5 Days in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lunch table at Niner

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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.

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Villa San Juliette
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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!

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Daou lunch crowd!
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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.

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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.