Sonoma Road Trip with My Parents!

Sonoma road trip with wine!

When SMS and I got married, we had pretty basic vows. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the basic vows are pret-ty serious. Love for a lifetime? Sign me up! But if we had been the type to write our own custom vows, would we have included the vow to take epic road trips with our parents? Hell yeah!

So, the epic road trip with my parents is first up! For those of you wanting SMS’ parents, wait a few weeks. It’s coming!

My parents were in Wyoming for a mini-siblings reunion (Dad’s side). Back in June, I said that since they were 2/3 of the way across the country, why not complete the journey and come to Northern California for a vacation continuation? Who can argue with that logic? No one. So, my parents arrived on Monday for a six day NorCal adventure.

For the first two nights, my parents stayed at the Hotel Lucent in Menlo Park. SMS has a 1B1B apartment and we’re just not air mattress people. Haha, we totally could be but we don’t even own one now. So, my parents stayed at HL, which they recommend for nice rooms at a reasonable (for SV) price.

On Tuesday, we had breakfast at our place. Canned hash and poached eggs for the win! Then we headed out to Filoli, which is really beautiful. Gorgeous gardens that have a timeless feel. The original owner planted them knowing full well the peak would be in 100 years, well beyond his time here on Earth. The combination of impermanence and legacy is a dialectic beyond the scope of this blog but still interesting to reflect on.

That night, we had dinner at our place since the next few days would be pretty restaurant heavy. Wednesday morning, we headed up to Sonoma for our first day of wine-tasting and culinary delights! BTW, planning tip. While I have turned into much more of a planner over the years, it is crucial to pre-plan at the current time. Most places have limited seating and time-slots and you have to plan your trip as soon as you think of it. The further out the better. It’s a little much but since Hot Vax Summer was thwarted by the Delta variant, I think this is going to be the reality at least through 2021.

Our first stop was Medlock Ames. This is the only wine club SMS and I currently belong too. I think the wines are delicious, and I really like their thoughtful approach to farming and wine-making. I am a little less thrilled that they’re turning more to single-varietal ($$$$) and abandoning their blends. Mostly because I really love their estate blends they make each year. Alas, RIP. 2018 is the last year they’re making an estate red. I would say I should stock up but I seem to drink the wine more than collect it so I guess I should embrace the change.

ANY-way, we had a reservation for the “Olive Grove Experience.” This included a white/rose bottle per 2 people and a picnic basic full of delicious provisions such as Mt. Tam cheese, Bouchon bread, olives, MA jam, MA olive oil, and salami. We had a rosé and chardonnay, both of which were delicious. It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful space. It was the perfect start to our vacation and no matter what the occasion, I alway recommend Medlock Ames.

Then we went into town and had a Northern Italian varietal tasting at Idlewild. I love those Northern Italian wines. Strong reds with a hint of dirt. Yum!

Afterwards, we headed to Chalkboard. SMS and I had been several years ago, but I had forgotten. It’s pretty good but the portions are on the small side. Especially when the waitress claimed that they encouraged “family-style” eating. I guess by family-style, they mean that everyone can stick their fork into everyone’s decidedly individually-sized portion. The food is delicious, but the comic relief was when we all ordered the soup and instead of a cup of soup, received teeny-tiny shots of soup. Several pictures were taken to document the size relative to common objects. I realize this paragraph sort of makes me sound like a pig, but this restaurant was a little on the ridiculous side. But still, delicious food!

We headed back to our hotel which, by the way, was a complete delight! The Camellia Inn was reasonably priced and in the heart of downtown Healdsburg. The rooms were great and the breakfasts were quite nice. We also went swimming both afternoons, which was refreshing after some pretty warm temperatures!

Only two of us got the memo that on Thursdays, we wear pink!

The next day, we drove to Sonoma proper to have lunch with my Mom’s cousins at The Girl and the Fig. It was such a lovely afternoon. The cousins are younger than my parents, but older than SMS and I. We had such a nice lunch and it was fun to catch up. We all had to head out after a couple of hours. The cousins went back to work and we went to Silver Oak.

SMS prefers the Sonoma Silver Oak vs Napa. The tasting room was beautiful. We were outside, which was warm but tolerable since we were in the shade. The view was beautiful, the building gorgeous, and the wines delicious. We all really liked the experience.

After heading back into town, we went for a quick swim and then got ready for dinner. Dinner was at Bravas restaurant, where we had Spanish tapas and split a paella that was phenomenal. We sat in the back courtyard and it was such a beautiful, bug-free space.

The Sonoma part of our trip was awesome. A fair bit of pre-planning and reservation-making, but it made for a smooth trip with delicious wine experiences. Next up, our Northern coastal adventures.

Day Trip: San Diego to San Luis Capistrano

Even when the mission is closed.

The last day of Mom and Dad’s trip promised to be slightly dreary, weather-wise. Considering that there’s not much to do in San Diego on bad weather days even in the best of times, I wanted to think of a fun activity. I decided we should try to out-travel the clouds and head North on the Surfliner!

I have never taken the Surfliner before, but I knew it went through beautiful coastal towns before it turns inland towards LA. While it goes back out to the coast north of LA, those stops are too far for a simple day trip. My first choice was San Clemente, but it doesn’t stop there as frequently. The next station is San Juan Capistrano. I thought I had never been but in fact I had- when I was very small. Mom and Dad remembered a trip they took there when they lived in LA almost 40 years ago. They were excited to go back.

We bought our tickets online and met on the train. I took the ferry from Coronado, while Mom and Dad walked over from their hotel. The ferry schedule was a little tight to make the train, but it all worked out. I brought mimosa ingredients for the train so we had nice drinks on the way up. Turns out, we weren’t supposed to drink alcohol on the train, but the conductor didn’t say anything. We didn’t find out until the afternoon when the Southbound Debbie Downer conductor informed us of the rule. Eh, win some, lose some.

The train went pretty slowly until we were north of Del Mar. Apparently, the ground is not super stable so there are speed restrictions to prevent disaster. The coastal scenery as we headed North through Camp Pendleton was beautiful. After about 90 minutes we arrived in San Juan Capistrano.

We had about 2.5 hours until the return train. The mission was closed that day, so all I have for the blog are a bunch of lame pictures, including one with a little bit of finger! Classic photographer technique.

But, what do you do when life gives you lemons? Have margaritas! When we talked to the (fun) conductor on the way up, she recommended El Adobe de Capistrano. After a short walk around the town, we went there for lunch and ended up having lots of margaritas- pineapple cilantro, red pepper cucumber, blood orange- so many amazing flavors! I had the President’s choice for lunch, which was a platter of President and Mrs. Nixon’s favorite food items. It was tasty but really, the margaritas were the stars. So delicious!

View from the train going through San Clemente Station

Then we walked back to the train station, boarded, and headed back to San Diego. It was a wonderful day and I recommend it as a San Diego day trip idea to anyone, especially if the Mission is open!

Highlights: September 2019

IMG_6982

The biggest highlight of all was my beautiful sister, lovely husband, and cutest baby had their wedding/celebration of love in Minneapolis.  They held it at Summit Manor but the whole weekend was a whirlwind of festivities and family time.  The wedding itself was 1 Sept so here we are with the main event in the proper month highlights (some sort of system is needed for this mega-summary approach to the second half of 2019!).

The wedding was awesome!  Brady and Ricardo have awesome family and friends.  SMS and I had the best time aaannnnnddd…I got to give a MOH speech!  Brady was such an amazing MOH that I wanted to be one to and, at a minimum, I didn’t embarrass myself!  I also did some important MOH duties like booking a group nail appointment (which I missed due to flight delays) and day of make-up and hair for the bride!

IMG_6964

The day after the wedding, we went down to a brewery that SMS had found.  We wanted to ride scooters but thought, no way would four show up all together and…manifesting to the universe worked!  There were four scooters in a row and away we went, me bringing up the rear as a scooter chicken!  SMS and Ed were the bravest, going off-roading down a grassy hill with zero casualties.  Good job!

I got the beer sampler and, as luck would have it, got the confused newbie who gave me medium sized cups instead of the sampler cups.  My sister-in-law was very jealous to which I say…

Here are a few shots of SMS.  On the left is in Minnesota and on the right is somewhere in the Bay Area the next weekend.

Below is a New Yorker cartoon I find very funny.  I think I’m going to order a print of it.

IMG_7028
CREDIT: The New Yorker Collection/The Cartoon Bank

Above are a few photos from Coronado.  Left to right, a pretty sunset; my balcony garden; SMS being the consummate law-abiding pedestrian waiting for the walk sign without his renegade wife; the queen-sized Ikea bed I put together myself!

I saw three author talks in San Diego: Colson Whitehead (Underground Railroad, The Nickel Boys), Rebecca Makkai (The Great Believers), and Bruce Holsinger (The Gifted School).  All three were excellent.  I liked Bruce Holsinger’s talk the most because it focused a lot on the academic practice of writing since both he and the interviewer are Literature professors.

IMG_7075
St. Frank Coffee, Menlo Park.  Take-away or outdoor table only.  A nice find by SMS!

IMG_7076
Applewood Inn, Guerneville

We went up to Sonoma with Rip and Linda for two Harvest Parties: Medlock Ames and Lancaster with a stop at the Hawkes tasting room.  It was an awesome weekend.  I love Medlock Ames wines and they threw a great party!

IMG_7080
SMS at Medlock Ames

IMG_7091
Medlock Ames, SMS and parents

On Sunday, we went to Armstrong Redwoods State National Preserve to walk among the Redwoods, which I think is the thing to do since there aren’t too many old-growth redwood stands around! Logging was so widespread in the 1800s that most redwood forests now are second-growth and while impressive, do not even approach the size of the 1000+ year old trees!

IMG_7102

IMG_7129
Chair inspiration

 

5 Days in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

IMG_3772
Tulum Beach

So, this Christmas brought a travel first for me.  I went to Mexico!  Yes, it’s almost strange to admit I’ve never been since I was in San Diego for so long but it’s a fact.  Of course, when I went to Otay Mesa during my Kaiser residency days, I was almost in Mexico.  Early in the morning, I would worry about being too tired and missing my exit and ending up in Mexico instead of work.  That would make me late.

IMG_3750
Hotel Room Balcony

We went to Mexico with SMS’s family and had a really great time at an all-inclusive.  We went to Royal Hideaway Playacar, which was really nice.  I did some TripAdvisor reading beforehand and wasn’t too sure about the place but ultimately, it was wonderful.  It is clear that there some people on TripAdvisor who are just never going to be happy.

IMG_3798

On vacation, I read a lot and hung out at the beach.  It was delightful.  Linda and I did water aerobics one day, which featured great music and a slightly less great, but enthusiastic, instructor.  The food was really delicious and the portion sizes were perfect.   I would say most meals came out with a proper serving (aka, enough but not too much food), which was great because wasting food was minimal.  I feel that sometimes, all-inclusives (not that I’ve been to many) can serve large quantities to make people feel that they are getting more when really, it just leads to excess- in the belly and in the trash.

I went for two runs and SMS and I went for a walk on the beach.  It was really beautiful- wide, fine-sand beaches with clear blue water.

One day, the four “kids” went to Tulum, Dos Ojos cenote, and Cosme’s Taqueria for lunch.  Tulum was really beautiful.  The sun-bleached stone ruins were gorgeous and we learned a lot (but not too much:) from our guide.  Hiring a guide was definitely a good idea because the context definitely made the viewing more interesting.  Afterwards, thanks to the magic of our smartphones, we found Cosme’s taqueria which was a small spot that served up delicious tacos.  It was a great find and definitely different than the polished all-inclusive or tourist trap restaurants outside of the Tulum ruins.

IMG_3787

After lunch, we went to the “Dos Ojos” cenote, which was awesome because I had really wanted to go to a cenote after following the hashtag on Instagram for the last several months.  There are some beautiful looking ones closer to Chichen Itza, which we passed on because we didn’t want to drive all day.  But there are some along the coast and Dos Ojos is really pretty.  There are two separate cenotes, a dark and light “eye,” with a connecting tunnel that I think you could get through without SCUBA gear but I wasn’t going to try.

After 5 days, it was time to head back to California.  SMS and I returned our rental car, which was cheaper than a shuttle and gave us flexibility to go to Tulum without booking an overpriced tour.  But it was a little bit of a hassle so there was definitely a trade-off.

Back in California, we moved apartments from Mountain View to Menlo Park.  Goodbye orange tree in the front yard!  Our place in Mountain View was really nice but the commute for Mark’s new job was anything but so…we moved to Menlo Park.  The location of the new apartment is great and it’s fun to be near a new downtown to explore.

We spent New Year’s Eve in downtown San Francisco with friends.  We went to a 1920’s themed party (flappers and Great Gatsby, not suicidal bankers after the crash of 1929).  Our friend had organized a get-together of several people so it was very easy and a lot of fun.

Then it was New Year’s Day!  SMS and I started out the new year with avocado toast and good coffee so that was a delicious start.  We went to a Australian coffee shop, Bluestone Lane, in SF.  I would definitely like to go back and someday, we will get to Australia proper!

Real Housewife of Silicon Valley

So, after an amazing Napa trip with my professional wine-tasting in-laws, I took the week off and did my best impression of a Real Housewife of Silicon Valley.  Mainly, this meant that I went to expensive boutique exercise classes.  I went to my favorite SPX pilates class and realized that my core has no strength.  I also tried out Soul Cycle for the first time, which was interesting.  It’s basically a very fancy spin class that charges a LOT of money to pedal furiously in the dark led by enthusiastic instructors with excellent playlists.  I enjoyed it but was worried that I would fall off my bike during the arms section where a rider bounces up and down the handlebars in a sort-of pushup motion while standing up and pedaling very fast.  I felt that this was either going to lead to my face being bashed in or falling over.  Falling over would be bad because the bikes are very close together and I would have fallen on someone.  Fortunately, neither happened. Hooray!

Soul Cycle has a lot of aficionados who like both the workout and the positive vibes that are preached along the way.  I enjoyed myself and would definitely go if it was less expensive but since it’s not, trial membership only for me!

I also ate delicious food!  I’d grab an Americano at Alexander’s and one day, I treated myself to a shave ice at Teaspoon on Castro St.  It was delicious!

SMS and I also went to an Indian restaurant for dinner that featured seating inside of rickshaws and buses.  It was so cool!  We went after climbing at Planet Granite one night and I couldn’t believe we had never gone together before.  I loved it!

After a week of leisure, we flew down to San Diego for my cousin Jim’s wedding.  I had an awesome time hanging out with SMS, my brothers, my cousins, and my aunts & uncles.  SMS and I also tried scooters for the first time, which were a lot of fun.  I had seen my cousin on InstaStory and I knew I wanted to try.  I was definitely the slowest in the group but it was a great way to get to brunch.  My brothers, SMS and I went to brunch the Sunday after the wedding, which was a lot of fun.  One of my brothers barely had any time between brunch and his flight but he made it.  Hooray!

72 Hours in Sonoma and Napa

IMG_3395

A long-standing weekend trip finally arrived last week!  SMS and I had made plans with his parents to go to Sonoma/Napa for Veteran’s Day weekend.  Linda and I had made reservations in the mid-Summer for lodging and a few special tastings.  A few other tastings and our dinner reservations were made just before the weekend.  It was a nice mix of long-term planning and last minute spontaneity.  It was a wonderful trip.

Our Saturday started in Mountain View, when SMS and I dropped off a pair of climbing shoes at our friends’ house.  This was a nice stop for two reasons.  One, Michelle made us a delicious breakfast sandwich (finely chopped kale in eggs for the win!) and two, we saw a tree full of parrots!

I had heard about the parrots in San Francisco but I hadn’t realized that they migrate up and down the peninsula.  Michele was much less enamored with the parrots since she says they are quite loud in the morning.  When we were there, we didn’t hear squawking but we heard the rapid typewriter-like cadence of a dozen or so parrots cracking open their breakfast of choice, hard red berries.  It was pretty cool to us so we stood outside for a bit before heading up to Santa Rosa to pick up Rip and Linda.

IMG_3321

Our ride was uneventful and after picking up Rip and Linda, we headed to Lancaster Estate for our first tasting of the weekend.  Linda had booked a cave tour and tasting, which was very cool. It also had the added benefit of being indoors, which was nice since air quality was a slight concern due to the wind-carried smoke from the Camp Fire fire.  Petya was our guide.  She was very interesting because her background in the wine industry was initially through sales and imports of Bulgarian wines.  We really enjoyed the cave and our tasting in the library just inside the cave entrance, which looked like a hobbit door opening into the hillside.

IMG_3329

We had a little time before our next tasting, so we decided to share a pairing per couple at Hawkes’ tasting room which was conveniently on the way.  Hooray!  The wines were good and I enjoyed them quite a bit, both the merlot and the cabernet sauvignon.  The tasting was complimentary thanks to Rip’s membership.

After Lancaster, we headed over to Comstock Winery, where I had booked a pizza and wine pairing.  Comstock’s grounds are really beautiful and would be a great place for an outdoor picnic on a warmer, less smoky day.  There are several outdoor games and beautiful gardens.  The pizzas were quite good, all wood-fire oven baked and with really nice flavor combos.  The wines were not quite as good compared to our tastings earlier in the day but we somehow managed to drink them.  We’re so resilient.

IMG_3340
Hazy late afternoon due to the Camp Fire smoke

Finally, we stopped in the Medlock Ames tasting room, which is one of the clubs I belong to.  We had a delicious rose and several reds, mostly cabs.  I really like their wines a lot and the tasting room was quite nice.  We also got the tip to check out Ehlers from Patrick the Pourer, which ended up being a great tip we used on Monday.

IMG_3345
A golden roaster!

So, after an amazing Dry Creek appellate focused day, we headed to our hotel in St. Helena, Napa.  We stayed at the Vineyard Country Inn, which was slightly more affordable than other Napa hotels (this is not saying much).  The suites all had a sitting area, comfortable bed, small kitchenette, bathroom, and fireplace.  We did not light a fire since SMS pointed out there was enough smoke in the air already.  Linda made a reservation at Market restaurant, which was really good.  SMS and I split a chopped salad and Korean short ribs.  Both meals were pretty heavy (even the salad since it was held together by eggs, bacon, and mayo) but we were happy with splitting the two.  We ordered table s’mores for dessert, which was a lot of fun to make.  We discovered a new way to categorize people: marshmallow on fire types vs slow golden roaster types.

IMG_3360

After rolling home and sleeping very well, we were ready for our Napa Sunday!  More wine, MO-RE WINE!!  I had made a 10:30 reservation for a cave tour at Schramsberg, which Linda was really looking forward too.  I know 10:30 is early but one, it’s champagne and two, that’s all that was left even though I had booked months earlier!  It was definitely a busy holiday weekend for Napa, despite not being the peak Summer season.

IMG_3366

The cave tour was amazing.  Our tour guide Noelle was fantastic.  I had been on a cave tour in the past but this was better than I remembered.  I was most impressed by the story of how removing the yeast from the champagne was discovered by Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the “Widow Clicquot” of Veuve Clicquot fame!  I loved the history behind the champagne, especially since it featured a total badass of a woman!

The hand-picked cave with its draping cave lichen is a marvel.  For our tasting, the atmosphere was further enhanced by candelabras on the table with real candles.  The candles also have the side benefit of demonstrating there’s enough oxygen in the cave so if you’re feeling light-headed, it’s the bubbly, not the air.

After a great tour, we headed to Gott’s Roadside for lunch.  The line was huge and next time, we know to call in an order!  The food was really good and I enjoyed a Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese with a small side of butternut squash soup, featuring sneak attacks of scathingly hot squash chunks.

IMG_3371

After lunch, we went to a winery recommended by Linda’s cousin, Trinchero winery.  We tried several of the flights, to include a Petit Verdot, several Cabs, one Merlot, and a Chardonney.  We enjoyed the wines but the reds were pretty tannin-y for our tastes.  I thought it was the type of red wine that people who enter chili eating contests would like- people more hearty than myself.  Even the tasting room was very macho, with stuffed game birds arranged on the walls, to include a rooster fight.

Then it was time to get ready for our early-ish dinner at The Charter Oak.  It is a new-ish, buzzy restaurant that Linda had heard about and secured reservations for Sunday night.  It was delicious!  Everything was family-style so we all shared bites and plates, getting a really nice sample of all the flavors.  The meals were mainly made on a prominently featured hearth with customizable trays and pans within it.  It was very impressive.  It’s hard to pick a favorite but I really liked the charred broccoli and burrata salad.  I tried to recreate it at home with mixed success.  I think I need a mega-hearth in my kitchen…and a sous chef or two.

 

Finally, Monday rolled around.  Linda and Rip, no amateurs at this game, had booked their flight for the early evening so…more wine tasting!  After checkout, we headed over to Ehlers at our new early time record of 9:30.  They had just opened and Bernard, my soon-to-be-BFF, said that they were booked for the day and that a tasting wasn’t possible.  When I asked about what a tasting entailed, he said 1-1.5 hours of tasting and discussing wine, or maybe Game of Thrones.  I told him I was only on Season 3 but I only had to say the words “Jamie Lannister’s hand” and Bernard pulled down glasses for a “splash” tasting!  Hooray!  Maybe it was the convivial spirit of discussing TV characters’ plights, but I thought the wine was delicious!  We bought a few bottles and, really, Ehlers turned out to be the serendipitous highlight of the trip!

Afterwards, we went back into St. Helena and walked around.  Then we went to the Culinary Institute of America and browsed around in the gift shop.  Then we piled into the car to head towards Napa, first stopping at the French Laundry Garden in Yountville.  It is my Dad’s least favorite garden in the world (“It’s so pretentious!”).  Most everyone else doesn’t seem to mind it.  Then we went to Oakville Grocery for lunch.  We ordered delicious sandwiches and sat outside on a really pretty, not too smokey (yet) day.

Next, we stopped at Foley Johnson Winery, where Rip gets free tastings thanks to his Lancaster membership.  The wines were fine but, in contrast to my BFF Bernard, the pourer at FJ was, as I wrote down sarcastically, “Mr. Personality,” aka, a jerk!  But it was free wine and we got pretty pictures of grapes still on the vines, which was super late for a Napa Harvest.  As we heard several times during the weekend, the Napa Summer of 2017 had only one heat spike instead of the usual six so the grapes just kept going.

We went into Napa and walked around Oxbow Market.  We weren’t hungry so no purchases there, although I do really like the place.  We walked to a toy store so I could get a small present for our friends’ kid, whom we were going to see later that evening.

We decided we could fit in one more wine tasting (yay!) and we decided to check out the Foley Food and Wine Society (FFWS) tasting room at The Village at Vista Collina resort. We tried a delicious chardonnay (Courtney’s Couvee) followed by several reds, to include a Merus cabernet sauvignon that was amazing.  And expensive.  Boo!  Why do the two go hand in hand?!  It was a really nice experience and a great way to end the weekend.

Then we dropped Rip and Linda off at the airport, which was about an hour northwest of the FWWS tasting room.  Wine country is huge!  Then we went to our friends’ house for a late dinner of lamb and “Indian risotto,” which Jyotsna made with more traditional Indian spices since she decided that traditional risotto is too bland.   Dinner was great and it was so nice to see Akshay and Jyotsna- they’ve moved about an hour north of Mountain View so we’re no longer neighbors.  But they can’t shake us!  We’ve made tentative plans to spend New Year’s Eve together!  I can’t wait!

And if you’re still reading, congratulations!  This was a doozy, boozy weekend recap!

 

Bird Update!

IMG_2755

The birds are doing well in their foster home.  They have a fairly standard routine which, pathetically, I know.  In the mornings, they eat their food then spend the rest of the time hopping back and forth between the cages and often hanging out on the top.  They will sometimes all fly at once and buzz the observer’s head.  This is rude but they are poorly trained.

In the afternoon, they tend to hang in the cage.  They will sometimes take naps.  They seem to be pretty happy because there are a lot of head bobbles.  As I read what I’m typing, I feel that this text would be better suited in a format resembling crayon-writing on a paper by a young child since this is all dreadfully boring.  But if you were here, you would love the birds because they are so cute.

IMG_2726

So, I admit.  I have a favorite.  Yes, I love the one named after me best but she is so cute!  And noble!  As mentioned earlier, she is not very smart since all the birds are pretty dumb but that is ok.  I do not want any real competition.

 

Also, earlier in the month, I binged read the Harry Potter series because it had been awhile and I have a few friends who are into Harry Potter trivia parties and bar crawls (at last, bigger losers than me!).  The books are really fun and I enjoyed the re-read.  J.K. Rawlings is brilliant- to be that imaginative and create a fictional world that is highly readable and enjoyable is a definite gift!

Inspired by the books, I gave the birds Potter names.  Without further ado…

Harry Potter Birds

Central Coast California- Party and Wine Tasting

The weekend after an East Coast family trip, SMS and I made our way from Silicon Valley to the Central Coast.  First stop?  Great-Uncle Al’s 90th birthday party in Arroyo Grande!

Before we went to the party, we stopped at our favorite taco place in nearby Pismo Beach, Papi’s Grill.  We ordered a few tacos and they were delicious.  The potato taco is always a hit and a few of the meat ones were also very tasty.  Then we checked into the SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel and went to the beach for a bit.

Uncle Al is SMS’ grandfather’s younger brother.  The brothers are both very active and live life to the fullest.  Although there was no formal toast, Uncle Al got up at one point to tell us “terrible news:” “I just went to DMV and they renewed my license…for five more years!”  It was very funny.  Although as I type it, it sounds worrisome- I promise, it was light-hearted!

It was fun to see family members, including SMS’ aunt and uncle whom we don’t see as often.  We had tri-tip for dinner, which was pretty delicious.  Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and watched the sunset.  It was a pretty great day.

IMG_2538
World Cup viewing

The next day, SMS and I went to a local bar to watch the World Cup final.  I am an unabashed follower of sports when it comes to championship games.  The road to the championship?  Not so much but when it’s time for the finals, I’m usually there.  It was a good game and both teams played with gusto. I was rooting for Croatia as the underdog but France winning was also ok.

After the game, we checked out of the hotel and headed for Paso Robles.  We had decided to take a couple days off and go wine-tasting with SMS’ parents.  Since we were early for check-in, we headed out to do what we do best- drink wine!  Our first stop was at Eos winery, where Rip had a complimentary tasting due to reciprocity from another wine club he belongs to.  Our pourer was really nice but the wines were…ok.  We enjoyed talking to her and she gave us a tip that was AWESOME (more later) so it wasn’t a bust but we definitely didn’t buy any of the wines.

IMG_2539
Heart Hill, Niner Winery

Rip wanted to try Niner winery so off we went for a tasting and possibly lunch.  There, by total chance, we ran into his sister and brother-in-law.  We enjoyed a tasting and decided to eat lunch at the on-site restaurant.  It was really good and the outdoor seating even better.  It was a really nice lunch setting and it was very enjoyable.

IMG_2543
Lunch table at Niner

IMG_2544

Although we had gotten the message that our hotel rooms were ready, we decided to keep going with wine tastings (yay!).  Since Justin is an old favorite and a little out of the way from the places we were planning on for the next day, we headed there.  We split wine tastings there and I bought a few bottles.  We ambitiously thought we’d drink them while we ate S’mores later at the Hotel Cheval but that ended up not happening.  So SMS and I still have them.  Darn.

We headed back to town to check in and then go to dinner.  We went to Thomas Hill Organics, which has excellent food and a beautiful indoor/outdoor covered patio.  Afterwards, we went to Hotel Cheval’s famed evening S’mores which ended up driving me crazy.  Let me say, SMS thinks I shouldn’t write about this because it does make me look slightly insane.  He is probably right but I press on, regardless.

So, first, you cannot make your own S’more.  There is a s’more concierge/waiter who takes your S’more order and then makes them for you.   He is taking orders from many people who would like s’mores and yet, he can only make two at a time.  Not the best system in the world but this is not the part where I lost my mind.  What was driving me crazy was his insane level of inefficiency and resulting level of stress.  It’s like the scene in August: Osage County when Abigail Breslin’s character states she doesn’t eat meat because she’s ingesting an animal’s fear.  Well, I was eating a person’s stress while eating a s’more, which is antithetical to the s’more experience.  Also, why could he not move his s’more ingredient wagon next to the fireplace where he was actually making the s’mores rather than running back and forth.  Wwhhhhhhyyyy?!?!? Argh, just let me make my own s’more!  Except I couldn’t.  And the whole experience made me weirdly grouchy because I am crazy.  The end.

So, if you’re still with me rather than reporting my fragile mental status to concerned authorities, we had another day of wine tasting the next day!  After a delicious breakfast, which featured a buffet and, thankfully, not a breakfast s’more waiter, we headed out to Villa San Juliette, which had been recommended the previous day at Eos.

IMG_2548
Villa San Juliette

IMG_2550
Happy couple at Villa San Juliette

It was amazing!  The wines were really good- I ended up becoming a member!  Also, the tasting was $10 and a lot of wines were served.  SMS ordered a pizza because his hunger levels were reaching imminent crisis levels and it looked delicious.  We spoke to the chef for a bit and he really knew his stuff.  I sort of wanted to eat there because everything he described sounded amazing, but we had already made plans for Daou which is another great experience.  But before I move on to Daou, if you are in Paso Robles, I give Villa San Juliette my highest recommendation!

IMG_2552
Daou lunch crowd!

IMG_2553
Daou vineyards

Rip has been a member of Daou for a long time and loves their wines.  It also sits on top of the largest hill around for miles so the view is spectacular.  There is an outside sitting area that is covered so, although it is quite hot, it’s comfortable in the shade as there’s often a gentle breeze as well.  We had a great tasting there and lunch.

IMG_2554

Our lunch was rather late so we decided to head back into town for happy hour rather than try and squeeze in another winery.  We got some so-so ice cream but later, went out for a really nice dinner at La Cosecha.  I ordered the seafood stew that was delicious but I wasn’t quite hungry enough for.  Still, I ate all the good stuff and tried not to waste any food!  Afterwards, SMS and I headed to an outdoor spa at River Oaks Hot Spring & Spa.  He made the reservation and it was really a good idea!  Afterwards, we still had room for a s’more so we hung out by the fire again.  This time, I was more chill.  Not uncoincidentally, there was a different s’more guy.

The next day, it was time to go.  We ate breakfast and then packed up the car.  It was a great mini-vacation and a fun way to celebrate family.

4th of July and West Orange, NJ

SMS and I visited family over the extended 4th of July weekend.  For the 4th itself, we went to the Shook family annual party.  It was a little more mellow this year compared to others (no swinging fireballs!), but it was a lot of fun.  The company was great and we had an awesome view of multiple firework shows.  I also got to run around the beach with my nephew Luca, which was a lot of fun.  He’s a spirited kid!  He also moves quite fast so no pictures from me although Mark caught him in action.

unnamed
Super cute!

That weekend, we headed up to New Jersey to see my grandfather and Dusty.  It was a quick trip since we arrived on Saturday and left Sunday.  We went out to a local restaurant since SMS and I hadn’t thought to bring nice clothes for a dinner at Navesink.  Doh!  Never fear, the local restaurant was really good and it was nice to hang out with Grandpa, Dusty, and my aunt Maria.

IMG_2503
Edison’s West Orange Factory

The next day, we went to the Thomas Edison National Historic Part in West Orange, NJ.  It’s at the site of his larger, industrial sized laboratory and factory.  We saw his chemical lab, production line, office with his huge roll-top desk, and the Black Maria.  The Black Maria is a tarpaper-covered video making studio on a lazy Susan to maximize light.  I’ve linked to a PBS short that talks about the Black Maria.  The current studio is actually a replica since the original burned down.  It was really neat to see someone’s idea constructed, from paper concept to large physical structure.  The scope of industrial engineering is something I’m in awe of- it’s hard for me to think on that scale.  But it is absolutely amazing to behold.

We stopped for lunch at MishMish cafe where we both ordered the Israeli brunch, which consisted of two fried eggs, halloumi, labne, sour pickles, tomatoes, cucumber, and pita.  I asked for sliced veggies instead, which also paired nicely.  It was really delicious.

IMG_2508
Is it wrong to think of my TESLA at Edison’s house?  The battery charger!

Afterwards, we quickly stopped at the Glenmont Estate, labelled “Glenmont Garage” on Google.  It’s the estate Edison gave to his second wife (he was a widower) as a wedding gift.  Niiiiiiccceeeee!  We didn’t have a lot of time but we peaked into an open window in the garage.  There, I saw Edison’s DC electric car charger- from  1904!  He charged neighbor’s cars and Alma Edison actually drove a 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47.  We walked behind the house and saw the gravesite of Thomas and Alma Edison before leaving for the airport.  Hmmm, typing that seems a little morbid pre-flight, but we didn’t have time to go inside!

IMG_2512
Back of the house

Mele Kalikimaka

IMG_3066
Santa’s Helper!

For Christmas 2017, my family decided to meet in a tropical location since the past two Christmases have been ski vacations.  Since Zika is endemic in many tropical areas, Hawaii was one of the few Zika-free places we could go.  Twist my rubber arm!

IMG_3054
Diamond Head, Waikiki

My parents booked a house near Hanalei, Kauai which was awesome because the North Shore is my favorite part of the island.  We were between Hanalei and the Na’pali Coast so it was a really awesome location.  On the way, I had a several hour layover in Honolulu so I went to Waikiki.  It was beautiful!

I walked on the beach and stopped at The House Without a Key in the Halekulani Hotel.  I had a few drinks while listening to Hawaiian music.  It was so idyllic!  I also have a new tropical drink favorite.  Move over Pina Colada, meet Hale Passion (Rum, Passion Fruit, Almond, Coconut, Light Cream)!

Continue reading “Mele Kalikimaka”