I like city driving; not freeways, but I can handle the Marin route out of San Francisco. So, I have made the trip to the Healdsburg area in Sonoma County three times in the last few months. Recently, for a birthday party at a lovely B & B called the Gipson Bed & Breakfast, owned by an old friend and his wife.
I had been to the same spot last summer for an epic 50th Russian Dacha birthday party, where many guests camped and a Russian BBQ ensued with a zip line, trampoline, bubbles, pool, jacuzzi and pogo-sticks for the big and little kids and of course shots of vodka and blinis for the hearty adults. This time it was for a five-year-old’s party, the daughter of my friends, the innkeepers.
Healdsburg lies at the crossroads of three of California’s most famous wine growing appellations: Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Russian River Valley. It is surrounded by more than 60 wineries and is a favorite Sonoma Wine Country destination. Continue reading »
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There is always a dilemma, do you spread the word about a great place or keep quiet so others don’t intrude. Well it’s too late for Marin County’s Tennessee Valley. Any given weekend will find hordes of joggers, hikers, seniors, horseback riders and families hiking the trails of this Bay Area gem.
Nestled in Tam Valley, a part of Mill Valley, this spot is easily accessible by San Franciscans and Marinites alike. Over the years we have taken hard core hikes with friends, leisurely walks with visitors from out of town and quickie visits to get fresh air and bask in the beautiful scenery. If I were a visitor from abroad or out of town, this would be a great day trip to get a flavor of the tremendous wealth of the Bay Area hiking scene. Continue reading »
Have you ever had Mandarin Islamic Chinese food? Did you know there are an estimated 20 million Muslims who live in China? These questions percolated as my taste buds marveled at the unusual combinations of lamb, cumin and other spice mixtures that seemed so new to me. I was first taken to Old Mandarin Islamic by a mom on my son’s soccer team. It was a rainy fall day and the boys and spectators were soaked and chilled. The hot pot beckoned, and I was up for an adventure. Way out in the Sunset district in San Francisco near the beach, this small hole in the wall offers not only a unique culinary experience but a geography and culture lesson in Chinese history. I returned this Sunday to pick up takeout and once again I was blown away. Signs in Arabic welcome the diners as well as the Chinese Sabado Gigante-esque/ quasi American idol show playing in the corner on the big screen TV. Familiar was the standard Chinese restaurant decorations, but unusual were the plaques with sayings from the Koran (I assume). Of course there is no pork on the menu and the lamb is Halal. It seems like the whole family is cooking in the back kitchen and you can see them in action as you traipse through to go to the restroom. The hot pot is a fun diner participation dish, much like fondue or Korean BBQ. Continue reading »
I love Mexican food, but sometimes all the rice and beans and heavy meat can weigh you down. Don’t get me wrong, I love burritos, but I have a hard time not finishing a whole one in a sitting, as much as I’d like to take half home for lunch the next day.
As an East Coast friend said when she first visited me in San Francisco in the early ’90s when our burritos arrived: “That looks like an infant.” She proceeded to place the wrapped burrito by her toned dancer’s belly and question how all that would fit in there. Miraculously it all fit!
Years later in New York City I saw advertisements for “San Francisco Mission Style” Burritos, which of course made me laugh having lived in or near the Mission for more than 15 years. So, my answer to the burrito baby syndrome was to order fish tacos; it seemed like a lighter choice. One of the first places, and to my mind one of the best in the city, is Papalote, a Mexican Grill on 24th street. When my first son was little we ate there once a week because I knew he would get a nutritious meal. The owner knows us well and has seen my son grown on his cooking. Now, my rice and bean aficionado goes to school a block away and we joke that it is because of his favorite restaurant. Don’t miss the fabulous house salsa; it’s a secret but I think it is made with pumpkin. Continue reading »
For years my wife and I have talked about spending a night or two in a local hostel, but until this weekend we didn’t find the time to do so. But a pre-New Year’s hike in the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco, where we live, took Paula into the hostel to see what was available and voila, we were booked for two nights in early January. Continue reading »
Every year in December, my husband and I have the discussion about a tree. I have this vision, as a young girl, of going to New Jersey to cut one down every year. This was quite a trek from Manhattan and made for great memories. It’s a bit of a Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy but, hey, could be worse. So we argue about “killing a tree” for Christmas, something that didn’t occur to me in the twentieth century.
I understand and share the concern for the planet but I also love the whole ritual of setting up the fresh tree. As a compromise, for the last few years we’ve bought a live tree in a pot and put it outside for the rest of the year, the idea being we would re-use it again the next year. Well, for the first time in four years, our tree survived the year and is resplendent in our living room trimmed and beautiful. So, when I suggested we go to this fabulous Christmas tree farm for a day of fun, giant swings, wreath-making, picnic, tractor ride, bonfire and marshmallows, like every year I got the same grumpy answer. I persevered.
I woke up this morning to find out our six-year-old, Abyssinian Guinea Pig , Felix, was on his way out. At six, he was considered “frail elderly” and I knew he wasn’t long for this world. He died this morning in my eldest son’s arms and we wrapped him in a shroud and placed him in a doll cradle. We lit candles and incense and both boys bawled until giant tears and snot trails rolled down their faces.
It’s Veteran’s Day and I’d had all the good intentions of taking a walk through a military cemetery in San Francisco’s Presidio, a stone’s throw from our office. It is a wonderful and moving experience any time of year, with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands. Continue reading »
As I sit here writing, my mind wanders to the U.S. election, and I wonder how it will turn out. It’s been a stressful few weeks and my stomach is in knots. What will be our itinerary for the next four to eight years?
When I think of all that has happened of late, there is very little that seems positive. Perhaps, though, there are a few things to cheer. High gas prices have made staycations popular and trips closer to home a necessity. Folks are driving less, car-pooling and looking with fresh eyes at Public Transportation, something we have sorely neglected in this country.
Train travel, a staple of my youth and commonplace in Europe and other parts of the world, is having a bit of a renaissance according to a recent New York Times article. Amtrak ridership is up 11% this year alone and the trend is increasing. Continue reading »
The California Academy of Sciences opens its doors to the public on September 27th, 2008 after many years at a cramped, temporary location. This new gem, situated in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park across from the new De Young Museum, is a must see for any visitor to the Bay Area. The Academy is the only place in the world with an aquarium, a planetarium and a natural history museum all under one living roof. The architect, Renzo Piano, also helped design the Centre Pompidou in Paris; possibly the most groundbreaking structure of its time.
I visited the new Academy of Sciences with my five-year-old yesterday, enjoying a preview visit for new members. It was stunning. The building is spectacular; it is open and airy, without the dingy 19th century feel of many Natural History Museums. The living roof is truly extraordinary, with views of the park and city. Flowers grow, apparently animals make homes; my son was in awe. He kept reiterating how the living roof was keeping the building cool. We will surely return to see the evolution of the roof ecosystem. Continue reading »
On a scorching hot day in San Francisco I took my kids to the free Power to the Peaceful Concert in Golden Gate Park. My boys love Michael Franti’s music and my older son is good friends with his son. Last year we got back-stage passes. This year it was a blast, but hard work keeping the boys hydrated and tough trying to explain why so many people concerned with the health of our country and planet were smoking so much. We enjoyed the music and entire scene. We danced, sang, ate a picnic and took in the scene and message of the day. It was a huge crowd, primarily bikini-clad young women and shirtless young bucks. My boys wanted to take their shirts off. I let them for one song, but was so worried about heatstroke, I made them put them back on and keep their hats on. Although alcohol was not sold, I feared for many folks, who I’m sure would suffer from the heat that night. Continue reading »