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. Counting the minutes until I can worship at the Shrine of Chef Galen again!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
No trip to SF is complete without lunch at the St. Francis Soda Fountain and a Mission Mural Walk – especially on a perfectly warm, sunny day. In continuous operation since 1918, the St. Francis Soda Fountain is one of the best diners anywhere ever. I always enjoy the N.Y. Ruben with fries and a chocolate malted milkshake. I also always make sure I am wearing pants with a little give! One of the most fun things about having two teenage girls visiting us was enjoying the junk food that I ate when I was a teenage girl but now avoid as an adult. Our meal at the St. Francis Soda Fountain was a perfect compliment to our diet of Girl Scout cookes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and Laughing Cow cheese rolled in pieces of salami (but that’s another story). Fortunately, our St. Francis gluttony was balanced by a walk in the Mission and exploring the many beautiful murals there.
The Mission district is covered with colorful, artfully-crafted murals especially along 24th Street. It’s easy to do your own self-guided tour but Precita Eyes Visitor Center has several tours to chose from and lots of useful information about the murals and the area.
A 500-year old Catholic icon, Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most familiar religious figures in the world. In most representations of Our Lady, her eyes are downcast and her head is tilted to the left. The artist, Patricia Rose, turned the head to the right so Our Lady could look into Balmy Way and made her eyes open. Rose said, “she’s a mother so she would have to be watchful”. What a wonderful thought and a most beautiful representation of Our Lady, a figure who gives comfort and solace to those in pain. Comfort and solace, things we all could give and recieve a little more of!
Since 2008, every few months I get together with my good friends, Susan and Meera, to discuss our shared passion for phenomenology**. “What is phenomenology?” you ask. Why, it’s the philosophy of human experience! Although developed by the grumpy and, at times, unpleasant German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, phenomenology is grounded in ancient Greek thinking and shares some aspects with Buddhism. What I love most about phenomenology, is that our experiential realities – that is, our feelings, our sense perceptions, our interpretations, our EXPERIENCES, count as important in understanding and making meaning within our worlds. In this meta-data-show-me-the-numbers driven life, I find it reassuring and delightful that, in phenomenology, our whole-body experiences are valued as knowledge and representations of the truth. I also love that phenomenology gives me a reason to see two wonderful friends every few months, or my “phenomenology ladies” as my husband, Brian, calls them!
It’s not all deep thinking when the three of us get together. We talk about ourselves and our lives, and of course, eat delicious food and drink fantastic wine! Our past few gatherings have been week-end retreats at Susan’s and her husband, Charles’, Santa Cruz Mountain lodge. It’s a lovely place complete with fruit orchards, views of the Pacific, and wonderful wineries to visit – a perfect activity when we need a rest from our scholarly discourse. 😉
As the CCC, I preach the responsible enjoyment of all alcoholic libations. However… Sometimes my best laid plans for moderation go awry especially when I have two fabulous friends in town ready for a night out. Recently, my friends, Kiki and Sue, traveled to SF for business. How lucky was I that they cleared their schedules for an evening of conversation and cocktails with me!
Our festitivies started at the bar at the Four Seasons, or “4S” as we like to call it and ended with dinner at Scala’s. The 4S is a lovely place and a perfect meet-up for ladies as fancy as Kiki and Sue but it’s not a go-to place for me generally. While the service and selection are excellent, it doesn’t have the San Francisco flavor that I love so much – too many men in sport coats with Blackberries and absolutely no hipsters! Still, we managed to enjoy ourselves thanks to delicious Sidecars, delightful bubbly, and excellent conversation.
The highlight of the evening was our late supper at Scala’s Bistro. Scala’s is quintessentially SF. The food is tasty and Italian (are those two words synonyms?) and Natalie, the maitre’d, is the most glamorous, charming person in town. She always greets you with a hug, a smile, and a “how are you, Dah-ling?”. You’ll leave Scala’s feeling full AND like a celebrity. Whether you are local or from afar, I recommend a trip to Scala’s – a true San Francisco Treat!
Needless to say, when the Scala’s staff turned the overhead lights on full blast, we knew it was time to depart. The pain we would experience the next morning was far, far, far from our minds.
I managed to get through the morning with motrin, caffiene, water, and the excitement of getting to spend the afternoon with Kiki! While no marathons would be run, we knew some time outside followed by a late lunch would put us right. The Presidio with its beautiful views and easy walking paths was the place for us.
Recently, I had the good fortune of three wonderful visits to the de Young Museum. These visits were particularly special because I had some of my best BFFs (Best. Friends. Forever.) join me. As the CCC, I never mind doing things alone but any activity is always so much more fun with a buddy or two.
We went see the de Young’s current show, Keith Haring – The Political Line. For you SF-Bay Area locals, this show is a must-see. For those of you planning a visit to SF, the de Young is a must-go. Orginally founded in 1894 as the Fine Arts Building, the de Young is now one of the preeminent museums in the western United States with its extensive American, African, and Oceanic art collections. Its special exhibitions have included works by Dale Chihuly, Ruth Asawa, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, and now Keith Haring. (The show is on view through February 16, 2015.)
But enough about the de Young, the garden, the Cafe…the real stars of this post are my BFFs!
After enjoying the Cafe and each other, we were ready to spend time in the galleries with Keith Haring, who is the REAL star! Keith Haring was born in 1958 and died of AIDS at the age of 32. His work is colorful, playful, vibrant, and completely radical. Through his art, Keith Haring took on racism, capitalism, power, and repression. He cared deeply about people and his work was an expression of that caring. To me, Haring was the Universe’s muse. The world and its most human concerns spoke through him. Perhaps this is why Haring never did sketches or any preparation for his work. He just started painting, inspired by the human and cosmic energies around him.
My parents and I were thrilled when our cousin, Bambi, and her husband, Dan, paid us a visit. Bambi and Dan hail from the East and came to California to visit one of their sons who was working in San Diego. As part of their West Coast adventure, they rented a car and traveled up the Golden State’s gorgeous coastline and ending in San Francisco. It’s not often that our East Coast cousins come west so we wanted to make their visit super-special. Is there any better way to host out-of-towners than with a trip to the Wine Country? We think not!
In planning our wine county tour, Bambi and Dan asked that we visit a winery where we could learn about how wines are made, in addition to enjoying a tasting. My sister, Joanna, had spoken highly of Medlock Ames, a winery in Healdsburg. When I checked out their website, it seemed an ideal place for learning and tasting. Founded in 1998 by two friends, Chris James and Ames Morison, Medlock Ames creates wines in a completely organic and sustainable way. The winery is powered by solar energy and their grapes are grown without pesticides or chemicles. And yes, their wines are delicious!
During our tasting we were fortune to meet Ames Morison, one of the owners and wine makers. He was generous with his time answering all of our questions about their process. We were so impressed with him and Medlock Ames’ committment to creating delicious wines through environmentally conscious methods. As Dan said to Ames, “what you are you doing is really important and it’s what everyone should be doing.” Very well said, Dan!
If you are looking for a unique and personal wine tasting experience, visit Medlock Ames. It’s bright, earthy, and elegant with a lingering finish of many happy memories! Thank you Bambi and Dan for inspiring us to visit!