Harley Goat Farms

This past weekend, my husband and I took the girls to Harley Goat Farm in the cute coastal town of Pescadero, CA to pet some goats and buy some cheese!  Doesn’t that sound like the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon?  Well, it was.  The drive there alone was worth it.  Here’s a shot off of highway 1.  Holy crap, that’s beautiful.

Harley Goat Farms gives daily tours, but they’re 2 hours long and $20 per adult.  Our girls would never sit through a 2 hour tour and $20 per ticket is a little much for us.  We didn’t feel like we missed out on a thing.  We pet a few goats and bought a variety of goat cheese and called it a day.  This place is totally adorable.  And so is my family.

From the goat’s milk, Harley Farms makes Chevre, Fromage Blanc, Ricotta and Feta cheese.  Y’all, they have a TON of it.  O.M.G.  And most importantly, they have a sample of every one.  Most of my cheese pics are a bit fuzzy so I’ve shared the ones that turned out ok.  It’s a little dark in the cheese room!

Chive Chevre

Apricot Pistachio Chevre


Cranberry Walnut Chevre

They also sell a variety of lotions, soaps, and lip balms, all of which are pretty pricey.  We just stuck to the cheese.  Most 8 oz tubs sold for about $8.  The small buttons of chevre went for $4.  The pumpkin goat cheese had me sold before I even tasted it.  How can you NOT buy pumpkin goat cheese?  It’s sweet, tangy, fall flavored heaven.  We also bought a button of the cranberry walnut and the sundried tomato chevre. Delicious.

Harley Farms also hosts seasonal, 5 course, farm to table dinners.  They are very expensive, around $125 a plate, but I have a feeling it’s worth every penny.  I was unable to pull up their menu for the upcoming Autumn Dinner since both seatings are full, but here’s a video from CBS’s Eye on the Bay about Harley Farms and their seasonal dinners.  It’s a bit cheesy (geez…. no pun intended!), but you get the drift.

Say Cheese y’all!

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San Francisco Revisited

Hey y’all!  It’s been forever, I KNOW!  Before I get to my weekend trip to San Francisco back in 2011 (omg), let me try to explain my awful, long neglect for my blog.  First of all, I had another baby.  And while I was pregnant with that other baby, I was completely miserable.  So after a month of not writing, came another month and yet another, until the baby came, from which I was then sleep deprived and completely insane with a newborn and a toddler.  Writing a blog was very low on my priority list.  When the baby began to sleep longer and I became less crazy, I began to think about writing again.  But that’s all I did.  I thought about it.  Then came the holidays.  We all know how busy the holidays are.  After the new year and our awesome trip to Sandbridge, VA,  I thought about writing again, but I couldn’t do it.  Probably because it had been so long.  Then we moved.  Moving SUCKS.  But, I’m sure you already know that.  So, finally after 4 months of living in the Santa Cruz Mountains and actually finding some peace and solace in the state of California, an email inspired to get back to my blog.  A small website called Dwellable read my post about the Outer Banks and wanted to add me to their blog roll.  Not a big deal by any means, but it made me feel good and gave me the push I needed to get back to my outlet.  Before I started something new, I went through the numerous drafts I had saved from last year. I read the one about my trip to San Francisco with my bff and I thought it was really special.  I had almost finished it, therefore I think the restaurant reviews should still be relevant.  However, I didn’t get to E Tutto Qua, which is probably for the best.  It didn’t really leave a lasting impression and the pictures I took were terribly blurry.  It was  good, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to go back.  I began this post with a long, angry paragraph about my difficult pregnancy.  I laughed at the first few sentences, but I’ve decided to go ahead and publish it anyway and maybe, just maybe, I’ll bring some light to someone who has suffered with the same problem.  I had forgotten about the pain and frustration I had felt.  So here it is, from April of 2011, the ravings of a pregnant lady who loves food more than life, complete with curse words and all………….

April 2011:  If you’re irritated by pregnant women complaining, then skip this paragraph, I will not be offended.   If you’re curious, or can simply relate, read on……….  This second pregnancy has been challenging, to say the least.  I never reached my second trimester “burst of energy” or relief from nausea and encountered another problem very early on.  It’s called  Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction.   In a nutshell, this “dysfunction” causes the ligament that holds your pelvis bone together to loosen and sometimes completely detach from the bone itself, meaning your pelvis is out of alignment.  It causes pain in the hips, lower back, legs and pubic region.   Hormones are probably the main culprit of this problem, but the midwife that diagnosed me seems to think that the birth of my first child, who was a whopping 9 pounds, may also have had something to do with it.  It will heal after giving birth, however, breastfeeding prolongs the healing process due to the continued production of these hormones.   Now, here’s what really grinds my gears….I started having symptoms of SPD in my fourth month of pregnancy, in fact, while I was gallivanting around San Francisco.  When it worsened, I told my doctor and she blew me off, saying this was just another “ache and pain” of pregnancy.  So, I took matters into my own hands and diagnosed myself by doing research on the internet.   Upon figuring out what was causing the pain, that got worse with every passing week, I read somewhere that most obstetricians do not recognize the condition, literally calling it an “ache and pain of pregnancy”, but that most midwives do acknowledge the problem and will prescribe ways of managing it.  I was SO pissed when I read this, because #1) the obvious reason, my doctor blew me off with this “ache and pain” bullshit and #2) during my first pregnancy, my caregiver was a midwife and she was AWESOME and I knew she would have taken care of me properly.  As if I needed another reason to be bitter about moving to California.  For my next visit to the doctor, I was rehearsing what I was going to say to make her listen.  I wasn’t going to tell her what I thought it was, I wanted her to figure it out, because hello, she’s a fucking doctor.  I know I shouldn’t have played this silly game, but I did, out of sheer spite.  AGAIN, she blew me off, this time literally cutting me off mid sentence to say that it was an “ache and pain” and would get worse with subsequent pregnancies.  I said “Ok, well, it’s preventing me from exercising.  Is lack of exercise making it worse or should I try to exercise?  I was a runner before I got pregnant.”  She actually said this, I can’t freaking believe it, she actually said “Maybe.”   Maybe what?  Maybe I should exercise?  Maybe I shouldn’t exercise?  I was in tears when I left and I still don’t understand why I wasn’t more aggressive with her.  It’s probably because I was raised by a nurse who taught me that “your doctor knows best”…….For my next appointment, I scheduled with a midwife (the only redeeming experience with Kaiser thus far). By this point, the pain was so bad, it would stop me mid step.  The pain was mostly in my lower back, inner thigh and pelvis area, and predominately on my right side.  One night, it became so terrible, that my husband had to walk behind me as I went up the stairs, supporting my lower back as I walked, asking if he should carry me.  Then, he had to pull my legs in and out of the bed because using the muscles to do it myself was excruciating.  He was so mad at the whole situation and kept telling me what I needed to say to make them understand. The appointment with the midwife finally came and as soon as I began to explain to her the pain I was experiencing, she said “Oh, I think you have SPD, in fact, I think the ligament has completely detached from the bone.  You will need to see a physical therapist right away and buy yourself a support band…today.”  I started to cry, I’m sure you can guess why.  I bought a support band that day and the difference I felt was almost immediate.  Then, I saw the physical therapist, who did some awesome leg pulling and hip adjusting on my right side (among other PT stuff), making me feel better instantly AND gave me more insight into my pain.  I mentioned that I broke my pinky toe on my right side about 6 weeks before (yup, that was a real sundae topper!) and she laughed and said “Well, that certainly didn’t do you any favors, considering you couldn’t put any weight on it for a while.”  Eureka!!!!!  No wonder it hurt so bad on my right side.  I was given a few exercises as well as a long list of things not to do while suffering from this condition.  I have to get in and out of the car and bed a certain way, I have to take smaller steps, I cannot move things on the floor with my feet, cross my legs, or sit in a position where my hips are lower than my knees.  Basically, my knees should be at hips width apart and straight in front of me at all times. After taking these measures for only 2 days, I felt better!  Finally, although, the pain has not gone away completely and I don’t expect it to.  I’m just so glad someone knew what the hell they were talking about and was able to help.  Oh, and exercising?  Walking and running is out of the question, however, swimming is a good alternative.  I hope to never see that doctor again and when this experience is all over, I’ll be finding a place to write a terrible review about her.

Moving on………After the slightly disappointing crab cake dinner back in January, I took Sarah to the city for some sight-seeing and good eatin’!  We took the long way to the city so we could stop at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and drive across the great bridge itself.  Here’s a pic.   It was a beautiful day!

Once we got into town, we checked into our hotel in Union Square, threw our bags down and headed out for a little shopping before dinner.   Once we got our shopping fix, is was time to get ready for dinner at First Crush.  We decided to walk, since it was only a block from the hotel.  At this time in my pregnancy, I was still able to look relatively hot and strap on my heels, holding my skinny jeans up with a rubber band.   I’ll quickly go through what we had and why I would definitely go back to this place, sorry, no pics! Forgot my camera!  First of all, the restaurant is small and intimate and a little loud, which I love, although I definitely did not appreciate our smug neighbor who was so impressed with himself being a journalist and used the f* bomb in every other sentence.  Not that I don’t cuss like a sailor, it’s just so tacky to be so loud about it in public.  Have some damn class!  Anywho……  Our server was lovely and extremely helpful.   First Crush is a wine bar with a very impressive (and very expensive) wine list, so we ordered a delicious half bottle (I can have just a bit, you see) of the Steele Pinot Nior………a whopping $27, the least expensive of the half bottles.  Ouch.   We decided to start with the cheese plate and a few “First Courses” and if we were still hungry, we’d venture on to the main courses.  The cheese plate was the mother effing cat’s pajamas people.  4 Cheeses: Marin French Cheese Co. Triple Creme, Redwood Hills Farm Goats’ Milk Cheddar, Bellwether Farms San Andreas Goats Milk Cheese, and Shaft  Blue.  4 accompaniments:  Port Pear, Fig Cake, Honeycomb,and Grilled Toast Points. I am probably not supposed to have half of what was on that plate, with all the cheese restrictions that are put on the pregnant, but I lapped it up with cheese lover enthusiasm.  My FAVORITE part was the honeycomb.  I paired it with every cheese and it was delicious.  Sarah’s favorite was the fig cake, also delicious.  After taking our sweet time enjoying cheese and wine, it was time to move on.  Sarah ordered a Truffle Mushroom Ravioli, no longer on the menu, which is too bad as it was amazing.  Very truffley!  I ordered a spinach salad with walnuts and gorgonzola (I think)……… Then we decided that we really wanted to enjoy dessert, instead of stuffing ourselves with an entrée.  So, I ordered the chocolate souffle with raspberries and Sarah ordered a dessert that I can’t remember, except that it had peanut butter in it and I don’t do peanut butter in my deserts.  We took these deserts to go and enjoyed them in the comfort of our hotel room (and pajamas) while watching a guy very unwillingly be arrested on the street below.  To sit cross-legged on the desk, peering down onto Mason Street watching a young man lie face down on the street in cuffs and scream “See where your tax dollars are going! SEE! This is bullshit! I didn’t do anything!” while savoring the rich chocolate was superb……….I could not have asked for better.  Thank you San Francisco.  Our first night was a success.

The next morning we woke up and decided to order room service.  I wish I could have taken that back and gone here.  Our breakfast was terrible.  Then, we grabbed some Starbucks and headed towards the trolleys.  Sarah and I were both Trolley virgins.  I thought my belly would conjure a little sympathy, but I was wrong, the trolley operators yelled at me anyway for not getting on the trolley quick enough, or facing the right way.  Sarah and I are from Richmond, Virginia y’all, we don’t have that big city stuff out there, ya hear?  We just don’t know how to act.  There I was, hanging onto a trolley pole, going UP Powell Street, trying not to touch my neighbor with any part of my body.  Finally, someone got off and Sarah and I were able to sit next to each other on a seat and the operators ended up being totally hilarious and cracking us up the whole way to Fisherman’s Wharf.   We spent a little time at Hyde Street Pier, walked into a tourist shop and purchased some magnets and I was ready for lunch.  Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist trap, but a necessity if you’ve never been to the city I suppose.  If you know me, you know how I feel about eating in a place like Fisherman’s Wharf.  In case you forgot, read my post about Monterey.  BUT, Sarah is waaaaaaay more laid back than I and being pregnant and starving, there simply was no time to do my research and find a place that met my standards, so we basically picked the first spot we saw as we started to walk down the Wharf.  Pompeii’s Grotto it was.

I was more willing this time to give a place like this a chance.  Sarah ordered a cocktail.  I was jealous.

I heart cosmos. I went with a daily lunch special, spaghetti with fresh salmon, tomatoes and basil.  It was really good!!!!  Very fresh, although it could have used more flavor.  I was expecting larger basil leaves and tomatoes, however, it really was delish.  I was very happy with my choice.

Sarah had the tuna sandwich and I don’t think she was as thrilled as I was with her own lunch.  I said “Friend?  How’s your sandwich?”  She simply replied “It’s ok, I mean, it’s good.”  Sorry friend 😦

After lunch, we continued down the Wharf.  I supposed I should have taken Sarah to get clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl somewhere or dungenous crab from a street vendor.   BOO dungenous, BOO!

We stumbled upon the Musee Mecanique, a privately owned collection of antique arcade machines.  It’s completely weird.

Hooray for San Francisco!  Since this trip in January 2011, my bff and I have been back to the city and enjoyed another fabulous restaurant.  More on that soon!

Dine About Town

It’s been difficult or me to keep up with my blog.  The holidays are finally over and my nausea isn’t as crippling, so I hope to post, and cook, more often now.  Christmas was a success, however, I had to really downscale my menu to simple dishes. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking with that crazy menu! I ended up making a Spinach & Pancetta Strata which I thought was terrible, but my mother-in-law and husband loved it.  (Keep in mind, my mother-in-law will say she likes spam sandwiches just so she won’t hurt your feelings and my husband will eat anything.)  The pancetta cooked up so small that you couldn’t taste it in the dish.  AND, it was ugly.   No bueno Giada, no bueno, but I’ll build you back up later on in this post.  I made sausage balls, artichoke dip, brownie bites, and Chex mix (thank you Pioneer Woman) for snacking purposes throughout the day.  The brownie bites took me two days to make, but OH MY GOD, were they amazing.  If you’re a chocolate lover, take a weekend and make these.  It probably won’t take you as long as it took me, I have to rest in between steps.  Babies growing in my uterus make me very tired.   Here’s a picture of them taken with my phone.  Don’t they look like candy?  Super, awesome, brownie candy!

My brother-in-law totally blew it and did NOT bring the bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers like he promised.  Supposedly, he froze the fresh jalapenos and they disintegrated.  Whatever……. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a little disappointment, I guess. And finally for dinner, my husband grilled a london broil, I made spicy mac and cheese , which was the talk of the entire evening, roasted yams with rosemary and mint, and roasted balsamic asparagus.  I also made Lara’s pound cake.  Delish!  Overall, everything was good and easy.  Although I’m a freak about the holidays, I was really glad to see these end.  I need a little normalcy in my life right now.

Soooooo……… my bff Sarah is coming to visit me from Richmond next week!  And lucky for her, the week she chose to come is the start of Dine About Town in San Francisco!  It’s like Restaurant Week except, it’s two weeks long!   We are spending a weekend in the city and will be eating our hearts out!  We chose restaurants based on the neighborhoods we’ll be spending our time in.  On Friday night, we’ll be dining at First Crush, in Union Square, 1 block away from our hotel.  Dine About Town doesn’t begin until Saturday, but whatever, Sarah wanted to go here anyway.  I heard about this place on the FoodNetwork show Giada’s Weekend Getaways, or at least I thought I had.  I just went to that episode on foodnetwork.com and First Crush wasn’t mentioned anywhere.  So……. we’ll just pretend she dined there.  I felt that First Crush would be a good choice because back in 2007, her Weekend Getaway to Charleston, SC literally made me call the bff (Sarah) and say “You wanna go to Charleston for a weekend?”  Sarah’s always down for weekend trips, so we booked a precious B & B and headed to Lowcountry.  Giada was right on the money with McCrady’s AND Poogan’s Porch (with the best damn sandwich I’ve ever had, fried green tomato, applewood smoked bacon, and goat cheese, holy crap).   McCrady’s is one of those places where the wait staff wears tuxedo shirts and cleans your table linen with a crumb scraper in between courses.   It’s exquisite.  Giada helped in making Charleston the best food trip I’ve ever had.  (FIG is my all-time favorite restaurant ever.  The chef/owner served Sarah and I our main courses and I about peed on myself).  God Bless Lowcountry Cuisine.  Anywho…….Let’s hope First Crush knocks our socks off.

Sarah and I at Poogan’s Porch, June 2007

On Saturday night, we’ll be seeing Beach Blanket Babylon, a San Francisco institution.  Since this production is in the neighborhood of North Beach, we chose E Tutto Qua as our dinner destination.  I really liked E Tutto Qua’s website because the pictures of the staff and food looked very personal, not contrived and it made the place seem very welcoming and local.   (Trip Advisor reviews help too!) I hope they live up to our expectations.  Sarah and I are both very curious as to what Squid Ink Pasta is.  Will I be adventurous?  Pregnancy and food adventurism do NOT go too well together, so we’ll see. 

As far as breakfast and lunch, we’ll probably play it by ear, something I really hate doing, but Sarah is way more laid back and this trip is about her, not me.  She’s never been to the city!  Wish us good food luck!

California is a Magical Land Pt. 2

    Day 2 in Monterey I awoke to the smell of bacon!  That’s my favorite way to wake up.Good morning Martine Inn!  We headed downstairs for breakfast in the dining room that overlooked the Monterey Bay. And guess what was on the menu?  Artichokes!  Yay!  Poached eggs on an english muffin topped with an artichoke cream sauce.  I realized that artichokes are like bacon for me.  I can eat them morning, noon and night.  Yum!
    And there was this warm apricot cobbler like dish. Love the silver, china and crystal!
    The Martine conveniently sold tickets to the aquarium and charged it to our room.  (I love this place!)  We decided to walk there.  Here’s what we saw.Seals!  Aren’t they just precious?!  The Stanford University Marine Station has the beach fenced off for these guys.  They’re cute, but they smell.  I’m glad we kept our distance.
    On to the Monterey Aquarium!  The place was packed.
    My favorite exhibit…. the jellies!After 2.5 hours we successfully toured each exhibit and felt that we got our $30 per ticket worth of the aquarium.  It was time to nourish our bodies.  It was time to head down Cannery Row.

    Normally, having lunch in such a tourist trap goes against everything I believe in when it comes to dining.  It’s rare to find a good one in the midst of tee-shirt shops and candy stores.  But I was trying this new thing called “going with the flow” and I knew my husband would be seriously irritated if I made him walk all the way back to the B&B, get in the car and drive to the place I really wanted to go.  He was starving, so I sucked it up, but not without my limits.  I refused to step foot into Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and there was no way I was going to eat in a place called Louie Linguine’s.  After about 20 minutes of walking around Cannery Row, looking for a decent place to eat, we came to Paradiso Trattoria were a gentleman was passing out coupons for free calamari with the purchase of an entrée.  Grrrrrrrrr……. places that pass out free shit are desperate.  I wanted to run, but I kept my cool, for my husband’s sake.  We were seated at a table with a bay view that was yes, gorgeous.  

    I ordered a cocktail, trying to numb the pain of course, and to not be such a bitch.  It didn’t work.  My husband noticed right away that I wanted to run.  He said I was “being a snob” and that he could tell I wanted to leave.  I lied.  “No! I’m fine, I’m just hungry, this place is fine, just fine.”  So we ordered and no, I wanted nothing to do with the free calamari in exchange for ordering an entrée.  I got the lunch special, rockfish.  And shockingly…….. It was pretty good!

    It was lightly battered and pan-fried, with just the right amount of crisp, and extremely buttery.  It was definitely fresh.  And who doesn’t love capers?!  I’ll say it, the fish was delicious.  The green beans were good too, crisp, light and fresh.  (The side of spaghetti can kiss my ass, like noodles in catsup for crying out loud.  Why even bother?)  

    My husband ordered the seafood ciopinno.  That too!  Delicious!  I was stunned!

    I figured we better quit while we were ahead, so there was no dessert, although I had my eye on the chocolate mousse.  Our room at the Martine Inn was calling us through its screenless/bugless windows.  It was nap time.

    We decided to hit the happy hour at the Inn for a snack and some wine before we went to our restaurant pic of the night in Pacific Grove.   It was nice, but we were late, so I missed out on the spanikopita!  I love spanikopita!  We enjoyed a few drinks and watched a pair of otters play in the bay, then jumped in the car for the 1 mile drive to  Passionfish.Photo Credit

    Holy crap! Holy Crap! Holy Crap!  I cannot say enough about this place.  Superb!  I chose Passionfish because of the great reviews on Trip Advisor (please ignore Lotto1’s review, this guy is just an asshole who lacks common courtesy).  This is the place I was talking about in Pt. 1 that is not listed on Open Table.  Trip Advisor people, use it, it’s freaking great.  Anywho… I LOVED this restaurant.  The decor is simple and clean yet welcoming.  The service was good and friendlier than normal (hence Lotto1’s rant).  Passionfish is known for their wine list and their very knowledgeable sommelier.  The list intimidated me, there wasn’t a single wine I had even heard of, so I went for a by-the-glass white that our server suggested based on my taste.  (Delish!)  Here, I decided to give Dungeness crab another shot, so we ordered the crab cake appetizer.  It was pretty, and probably fabulous for those who love the Dungeness (scroll all the way down and you’ll see a picture of it.) Sorry!  Still not a fan.  I can’t even describe what I don’t like about it.  The crab on the East is sweeter, I guess, not as pungent.  I don’t know….  But then, I ordered the Duck Confit (honey reduction/smoked chili-potato cake/braised fennel).  “Excellent choice” our server said.  And when I was served, the Dungeness faded from my mind and culinary ecstasy pulsed through my body.  When I went to pierce the meat with my fork, it gracefully fell off the bone.  It was exquisite.  The honey reduction was a perfect complement to the meat.  I could have done without the fennel, but the potato cake was awesome.   My husband chose the Asian inspired grilled Mahi (ginger vinaigrette/wasabi relish/baby bok choy/green onion rice).  Gorgeous.  Just beautiful.  Dessert (only $6!!!) was the Banana Bread Pudding with a Chocolate Whiskey Sauce and was truly decadent.  Passionfish.  I love you.

    Again, sorry for no pictures!  It’s completely ridiculous that I have a food blog with no pictures of the food I ate.  That night,  we had every intention of visiting the Scheid Vineyards Wine Lounge on Cannery Row.  It looked so hip and chic when we walked past it earlier in the day and the huge fireplace was so inviting!  But the Banana Bread Pudding was over the top and put us right back into a food coma, sending us back to the Inn for another evening of peaceful sleep with the windows wide open.  Ahhhhhh……. I did not want to leave Monterey.

    Day 3 was sad.

    Here I am at the Red House Cafe, the place I wanted to go for lunch on Day 2, but instead, taking one for the team my husband and eating at the Trattoria.  We were in a hurry and did not have time to enjoy our last meal here at this darling little cafe.  But we did go in and took our food to go!  It was not a good idea.  The service again was so weird!  They’re so cold!  They were all women, running around like they were in the weeds with 4 or 5 tables.  And loud, they were so loud!  We could hear everything going on in that kitchen.  When I managed a restaurant, it used to drive me INSANE when I was in the dining room and could hear employees in the kitchen.  I was the volume nazi.  Keep it down!  Customers don’t want to hear your crap!  They want to eat and feel that this establishment has it all under control.  Good grief.  To Red House’s credit, the place is adorable.  It’s very shabby chic and its menu emulates its style.  I had the grilled cheese which was good, but I scarfed it down in the car and I was a little too late.  It was no longer warm 😦  I hate Day 3 in Monterey. 

    In conclusion:  California is indeed a Magical Land.  The service is strange, yes, but I think the food makes up for it.  Monterey is so beautiful, even if it was overcast 90% of our visit.

    My suggestions for visiting Monterey: 1) Stay in a B & B on the bay.  It’s the best bang for your buck.  Waterfront hotels are pricier and they don’t have a happy hour.   2) Cannery Row is okay and you should take a stroll, but don’t spend all of your time there.  I couldn’t find any great shops, the American Tin Outlets is a joke, and the restaurants, well, you know how I feel about those.  Eat there if it’s for convenience sake.  There is a wine tasting room that would have been fun, but we didn’t find the time.  3)  Definitely visit the Aquarium.  You can’t go to Monterey without seeing this place.  4)  Check out Pacific Grove!  The downtown is totally cute and there are lots of great dining and shopping options. I wish we had spent more time there for hiking nature trails, hitting a beach and the butterfly sanctuary.   5)  Use Trip Advisor and go to Passionfish.   6) If you’re coming from the east, eat as many artichoke dishes as you can find.  Yay artichokes!

California is a Magical Land Pt. 1

At least once a year, the family and I head to Northern CA,  to visit my husband’s family (he’s from the Bay area), wether it be for the holidays or like recently, a Grandma’s 90th birthday party.  Usually I am at the mercy of the in-laws when it comes to eating.  I’ll never forget my first trip to San Francisco, one of the best food cities in the world, and being stuck in this awful restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf, surrounded by tourists with fanny packs while eating Dungeness crab (with an undercooked baked potato) that Californians are so damn proud of.  Well, I’m sorry California, but your crab sucks.  Virginians, be thankful for the glorious Chesapeake and your delicious blue crab! 

Fortunately, there is relief, because every time we make this trip, my husband sets aside two days just for us and takes me somewhere I’ve never been. This mini-escursion has become extremely important with the addition to our family because she stays with Grandma while Mommy & Daddy enjoy some much-needed child-free time together. My husband and I may not agree on much, but one thing we do agree on vehemently is that vacation is about eating!  Every excursion we take, I am in charge of finding where we will nourish our bodies three times a day.  This task, although rewarding once we get there, is daunting and sometimes stressful.  I scour the internet reading review after review, dissecting menu after menu, and mapping restaurant locations.  I cannot go on vacation and just wing it, i just can’t and I really wish I could.  Nothing angers me more than wasting money in a shitty restaurant and a bad meal, especially on vacation.  When I see the Outback parking lot packed in Nags Head (or anywhere for that matter), I want to scream out of the window “Don’t you know any better?”

 …. anyway…… for this past trip, the hubby and I headed to Monterey, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.  My new favorite place in the Golden State!

We stayed in a kick-ass bed & breakfast right on the ocean. The Martine Inn in Pacific Grove, CA (or PG as I heard a local call it) is just perfect.  The innkeeper is a collector, boasting probably a few million in antiques all beautifully displayed throughout the Inn.  There are no phones or televisions in the rooms (who needs ’em?) and there was always Starbucks coffee and cookies available.  I chose this place because most B&B’s have a happy hour and on Google Maps it was the closest one to Cannery Row with water views.  Our room was not ocean view as these rooms were way out of our price range, so we settled for a courtyard view.

aaaaaaaah……

When we settled into our room, I asked my husband why the windows were open with no screens.  (It never got above 65 degrees, btw, such a beautiful relief from the wretched summer heat of VA).  He said “Because there are no bugs, babe”.  NO BUGS?!  What sort of magical land is this?  “California IS a magical place!” I said. This silly idiom was the running joke throughout our vacation with his family.  When they start complaining about the heat, I just roll my eyes and say “yeah right, it’s sooo hot.”  Give me a break!  We have 100 degree days with 80 percent humidity and bugs the size of small cats.  Shut up you spoiled Californians with your perfect weather and your all around awesomeness!

California’s magic also lies in their produce.  The road trip to Monterey was a wonderland of farms and fresh fruit and veggie stands. When I saw a sign that said “avocados, 7 for $1” my jaw dropped.  And before this trip, I had never seen an artichoke plant.  We drove past fields and fields of them.  For whatever reason, this was very exciting for me.  Did you know that Castroville, CA is the artichoke center of the world?  Me neither!  They even host an artichoke festival every year!  Yippee!

artichoke plant

I rely heavily on Trip Advisor for hotel and most importantly, restaurant reviews.  I’ve rarely been let down.  I’m also a member of Open Table, which is great for making reservations, however, this site may not list all the hot spots in the area (as was the case with Passion Fish, discussed in Pt. 2, coming soon).  Our first night in Monterey (Sunday), our chosen restaurant was Montrio Bistro in downtown.  I chose this place because of the reviews on Trip Advisor and Open Table, but most importantly because they had half off  all bottles of wine on Sunday nights.  Yay! I can get twice as drunk!  

The place was packed and loud.  I love the sound of a busy restaurant.  The decor was a little overwhelming, but still fun and funky with huge pillows resembling clouds hanging from the ceiling.  The service in California is a lot different than the Southeast. It’s much more business-like.  I’m not saying I don’t like it, I’m just not used to it.  Servers in the Southeast are much more welcoming and warm. I felt a little silly for smiling and being a little chatt y with our server at Montrio.  She was all business and never cracked a smile.  AND she informed us that the Sunday night wine special did not apply to that Sunday night and she didn’t even have a good answer as to why.  I have to admit, I felt a little awkward for asking.  WTF?  She just said “The wine special does not apply tonight.”  Whatever!

Fortunately, the food made up for this minor disappointment. We started with calamari served with a chili-citrus aoli. I was expecting a plate with regular small rings with a few whole squids, you know, the usual calamari.  Instead, we were served the tentacles of a giant squid!  At first, I thought “this can’t be calamari, no way!”  They looked like mozzarella sticks, they were so thick! Anyway, it was delicious.   It had the consistency of scallops and was not the least bit rubbery.  Sorry, no pics, I felt ridiculous taking pictures of my food!

Then it came time for the main course. I don’t normally go for mainly veggie dishes.  When I go out, I want meat!  Especially meat that I’m too scared to cook at home.  But this artichoke dish (yay for artichokes!) was irresistible to me and when our robot server said it was her favorite thing on the menu I was sold!  The Artichoke raviolis with bacon, baby artichokes, peas and Italian parsley creme fraiche was AWESOME.  Oh my god, it was creamy and savory and tangy (yay artichokes!) and bacon-y and just plain wonderful.  How I wish I had snapped a picture for you!  My husband had one of the dinner specials, a smoked bass. I’m not crazy about a smokey flavor, but this dish was very good.  The bass was cooked perfectly and it was served atop of asian style vegetables in a nice broth.  Well done Montrio!

Although I felt silly snapping pictures of our dishes (I know, I need to get over it), I felt it was okay to take a few of the lovely art work we left on our butcher paper.  I forgot to mention the restaurant had crayons at every table. 

My husband’s version of me……. Alice.

Alexander Valley vino makes me draw mermaids and weird versions of my husband.

And write stories….

We did order dessert, but were too full to enjoy it at the time, so we took it to-go.  This was a mistake.  It was a strawberry shortcake sort of dessert that’s not listed on their menu and the next day when we got around to it, it was like eating a cold sponge with strawberry jelly.  BOO!

So our first night in Monterey ended with full, happy bellies and in the bed by 10:00pm submitting to a food coma with all of the windows open in our room, and no screens.  Hooray for Monterey!

Stay tuned for Pt. 2……..

Dune Burger & The Colington Cafe

dune burger

My husband, daughter and I will finally be going back to Nags Head next week for a few days of total relaxation.  Ahhhh…. finally.  Nags Head is my most favorite place in the world to be.  My grandparents retired and built a home on MP 14, sound side, the home I spent many summer weeks in and every Thanksgiving until I was 12.  There are many traditions my family kept in our many years of vacationing in the 252. Sam & Omie’s, my dad’s most favorite place in the world to be, (as long as there was a cold Budweiser in his hand) Oregon Inlet to see the fishing boats come in, and shopping at the Tanger Outlets, are just a few of these traditions. Since I’ve become an adult and experienced the Outer Banks on my own for many years now, I’ve created a few of my own. All I can think about right now is a freakin’ Dune Burger!

On my first wedding Anniversary, my husband and I went down to South Nags Head for about 4 days. We were married in Nags Head, so going back for the first Anniversary seemed only natural.  I remembered that my friend Allen used to rave about Dune Burger. He used to say it was the best burger on the island. In my formative years, I never took him seriously because the place was a total dump and never even looked like it was open.  On my anniversary weekend, I felt it was time to give it a try. Not only was Allen right, but Dune Burger is quite possibly the best “fast” burger I’ve ever had. I’d compare it to In-n-Out Burger in Cali, sans the customers, cheery employees, reputable looking establishment and speedy service.  This place is the epitome of  the term “dive.”  It still never looks like it’s open. I’ve never seen more than 1 car parked in front of the damn place. There are only 2 picnic tables in front of the building to sit down and eat. When you go up to the counter, you feel a little strange, like “am I in the right place? Is anybody here?”. But rest assured, someone is there, a local of course, whom you may feel should wear a hair net. And you better bring cash as Dune Burger is not equipped for credit cards. Fortunately, Dune Burger is located right next to Sam & Omie’s, a full service restaurant with a full service bar! When Tony and I order our burgers, we know it’s going to take about 15 minutes, so we mosey into Sam & Omie’s and enjoy a frosty adult beverage to kill the time. Only in Nags Head can I leisurely wait for my “fast food” burger to arrive.  A Dune Burger is meaty, cheesy, juicy, greasy love served on a slightly toasted bun. The flavor is unbelievable and I savor every bit, making little noises with each chomp (mmmm…., ohhhhh….., holy shit this is good). When I get to the last few bites, I slow down, not wanting it to end and think to myself  “Damn! I should have ordered another one!”

Do me a favor. Next time you’re in the Outer Banks, make the trip to this roadside gem.  You will not regret it!  MP 16.5 Beach road.

Another Nags Head “must do” that I can’t say enough about is Colington Cafe. My husband and I first went to Colington the day after we got engaged. In fact, my husband had planned on proposing to me there at dinner, but said he “couldn’t wait that long” and proposed the day before on the beach.  This home turned restaurant is the Outer Banks’ best kept secret. Most tourists don’t know about it because fortunately, it’s not located on the bypass with the likes of Hooters and Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet. You have to be looking for this place to find it and look for it you must as you will not be disappointed with this charming restaurant.  The decor is something out of a retirement home with lots of pink walls, fake flowers and hats hanging on the wall, shocking at first, but trust me, that’s the last thing you’ll notice once you take your first bite.  They do not have a liquor license and only serve beer and wine. I normally drink wine with dinner anyway so this doesn’t bother me a bit. The menu is fairly simple with items like Filet De Mer and Shrimp Scampi, but they keep it interesting with appetizers like the Tartines Provencal and always mouth-watering specials. You are gauranteed fresh, perfectly cooked, melt in your mouth dish in this culinary hideaway. I’m prone to ordering the Filet & Crab Cake because I rarely pass up the opportunity for a killer steak and most people know how I feel about crab cakes. How can I say no to both?  The service is fantastic, though a bit slow at times, but whatever! You’re on vacation, chill out!  Reservations are usually required, especially in the summertime.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the reviews on trip advisor, only one moron gave it 3 stars on the first page.

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