Utah – life elevated

Utah is one of those places for which I didn’t have many expectations.  I’d heard of and wanted to see Zion and Bryce Canyon, but I was not prepared for the incredible beauty in real life.

“Life elevated” is one of the taglines of Utah tourism. In addition to the high altitude of much of the state, the quality of life really does appear to be good in Utah. Our group of girls stayed in Cedar City with one of our good friends from childhood. Cedar City is small but charming and feels more substantial than its population lets on. It has a museum, a university, and a cute downtown area featuring restaurants, boutiques, and an old school soda fountain.

Less than half an hour away you can find Cedar Breaks, which offers stunning vistas. About an hour and a half away is Bryce Canyon. The scenery there is so stunning that it feels surreal – like you are in a fake, Disneyland recreation of imaginary nature. It is beyond amazing that the earth has created these natural amphitheaters and hoodoos.

 

 

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Superbowl 50

It’s that time of year -the Sunday spent celebrating football, watching the year’s most anticipated commercials, and binging on junk food and beer is upon us. The regular NFL season and playoffs are over, and this year the Broncos and the Panthers will duke it out for the championship.

This year the big game is being held in the Bay Area, because we have established that Superbowls and weird weather phenomena follow me wherever I go (the Superbowl was held in New York/New Jersey two years ago). Superbowl City is set up literally across the street from my work and the energy has been much higher than usual in the area in the past week. The music from free concerts has streamed into my office during lunch and in the early evening and the area has been more packed than usual with tourists and security alike. Our office building lobby decorated with balloons in the teams’ colors this week and has been passing out football shaped chocolate. I even ducked out to watch a bit of the Puppy Bowl playoffs at Gott’s.

Amongst my friends and on Facebook I’ve heard mixed views on SF playing host to the big game. Some are excited to have the activities and general energy that comes along with this type of event. Others are pissed that the city is spending $5 million in connection with hosting, as opposed to tackling a different problem, like homelessness.

While I agree that our beloved city has many problems, I disagree that we shouldn’t have hosted the Superbowl. Has the influx of people been annoying at times? Sure. Are there other ways that the money could have been spent? Yes. But the $5 million sum doesn’t take into account all the revenue that the event brings in the form of tourism and spending at local business. That revenue is anticipated to be in the tens of millions, so one can consider the $5 million sum an investment. Even if that revenue doesn’t go directly to taxpayers, injecting the local economy with this cash flow benefits us all.

It’s also hard to put a price on the experience of attending or hosting an event like this. San Francisco spends a lot of money hosting various events throughout the year – Bay to Breakers, the annual Pride parade, Outside Lands. Most of us agree that these events and the spirit that accompanies them helps make SF the unique place that it is. Hosting the Superbowl is an excuse for locals to come together and celebrate, and for outsiders to come spend some time in our awesome home. Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate football, celebrate food and drink, and celebrate watching the game with great company.

Thai tasting menu

One of my favorite friends from New York recently came to visit me here in my new digs. Fortunately, her view on vacations is similar to mine – plan a few activities, but keep the rest of your schedule open for impromptu adventures and actual rest. The only things we put on the itinerary for the long weekend were a daytrip to Carmel-by-the-Sea, a class at my favorite yoga studio, and two dinner reservations in the city. One of them was at Kin Khao, which came highly recommended to me by my foodie friends.

Kin Khao was wonderful. My friend and I decided to go for the tasting menu, because how often is a Thai-inspired tasting menu an option? We weren’t disappointed. A parade of seven savory courses and a dessert course left us very full and very happy. The flavors were spicy and bright and each course was clearly linked to Thai cuisine but took a unique spin on it. For example, we had beef cheek coconut curry and chili jam clams. Our favorites were the mushroom hor mok terrine, which was a curry mousse in a jar, and nam tok beans tossed in Thai ingredients like cilantro, mint, lime, and chili. It was one of the most creative tasting menus I had ever experienced. As a bonus, it paired beatifully with my Thai beer (Hinano Tahiti Lager) and cost only $55.

The downsides? I found the decor to be lackluster. Perhaps I don’t understand the modern feel, but the restaurant is housed in an awkward space in the Parc 55 lobby and I got the impression that the space used to be a gift shop or something similar. It felt like not much was done to convert it into an eating area – it was somewhat plain. But even though I didn’t care for the decor itself, I still found the ambiance to be warm and friendly.

El Niño’s 50 Shades of Green

When I first learned that I was moving back to California just in time for the most intense El Niño since 1997, I was bummed. One of the biggest issues I had with New York was the erratic weather. I had just finished experiencing 3 east coast winters – one where we were displaced as a result of Hurricane Sandy, one where it snowed a lot, and one where the Polar Vortex brought abnormally cold temperatures. Could extreme weather please stop following me around?

But now that I’ve seen the local landscape transform before my eyes in the last four months, I am so happy that El Niño is here. Of course, I always knew that we needed all the rain. I hadn’t been living in California, but I had heard and read about the drought extensively. When I got here everything was truly dry and yellow in parks, preserves, and even along the side of the freeway. Alex and I joked that the GPS in our car needed a “drought” option when displayed CGIs of exits showed green grass on the side of the road.

Now, only several months into the rainy phenomenon, I can already tell that the environment is better off. There is greenery everywhere! The large tree in our backyard is budding new leaves. The banks of the hills in the Mt. Sutro Reserve are covered in tiny, new green plants. The creeks are flowing during hikes on Mt. Tam in Marin. The flowers that live on our balcony, which I forgot to water, have spawned new life and re-blossomed. It’s amazing!

Although El Niño won’t cure our drought of the last four years or undo its effects, it is certainly a big step in the right direction. I may feel differently about it in a few more months, but right now I’m enjoying waking up to the sound of the rain and watching the beautiful local fauna flourish.

 

Turkey in Turks

This Thanksgiving, A and I spent the holiday in Turks and Caicos with his dad and stepmom’s side of the family. Although it stormed for part of the trip in typical Caribbean fashion, we were able to enjoy a few days of sunshine and all-inclusive booze consumption, including Thanksgiving Day itself.

My favorite part of the trip was the walk A and I took off of the resort on Thanksgiving morning. We found ourselves on more isolated stretches of beach bordered by the beautiful, turquoise waters. I don’t think I’d ever seen water that deeply and brightly blue before, even though I’ve visited Jamaica and the Bahamas in the past. We even encountered a local who was painting the gorgeous scenery.

There are few more free feelings in the world than walking barefoot in the sand unencumbered in only a bikini and sunglasses. While I didn’t have my camera or anything else with me on this walk, I’ll always remember the blues of the water and taking a break to sit in the sea grass and watch the waves gently tumble in.

 

 

Brunch – the hybrid meal

Brunch is one of those things that everyone loves that, for a long time, I just could not get behind. As someone who is obsessed with food and has a special affinity for breakfast sandwiches, it SHOULD be something that I love. I think all those hungover Saturdays and Sundays spent waiting for hours to get a group together and at least an hour waiting at the restaurant itself really killed it for me, though. I’d either end up hangry by the time our food arrived or have broken down and snacked prior to bruch, making going out to an expensive meal much less appealing. Also, I wasn’t a huge fan of eggs for a long time. Trying to avoid egg-based brunch dishes is like trying to dodge a minefield.

Things have changed in the last year or so, though. I’m becoming fond of the big weekend meal that straddles breakfast and lunch and the mimosas that accompany it. There’s something nice about getting together on a Saturday or Sunday in the late morning or early afternoon with the whole day ahead of us… as long as I don’t need to be productive later. I’m also warming up to eggs. Last weekend, three of my best girlfriends in SF and I had brunch at one of the girl’s apartments. She’s a fantastic cook, so she whipped up some sourdough pancakes and a tortilla dish that were delicious. Naturally, I brought champagne from the Fancy Pants brand. After the meal, the four of us took a buzzed trip to the City Target nearby. There are few places more dangerous than Target while buzzed, because everything there is so cute but so little of it is necessary. I walked out with a comfy new sweater that makes me think of cuddling by a fire, an ugly Christmas shirt (new take on the ugly Xmas sweater), and a book. A fantastic Sunday!

In honor of the hybrid meal, some of my favorite place brunch places of all-time:

Elizabeth’s (Bywater, New Orleans) – Great all-around brunch, the praline bacon is NOT to be missed.

Camellia Grill – (Uptown, New Orleans) – I’m not sure this counts for brunch, but it’s my all-time favorite diner and it serves omelettes the size of your head, so it makes my list! The cheeseburgers here are so. amazing.

Distilled (Tribeca, New York) – Lots of unique options for food, the best of which (in my opinion) is the fried duck with waffles. Good cocktail menu, too!

ABC Kitchen (Union Square, New York) – One of my favorite NY restaurants, period. The brunch menu sports a super diverse selection of food, including eggs, pizza, sandwiches, salad, pasta, and fish or burgers. The roasted carrot and avocado salad is one of the best salads you’ll ever eat and the mushroom and farm egg pizza is also particularly bomb.

Marlowe (Soma, San Francisco) – An airy spot with great food, portions on the smaller side that leave you satisfied but not on the verge of explosion. Try the crab and shrimp crepe.

 

 

 

Napa Wine Tasting

I’m so happy to be back in the Bay Area, for good! One of the things I was looking forward to the most was San Francisco’s proximity to so many beautiful places. If you get in a car and drive two hours you can end up

Last Sunday A and I went to Napa with one of my best friends from high school and her fiance. Although it was drizzling when we left, it ended up being a dramatically beautiful afternoon with the sun peeking through large gaps between dark gray clouds. The vines were beginning to turn, adding even more color to the landscape. We decided to Uber from SF so that all four of us could fully enjoy the wine tasting experience.

We started our day at Domaine Chandon, which makes sparkling wine. After grabbing three different bottles at the tasting counter (and insisting that we did not need instructions on how to cap them, because we would certainly be finishing them) we took a seat outside in their patio area. Another beautiful thing about the Bay Area is that even if its chilly, it’s rarely too cold to sit outside if you’ve got a jacket and your legs are covered in some way. Out of the three bottles, my favorite was the sparkling rose. Prior to a year or two ago I didn’t particularly care for rose OR sparkling wine, but recently it’s become one of my favorite alcoholic beverages. Perhaps it was the need to find something light in refreshing on hot and humid New York summer evenings combined with my general dislike for white wines that finally led me to this brilliant discovery.

After we finished our bubbly, we took a trolley into Yountville to search for food. I’d heard great things about Bouchon Bakery, but the line was incredibly long and none of us had had a substantial breakfast, so we kept moving and ended up at Bottega. The food here was fantastic! I had one of the best risottos of my life and I think my fiance’s short-rib burger was probably one of my favorite lunch items I’ve ever sampled while finer dining. My pasta was excellent, as well. We left Bottega full, happy, and with our stomachs ready to absorb some more wine.

Next, we walked to a nearby winery called Cornerstone Cellars for a tasting. The tasting area was smaller but the wines and company were enjoyable. None stood out to me here, maybe because of the rose kick that I have been on! We had fun with the huge wine bottles they had on display outside.

Finally, we ended up at one of my favorite wineries, Peju. The property is beautiful, with a well-manicured lawn, and the wines never disappoint. Unsurprisingly, my favorite is the Provence, which is a red and white blend. After playing with a few visiting dogs and doing a round of tastings, we decided to join their wine club because… why not. I’d say we drink a bottle of wine a week, so we may as well make some of those bottles nicer. We also grabbed a bottle of the Provence, because of course.

A and I will be back next month for a weekend trip in celebration of our anniversary in October. I can’t wait to explore more of Napa Valley and taste more wines then!