grapes from each of these regions so that you can better understand the differences and how the climate and landscape will change the way the wine turns out.  It is at the Con Creek Winery.   While a bit pricey at $95 a person, it is 3 1/2 hours and you get:

  • A Napa Valley AVA overview led by a wine educator
  • A guided walk-around barrel tasting
  • Instructions on blending techniques and strategies
  • A bottle of your custom blend
  • A tasting of Conn Creek’s Current Releases

We obviously didn’t have time to do that on our visit but if you are going and actually staying in Napa for a few days, this tour came highly recommended if you are interested in really learning the differences of the regions wines.

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So our first stop was to the Domaine Carneros Winery in the Los Carneros region.  Domaine Carneros is owned by Champagne Tattinger.  In the 70’s Claude Tattinger wanted to find suitable American soil to make sparkling wine.  The estate makes fabulous sparkling wines as well as Pinot Noir.  The chateau-like house boasts fabulous views too.

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One happy accident that our tour guide pointed out was that it is best to start light if you are going to be tasting wines all day so if you have a particular interest in sparkling wine, it is best if it is your first stop.  So we started out learning about how the sparkling wine was made and we were guided along the process and the machines used to make the wine.  It was a fascinating tour to be honest and I would highly suggest this tour to anyone, we learned a lot and TASTED a lot.

The famous Blanc de Blanc wine that they are known for.  It really was fantastic.

The famous Blanc de Blanc wine that they are known for. It really was fantastic.

They used to store their wine in these kinds of racks in order to get the remaining yeast to the top of the bottle where they would then freeze the top and pull out the chunk of yeast.

They used to store their wine in these kinds of racks in order to get the remaining yeast to the top of the bottle where they would then freeze the top and pull out the chunk of yeast.

Now they store the bottles in Gyrating crates that move the yeast ever so slowly to the tip top of the bottle.  Much easier than hand turning all of those racks...

Now they store the bottles in Gyrating crates that move the yeast ever so slowly to the tip top of the bottle. Much easier than hand turning all of those racks…

This is where they freeze the tip and pull out the yeast

This is where they freeze the tip and pull out the yeast

This is where they cork and foil the bottles to make them all look so pretty.

This is where they cork and foil the bottles to make them all look so pretty.

This is a big box of corks, they dont originally come in that mushroom shape.  It gets that shape after being stuck in the bottle under all that pressure.

This is a big box of corks, they dont originally come in that mushroom shape. It gets that shape after being stuck in the bottle under all that pressure.

So after our sparkly excursion we needed something to eat so we ventured deeper into the valley and just off of Highway 29 is a sweet little grocer called the Oakville Grocery.  We were able to stop and get sandwiches, salads and snacks and enjoy a picnic at one of their picnic tables tucked in the vineyards.  It really was a great spot and probably not nearly as expensive as a vineyard restaurant. 2013-03-22 13.27.50

After that we had about 45 minutes for a quick tasting before going to our next and final tour, so we stopped at a little winery in the Rutherford region called St. Supery.  It was more modern looking inside and they had a great store.  We absolutely loved their Sauvignon Blanc.  They gave us two different kinds to taste and both were very different but terrific and not terribly priced either.

Then we headed off to the  grand finale, the cave tour at Del Dotto.  The service there was very personal and you really felt like you got to know the winery while you were there.  I would highly recommend that you do not miss it.  They take you into the caves where they store their barrels and let you taste the wine straight from the barrel.  I lost count of exactly how many we tasted, but it was a good amount.  Nonetheless, it was beautiful in there and I have pictures to prove it!

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After all of that, we spent an hour or two sobering up on the car ride home and then went in search of where we should go for dinner.  After a suggestion from a friend on Facebook, we decided to try Tadich Grill, the oldest restaurant in California.  As you know, old stuff is totally up my alley so I was really excited to try it.  I was hoping it would be like Galatoire’s in New Orleans.  You can;t make reservations but we were hoping it would be well worth the wait.  Sadly,  The service wasn’t great.  If could have been a bad night but it just didn’t live up to our expectations.  They have a really cool story though.

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Well that’s it for Day 2 of our San Francisco adventure.  Next I’ll tell you all about Fisherman’s Warf and Little Italy!

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San Francisco Part 1 – China Town, Muir Woods, and Sausalito

2013-03-20 18.44.09Well hey there!  Long time no see!   I am sorry for being the absolute worst blogger on the planet and neglecting you all for so long.  I really don’t even have a good excuse.  I wish I had something dramatic to share but I got nothin’.  Life has just been happening and I have been really busy at work.  BUT, I did have something interesting that happened during my hiatus.  I went to San Francisco with my mom!  We were there for three days total and we did SO MUCH while we were there.  I think I am going to break it up and just talk about the San Francisco part of it for now, and then for another post talk about our Napa day trip.

I flew in on Wednesday after work, and on my four-hour flight I was sitting next to two of the nicest people.  Their daughter happened to be in the same sorority at U of I but we had just missed each other in college.  She is a few years older, but guess what, she is also a blogger.  Her blog is Life Coaching, Lauren and it is a really positive and upbeat blog about everything from babies to books.  They are a family of life coaches which I thought was awesome.  I have to tell you that therapists and life coaches are my favorite people to find myself next to on an airplane.  They are always down for a good convo.  So after a black light and wine filled flight with the nicest people on earth, I finally landed at 9:30 California time.

I headed straight for the hotel to meet my mom.  We stayed at the W on 3rd and Howard which is right downtown.  I set my bag down and we decided to go explore a little bit.  I pulled out my smaller bag for walking around and turned around to see that my mom had pulled out the exact same bag.  Yep, it was THAT kind of trip.  We may as well have had matching outfits the whole time.  So we dorked out, put our matching bags on and set out to find the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Well after about a half hour of walking in a less than ideal neighborhood in the middle of the night, we found out that the bridge we had been walking towards was NOT the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Bay Bridge.  We were told that walking across the Bay Bridge would be a very bad idea because it is really long and all that is on the other side was Oakland, which is apparently dangerous.  It still looked pretty nonetheless.

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Bright and early the next morning we set our sights on Chinatown.  San Francisco Chinatown was the first and is still the largest Chinatown in America.  This is literally like stepping into another country.  They have their own hospitals, dentists, grocery stores and banks.

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We walked up and down the streets for a while and then ended up seeing a sign for free tea tastings at a place called Vital Tea Leaf on Grant street near Washington.  This really nice lady showed us how to brew the tea and the process you have to use.  Did you know that you need to rinse loose tea?  I didn’t!  When the farmers are picking the leaves they just pick them and throw them on the floor where they get collected.  So there can be dust and yucky stuff on your tea so you have to pour in hot water stir it around for about 20 seconds to open up the leaves and then dump out that water and start over with fresh water.  Then you just steep the leaves for about 20-30 seconds and then pour it in your cup and enjoy!

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After we bought a bunch of tea, we asked the lady where else we should go and she told us about the fortune cookie factory that was in the alley behind us.  It is called the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and you can literally see the machines they use to make the cookies and the little chinese ladies who put the paper in and fold them.  It was quite the experience.

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After that we set out to find Dim Sum.  Now, this is like a serious Chinatown.  As in, it actually is not terribly touristy.  I was kind of worried about the food thing.  As you recall, I am terrified of things as simple as vegetables so strange meat was really going to put me over the edge.  But, we found a place called Great Eastern Restaurant and it had decent reviews so we thought we would try our luck.  I tried to stay away from the scary stuff, but if you are the adventurous type, I hear their pigs feet is to die for. The steamed custard dumpling things changed my life though.  They were like a hot custard filled doughnut. Life-changing…..

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So after feasting on a meal of bbq pork rolls, steamed chicken dumplings, steamed mushroom, shrimp and chicken dumplings, pumpkin fries, and steamed custard buns, we were pretty full.  By that time, we needed to find our way back to drop off our stuff at the hotel and find the Ferry Building to meet up with our tour guide for Muir Woods.  We finally made our way to the Ferry building and found our tour guide then proceeded to drive through the city’s intense hills in order to get to our first sighting of the REAL Golden Gate Bridge.  We drove over the bridge and then went to a peak that overlooks all of San Fran and the Pacific.  The views were stunning!

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So then, we made our way to Muir woods to see the Famous redwood trees.  Now, for some reason, I had it in my head that the trees we were going to see would be those gargantuan wide trees that you can drive a bus through.  These are not those trees.  Those are also Redwoods, but they are in Yosemite and a different kind.  The kind of redwoods we were going to see are the really, really tall ones, not the really, really fat ones.  But once we got there, it was really nice spending some time outside.  These trees really are humongous.

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I think I spent more time outdoors on that one day than I have collectively over the past few months.  It was terrific.  I still don’t like bugs, or the elements, but I got my nature on so that’s all that matters.  After Muir Woods we stopped at another gorgeous cliff where we could see the entire pacific coast.  Another amazing view.

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Then we made our way to Sausalito.  A tiny little town right across the Golden Gate Bridge.  It seriously looks EXACTLY like the Amalfi Coast in Italy.  The whole strip was full of little shops and restaurants.  We decided to stop for dinner instead of taking the ferry back with our tour group.  We went to a really pretty place called Scoma’s.  It is really close to the ferry so we didn’t have to worry about missing it.  The food was amazing and it looks like a little blue cottage on the water.  The views were spectacular so we watched the sun start to set with a glass of sparkling wine and good seafood.   After dinner we strolled around, shopped a little and then went to a great little wine bar across from the dock for a taste.  It was called Bacchus and Venus .  There were really nice people working there and we had great conversation while waiting. The ferry finally came and we set sail back to San Fran.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about Napa, because you can’t get that close to wine country and not see it!

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The best things about being a grown up

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So yesterday, I got a text from the hub’s saying to make sure I picked up the package that was delivered today.  When I got home, picked up the package and opened it up, I found, not one, not two, but THREE boxes of Rice Krispies Treats cereal.  I haven’t had this stuff since being a kid.  So naturally, the two of us ate GIANT bowls of cereal for dinner last night.   Becoming a grown up is quite possibly the best thing that every happened to my inner kid.  As much as we complain about money, responsibility, and grown up problems,  I want to remind you guys to think about how awesome your kid self thinks your life is right now. Here is a list of things that I love about being a grown up.

1.) I can eat really sugary delicious cereal for dinner for an entire week if I want to

2.) I can go to bed whenever I feel like it and I STILL don’t have to get up as early as I did when I was a kid

3.) I understand grown up jokes (I had a really hard time with this as a kid, I always laughed at jokes when I knew I should but I wasn’t old enough to understand them usually so I just felt dumb)

4.) Building a tent in the living room is allowed….

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5.)  I can go to R rated movies

6.) I can get a puppy if I want to

7.) I can make a joke that involves a well-timed curse word and I no longer get interrupted by my mom to “watch my language”

8.) I can eat chocolate, pizza, waffles, candy, mac and cheese all day with no punishment (other than getting fat, but I’m trying to look at the bright side here!)

9.)I can drink wine beer and alcohol and actually enjoy the taste of it

10.) I can wear costumes in public if I feel like it. This is why sororities always have theme parties.  It is in DIRECT defiance of their parents refusal to allow them to wear their princess dresses

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So now, when life gets hard and complicated, you can try to think about the stuff that your 9-year-old self would think is awesome.  If that doesn’t work, you can take a chill pill, literally, because you are old enough to have a prescription for them.

Pasta? Nope.

In my quest to quit pasta, I have been experimenting with substitutes.  Spaghetti squash is no exception. I couldn’t believe it but it really does look like spaghetti, and kinda tastes like it too.  It’s a little crunchier, because it is in fact a vegetable but you can use it as a substitute for noodles.  I found this recipe at Real Simple and added some of my own ingredients.
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Ingredients

  • 1  3-pound spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1  15-ounce container ricotta
  • 1  large egg
  • 4  cups  kale, chopped
  • 1  garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground nutmeg
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 tsp italian herbs
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • 2  cups  grated mozzarella (1/2 pound)

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400° F. Place the squash on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the cut sides with the oil, place cut-side down, and roast until tender, 40 to 50 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, kale, garlic, nutmeg, spices, parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper.
  3. With a fork, gently scrape out the strands of flesh from the spaghetti squash and add to the ricotta mixture. Mix gently to combine.
  4. Transfer the mixture to an 8-inch square baking dish, sprinkle with the mozzarella, and bake until browned and bubbling, 18 to 22 minutes.

Everywhere you go, there you are

I have always had a traveler’s heart.  I just never really travelled.  Like REALLY travelled.  I had been places, I had seen things, I lived in New york for a hot minute, I moved to Chicago after school but I really hadn’t been anywhere in Europe or out of the country. During our honeymoon in Italy.  I got bit by the travel bug.  Once you have a taste of it you can’t stop! I even learned how to pack for two weeks in Italy with one carry-on suitcase.  IMG_2108

For the next few years, I really want to get all of the travel out of me.  There are places in America that I really want to visit and then there are places around the world that I really want to go. So here is the master list of where I want to go in the next 3 to 4 years:

1.) San Francisco and Napa:

Spectacular San Francisco Famous Downtown Land...

English: Nappa Scar Hamlet

I am going to go with my mom at the end of this month and I can’t wait because I have always wanted to go there.  I hear that San Francisco is a little like Chicago.  It’s a big city on the water, it’s definitely my kind of town.  We are going to go see the Redwoods in Muir woods and take a day trip to Napa.  I cannot wait!

2.) Paris: 

Paris Exposition: Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tow...

I want to stay in St. Germain, and eat pastries and drink coffee.  I want to walk along the Seine and see the Moulin Rouge and try all of the different French wines.  The Winged Victory in the Louvre has always been something I really wanted to see. But mainly, I just want to walk around Paris and find things to love about it.  I seriously can’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower, I want to take a photo of it and hang it up in our place.  It has been one of the things I have always wanted to photograph.

3.) Hawaii:Hawaii

Hawaii looks like one of the most beautiful and romantic places on Earth. My Grandparents honeymooned there in the 60’s, my parents renewed their vows there, my husband went for a few weeks to visit a friend, essentially everyone has been there but me.  Luckily, we have friends who live there or who have a home there so the possibility of us being able to go is pretty high.  I definitely want to try surfing, and if there is anywhere that I would do outdoorsy things it would be Hawaii.  I would totally go on a hike there!

4.) Munich/ Berlin/ Prague:Reichstag building seen from the west, before ...

My sister-in-law lives in Munich and I have always wanted to see Germany.  I love places with a lot of history and Germany obviously has an abundance of it.  I have also always wanted to see the Christmas Market there and have German hot chocolate. I am crossing my fingers that we get to go in the winter time on year!

5.) Istanbul:

English: Ortaköy Mosque, along the Bosphorus, ...

Turkish delight, the Haija Sophia,the Blue Mosque,  the Grand Bazaar, I love the exotic feeling of a place like this.  Good friends of ours went their for their honeymoon and ever since they have come back, I have been fascinated with the place.  It just seems like such an adventure.

More places I would LOVE to see:

  • Ireland
  • Moscow and St. Petersburg
  • India
  • Africa
  • Martha’s Vineyard
  • New Zealand
  • Spain
  • Denver
  • Peru
  • Boston
  • French Countryside/Riviera

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?