Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Get Around in Napa? Hire a Driver

Driving in Napa is easy, but touring the wine country after sipping multiple types of wine at each winery is difficult without having a designated driver, and who goes to Napa to be the designated driver? Drinking wine is the point of the trip!  

When we were planning our trip to Napa, we knew that we wanted to visit as many wineries as possible in the short time we were there. Hiring a driver was definitely the way to go, so upon recommendation, we hired Napa Your Way to help plan a lovely day of touring wineries.  When we first contacted Brad and Leisl from Napa Your Way, they asked us questions about what types of wine we like to drink, did we want to tour large, medium, or boutique sized wineries, and did we want to schedule a restaurant lunch or a picnic lunch? After collecting our information, they crafted a perfect experience for my group.

On our tour day, we were picked up at our hotel in a spacious Yukon Denali.  Leisl asked us to pick out our lunch requests from Genova Deli, as she would be setting up our picnic lunch during our second winery tour. A short distance from out hotel, we arrived at our first winery, Del Dotto Historic Winery and Caves.  We pulled up to a beautiful ivy covered stone building, that looked like it was straight out of a Napa guide book. 

At this winery, we took the tour of the wine cave and we were able to sample different wines straight from the barrels in the cave, of course with assistance from our tour guide.  After eight different samples of wine, our tour guide brought us to a room for cheese and crackers, where he was also available to answer any further questions we had about the wines. The wine tour and cave experience was a great first start to the day. 
Wine barrels in the cave at Del Dotto Winery
As per Leisl's suggestion, we only signed up to do one wine tour, as the information would get redundant at each winery.  So at the next three wineries we only signed up to sample the "flight," or selection of wines for tasting, which was about four to five different wines at each winery.  Each of the next three wineries that Leisl and Brad put on our itinerary had different wines for us to sample, as well as different views for us to enjoy while tasting our "flight" of wines. 

At Luna Vineyards, we tasted our wines on the porch during the mid day California sun. Then, Leisl had set up our picnic lunch from Genova Deli on bistro tables under a tree right next to the grapevines.  The food and the view could not have been more magical.  

Eating our picnic lunch under a tree next to the vineyard at Luna Winery
Lunch from Genova's Deli

Then we were off to Reynold's Family Winery to taste our next "flight" of wines where we sat outside outside on the patio under an umbrella enjoying the view of the rolling vineyards surrounding us. 

The view from our patio table at  Reynold's Family Winery.

The final destination on our wine itinerary was the O'Brien Estate Winery, where we sat a a big wooden farm table discussing the "flight" of wines with the wine barrels behind us, and the view of the vineyard in front of us through the sliding barn door.  

Wine barrels at O'Brien's Estate Winery
Overall, our Napa Experience was amazing and we owe it all to Brad and Leisl for creating such a unique, informative, and relaxing itinerary for our day of wine touring. Next time we are in Napa, we will definitely contact Leisel and Brad at Napa Your Way to create another unique wine tour adventure. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Make the Most of San Francisco in 24 Hours

On a recent trip to California with my husband and friends, we chose to spend the first night of our five night trip in San Francisco, before we ventured on to our destination.  We were flying into SFO, so instead of getting in the car and traveling out to wine country straight from the airport, we decided to stretch our legs after the six hour flight and do so some sightseeing in San Francisco. 

Nothing about our first night in San Francisco was planned in advance except for our hotel and our dinner reservation for that evening.  My friend and I chose the hotel based on the fact that we wanted to be within walking distance of Fisherman's Wharf, which would enable us to explore the area on foot with ease, and then walk to dinner later that night, as well. 

At 12:00 PM, our 24 hour whirlwind tour of San Francisco began when we arrived at SFO airport. We made our way to the hotel, dropped our bags at the front desk, and set out for the pier to grab some lunch.  We found a bar and grill right on the water with a great view of Alcatraz Island.  

The view of Alcatraz from the restaurant .

At 3:30 PM, after our inaugural drink and sour dough bread, we were off to explore the pier, when we spotted the seals relaxing in the sun on a nearby dock. They were sunbathing  and singing their seal songs as people snapped pictures. 

Sunbathing seals on the docks of Fisherman's Wharf.

At 4:30 PM, since we had no time to take formal tour of Alcatraz, we purchased tickets for a one hour ferry ride  on the Blue and Gold Fleet that cruised under the Golden Gate Bridge, and circled Alcatraz Island. This cruise was not only scenic for all of the obvious reasons, but since we departed at 4:30 PM, we were able to view the Golden Gate Bridge during sunset.  This was such a bonus, because it made the views, and photos even more majestic.  

By 7:00 PM , we were walking to the Stinking Rose for dinner,  a restaurant famous for using a lot of garlic in its recipes. Many people who have visited San Francisco recommended the restaurant as a "must do" when in town, so we reserved our table in advance.  Overall the restaurant was great and we enjoyed our dinner. 

At 9:30 AM the next morning we had breakfast at a local restaurant, purchased some souvenirs, and then walked the pier for an hour where we checked out the old battleship the  SS Jeremiah O'Brien.

At 10:30 AM we packed up the car, checked out of the hotel and drove a few blocks toward the curviest street in the USA, Lombard Street.  We took a quick, yet careful,winding drive down the road while snapping more pictures.  

By 11:00 AM we were on the move toward Marin Headlands, which hailed breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from up above.  After walking around the old arsenal, and snapping about fifty more pictures, we were off to our next destination.  

The View from the Marin Headlands.

By 12:00 PM , we were no longer in San Francisco, so this technically didn't count toward the 24 hours of San Francisco fun, but we did make a quick stop in the quaint town of Sausalito for two hours where we had a quick bite to eat and we did some window shopping.

At 2:00 PM, we visited Muir Woods where there are scenic paths to walk through the giant redwood trees. It is also the location where scenes from Return of the Jedi were filmed.  

All that in 24 hours, and it didn't seem rushed because we let the plans develop at our whim. When traveling to different cities,  I have found that it's best to have a few things planned with a lot of buffer time in between, and then leave the rest to impromptu exploration.  I don't suggest going into a city with no ideas about what sights there are to see, but planning every minute will only lead to frustration if lines are delayed, or if it takes longer to walk/drive from destination to destination.  

So even though I had never been to San Francisco before, I packed in 24 hours of fun that made me feel like I had been in the city for much longer. With a few things planned, and a list of possibilities, my group was able to maximize our experience in San Francisco in just 24 hours.

Here's the list again of all of the places I packed into my 24 hours:
1. Lunch at  on Fisherman's Wharf
2. Visited the seals at the Pier
3. Ferry Ride Under the Golden Gate and around Alcatraz
4. Dinner at The Stinking Rose
5. Breakfast near Fisherman's Wharf
6. Shopped for Souvenirs
9. Drove over the Golden Gate Bride
10. Views from Marin Headlands.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Random Recipe Night

So, I cooked Chili Mac and Cheese last night. Cue the thunder and lightning (and sarcasm). The funny thing is that I am a really good cook, or rather I can follow a recipe like nobody's business, however I rarely have time to practice the craft on a regular basis. My family does not go unfed, as we eat breakfast at home and mostly pack our lunches for school and work rather than purchasing lunch, but somehow the after school and work hours explode into a race against the clock, and thus our family will dine locally, or bring food in, as we have many healthy options in the area. 

Last night's random recipe, Chili Mac and Cheese,  was not so random, as I OFTEN pin recipes from Pinterest that look tasty and easy to make, but I don't cook them as often as I would like.  As a matter of fact I pinned this recipe yesterday morning as I drank my coffee before work.  As the day progressed, I kept thinking about how busy my night would be with kid errands and sports games, that I mentally browsed my cabinets and realized that I actually had all of the ingredients for this recipe in my pantry.  Shocker, because I am not a "prepper", and I do not have stockpiles of supplies in cabinets and freezers.  I am more of a pick up a few fresh things during the week, rather than a person who freezes four months worth of meat.  That's how my grandmother did it, so I guess old habits die hard. 

Back to the recipe. Here's the original pin for Chili Mac and Cheese that I found on Pinterest from the website Damn Delicious. 

And here's my version..

The only thing I changed in the recipe is that I substituted the ground beef with chicken sausage, because that's what I had fresh in the refrigerator, and I used a black bean instead of a white bean, because that 's what I had in the pantry. I didn't have parsley handy, but we did sprinkle the cheese on top of our individual bowls.  

My family usually likes the meals that I cook (when I cook) but everyone LOVED this dish, especially my son who had two helpings. With the winter season being my family's busiest time of year, Random Recipe Night will soon play a major role in our work week.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Saturday Night's Understudy

For as long as I can remember, Friday nights have been reserved for winding down the work week, attending our kids' activities, ordering some take-out, and then probably collapsing on the couch to catch up on a few favorite shows.  More so than not, it was almost a given that we gave Friday the cold shoulder, convincing ourselves that we were too tired to do anything remotely fun.

This trend was not a purposeful decision, it was one that developed over time. When our children were little, we only planned a Saturday night outing, as going out both Friday and Saturday nights seemed criminal.  Then it was the kids'  activities or sports that took over the Friday night slot, and when they were teens we found ourselves hosting a lot of the Friday night "hang outs," which was not a bad deal because at least we knew where they were.

So for two decades, Friday night has been patiently waiting in the wings as Saturday night's understudy, hoping to be put in the line up.  On very rare occasions, Friday night has gotten its chance to play a leading role, but it was so rare that we ever broke from the take-out, couch and TV routine.

When dining with longtime friends on a recent Friday night, we were all in agreement that going out on Friday night made the weekend seem longer, and the pressure to plan the perfect Saturday night was no longer an issue. Now, at minimum, we make the conscious decision to grab a local dinner on Friday nights.  We have even become regulars at a local establishment, and the owners take special care of us when we come in, knowing that we are frequent patrons.

So Friday night is no longer the forgotten understudy to Saturday night.  Even if it's the two of us having dinner at our local place and a quick run through the local big box store for a hundred dollars of unnecessary items, Friday is now in the spotlight and sparkles just as brightly as Saturday night.