Tuesday, August 28, 2007

August 27

I wish I knew whose signature this was....

Sunday, August 26, 2007

August 26

A purchase from this weekend.

I am definitely not on the pro-Crocs side of the movement, nor will I ever be. But I don't think these are too offensive.

August 25

Today Katie and I went with my little sib (through the Horizons for Youth program) to the Art Institute. It was so much fun, I just love little Gracie. Here is a pic of she and Katie "playing Bambi" in Grant Park.

August 24

Some damage from last night's storm. This tree landed on top of a car just two spots away from the Corolla. I'm glad that's not my car under there!
Bad news from the storm - we were out of power for a whole 36 hours. We had to toss everything in the fridge, and it was AWFUL not having power. I had to go to the gym to shower :c(

August 23

Mike's old landlord gave us some champagne for the wedding. The note cracked me up:
"Mike - Congratulations! Hope you and Mrs. Mike have a great life together. Maribeth"
Then below that it says "Chad, Andy and Chris - Move everything out and I'll send you champagne!"

hahahha now that is funny

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

August 22

Boxes, boxes everywhere.....

August 21

Today when we got back from the honeymoon, we got down to some important stuff - returning just a few things we got duplicates of and picking up the copper pots and pans I had my eyes on with all the crate and barrel gift certificates we were given. Here are the pots and pans hanging up - I love them already and I haven't even used them yet!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

August 20

Last day of the honeymoon! So sad!

At one point the day before I had written out instructions on how to get to Korbel, as the plan was to hit Korbel and then Iron Horse and head to Oakland. It may not have been a coincidence that I wrote down the instructions that led us straight past the hamburger shack (Taylor's Automatic Refresher in St Helena, the whole town looked oh so cute) that we had been to the day before (Mike needed a cheeseburger after all that horrifying mud, and I'm not one to turn down the prospect of a chocolate milkshake). The food all looked so good that I wanted to try it again when I was actually ready for a meal, instead of just for a snack.

Waiting YEARS for my chili dog to be ready... Hello, bra strap!
Usually I don't eat onions around Mike, but for this I made an exception. My chili dog, Mike's cheeseburger, my onion rings, and his fries all lined up deliciously.
I didn't make it all the way through that chili dog, but I conquered the onion rings. As a side note, this meal was $25. This place is making a KILLING.

After getting lost and taking more than a few wrong turns, we were running dangerously behind schedule and decided to hit up Iron Horse first. Like Bella, this place was in the middle of nowhere, CA. Iron Horse made the jeroboam (3 liters) that my Dad bought for the wedding, so seeing it was kind of special.

Jeroboams, everywhere

They must drink alot of bubbly around these parts
The Iron Horse tasting room was an outside wooden bar overlooking the Sonoma countryside, and was so beautiful. We both decided that the guy serving the tastings, Damon, had a pretty good gig - serving wine in beautiful weather in shorts and a t-shirt. He said it got a little chilly in the winter, but other than that he liked his job. Everyone at this winery was ridiculously nice. We started talking about our wedding champagne, and next thing you know, Damon was giving us a free gift of wedding cuvee. He was so fun and great to talk to and the bubbly was SO GOOD. They call their wedding cuvee the "swiss army knife" of sparkling wines, as it was intended to be liked by people with all kinds of palates. They are right, too, it's sweet but not overly sweet and a bit dry but not too much so. It's the perfect wine to serve at any occasion where there are different types of people. I would highly recommend it for your next party or wedding!
We also inquired about the price of a jeroboam for Katie's wedding, but the new wedding cuvee only ages optimally around 3 years, so we figured we would wait until she got engaged for that one. Ours was a Brut champagne, but they no longer make that in the jeroboam.
After Iron Horse, we dropped by Korbel for a little tour and tasting. The woman at the information booth told us a bit about the Korbel family history: mainly that they didn't originally make their fortune from wine, but from all the redwoods that were cut down on the property. She told us that the redwoods on their property were just babies (2nd growth) and that to see the big guys we should stop by Armstrong Woods down the street on our way out of town.

Our tour guide, Scott, seemed to not be very enthused at all with his job, but it was a fun tour nonetheless. Interesting, kind of janky and corporate-ized, but fun. These huge wooden casks are still in the basement only because they are too large to fit out the door. No other reason.

After doing a complimentary tasting and learning that Korbel makes more than that cheap 7.59 champagne at the Jewel Osco, we were all bubblied-up and ready to see some redwoods.

We even found a road that lead to the top of a nearby large hill/baby mountain. Mike corrected me when I called another mountain a baby mountin, saying that smaller mountains are older because they have had longer time to be worn down. To-may-to, To-mah-to. I say "baby mountain" to indicate it's smaller, not younger. As in, "Look! It's just a little guy!"

While we were there, we had to do a little redwood hugging...

And pose with Colonel Armstrong. 310 feet tall! HOLY COW.

While we were at the park, I kept asking Mike "How do hippies get up in those trees?!?" Because the darn things have no branches for the first, I don't know, hundred feet. Seriously, when an activist climbs up a redwood to prevent it from being cut down, how does that work? Mike says there is climbing gear for that, but it still seems like it would be really difficult.
Anyways, after that we just headed for Oakland, stopping in Petaluma for Thai food along the way. Can you believe I got Mike to eat sushi AND thai all in one week? I mean, he ordered pizza to the hotel afterward each time, but still....

August 19

Our plan on Sunday and Monday was to stop by and see the places that we had wanted to see but didn't have time to earlier in the week. Sunday was our "pick up the slack" in Napa day. Mike had also been waxing poetic about a possible massage all week long, so when I read about "The works" at the hot spring in Calistoga, I booked us for a 2:00 Sunday appointment (all they had). To start off the day, we hit St. Supery in Napa. This winery was in the Frommer's guide as a must-see, as they have an extensive self-guided tour to learn about winemaking. So we decided upon St. Supery as the first stop.

First we went on the self-guided tour, which actually took us out onto a balcony overlooking big winemaking tanks.

They also had this really cool display where you could smell a lot of different smells that are typically in red or white wines. Smelling all those was pretty cool - especially since it wasn't just alot of stuff sitting out in bowls. They actually had little tubes that pumped that smell up to you when you pulled a lever.

We then did a tasting with this really awesome guy named Challo. We hadn't expected to spend much time there, but the wine was so good and Challo was a generous fellow with the pours. When we looked at the wine club information, it was pretty reasonable and the wine was good - so we joined their wine club, too! That made three, but we both like wine so it's OK (plus, most of the places send only 1 or 2 bottles every other month).

After spending almost an hour and a half at St. Supery, we grabbed some lunch at a local deli and headed to Mumm Napa. Once we got there, we only had about an hour before our 2:00 spa appointment, and Calistoga was about 15 miles away. So we wandered around the store for a bit, went to the bathroom in the nicest porta-potties EVER, and hit the road. Seriously, these porta-potties had tile floors, nice stalls, and music going. I had to snap a picture. You know me and my love of nice bathrooms.
This is where the day goes downhill. We headed to Calistoga for our "The Works" appointments. "The Works" at Dr. Wilkinson's includes a mud bath, a soak in a mineral sulfur bath, a steam bath, and a 1/2 hour or hour massage. Sounds downright luxurious doesn't it?
This picture is a dramatization
Now, when you think mudbath you are probably like me and think some sort of clay-mud material. You probably don't think sewage mixed with peat moss with a dash of sulfur and an extra shot of road kill. It smelled straight up awful. They asked me if I wanted a facial mask and I pointed at the mudbath and said "Of this stuff?!?!" When they told me the facial was of clay mixed with lavendar, I was all about it - mostly because I knew I had to have something good-smelling on my face to keep from throwing up. A sulfur mudbath is one of those things that is a good idea in theory, bad idea in practice. At the end of being in the mud, I was literally chanting to myself in my mind "Only a few more minutes! Only a few more minutes!" as I sweltered under a towel that was over my head and tried not to throw up. Mike said he actually whimpered when they pushed the sewage up and over his arms. And that's not even the best part - when you get out you are covered in the crap and have to shower. You have to pick the stuff out of every nook and cranny you've got. I don't know about you, but there is just something about picking sewage out of my belly button that I don't wish to repeat. Mike asked the guy what the mudbath was good for and was told that it improves your circulation. So, basically, since we have good circulation it didn't really do anything for us. It didn't relax us, that's for sure! After the mudbath we got into the mineral jacuzzi bath. That would have been fun, if their idea of bath wasn't scalding hot. Even after she cooled it off quite a bit (as I am standing there buck naked, saying "oooh, still too hot".... so embarassing) it was still making me all woozy, so I sat up in the bath rather than lay down. After the hot sewage & hot bath, I think my temperature was roughly 500 degrees, so I passed on the steam bath. I don't really dig steam anyways, it makes it hard to breathe. So they put me in a little room and wrapped me up like a burrito in this big towel to "make my body temperature" go back to normal. Which would have been a good idea except they laid my head on this big plastic towel which made my head even hotter. Let's just say that the massage was the only good part of the experience. My masseuse was so good, the sewage and sweltering might have been worth it. And since there were separate men's and women's facilities, I didn't have to listen to Mike freaking out about it all either ;c)

One last note about "the works," from Mike: "and what kind of people would work there? I mean, all they do is shuttle naked people to and fro all day.... it's so odd..."

OK, I'll shut up now. That's all I have to say about the mud bath experience.

Oh wait, I lied, I'm not done. So....... I didn't realize at first, but the sulfur smell stuck with us that afternoon. I didn't so much smell it in the car, probably because my senses were still awestruck from the assault. But back at the Marriott we were smelling up a storm. We had to take a couple showers each and really scrub hard to get the smell off. And later, when I was sweating a little at the restaurant, I realized the sulfur smell was back! In my sweat! EWWWWWWWWWW

OK, after the multiple showers, Mike and I took our traumatized selves to downtown Napa and Cole's Steak House. After a week of "froufy" food, Mike was ready for a big ol steak. And get one he did. I had the lobster bisque (little watery, not very much lobster) and the filet. He got the specialty steak, and we shared some mashed potatoes. I have to admit, his steak was better than mine. The filet was very good and cooked perfectly medium rare, but was just a filet. His steak and the seasoning was downright masterful. Our waiter, Galbie, was hilarious and welcoming, and we loved him. He may be our favorite server to date.
After the steaks, we ordered the whiskey bread pudding. Galbie, bless his heart, had caught onto the honeymoon vibe and brought us not only the pudding, but a complementary brownie sundae as well. Ooey gooey warm brownie with vanilla ice cream and caramel drizzle. I quickly claimed the brownie sundae as my own, told Mike to stick to his pudding, and went to town.

A little walk around downtown Napa capped off our last night there. I truly loved Napa. It reminded me a lot of Bloomington, IN, where I went to college. About the same size, good restaurants, friendly people, educated and artsy vibe. I think I would move there in a heartbeat (St Supery, need an accountant? Will work for wine!)

August 18

Saturday, our plan was to hit Sonoma. We woke up and got on the road early, driving over to Sonoma County with the top down and absolutely perfect weather (mid eighties, sunny, no humidity.... why must wine country torment me this way??) My friend Beth belongs to the wine club at Viansa, so we thought we would head south and hit up that winery.

The wine was pretty good, but what I loved about this place was the views.
Oh, and they also had a really great little food/wine store where I purchased olive oil, poultry rub, and peppercorns for our peppermill. Plus, the lady who was helping us with our wine tasting hooked me up with several little Viansa newsletters that had some delicious-looking recipes in them. Lime tequila flat iron steak - on the menu once we move to our new condo!

Our plan after Viansa was to head all the way to North Sonoma County and then work our way back south. Mike had researched the small town of Healdsburg alot when we were planning this trip, and he wanted to stop and eat somewhere there and walk around a bit. After over an hour on the 101 with Mike getting more frustrated by the minute, we pulled into Healdsburg and found a parking spot right by a small farmer's market that was just wrapping up. I had read through the Healdsburg section of the Frommer's guide on the way there, and had a few places in mind. However, once we got there we realized that there was a HUGE street fair going on celebrating the town's 150th anniversary. I was a bit dismayed, as I thought finding anything I had read about would be next to impossible. As we walked from the parking lot into downtown, I spotted a microbrew pub that I had read about and wanted to try. Total dumb luck, but we thanked our lucky stars and ducked inside of Bear Republic Brew Pub for much-needed nourishment. I got the gumbo and Special XP Pale Ale; Mike got (surprise) a cheeseburger and El Oso beer (spanish for "The Bear"). Both dishes were SUPER tasty and so were the drinks.

I get kind of punchy when I need to be fed.

After lunch, we walked around the street fair a bit and checked out downtown Healdsburg. It looked like a cute little town but there were about half a million people at the street fair and we had many places to be that day, so we cut out pretty quickly.

We continued to head north, with the destination of
Ferrari-Carano winery. Multiple people told us that their wines weren't anything to write home about, but the grounds were gorgeous. So, trusty Nikon in hand, we headed onto the grounds. And we weren't disappointed.

In the garden, there was also a cork tree with a label explaining how they harvest (is that the term?) cork from the trees for the wine corks, so that was pretty informative.
After Ferrari-Carano, we headed to Bella vineyards. Both Ferrari and Bella are in the Dry Creek region of Sonoma. Bella was on Giada's weekend travels on the Food Network. I must point out that Giada rented a bike and "rode her bike" to all of the places in the show - and we saw a fair amount of people biking throughout that area. However, I think that some of the places she went were also in downtown Sonoma, and that is FAR away. I would like to call shenanigans on Giada (Still love you, Giada!). Plus I felt really sorry for the people biking, because by that time of the day the temps were in the mid-nineties and it was just sweltering hot. Anyway, I digress. Their wine-tasting room was in a cave built into the side of a hill, and was fairly new and nicely maintained. The wine was really good and we ended up purchasing two bottles to take home. I would recommend visiting Bella, even if it is far away. It's a small family winery, and everyone there was very friendly.

After Bella, we drove around the Geyserville area for about 45 minutes trying in vain to find the other Coppola winery (since we had already joined the Napa Coppola winery, Rubicon, our interest was piqued in Coppola wines). We followed maps, we followed road signs, but to no avail. Finally we gave up on the other Coppola winery. So sad.
I also wanted to visit Iron Horse, the winery that made the Jeroboam of champagne that my Dad bought for our wedding. This place is truly out in the middle of nowhere and when we finally found it, there was a sign hanging on the gate indicating that the place closed at 3:30. We sighed and decided to visit Iron Horse and Korbel on Monday on our way back to Oakland.
Our reservations for dinner were at 6:15, so we had some time to kill. At this point we pretty much just looked on the map to see what was around and ended up stopping at Hop Kiln.
Hop Kiln may have THE MOST informative security guard on the face of the planet, as he told us all about the estate as we were walking into the winery. He had quite the little crowd gathered as he told us that the estate was a gift from Mexico to the family who first owned it. As it was a gift from Mexico during the Spanish American war, the family did not have to pay property tax on the estate or any of the land until it was finally sold sometime in the 80's (I think). Some guy exclaimed "WHY sell it then?!" which cracked me up.... I mean, you sell to get money, and the SELLER doesn't have to pay property tax. yeesh, what a moran.
After Hop Kiln, we headed south to Sonoma to make sure we weren't late for dinner. Mike and I noticed the proliferation of Priuses on the streets in Cali, and at some point he invented a game somewhat like Slug Bug where you yelled "Prius!" but whoever spotted the Prius first got a kiss on the cheek from the other person. Nice little cute honeymoon game. Except for there was literally a Prius on EVERY corner, in every third parking space, and half of all cars on the road. Oh, and I was really bad at the game.

The 653rd Prius Mike spotted that week.
We had about 20 minutes of free time, so we walked around downtown Sonoma, taking pics.
Dinner that night was at the girl and the fig, which I saw on the Food Network and read about in the Frommer's guide. It reminded me alot of Uncommon Ground here in Chicago. Very cute and small - their tagline is "comfort food with a French passion" Mike had his second cheeseburger of the day and I ordered the ham and cheese. I also got fried green tomatoes as an appetizer. The tomatoes were good - they were crispy with a light batter, but were served only with a bit of basalmic vinegar. Another sauce or two would have made for more appetizing options.
My ham and cheese, or as the menu called it "Croque-monsieur." Fancy, no? But also very very tasty.
We were all about ordering dessert at each place. Here is a shot of Mike and our chocolate ganache cake. Mike and I agreed that it was a bit dry, but when the people at the next table exclaimed how decadent it looked we nodded enthusiastically and said "SO GOOD" while continuing to stuff our faces. It was dry, but it was still dessert and it was certainly not going to go to waste!
Holy cow, long day in Sonoma. After that we pretty much just went back to the Marriott and passed out. Sweet sleep ;c)

August 17

On Friday, we continued our game plan and headed to the central part of Napa Valley. First up with the Mondavi winery.

I wasn't expecting much, what with the big name and all - our friend Meghan said the same. But it was really nice. Quiet and serene. Meghan also did the entire tour with her boyfriend and said that it was a great tour - very informative. But we didn't think ahead to make reservations for that, and got there at kind of a wonky time to do the tour. They had two tasting rooms, and we shared a flight in the cheaper tasting room and headed outside with our wine.

After we finished up that wine, I bought one tasting of the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon. My Dad told me a long time ago that 1997 and 1998 were great years for the grapes in Napa, so I decided to try it. Plus, Mike graduated in 1997, so I had to get a picture with the graduates together!

Me, with the 1997 Cabernet. It was gooooooood.

After Mondavi, we headed to Rubicon Estate, the former Niebaum-Coppola winery. At first I balked at the $25 entry fee (per person!), but conceded that it was $50 well-spent after I took a look around the grounds and tasted the wine. There was a cool historic museum upstairs, and you could look into the winemaking rooms. The entry fee included a tour also, which was really cool. The guide was informative, and seemed to be really excited and involved in his job.

The tour took us into the wine cellar, which was amazing. It's a newer wine cellar, but cool nonetheless. Something about barrels all lined up in an underground cavern strikes me with awe.

We ended up joining the Rubicon wine club, as I couldn't imagine NOT having their wine coming to my house every other month.
After Rubicon, we were starving and heading to V. Sattui A friend had recommended hitting V. Sattui
when we were ready to eat, because they have a great deli. Unfortunately, about 9 million other people had the same idea. We walked in, Mike took one look at the crowd and the "froufy food" and bailed. I grabbed some brie, crackers, and water and followed suit. Thus, the pic of the fountain is the only one I have of V. Sattui.

It was already about 2:00 and we had an appointment for a 3:00 tour at Del Dotto, so we hit Target on our way and picked up personal pizzas.

Del Dotto is a pretty small operation - they sell alot of their wine in advance and have only 8 employees. The tour that we went on took the better part of 2 hours and we learned about winemaking, tasting, and all kinds of information from their Sales Manager, Matt. We tasted about 12 wines straight from the barrel, which was pretty interesting. One cool thing about Del Dotto is that (per Matt), it's one of the three wine caverns that were dug by hand over a hundred years ago. You can see the pickax marks in the caverns, which we were in the whole time we tasted from the barrels.
After over an hour of barrel tasting, I got tired and wanted to sit down on one of the barrels. Mike wasn't that excited about it, but I was!
Once the tour was over, they threw on some disco and broke out some more wine and snacks. Last tour of the day gets a party, I guess. However, we were ready for a nap and headed home!
Dinner that night was at the Bounty Hunter in downtown Napa. We basically just headed downtown to look for a bar to eat and found that place. I had this AWESOME Kobe brisket, and Mike had pulled pork. Mike liked that the chef was actually grilling the food out back and not on an indoor grill.
The original plan included a movie, but after such a long day (and with full bellies) we headed home to hit the hay.

August 16

Mike and I's plan to tackle Napa was simple - we had a Frommer's guide that a friend lent us, and multiple e-mails detailing favorites of friends and their coworkers. So we looked at that info, and made a list of which places we wanted to see (I threw in a few from food network shows too!). I then labelled where each was located (NN for North Napa, SS for South Sonoma, etc) and we planned out when were were going to see what according to where each winery was and where we had dinner reservations (for example, Saturday I made resos for downtown Sonoma and so we drove around Sonoma that day).

First, we went just a few miles south of our hotel and hit Domaine Carneros, which was recommended by multiple friends, planning to head north through Napa Valley after that.
They offered a flight of bubbly and a flight of pinot noir, both of which were good. The Brut Rose sparkling wine was so good, I insisted upon going home with a bottle of it. We liked the place - it was gorgeous and peaceful and just exuded the air of vacation and relaxation, but we didn't join the wine club because it was our first stop! What if we wanted to join another club more?

Next up, we hit Clos du Val. They had several different types of reds (and Chardonnay, but I didn't try it because it was supposedly oaked quite a bit and I don't really care for oaked Chardonnay). Mike liked these alot, but I think they will be better with a bit age. We got two bottles, and the woman recommended 5-7 years aging - I am going to try and make sure that happens because I think they will be REALLY good then. Someone (cough, cough) is going to be asking for a wine chiller for Christmas this year.....

After Clos du Val, we hit up Stag's Leap. I was almost sure that I would want to join the wine club there, but decided against it after the tasting. I liked their wines, but they were of the dusty Stag's Leap region taste. Good, but not what I would pick given the chance.

We had stopped earlier to get a lunch of cheeseburgers at the Marriott after Carneros, but by this time I was fiending for some soft cheese (you know me and the triple cream cheese.... ai yi yi) and more bubbly, so we headed to Domaine Chandon. Disappointed is not extreme enough for the experience at Domaine Chandon. They are owned by Moet and obviously know how to make a great bottle of bubbly. Additionally, the grounds were lovely and very beautiful. Unfortunately, the tasting room looked like an ultra-lux European club. No one at the bar paid attention to us or welcomed us, and we stood there for a good 5-10 minutes. As we stood there, it was obvious there was a frat party going on, as the entire lounge was wasted and yelling "Cheers!" and the like. Now, I like myself a frat party just as much as the next person, but by this time we were deep into the chill-out-honeymoon-meandering-around vibe. Mike was over the whole scene, as was I, and we bailed. As we headed out, we saw a really drunk guy shatter his glass. Party time! Even the parents wheeling their thousand dollar strollers out to the parking lot were wasted. I'm thinking if there is a chance you could wheel your stroller into the nearby lake, maybe you shouldn't drink and stroll....

The one redeeming quality was this cool bottle wall. That's all I have to say about that.
After all that we were fed up (and I really wanted me some soft cheese), so we headed back to Domaine Carneros and had a couple glasses of the Brut Rose and the soft cheese flight. I even tried some caviar, which was OK. I mean, I wouldn't spit it out at a party a la Tom Hanks in Big, but I would never wake up and think "Man, I would love me some caviar today." After a couple glasses of bubbly, we lost our inhibitions and signed up for the wine club at Carneros. We loved it that much.

That night's dinner was at Julia Child's restaurant in downtown Napa,
Julia's Kitchen. This restaurant was located in COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts. I never did find out what COPIA stood for.... but they had alot of Julia Child's pots and pans prominently displayed in the front hallway, which was pretty cool. It was an early dinner.... this was one of my major messups all week - the reservations I made were for early. I had figured that since we would be wine-tasting all day we would want to go straight to dinner and be hungry early - notsomuch. By each dinnertime, we were wine-d out. This first day of wine-tasting were were ready to burst and weren't even that hungry, but we adjusted for this in the next couple days by eating a lighter lunch a bit earlier and cutting out on so many of the snacks. Regardless of whether we were hungry or not, that meal was fantastic - Mike had beef medallions and I had a scallop appetizer (again, I LOVE scallops) and the lamb trio. It was all fantastic. Especially the bing cheery strudel we forced down our gullets after all that. The portions were kind of small, and I think if Mike had been really hungry he would have been all "Where is the rest of my food?!" But since he wasn't that hungry it turned out great! And I would highly recommend the restaurant, the food was all delicious.