If you’re in Berkeley, Calif. sometime, make sure and stop by Cinnaholic for a little sugar rush and dash of happiness.
And psst. Don’t tell anyone, but they’re vegan. GASP!
Yes, it’s true. And they’re delicious!
This past weekend we took off to work on one of Jack’s research projects in Bishop, Calif., which is nestled in a valley between the Eastern Sierras and the White mountains. Beeeeautiful!
En route to Bishop, on Highway 395, and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, there’s a spot along the road with all of these t-shirts hanging on a barbed wire fence. What in the world?
There was a little memorial monument with an American flag flickering next to it, so we quickly pulled over to check it out. Turns out in 2002, a C-130 crew crashed and died while fighting a fire in the tiny town of Walker. Jack says he remembers the incident because it grounded all U.S. fire fighting aircraft to retool for safety, even up in Alaska, where he was at the time, and where fighting fires is a pretty big deal.
All those t-shirts are from fire departments all over the U.S. Additionally there are patches and paraphernalia left by other fire fighters to pay their respects.
It’s amazing what you see if you bother to stop and look.
Daytripping Napa doesn’t have to be wine tasting 24/7. If you’re up to your eyeballs in grape juice and need a break, go tour some of the fantastic art collections and installations throughout the valley. The cost to view is minimal and often free, so it’s a great budget-friendly day of fun.
This weekend we checked out two world-class collections near the town of Napa, down valley, which made for a relaxed afternoon followed by dinner at nearby Oxbow Market. It was an easy and enjoyable itinerary.
First up …
Last year it was my goal to get us out of the house for a day of fun once a month. I don’t know about you, but our weekends are easily eaten up with a list of chores and obligations that never ends and before you know it six months have gone by full of all work and little play, making us a cranky couple of yahoos. And that’s saying something because Jack’s general disposition tends to lean a little towards cranky, so you can see where I’m going here. It is essential that we go out and have a little fun on a regular basis.
Because we live on a budget I am constantly looking for good deals for our getaways. At some point in the Summer, I saw an offer on TravelZoo that was crazy good: a tour, a tasting, a bottle of wine … all for some ridiculously low price. So, I snapped it up and tucked it away in our “getaways” file.
Months later when my birthday rolled around we grabbed that TravelZoo deal and headed off to Sonoma to visit Iron Horse Vineyards. And it was a treat!
It’s a small family-run operation that specializes in sparkling wine. The location is incomparably beautiful tucked up in the hills at the end of a long country drive. The owners still live on the property. The tasting room is tiny, outdoors and informal. The staff is knowledgeable and down to earth. Pretension has no home here. It’s a refreshing departure from the touristy operations littering Napa. If you haven’t been, I encourage you to put it on your places to visit.
I’m a diner girl, it’s my favorite kind of restaurant. Given any opportunity to go to a diner, I’ll go. I love it even more if the waitress calls you “honey”.
Do you remember that old American TV show, Alice, from the late 70s? I used to love that show. “Mel, you can just Kiss. My. Grits!” I have always wanted to say that to someone, but I don’t think I could pull it off.
Anyway, for my birthday Jack and I went out to Sonoma County for a day of fun, and on the way home we stopped for an early dinner at the Fremont Diner, a little roadside joint that is so unassuming it’s easy to miss. For those lucky enough to take notice and stop, it’s a treat.
The last couple months I’ve taken an unintentional hiatus from blogging. The time has been filled with what seems like non-stop travel. In the past three weeks we’ve hit three states, the latest being New Mexico. And I have to admit that our time in Santa Fe has been lazy and idyllic—hot springs and hiking, lots of reading and catching up on sleep, good food and peaceful hikes. Anything resembling “work” has taken a back seat to lying on the couch and brainstorming with my eyes closed.
I’ve got hundreds of photos to sift through, but for now here are a few snapshots of Santa Fe, all taken with my phone, so bear with me.
The impetus for our trip to Santa Fe: Lee and Sarah’s long awaited wedding. Beautiful!
The Square in Santa Fe lit up for the holidays. Lots of window shopping and idle wandering.
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen: a local’s favorite for authentic New Mexican cuisine. Here’s Jack sweating through the carne adovada, which was 5-alarm hot and spicy. We laughed through the entire meal.
And throughout our stay we took off for some incredibly scenic hikes followed up by equally enjoyable trips to the hot springs and spas. Lovely. It’s all been so lovely.
Happy New Year, everyone! We’ll see you on the other side!
Mic and Jack
Never having done so, I took one day to play tourist in Saigon. My first stop was the Independence Palace in central Saigon (District 1).
Afterwards I went over to the Fine Arts Museum, however, just as I pulled up in front of the gates I got a phone call asking if I wanted to join the family for a round of massage and mani/pedis at a nearby salon. I looked longingly at the posters of art and history—it looked so beautiful and I love art museums so much—but then I turned around and made a beeline for 118 Foot & Body Massage on Pasteur Street.
I am so shallow.
Therefore, my entire tourist experience is this one: the Independence Palace … Come on, let’s take a gander.
Tip No. 1:
There’s this hole in the wall (I mean this literally) in downtown Saigon called Pho Ha, where the kitchen is actually a tiny hallway and all of the seating is street side at these teeny tables surrounded by what could be considered plastic kiddie chairs.
Do not be afraid.
Just sit down and prepare for a happy tummy.
They have two specialties: a boiled chicken dish …
… and burnt rice. They’re really known for the burnt rice. Now, what the heck is burnt rice? It doesn’t sound at all appetizing, does it?
Well, it’s not really burnt. It’s more like twice cooked. We kept debating exactly HOW this rice is made because we each want to make it a home, it’s so good. The best we can come up with is that a thin layer of cooked rice is fried in a hot wok until the bottom is crispy, but the top stays soft and becomes almost chewy. Then it is sprinkled lightly with a dried, savory shredded pork. Holy cow, it is so simple and yet incredibly addictive!!!
Here’s what it looks like … like a flat pancake of rice. Sorry my pictures are so blurry, but it was dark and I refuse to use flash. Plus, I was really busy eating.
Tip No. 2:
Pho Ha is conveniently located across the street from Nhu Lan, known to be the best sandwich deli (banh mi) in town. Seriously, it’s famous. Everyone know it. If you ask locals where to go for the best banh mi they’ll point you here.
Before we even finished eating our burnt rice Joe was already talking about running over to Nhu Lan to pick up some sandwiches to take home for a midnight snack.
I’m telling you, this food obsession is genetic.
Anyway, that’s what we did.
Here’s the typical BBQ pork carved off a rotisserie … holy yum!
Minh, Joe and I also came back the next day and picked up some banh mi for a mid-morning snack before we hit the town for some marathon DVD shopping.
According to our triumverate consensus, I’m sorry to report that they were NOT the best banh mi that we’ve ever had. We were so disappointed. In fact, there’s a little kiosk near our house where a little old lady dishes up better sandwiches. However, we did try several kinds of banh mi and determined that the best banh mi are the ones that have a little pâté in them. So, there’s our advice … don’t assume this joint’s got the best banh mi in town, but do go for the ones that include pâté, you won’t be sorry. They are still quite delicious!
But don’t forget Tip No. 1, go to Pho Ha!! It’s a little hidden secret.
This is what it looks like across the street from our house in Saigon. And when I say across the street, I mean 15 feet away. The streets in Vietnam are quite narrow.
This … is a cafe that runs alongside the river in front of our house.
Every day starting at lunchtime it’s full of young people, kids in their twenties. Kids who apparently don’t have jobs or school or places to be and things to do.
They come at lunch and stay until the wee hours of the night. At least it seems that way.
When the monsoon rains come they just keep laughing and drinking and eating and laughing …
… and every ten minutes the air is punctuated with the chant, “One, two, three, YO!”
It’s the Vietnamese youth’s equivalent of “cheers” or “bottom’s up” or “down the hatch” or … you get my drift.
If you have the misfortune of sleeping in the front of our house your dreams are guaranteed to be punctuated with the chant, “One, two, three, YO! One, two, three, YO!” and you will have the overwhelming urge to take a swig of beer.
Now, any time I take a swig of anything—juice, water, tea—I hear in my head, “One, two, three, YO!”
“Bánh mì” is the Vietnamese term for “sandwich”. Most typically it is served in a foot-long french baguette and is filled with pâté, any kind of meat (most popular is BBQ pork), pickled daikon and carrots, and fresh, sliced chiles and cucumbers, then drizzled with soy sauce and chili paste. It is a VERY popular snack that you can buy in any number of sandwich shops (like a deli) or most commonly from one of a zillion street vendors who sell nothing but a particular kind of bánh mì.
One day when Minh, Joe and I were downtown we ran across this little vendor who sold offal (organ meat) bánh mì, which is much harder to find.
I have only had an offal bánh mì once before and couldn’t recall whether I liked it or not. I have to say … I was dubious at first (I don’t really enjoy liver often), but my culinary curiosity got the best of me and I had to try it again, after all I do so love a good bánh mì.
My brother, Joe, thought I was crazy. Minh just rolled his eyes at me. There was an Australian fella in line ahead of me and he looked quite happy as he watched his sandwich being made, so I thought, “What the hayballs! Why not?”
If I don’t like it I’ll throw up on Joe and then toss the rest of the sandwich.