Sunday, August 30, 2015

Finding What You Need

In a recent issue of GOOD magazine, I poured over an entrancing photo essay by a photographer who took pictures of the way his hotel rooms looked when he checked in and the view outside his window. While I can't locate my copy (yes, I love old school paper versions of magazines), I did copy his style of my recent hotel room in St. Louis at the Hyatt by the Arch. Especially since it was a good one and I remembered before messing up the bed.
The weather was perfect the full four days I was in town - like in the 70's perfect. I had to find a couple of patios to enjoy the sunshine and the temperature. My first find was Three Sixty at the top of the Hilton at the Ballpark. The views were incredible, although the safety glass made it difficult to capture anything worth sharing here. I had a cocktail (a Been There Done That) and the crispy fish tacos - both were delicious!
My second patio find also came a couple of days later with a side of nostalgia. Peacemaker Restaurant was like walking down the sidewalk in my hometown, except for the chives in the lobster roll. I even had a blueberry wheat Sea Dog Brewing Co. beer in a can! The albacore crudo, while not something I remember from my childhood in Maine, was to die for -- the odd combination of jalapenos and smashed Corn Nuts on top just right.

The lobster roll, while flecked with a cousin of an onion (I HATE onions), had the most delicious housed-baked hot dog bun than more than made up for it. I somehow found room for a tart slice of lemon meringue pie that had a creamy, almost marhmallow-y, meringue on top, because there's always room for dessert. Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Napa - Day 3

Okay, technically this was the end of Day 2, but I was saving this for today's post. On my birthday eve, we ate at Morimoto - Napa. If you are a scholar of my blog (which I realize is probably just me), you may remember another post about the original Iron Chef's restaurant in Mumbai a year and a half ago, you can read it here. I love Japanese food, so when I saw that he had a new restaurant in Napa, I had to try it and share it with Brian, who wasn't there the first time.

This meal, although very different from my first experience, was very good and laid back. We had delicious cocktails (I traded Brian for his - I like whiskey, what can I say?), yummy himachi tacos, a tempura calamari and quinoa salad, amazing sashimi - yellowtail, o-toro tuna, and salmon, and a trio of light sorbets - lavender peach, plum, and raspberry basil.
For my birthday breakfast, we headed back downtown to Model Bakery, which has the cutest sign of succulents (don't you think?). My veggie breakfast sandwich was to die for, as was my Blue Bottle Coffee latte and a shared cinnamon twist. Definitely a "must visit" if you're in Napa.
The last stop on our Napa adventure was the organic, dry vineyard, Frog's Leap Winery. I wanted to move into the house that was built for tastings, offices and retail - it was like walking into a Restoration Hardware, only a house version. We had a lovely tour guide who told us about all the thoughtful ways the owner takes care of and celebrates the staff. The owner's dog walked the tour route with us as we tasted five wines along the way.

Since they don't water the grapes, they are smaller and the wine produced is very drinkable. The best part about this place is that they distribute to all 50 states in the U.S., so we can all buy a bottle, or two. They have a lovely chardonnay, which is only aged in oak barrels for 7-10 days and has a very light oak flavor. Thanks for checking out my latest adventure!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Napa - Day 2

The owners of the loft we're staying in recommended Ritual Coffee Roasters for breakfast, but they didn't mention that it was inside the Oxbow Public Market which is chock full of gourmet food and shops. In addition to a delicious latte from Ritual, I also enjoyed a strawberry almond waffle from Five Dot Ranch and Cookhouse, amazing!
Next up was the rose tasting at Domaine Chandon, if only every morning could start this way. The property was beautiful, the tour guide knowledgeable, and the sparkling wine delicious.
We then headed to Chef Thomas Keller's original Bouchon Bakery for some yummy macarons - mocha, chocolate and pina colada. Probably not the best lunch, but we were celebrating my birthday eve!
After some amazing nachos from La Luna (not pictured), we headed to the Francis Ford Coppola-owned winery, Inglenook. The history of this property is quite fascinating - you can read about it on their website - and the scenery is beautiful. We enjoyed a guided tour and an estate tasting of four wines paired with cheeses. There is also a museum onsite which houses many of Coppola's cameras and other artifacts from the last 135 years of the winery.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Napa - Day 1

We turned my cousin Mike's wedding weekend into a anniversary/birthday trip and headed to Napa after the nuptials in Sacramento. We headed to Reynolds Family Winery first. It was a quiet and beautiful setting for a private tasting. We sat with a guy who explained all the wines and the sourcing of the grapes.
After a quick lunch, we headed to the Regusci Winery, a fourth-generation family ranch and winery. Our favorite wine here was the Patriarch, but there were so many other beautiful things about the property, that I didn't get a picture of that. Greeting you was a sun-dappled, self-service farm stand and a golden retriever lounged on the stairs up to the main tasting room. Out on the veranda, the view of the vines and the hills was peaceful. The centerpiece of flowers attracted bees and butterflies as we sipped wine and nibbled chocolate truffles.

The property is the third oldest in the region and we were allowed to peek inside the cellar. It was refreshing and cold inside. If you're ever in Napa, this place should definitely be on your list!
As with most spa experiences, it's hard to take pictures without risking the safety of my phone and/or people's privacy. After our second winery, we headed north to the Golden Haven Hot Springs in Calistoga for a mud bath and massage. Warning that this might gross you out, the mud bath experience was like climbing into a concrete bathtub full of 103 degree cow manure. It smelled slightly better than that, and was actually a mud, peat moss and mineral water mixture, but it was bizarre. We cracked up laughing as we tried to sink ourselves in the porridge.

After we rinsed off with a garden hose shower, we had a jacuzzi in the mineral water, a hot towel-induced nap in a dark room and a half-hour massage. It was worth the trip but we agree that we probably wouldn't do it again.
We finished off our day with a delicious meal at Mustards Grill. Although everything was delicious, as the menu warned it would be, the calamari and the heirloom tomato starters stole the show. I also had the halibut special and finished the meal off with a double butterscotch pot de creme. We rolled out of there tired and happy to our Airbnb loft.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

500th Blog Post - Kidnapped

Last weekend I kidnapped four of my girlfriends and took them on a surprise vacation to a house on Table Rock Lake. Prior to the weekend, they had been told what time they'd be picked up, dropped off, what to pack and to find childcare for their collective 11 kiddos. It had been awhile since we'd all hung out and we needed a good excuse to reconnect. This was my idea for my 500th blog post - a kidnapping instead of a contest (sorry if you were hanging around for that one!). I think it worked out well.

I bought a weekend's worth of groceries, rented a giant lake-worthy SUV, picked up all the girls (blindfolding one as a prank) and headed south three hours to the lake. I found the perfect place on Airbnb that was comfortable and right on the lake. We stopped in Springfield on the way through both times, for lunch at Aviary Cafe and Creperie (we all had the blackberry thyme mimosa - to die for!) and for coffees on the way home at Mudhouse Coffee.

During the long, holiday weekend we enjoyed hikes at the State Park, walking to see sunsets, swims off the dock, fireworks over the dam, sleeping in, board games, junk food and long conversations. The weather ended up being perfect despite a thunderstorm-a-day forecast and made it a weekend not soon forgotten.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sedona Reunion - Day 5

Our breakfast basket was delivered with a special message this morning (top photo).

The Butterfly Garden Inn has a gate full of Lovelocks. Brian's mom and an aunt thought it would be fun to leave one behind to mark the reunion. Before taking off for a hike, we gathered to add our key-less lock. Cousin Pearl did the honors (bottom left).
Before everyone departed, we organized a hike on the West Fork Trail for the family who didn't have early flights. The hike was beautiful and captured perfectly in this photo Brian took.
After camp was empty, which was bittersweet, we drove south to Phoenix. We celebrated the end of a successful family reunion with dinner at Citizen Public House in Scottsdale. So delicious!

Counterclockwise from top right: Members Only (Nolet's gin, PĂȘche de Vigne, ruby red grapefruit, simple syrup, Peychaud's bitters, bitter lemon soda, rosemary, rocks), cubed melon salad (watermelon, yellow beets, cucumber and ricotta cheese), truffle grilled cheese (white truffle scented mashed potato, Emmental, melted onion, French bread, simple field greens), and the blueberry cobbler (sweet corn ice cream, brown sugar cone and streusel).

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sedona Reunion - Day 3 & 4

After breakfast on Friday, we headed to Crescent Moon Picnic Site for some hiking, swimming and quality time (or a little longer nap, in the case of my youngest nephew, fast asleep in the middle right photo). My in-laws brought a package of squirt guns which proved to be the highlight of the day for the younger members of the group, including my oldest nephew (pictured at the bottom) who grinned as he chased people down. That was until a tarantula was discovered in the parking lot next to the picnic area (pictured middle left).

We brought all the fixings for sandwiches and had a great afternoon. We headed back to the cabins and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the common area, playing games, eating dinner from the cafe on the property and catching up.
On Saturday, after some swinging on the playground with the nephews, we drove into downtown Sedona (about 20 minutes from where we are staying) and hopped onto two trolleys to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross (pictured upper left). After picking which fruit you liked most, apples or bananas, the family quickly divided itself between the two trolleys, which were labeled for our reunion (middle top photo).

Although the ride only lasted an hour, a million photos were snapped as the scenery around the church, up on a hill, provide some amazing views. Of the ones I took, the photo of Brian's grandparents talking inside the church (top, right) was my favorite. The middle bottom photo is Brian's youngest brother, Thomas, and grandpa, and the picture above me at the bottom right is my mother-in-law, Anne, with my youngest nephew.
After the trolley and lunch at the Cowboy Cafe, I headed back with some of the family to the cabins for a swim (bottom photos). Saturday was also my oldest nephew's third birthday, so we picked up the dinosaur cake we ordered (top photo) and added it to the lovely decor in the banquet hall on the property (middle photos). Our traditional end-of-the-reunion dinner is always a highlight of our weekends together every three years.

As is custom, we enjoy a lovely meal together (in this case: salad, chicken parmesan, turtle sundaes and birthday cake) and we have a recap of the weekend in prose from Grandpa McGoldrick, pass the torch on to the next hosts (Brian's cousins, Ryan and Erin) and learn where the next reunion will be (Asheville, NC - 2018). In addition to grandpa's recap, he also included his three principles for life, which I thought were too good not to include here:
1) Always have something to do.
2) Always have someone to love.
3) Always have something to look forward to.