Sunset Celebration Weekend

Sunset - Bldg Sunset - Lawn OrnamentsSunset - Microbrew Sunset - Booths

Sunset Magazine hosts an annual “Celebration Weekend” that showcases the best of home, food and garden in the “West” (presumably California) on their grounds in Menlo Park. Although the entrance fee is a relatively steep $18, AK and I decided to attend again this year to seek some inspiration for our home. It was an extremely hot day, but the crowds were undeterred and packed the spacious venue. We first walked around to survey the lay of the land, and I came upon a booth selling succulents with Winnie the Pooh covering its entire side wall. I couldn’t believe that the entire display consists of plants!

Sunset - Pooh

After strolling around a little, we decided to eat first before the food booths got too busy. I ordered a pork belly over kimchee fried rice from the Chotto San Francisco food truck. It was delicious, if not a little fatty, though I think I am suffering from a little bit of pork belly and kimchee-anything fatigue. The Korean food truck craze that began with Koji does not seem to be flaming out…

Sunset - Pork Belly

Lunch was followed by dessert from The Creme Brulee Cart, a roaming stall on wheels in the city. It’s the reason I originally opened up my still barely used Twitter account, and I’ve always wanted to try it. My choice, the “Kentucky,” a vanilla-flavored creme brulee with candied pecans, was delicious! The crunch of the pecans paired perfectly with the smoothness of the cream underneath the delicate top shell. Reminds me of eating a slice of my favorite pecan pie at a place like Georgia Brown’s in Washington D.C., but almost better.

Sunset - Creme Brulee

Sunset - Creme Brulee (1)

AK and I then spent an inordinate amount of time checking out the Weber Grill display area, and it was a joy to play with these top-of-the-line barbeque grills. The knowledgeable representatives dispatched from headquarters were chatty and helpful, with no pressure at all! (The grills were not for sale at this event.) I made AK stand by his favorite model so we can start saving up for one.

Sunset - Alex + Grill

The day’s highlights were probably the food demonstrations from Susan Feniger, chef owner of STREET in LA and host of multiple food shows, and Fabio Viviani, the fan favorite from Top Chef Masters. Susan was an Energizer bunny who was loads of fun to be around – vivacious, generous and loose-lipped. Fabio, on the other hand, turned up his Italian chef accent to the max and charmed the crowd with this suave cooking style (“no measuring cups!”) and raunchy jokes. It was clear that both had oodles of star power.

Sunset - Susan

Sunset - Fabio

We escaped the massive crowds to go tour the magazine’s test kitchen. It was really fun to see the behind-the-scenes process of getting published recipes exactly right. I loved the little wooden chef in the kitchen that holds up a flag any time a plate of food is laid out for the staff – a green flag indicates that the recipe turned out great, a red flag means the recipe was not quite successful, and a black flag with skulls and bones marks the food as a total disaster. The test kitchen staff noted that regardless of the flag, every plate of food is always eaten! There must be something about being at work and lowering your standards for food, haha.

Sunset - Kitchen Chef

We finished the day touring the garden area and saw a beautiful model of a chicken coop! Keeping your own free range chicken for fresh eggs seems to be quite trendy these days, though I’m not sure I am at that level of eating “farm fresh” food yet. It was nice to fantasize a little.

Sunset - Chicken Coop

There were also multiple examples of outdoor living. Maybe one day our backyard can be transformed into something that is so gorgeous and fun!

Sunset - Garden Room

Sunset - Garden Chair

Muir Woods

Muir Woods - Sign

Muir Woods is one of my favorite national parks. It’s readily accessible – just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge – and stunningly beautiful. The first mile or two into the woods consists of paved paths, which allow families and even individuals in wheelchairs to wander through the redwoods with ease, but deeper in the park there are natural trails that provide a more conventional hiking experience. AK and I took advantage of the long weekend to visit the park on this warm Sunday. What we did not count on was the massive crowds of people (long weekend in the Bay Area = packed outdoors). Even taking the shuttle up to the mountain involved an hour wait! With our late start, traffic on the bridge, wait time for the shuttle and the slow slog up the long and winding mountain roads, by the time we reached the park it was past 2 p.m. Undaunted, we made a beeline for the cafe for lunch and ordered up chef Tyler Florence’s favorite sandwich – the “Marin Melt” grilled cheese sandwich (made with Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Toma Cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Creamery and sunflower loaf bread from Rustic Bakery in Larkspur), with a side of tomato bisque. The power combo was delicious as usual. I also love how the cafe uses locally-sourced, fresh and seasonal produce.

Muir Woods - Sandwich

The redwoods inside the park were simply awe-inspiring. How I wish I had the skills of Ansel Adams to truly capture the majesty!

Muir Woods - Trees

Even the regular forest foliage is just gorgeous.

Muir Woods

Just being close to nature was a rejuvenating experience. At the end of our day, we decided to trade in our tickets ($6 each) for an annual pass ($20 for each party) so that we can make a repeat visit soon, perhaps when the park is not so crowded. Personally, I thought $20 was a fantastic bargain for AK and I to return unlimited number of times in the next year. I know we will be back.

Manhattan Beach 10k Run – Postscript

Manhattan Beach 10 - Ready to Run for Obama!

Despite a somewhat rough start, my sister and I finished the race without a hitch!  Best part: We did it wearing Obama shirts!  Woo hoo!

As first time participants in the MB 10K, Hui and I did not realize that we needed to allot extra time for catching the shuttle to get to the actual race.  When we arrived at the off-site parking lot approximately half an hour before the 7:30 a.m. start time, there appeared to be only 2 (yes, count ’em – 2!) small school buses shuttling people every 15 minutes.  I don’t know whose idea it was, but this was the epitome of bad logistics planning since there were at least eighty people shuffling around anxiously.  We ended up arriving at the starting point long after the race had already begun.  Worse, the bus had to drop us off several blocks away due to road closures – which means that we had to first run in reverse back towards the starting line to activate the special tags attached to our shoes (part of the electronic timing system) – enduring taunts of “hey, you’re running in the wrong direction!” along the way – then retrace our steps to run in the right direction.  Ugh.

Our running strategies differed – Hui was a believer in the alternating method (run 1 mile, walk 1 mile) as to maximize energy conservation, while I was in favor of the push-yourself-for-as-far-as-you-can approach.  We came to our first juncture after Mile 1 when she wanted to take a break and I wanted to continue.  Hui graciously urged me to continue without her.  After running for another 2-3 blocks, however, I decided that I much preferred to stick together.  I turned around to look for her, but she was nowhere to be found!  I stood at the same street corner for at least 10-15 minutes, but still no signs of Hui.  I couldn’t understand why she was not coming up – I was at most only a couple of minutes ahead of her (turns out she had taken a wrong turn because the course was not clearly marked).  It was also increasingly more difficult to spot one individual in the ever-growing swarm of runners.  As waves of people pushed past me, I panicked and wondered if we would be able to find each other at all.  I had no money, phone or ID on me.  Heck, I barely knew where I was.  I guess my best bet was to keep running and hope to find her at the finish line.

Now running alone, I tried to push aside my misgivings and focus on the run.  I have never really run a race before (except for Bay to Breakers, but that’s more of a SF-style parade of outlandish costumes) and had never realized how much the encouragement of strangers cheering along the way could be so incredibly energizing.  With adrenaline pumping, somehow I managed to push myself to continue to run without stopping, except for a brief break at the gentle slope of the “sand dune.”  At Mile 6, I turned the corner and caught my first full view of the ocean – it was breathtakingly beautiful.  All I could hear was the lapping of the waves and the loud cheers of supporters standing along The Strand (a nice piece of boardwalk along Manhattan Beach), yelling “You’re almost there!” and “Doing great with your morning jog!”  As I crossed the finish line (at 1 hour and 5 seconds – not bad considering our late start and waiting to find Hui at the beginning), I felt exhilarated.  In fact, I think I may have become addicted to race running!

Of course Hui and I eventually found each other and ate lunch at the ensuing Hometown Fair with AK.  I am so glad to have run this race and happier even for having done so with my sister!  It’s not every day that we get to do these types of activities together (side note:  our “time together” was further prolonged by a fateful decision to walk back to the parking lot several miles away and then getting lost. . . but I digress, haha).

P.S. Lots of people commented on our Obama shirts, so I guess we did our job in getting the word out!

The Adventures of TT 3/29/08 PM – Monterey

  

(Photos courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium, an amazing place to visit!)

TT’s friend wrote a very detailed post about her great experience kayaking in Monterey, at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuary near Moss Landing (see her post at http://blog.pixnet.net/crazycat1130/post/10478526).  Because it sounded like so much fun, and her group saw many cute animals including sea otters frolicking about, we followed her footsteps hoping for similar good fortune.

Due to our prolonged eating tour of the Ferry Building in the morning (guess the love of food runs in the family), TT and I didn’t get to Monterey until close to 3 p.m.  After renting a two-person kayak, we spent a good amount of time getting trained and putting on the bulky gear, including the super-tight wet suit (exposing all my fat!), life vest and jacket.  Since we were relative novices, we had not expected to encounter problems related to getting into the water – for example, although I had brought towels, neither of us had packed sandals (going barefoot didn’t really work, since our pampered “city” feet are not equipped to deal with any type of gravel).  The rental guy also eyed TT’s expensive SLR camera equipment and shook his head, saying that “camera and salt water just don’t mix.”   Luckily for us, TT had a waterproof case for a smaller point-and-shoot so we should at least be able to capture some of the scenes.

After what seemed like an interminable length of time, we were finally on our way!  It was an incredible experience to be out paddling in the open water, which feeds into Monterey Bay.  Unlike being in a boat, I felt so close to nature as we paddled our kayak – all you hear is the lapping of the waves, the chirping of birds and, almost immediately after we rowed out, the yelping of seal lions – hundreds and hundreds of them sunbathing on the beach!  From afar they looked really cute, but as the current pulled us closer we started panicking and paddled hard to move away from them – it is very scary since any one of them, weighing around 300 lbs (!!!), can easily capsize our boat!  

Because we did not have a lot of time before we had to return the kayak at 5 p.m., we paddled at a brisk pace, stopping only from time to time for photo ops.  This area is abundant with sea otters, water birds and other wildlife!  Although we were not lucky enough to get close-up pictures of the sea otters, superstars of the Monterey area, we saw many of them playing around in the water (you are also supposed to stay at least 15 feet away from them – TT and I joked about whacking a sea otter if it tries to climb on board, which has been known to happen).  Unfortunately, it was soon time to return.  TT and I had to row vigorously against the rising high tide to return to our dock.  It was much harder on the return trip, and at times it seemed like no matter how hard we rowed, we stayed in the same place.  😦  Even though my arms were so tired (unlike TT who has an active lifestyle, mine is quite sedentary), I had to push forward because we were already running late.  Due to our furious paddling efforts, we ended up getting back only 15-20 minutes after the designated time.  The tough part was carrying the kayak back to the store – with the heavy kayak, even the short walk was challenging (not to mention the fact that our arms were already really sore).  

When we finally got back to the car, each of us wolfed down a Luna bar and a piece of the banana cake that TT and WW had gifted to us.  These banana cakes from Vigor (維格) (see photo from its website below) are super-delicious!!!

   

I almost love them as much as my favorite Chia-Te (佳德) cranberry cakes!  Which is very unusual, since I am not even a big banana fan.

 

(Photo courtesy of TW food blog by Darren Nicole, which also reviews Chia-Te pineapple cakes in detail)

We met up with WW and AK for dinner at Kokkari, a famous Greek restaurant in the San Francisco Financial District.  Although we have always had excellent meals there, this particular meal was only decent.  I enjoyed my lamb chops, but Alex really did not like his deep-fried dorade, a fish from the Mediterranean (and he loves all things deep-fried).  Maybe we should have ordered the roasted pig’s head (one of the daily special) for the table!  Haha…  😀

(P.S. Embarrassingly, I don’t have any photos from the day, so am filling the void with some photos of the cakes from other websites…I have to start taking more photographs!)

The Adventures of TT 3/29/08 AM – Ferry Building

  (My Favorite Coffee Place!)

Weeks before my cousin TT’s visit from Taiwan, my slightly concerned 4th aunt had already emailed me asking me to take a little bit of time out to meet up with her daughter (it is such an Asian parent move!).  Little did I know at the time how independent TT was (of course, over the span of the next week, I also realized how little I knew about her) – by the time I spoke with her on Thursday after her mid-week arrival, she had already completed a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and back (which AK and I had discussed as a possible trip for her but thought it might be too sporty), and had more plans for the next week or so (including even walks with the Sierra Club).  I knew it was time to start researching to show her a good time.  There is pressure to perform when someone visits your hometown – it’s like when people see your husband/boyfriend/significant other/child for the first time, you want everything to be perfect.

As it turned out, TT’s hubby WW did not have to report to work until around noon on Saturday (clearly, the guy works too hard, although since he is traveling on his company’s dime and they are in litigation, it is understandable), so I thought we could spend the morning at the Ferry Building, an embodiment of sustainable farming with small, local growers and lots of European-style artisan shops, and catch the weekly farmers market.  Since I got up early, I immediately set out to obtain a few cups of the highly addictive and aromatic Blue Bottle Coffee, where every cup of coffee is actually individually dripped and prepared (the only downside is that Treasa’s moist and delicious scones are not sold here – they are only available in the Hayes Valley location and online at Hello, Bon Bon – check out her recent coverage in the trendsetting and style-defining Daily Candy newsletter), and TT+WW waited in line for the breakfast plates at the Hayes Street Grill stand.  WW had the drip coffee, TT ordered a cappuccino and I had my usual latte – each cup was excellent and worth the 20-minute wait!  Times like this I definitely wonder how Starbucks manages to say in business.  The breakfast plates from Hayes Street Grill (I think we had sausage and eggs and split a grilled salmon sandwich), on the other hand, were decent but nothing spectacular.  

We then sauntered around before making the obligatory stop at Cowgirl Creamery (WW was nice enough to take them back to his swanky hotel, the Omni, for refrigeration) where I tried and bought a French cheese called Abbaye de Belloc (made from sheep’s milk by Benedictine monks of the abbey at Notre Dame de Belloc – Dang!  Even French monks know a thing or two about fine living) and a chunk of the very strong Red Hawk, which is also a triple creme but aged with “washed rind” (euphemism for extra stinky).  TT took some photos with her SLR camera, which needless to say was hanging from her neck advertising her tourist status the entire time.  We finally ended the leisurely morning with a scoop of gelato at Ciao Bella (one of us had two scoops, but I’m not saying who).  I highly recommend the hazelnut and pistachio, although TT really loved the tartness of the lemon flavor (too sour for me). 

By the time we bid adieu to WW, it was close to 1pm, and we hurried to get on the road for the 2-hour drive to Monterey.  Although we had initially agreed to visit Napa Valley and do some wine-tasting, TT changed her mind after reading about kayaking in Monterey on a friend’s blog.  I had not kayaked since my 20s (during law school, one of my summer associate firms had an outing in Monterey), and TT had never done it either – it was a case of the blind leading the blind.  Details will be posted soon.

(P.S. Since I forgot to take my camera along, I don’t have any photos from TT’s trip.  Waiting for her to send me the photos…)