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The CCC’s San Francisco Favorites #5: Hog Island Oyster Farm with Sandy and Jim

Numerically speaking, this San Francisco Favorite is #5 but really the Hog Island Oyster Farm in Marshall, CA is the CCC’s Number One San Francisco Favorite.   Located 50 miles north of SF in beautiful Marin County, the Hog Island Oyster Farm is most special to me.  In my two decades of living in San Francisco, no place holds so many joyful, delicious, and occassionally silly memories. (Ask my husband, Brian, about the time I offended a lady over the oysters she ate in Las Vegas. I didn’t mean to be snooty.)  There is no better place than Hog Island for savioring freshly shucked oysters while you sip a glass of champagne and soak in the sun (I’m not meaning to be snooty. 🙂 ). Truthfully, there is nothing snooty about Hog Island Oyster Farm: rustic picnic tables overlooking Tomales Bay with the hills of Tomales Bay State Park in the background.  It’s an idyllic locale perfect for appreciating the good things in life with your friends and loved ones. If you are a tourist, Hog Island is a great place to observe us local folks engaged in our Northern California lifestyle, that is, eating oysters and drinking champagne (we don’t mean to be snooty).

Recently, I was thrilled to bring my wonderful friends, Sandy and Jim, to Hog Island. They are no strangers to the NorCal lifestyle or the good things in life. (And, they are absolutely NOT snooty!)

Sandy, a fellow nurse practitioner, world traveler, and good friend for over 20 years, looking glamorous and ready to enjoy some of Hog Island’s very best. I don’t know how Hog Island is able to raise an oyster that is both briney and buttery. Fabulous.
The secret to a great Hog Island day is to bring a picnic. You are allowed to bring anything you want, except the oysters which you must buy from the Farm. You can purchase them shucked or shuck them yourself (much cheaper).
Sandy and Jim looking relaxed and happy. How could they not be?
BBQ Oysters anyone? These little treats are not to be missed. Perfectly grilled and dressed in a chipotle butter sauce. YUM!
The Boat. This is where you order and pay for your oysters. They also serve decent (but overpriced) wine, cheese, and charcuterie. Experienced Hog Island devotees supply their own provisions.
The Hog Island picnic grounds. The inner tables are first come, first served. Get there 15-20 minutes before they open to avoid a wait. The outer tables are reservation only. The tables book up 4 months in advance. No, I am not joking.
Jim and me soaking up the sun.
Sandy and me. Best buds.

Thank you Sandy and Jim for coming to visit and creating another happy Hog Island Oyster Farm memory for me. Here’s to the good things in life: friends like you.

The CCC Celebrates in CT!

“The CCC Celebrates in CT!” If that is not a perfect aliteration then I do not what is.  Just saying it makes me happy as the phrase conjures wonderful memories from my visit with good friends, Aimee and German, in Fairfield, CT.  As the “rush, rush, busy, busy” of another holiday season descends on us, there is nothing more calming than remembering the warm, easy days of summer – especially when the memories were so fun to make!

1 BBQ Farmers Market
Flowers at the Westport Farmers Market.

Aimee is my culinary soul-sister.  She has taught me so much about cooking and I occassionally teach her something too!  We love to cook together and this trip we were inspired by Laurie Colwin’s book, “Home Cooking”.  Part cookbook, part memoir, Colwin’s warm and friendly prose makes you want to get in the kitchen and create. Following Colwin’s chapter, “How to Avoid Grilling”, we prepared the perfect summertime meal: marinated short ribs, potato salad with cucumbers and creme fraiche, and heirloom tomato salad with red onion and soft boiled eggs.  I am salivating with the thought of that meal!

2 BBQ Farmers Market 3
For our produce we stopped at the Westport Farmers Market – an excellent selection of seasonable fruits and veggies. For everything else, we shopped at Westport Superior Seafood. Their meat counter is also superior with very helpful butchers.

After a busy morning of shopping, it was time for…wait for it….

5 Grey Goose Bloody Marys
The Grey Goose Bloody Mary!  Is there anything better than a Bloody Mary in a pint glass? (No, there is not.)
6 Grey Goose Aimee
Here’s to you, Aimee. May there be many more cocktails in our future!
8 BBQ Ribs getting ready
After our midday respite, we headed into the kitchen with Laurie Colwin as our guide. The  marinade is a combination of lemon, honey, soy sauce, oil and spices. The trick is to let the ribs marinate for at least 24 hours.
9 BBQ with friends
Friends enjoying our fantastic meal. Aimee’s husband, German, at the head of the table with Sandy and Jim (our good friends from grad school) on the left and my wonderful cousin, Kris, next to Aimee. Ahhh … al fresco dining … a most lovely summer memory.
10 BBQ EM and Kris
The CCC with her cousin, Kris.
11 BBQ EM and Sandy
Sandy and me. Sandy and I have been friends for over 20 years! She is also a wonderful and inspirational cook.
15 Bike Ride EM
The next morning Aimee and I went on a bikeride through Southport. Riding bikes was delightful way to spend time together and burn off the calories from last night’s dinner! Here I am taking a break with one of Southport’s inlets behind me.
16 Bike Ride Southport Harbor 2
The Southport Harbor. One of our stops along the way. Aimee and I sat on a bench nearby and talked for hours. One of the CCC’s preferred ways of spending time: long talks with a good friend.

Hours of cycling and meaningful conversation makes the ladies hungry. Time for a Fancy Lady Lunch at Artisan.

17 Artisan menu
Restaurant, Tavern, & Garden. I could not have said it better myself.
18 Artisan Outside Patio
The Artisan outdoor patio. Did someone say, “I’d like a glass of champagne, please?”
20 Artisan EM and Aimee BFF
Aimee and me after too much champagne. We could not ride our bikes home. Thank goodness for German who came in his truck to pick us up. He also paid for lunch because we forgot our credit cards (whoops!).
19 Artisan Aimee and German
Aimee and German. German is the perfect match for my good friend.

After all of our feasting and fitness, it was time for some culture. Aimee’s cousin, Andrea, recommended the Annual Sergio Franchi Summertime Concert.  Sergio Franchi was an Italian-American tenor in the 1960s. His dreamy voice and even dreamier looks made him popular in both operatic and contemporary music venues.  He founded the Sergio Franchi Music Foundation to support young vocal artists. The Foundation’s annual concert, now in its 20th year and hosted by his glamorous wife, Eva, is a celebration of up and coming young opera stars. The day-long event is a great way to enjoy the summer sun and hear some of opera’s greatest hits, like Turandot’s Nessun Dorma and Carmen’s Habanera.  What made the day even better was that we were joined by our favorite friend, Kiki!

23 Sergio EM and Kiks
The CCC and Kiki. Friends forever.
24 Sergio Kiki and Aimee
Kiki and Aimee enjoy some most needed shade.
21 Sergio with the ladies
What lady doesn’t love Sergio Franchi?
25 Sergio Aim and Andrea
Aimee with cousin Andrea. Thank you Andrea for a fantastic suggestion and a fantastic day!
26 Beach Day 4
No trip to the Connecticut shore is complete without a trip to the Connecticut shore! Aimee, German, and I spent my last hours in CT celebrating the joys of living close to the beach. Here, German and Aimee enjoy low tide while a flotilla of boats parties in the background.
27 Beach Day EM and Aim
A beach day with my best buddy, Aimee – the quintessential summertime memory.

Thank you Aimee and German for a most special week-end and being most special friends.  I think “The CCC Celebrates in CT!” should be my new mantra.


Please press play!

I love to cook.  Cooking is a wonderful way to shake off the stresses of the day and keep myself busy during the week-end.  It’s also a chance to sip wine and listen to Beethoven – two of my favorite activities.  More significantly, spending time in the kitchen allows me a chance to reminisce about the lovely people in my life who have helped me become a better cook, like Aimee, Sandy, Meera, Susan, Bev, and Lee – and that makes me happy.  Recently, I read a NYT article about The Four Seasons restaurant, where I have had the good fortune to dine with Kiki, and was inspired to make their recipe, Chopped Lamb Steak with Pine Nuts. My version was probably not as refined as the restaurant’s but it was still quite tasty and I will certainly make it again.

The secret ingredient is Sweet Hungarian Paprika. I love box and that color red. (Yes, the little girl figurine is a Hummel – a gift from my sister, Lee.)
Chateau de Combes
Is it the cooking or the wine that makes kitchen time so relaxing? This Chateau de Combes was a bit tart up front but once it opened up it had the flavors of spicey cherries, tobacco, and (expensive) leather. Yes, I have been working on my wine palate!
Lamb patties
The recipe instructs the cook to make “five-inch egg-shaped patties”. Mine were not so pretty. Next time, I will stick with a more traditional burger shape.
lamb in butter
You can cook the patties in the broiler or sauteed in butter. I tried them both ways. Sauteed in butter is the way to go. It keeps the meat tender and juicy. Six minutes per side over medium heat gets a nice sear without overcooking the lamb.
For the side dish, I made a butter lettuce, flat-leaf parsley, and fennel salad with my shallot vinaigrette. Thanks to my cousin, Bobbie, and my friend, Meera, I do make the best vinaigrette around. Bobbie taught me to add salt to the vinegar until the vinegar tastes sweet. Meera encouraged me to use dijon mustard to make a truly French vinaigrette. I add just a touch of dijon and it brings flavors of the dressing together. Thanks ladies! Because of you, I have this dressing nailed!
Ta-dah! I just love this salad! (Yes, I know I need to work on my food photos but trust me, this is a delicious salad combination.)
Miles aka Wiggles aka Pupchop is always ready to assist with tasting or cleaning the floor.
Dinner is served
Dinner is served! This meal is dedicated to all the lovely people in my life who helped become a better cook and with whom I have enjoyed so many wonderful meals! Thank you, friends!

Listen to Beethoven! This piece is, “Presto” from Piano Sonata No. 6 played by Jonathan Biss.  Whatever your musical tastes, Beethoven will be a welcome addition to your library.

Cape Cod Chronicles

I’ll say it: SF in the summertime sucks. It’s cold, windy, grey, and there is absolutely NO summer time culture. That means no outdoor bar-b-ques, no balmy nights, no cocktail cruises.  Perhaps most depressing is that my family and friends on the East Coast all gather together for regular outdoor bar-b-ques, balmy nights, and cocktail cruises.  What is a sad CCC to do? Buy a plane ticket and get myself there!  My most recent Cape Cod visit was particularly joyful because my husband, Brian, joined me, we celebrated my sister’s marriage to her, now, wonderful husband, Drew, and I was there for 12 days! Yay!

Our vacation started with the wedding week-end.  Drew and Joanna hosted 100 family and friends at Drew’s parents’ lovely home complete with gorgeous gardens and a refurbished barn.

joanna and drew wedding
Joanna, in her gorgeous wedding dress, with hubhub, Drew. I had the honor of helping Joanna choose the dress at L’Elite Boston. It was a hit with all the ladies at the party!
Joanna and Drew get hitched! Their good friend, Matt Grant, officiated.
EM and Lauren at wedding
The CCC with our friend, Lauren. Joanna and Lauren went to high school together. She has not changed one bit and was the most fashionable woman at the wedding (aside from the bride, of course!).

After a week-end of wedding festivities, Brian and I spent most days fishing on Lavinia, my mother’s 17-foot Boston Whaler.

Brian heading out on boat
Nowhere is Brian happier than on a boat.
blue fin
We caught mostly bluefish (ick … not so good to eat) and a few striped bass. We released everything we caught. It’s ironic that neither Brian or I like to eat fish given how much we enjoy catching them!

Of course, it wasn’t all fishing.  We also celebrated the Fourth of July marina style! Drew, the true Cape Codder that he is, organized a boat parade where our patriotism was on display ever so mightly.

Joanna and Paul
Joanna with her good friend, Paul (and the brother we never had) get ready to decorate our boats.
fourth of july ladies
Cool rocking mamas in the USA…
Lee most patriotic
If Uncle Sam had a sister it would be Lady Liberty Lee.
My nephew, Jason, asked me if his outfit was dorky. There is nothing dorky about the Red, White, and Blue. (Photo by Joanna.)
EM America Proud
Although I live in San Francisco where patriotism is nearly illegal, I am still proud to be American-made!

All that patriotism and fishing makes a girl tired. Time for cocktails! Kingman Marina is the premier spot to keep your boat in the summer months. It is a full-service marina but perhaps more importantly, home to The Chart Room – Megansett’s quintessential Cape Cod eatery and the best Mud Slide you will ever drink, ever, in the world.

Chart room
Two Mud Slides please. Don’t they look refreshing?
em and mud slide
Another perfect Cape Cod day!

Thank you to Cape Cod and to all my family and friends there.  You are the perfect antidote to the San Francisco Summer!

P.S. For those of you disinclined to believe I can actually fish, press play…. 😉

NYC part 2: A Tribute to Good Friends.

On my Spring 2015 pilgrimage to NYC, I had the best intentions of artfully documenting all of our cultural excursions with a few pics of the cocktails thrown in for good measure.  And, indeed, I thought I was doing this. However, in reviewing my photos when I returned home, I discovered my documentation was heavy on the cocktails, light on the culture.  So, you will just have to take me at my word that Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series at the MoMa was mind-blowing and  Wendy Wasserstein’s “The Heidi Chronicles” is still relevant to women today, because I have no photographic evidence to share.

What my photos did reflect was what a super-fun – might I even say, rockstar – time I had with my two wonderful friends, Aimee and Kiki and their fantastic spouses, German and Scott. So, this edition of the CCC is a tribute to the good friends who love us in spite of ourselves!

Our fun started at the Baccarat Hotel aka The CCC’s Heaven.  I have never been in such opulence while being treated with such loving kindness.  I am not kidding. The Baccarat staff really IS happy to see you and they really DO care that you have a good time.  By the time we left, I wanted to hug everyone.

Baccarat hotel window
The view from the Baccarat window. Trippy.
EM in the fur chair
The CCC in a (faux) fur-covered chair. So not camping.
Kiki and the fur chair
Kiki enjoying her fur chair with a bloody mary, of course. Did you know that the bloody mary is the official cocktail of the CCC?
bathroom door handle
Even the door handles in the ladies’ room are fancy.

After several hours of luxuriating at the Baccarat, Kiki and I headed out to meet our dear friend, Aimee, at the theater for The Heidi Chronicles.  When this wonderful show was over we went to (guess what?) another bar!

lambs club
Aimee and Kiki at The Lambs Club where it was not the bartender’s pleasure to serve us! Perhaps he was having a bad day or perhaps we annoyed him? Still, it’s hard to be too upset about bad service when I am at a bar with Kiki and Aimee.

After The Lambs Club, it was time for a rest and then preparations for our night out on the town. And yes, of course, some champagne.

EM enjoying the view
The CCC enjoys the view and some Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs – perfect for late afternoon sipping.
Kiki and Scott
Scott and Kiki on their Tribeca Terrace. A very happy couple.

Feeling relaxed and refreshed, we headed out to meet Aimee and German at The Conrad, our home away from home for the evening.

German and Aimee
German and Aimee ready for a night out!
Kiki and Marlow
Kiki with my delightful nephew, Marlow. Marlow is a PhD student in Slavic studies at Columbia (he got a scholarship). He speaks Russian fluently and is learning Georgian and Ukranian as well. Yes, I am bragging.

After drinks and snacks at the Conrad, German brought us to the dance club, Gonzalez y Gonzalez. I was fearful that my terrible dancing would make everyone run away. Happily, I could get lost in the crush of super coordinated Latin dancers and quietly do my “Tall Woman Dance”, as Kiki once called it, against a wall. (Oh, and yes, margaritas were drunk. Tequila shots were done.)

EM and German
German and me after the club and too many tequila shots. I love this pic because it just says, “fun!”
unhappy cabdriver
I call this photo, “Unhappy Cabdriver” because that’s what the cab driver was – unhappy at having to drive five overly tipsy adults home.

It’s true the next day, we were not at our best. The pounding head and upset tum were worth it given all the fun we had the night before – when do you ever say that about a hangover?  Fresh air would be our cure. We headed to the New York Botanical Gardens for healing natural beauty.  If you have never been, the gardens are really a must see – anytime of year.

orchids kiki and scott
Kiki and Scott in the Orchid room.
orchids aimee and german
German and Aimee. I am so thrilled that both Aimee and Kiki found such wonderful husbands and partners in life.
tulip magnolia trees
The magnolia trees were out in full force. What a needed sight after our crazy night and the horrible winter for our friends in the Northeast.
tulip magnolia last image
A tulip magnolia close up. If that does not heal you, I don’t know what will.

Thank you wonderful friends for the happy memories! May there be many more tributes to you in the future!

NYC part 1: Almanac

For many, many years, I have made a Spring pilgrimage to NYC to take in the culture, style, and attitude that is uniquely New York – and, of course, to visit my dear friend, Kiki, and her wonderful husband, Scott.  My bite from the Big Apple always includes a meal at one of the city’s finest (Alain Ducasse (closed), Le Bernardin), most iconic (The Four Seasons, The Rainbow Room), or buzziest (Cipriani Downtown) restaurants.  While I am privileged to delight in such gustatory pleasures and sumptuous surroundings, my favorite NYC boites are those of Chef Galen Zamarra.  Mas (farmhouse) is my most favorite restaurant, in the world, ever. The food is divinely elevated French fare with a touch of California a la Alice Waters. The ambiance is a perfect balance of elegance and hipness (two concepts that don’t usually go together). When I am at Mas, I am at home.

Given my spiritual connection to Mas, I could not wait to try Galen’s newest restaurant, Almanac. Galen is a Northern California boy who grew up surrounded by the beauty of the Santa Cruz mountains and coastline.  His love and appreciation of nature is present in every aspect of his cooking. You won’t find rabbit tortellini with Thumbelina carrots (adorable, right?) anywhere else but Chef Galen’s kitchen. The idea for Almanac grew from Galen’s own “almanacs” – journals he kept of his daily trips to farmers markets while a chef at Bouley. In his almanacs, Galen recorded what foods were fresh, seasonal, and complementary. These culinary observations were the foundation and inspiration for Almanac.

Almanac. You are now entering a zone of deliciousness and sophistication (two of the CCC’s favorite things).
Kiki excited to enter Almanac. (Even though it was Spring, it was still chilly!)
There is something for everyone on Almanac’s wine list. If you are not sure what to choose, a charming sommelier is always nearby.
The leather banquette in the bar with the sweetest embroidered cushions. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a cocktail here?
Oh, and I did mention that Galen and his beautiful wife, Katie, are friends? Aside from the fantastic meal, the best part of the evening was spending time with Galen and Katie. 🙂
Watercress and scallop soup. This light and effervescent soup was also hearty and comforting. How is that possible?
Nobody does chicken like Galen – perfectly tender and the perfect size! Here, it is served with grilled spring onions, morel mushrooms, and potato. Again, Galen balances refined cuisine with easy deliciousness.
As is the CCC way, Kiki and I were both happy and tipsy at the end of a wonderful evening. (Photo by Scott.)

Almanac.  Counting the minutes until I can worship at the Shrine of Chef Galen again!

Fog City Fun!

I love guests! It is a pleasure for me to show visiting friends and family around my beloved city and most favorite state. For a long time and to this day, I insist that all guests visit Alcatraz.  The boat ride to the island offers a different perspective of the city and the bay. The history of Alcatraz is fascinating – you MUST do the superlative audio tour. The National Park Service is constantly renovating and expanding the buildings you can visit. The gift shop is excellent. 😉  If those weren’t reasons enough, I recently discovered a new one – Fog City. Formerly known as the Fog City Diner, the restaurant and bar were recently renovated and Fog City is now an intergral part of the CCC’s Tour of Alcatraz.  I was thrilled to be able to take my sister, Annie, and her boyfriend, John there after our day on The Rock.

But first, a few pics of Alcatraz…it must be done.

Selfies – so much more fun with besties.
Sisters. Alcatraz is always a bit chilly and windy so dress appropriately.
As a nurse practitioner for the San Francisco County Jails, I can honestly say that “the cell” has not changed much. They are still small and dingy.
The doctor will see you now. When you visit Alcatraz do not miss the recently re-opened hospital building. From the clinic to the psychiatric isolation cells, you will leave with the creeps.
A snowy egret in a garden on the north-west side of the island. Alcatraz is a bird sanctuary for all kinds of seabirds.
FINALLY! We arrive at Fog City! Located on the Embarcadero at 1300 Battery Street, the original Fog City Diner opened on this spot in 1985.
Most of the space in Fog City is taken up by a long, circular bar. Is there a more perfect perch for the CCC? No, there is not.
The Best Bloody Mary (for the CCC); Brown liquor of some variety for Annie and John; a Sam Adams for fun.
The food is also delicious. Bar food with a California Hipster twist.
Should be I concerned that I look tipsy in most of my blog posts? Hmmm….No.

Feel Tipsy. Visit Fog City!

Sonoma Sis

Recently, my sister, Annie and her boyfriend, John, came to SF for a visit.  In accordance with the CCC’s Rules of Good Hostessing, we, of course, spent a day in wine country.  We are lucky in the Bay Area to live so close to a bounty of incredible wineries, it’s sometimes hard to chose where to go.  This is why for all things wine I turn to my wonderful friends, Pamela and Anton. They know wines and they know wine country.  In addition to one of my favorite wineries, Medlock Ames (see my review here), Pamela and Anton also suggested Michel-Schlumberger and Dry Creek Vineyards ending at Rustic for a late lunch.  Yes, it was a wonderful day!

annie and john at Medlock Ames
Annie and John at the Medlock Ames tasting room. Get ready for tastiness!
garden at medlock ames
Seasonal and sustainable gardens, in addition to delicious wines, are part of the Medlock Ames philosophy.
Medlock Ames interior
The Medlock Ames tasting room is the diletante photographer’s dream. Lots of interesting things to shoot and lots of depth to the light and shadow.
Mom and Me at MA
My mom, Bev, and I enjoying some of Medlock Ames 2013 Lower Slope Chardonnay. I don’t always love Chard because of the fat, buttery taste but Medlock Ames does a nice job with this one. It’s crisp, lemony, and light – more like a sauvignon blanc – but then isn’t that the dream of all chardonnays to be more like a sauv blanc 😉

After a fantastic start to our day at Medlock Ames, we moved onto Michel-Schlumberger, quite possibly the most elegant winery in Sonoma. Jean-Jacques Michel planted the first vines here in 1979. The Dry Creek Valley soil and climate are ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Chardonnay grapes.  In 1991, Jacques Pierre Schlumberger joined with Michel bringing with him a 400-year family history of wine making. Of note, Jacques Pierre is a descendant of Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger founders of Schlumberger, a global company that serves the technology and project management needs of the oil and gas industry.

MS entrance
The winery is housed in a lovely Mission-style building. The quintessential setting for a Sonoma Winery.
MS flowers
Gorgeous flowers greet you at the winery entrance.
driveway of MS
Perfectly pruned olive trees line the winery’s driveway.
DA, EM and John at MS
My dad, Tom, John, and me enjoying some bubbles. Nothing wrong with that!   (I must point out what an excellent hair day I was having. I also really liked my outfit.)
MS food paring
The food from left to right: a cream of mushroom soup made with seven kinds of mushrooms – heavenly; a pork belly slider with cilantro and jalapeno; and for desert, a gingerbread cake, the perfect pairing with Michel-Schlumberger’s 2012 Port.

In addition to wine tasting, you can also do a food pairing at Michel-Schlumberger. Perfect for the peckish taster. The food was delish and the wines were lovely.  The zinfandel was the crowd favorite.  It was particularly special because, our host, Ryan, was the vinter for this wine.  He and father founded Leonhardt Vineyards and they have been making Zins since 2007. Don’t tell the folks at Michel-Schlumberger but you can buy Ryan’s wine at Trader Joes! 

enjoying lunch at MS
A fabulous lunch with fabulous people in a fabulous spot. Fabulous!
Dry Creek
Next stop: Dry Creek Vineyards. Home to some of the best sauvignon blanc around.

Founded in 1972 by David S. Stare, Dry Creek Vineyards was the first in the area. Before the winery, Dry Creek Valley was rather desolate with only a few family farms and prune orchards.  I went crazy for their sauvignon blanc and joined the wine club.

Dry Creek Private Room
As a wine club member, I am looking forward to enjoying winery parties in their private room. (Fancy!)
Dry Creek Grounds
In keeping with Sonoma winery style, Dry Creek’s grounds are beautiful. You can buy a bottle of wine from the winery and have a picnic.
I call this selfie, “Drunkie”. From the red stains around my lips I enjoyed more than just sauvignon blanc! Thank you to John for being the designated driver.
Francis Ford Coppola
After all that wine tasting, it was time for some hearty fare at Francis Ford Coppola’s restaurant, Rustic. In true Hollywood style, the winery also has a huge pool where, for a fee, you can rent a little cabin and enjoy the Sonoma lifestyle for a day.
Dad at Rustica
Tom is ready for lunch.
To what should we toast? To good food, to good wine, to good friends, to a good life!

Adventures with Claire and Julia: No. 3 – Safari West and In-N-Out Burger

On Claire and Julia’s last full day of their trip (sad face), we took a trip to Safari West in Sonoma.  Located on 400 acres of gorgeous wine country, Safari West is home to more than 90 species of African wildlife.  Safari West is also a breeding center for endangered birds.  Founded in 1993 by Nancy and Peter Lang, Safari West is committed to the well-being and preservation exotic animals and birds.  Conservation through education is a primary goal of Safari West and one of its educational mainstays is a fantastic three-hour tour of the property in open-air four-wheel drive land rovers and jeeps. You can also spend the night on the property in luxury tents complete with hot showers and hardwood floors – the smidge of roughing it every cocktail camper desires.

1 Safari West Group Shot
My parents, Bev and Tom, were able to join us for this adventure. Here Tom, Bev, Claire, and Julia wait to board the truck for our tour.
2 Flamingos
Flamingos. Their name comes from the Portugese word, “flamengo” meaning “the color of flame”. They are social creatures and their colonies can number in the thousands. These large groups help with protection and the sharing of scare resources. Safari West has greater and lesser flamingos both from Africa but these elegant creatures also live in Central and South America. I love their long, skinny legs! I wish mine were so slender.
3 Impala
This gorgeous being is a male Impala (male because he has horns). Impalas can leap to heights of 10 feet and cover distances of more than 30 feet with one jump. The impala is the envy of professional basketball players everywhere.
4 ostrich
A female ostrich on the move. These flightless birds have been around since the Early Miocene period, meaning at least 14 million years. According the fossil record, the ostrich has not changed very much from the Miocene to today. In seeing this ostrich I felt like I was connecting to the history of the world.
5 Zebra
I just love the Zebras! I could spend hours staring at their stripes. So trippy.
6 Giraffes
Who doesn’t love giraffes! With their long graceful necks, sweet eyes, and funny ears, the giraffes are a favorite of visitors to Safari West.

After our Safari adventure, we were, of course, famished.  Julia and Claire had never been to In-N-Out Burger and requested we stop at the one in Mill Valley.  When I learned that my parents also had never been to the best burger place in the world, dinner there was mandatory.  If you have never been to In-N-Out, it is well worth a trip. They only make a few things: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, the famous “Double Double” (two cheeseburgers under one bun), french fries, and milkshakes.  May I recommend the following menu: 1) The Double Double; 2) French Fries; and 3) Vanilla milkshake.  You will not be dissapointed.

6 Julia and Claire at In and Out
Julia (left) and Claire (right) enjoying their cheeseburgers, In-N-Out style.
7 EM enjoys In-n-Out
I used think that I was never happier then when I was at a bar drinking with friends. Now I think I might never be happier than when I am eating In-N-Out with my wonderful neice, Claire, and her lovely friend, Julia. What a charmed life I do lead.

Adventures with Claire and Julia: No. 1 – Muir Woods and The Pelican Inn

I love my niece! Her name is Claire and she is one of the kindest, funniest, coolest people on the planet.  Imagine my delight when she and her equally wonderful friend, Julia, came for a visit over their February break.  They were escaping the soul-crushing Boston winter for some California sun and fun.  In addition to hanging-out in the hottub (did you think the CCC wouldn’t have a hottub?) and eating all the junk food our mothers won’t usually let us eat, we had some excellent SF-Bay Area adventures. Our first stop was Muir Woods in Marin County.

Named in honor of John Muir (the founding father of the National Park Service), Muir Woods is home to 240 acres of old-growth coastal redwoods – one of the few remaining groves in the area. The land Muir Woods sits on was originally owned by William and Elizabeth Kent. They purchased the land in the early 1900s.  In 1907, a local water company wanted to dam the nearby Redwood Creek and flood (read: ruin) the valley. The Kents thought this a terrible idea. When the water company threatened eminent domain, the Kents donated the land to the federal government effectively avoiding local jurisdiction and court proceedings. (Sneaky!)  In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Muir Woods a national monument (the first ever from private land). The president wanted to name the location “Kent Woods” but the Kents insisted the glorious redwood grove be named after John Muir. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Kent (and John Muir and President Roosevelt) for ensuring we can enjoy Muir Woods now and into the future!

1 Muir Woods Entrance
Julia and Claire at the entrance to Muir Woods. (Don’t tell the folks at Disney, BUT…Muir Woods is really the happiest place on earth!)
2 Muir Woods Main Path
A view from the main path at Muir Woods. The first two miles into the park are flat. There is a lovely, wheelchair accessible boardwalk as well.
4 Catherdral Grove
People really do “enter quietly”! It’s fun to hear how visitors’ voices drop to a whisper when they enter Mother Nature’s House of Worship.
3 Muir Woods Red Woods
It is strange to think that these towering beauties started from a seed the size of a tomato. Many of the redwoods in Muir Woods are over 500 years old, with the oldest being 1200 years! If only I was aging as well.
5 Ocean View Trail Head
For our hike we chose a six-mile loop: Ocean View Trail to Panorama Trail to the Dipsea Trail. This is an excellent hike that shows the best of Muir Woods. You also get the two-mile uphill climb done early in the hike.
6 Hiking the Ocean View Trail
Claire and Julia climbing the Ocean View Trail.
7 Julia Joe Photo
Julia keeps it real with an old school Minolta that uses film! (Do you remember what “film” is???)
8 Made it to the Top
Julia (left) and Claire (right) smiling at the top of Ocean View Trail. It was a bit cloudy that day but the Pacific Ocean is still visible in the background – hence the name, “Ocean View”.

Is it time for lunch yet?  Yes, it is!  No trip to Muir Woods is complete without lunch at The Pelican Inn.  In the style of a Tudor inn (indeed, much of the inn’s decor is from English buildings built in the 16th century), The Pelican Inn serves tasty pub fare perfect for hungry hikers.

9 Pelican Inn Sign
Named in honor of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, “The Pelican”, the inn is a perfect spot for lunch, a drink in the pub, or a romatic getaway with that special someone (ooh, la, la!).
10 Drinks
Yay! Cocktail time! An Arnold Palmer for Julia, a Shirley Temple for Claire, and a pineapple cider (never again) for me.
12 Julia and Clarie at Pelican Inn
Julia and Claire enjoying The Pelican Inn’s famous fish and chips. We couldn’t help but wonder, “does anyone ever eat those peas?”