Girls weekend in Santa Rosa

About a year ago Erin and I were planning a girls weekend in wine country when I realized that my grandma’s funeral was scheduled for the same weekend. Needless to say I would much rather have had a vacation than travelled to Kansas with a toddler for such a sad occasion. But I wouldn’t have missed saying goodbye to my grandmother, and so we had to reschedule. We finally got our trip pulled together, and it was so amazing!

I needed this trip so badly. Life is stressful and exhausting lately, and these trips (even the shortest ones) are so restorative. We got an airbnb guesthouse in Santa Rosa for a very reasonable price, and then we set aside some money for food and pampering. It really helps to have a best friend with experience as an event planner. I pretty much just had to show up and everything was ready to go.


The back yard where we stayed, complete with bubbling fountain.


This gorgeous Victorian was right across the street AND it had an Airstream. I am clearly living in the wrong place.

Our first food stop in the area was the Squeeze Inn in Napa. I have been wanting to try a Squeezeburger for ages! It’s basically a classic California burger topped with so much cheddar cheese that it forms a “cheese skirt” you have to peel off and eat. It was really good, and since I couldn’t finish mine I got to keep eating it all weekend.


Squeezeburgers.

That night we walked around downtown Santa Rosa and found this cute magician-themed ice cream shop. It was huge and very kid-friendly, the kind of place I wish we had in our neighborhood. I had a sundae made with sugar cookie ice cream that was as good as it sounds.

The next morning we decided to try the Naked Pig for breakfast. Thankfully, a friend had just posted on Facebook about going there, so I wanted to try it. I had to take this picture so that you could see how this farm-to-table restaurant is situated in the parking lot across from a garage. Kind of funny.

But oh man was this little place a winner. They have these homemade biscuits served with butter and honey that certainly rival any I’ve ever made. And although our food was pretty simple, you could tell they pay attention to every single ingredient. The bacon tasted like maple syrup and the tomatoes in Erin’s frittata looked just like the ones in my garden.

It was so good we actually went back for breakfast the next day. I had to try the bacon waffle, which was SO good. It was light and crispy and just crammed full of bacon.

After that we were ready for pampering. We got hour-long massages. I was so excited that the pillow arrangement allowed me to lay on my stomach. I haven’t done that in months! After that we got a taco lunch and picked up some beer from Russian River Brewing. None for me, but Erin and Mike are big fans.

Then it was onto more pampering! We got the world’s most affordable mani-pedis at Sea Spa. The older lady who did my toes was obsessed with my baby belly. By the end of the appointment she was giving me hugs.

After that we were feeling like we needed to get out and explore the outdoors a little. So we drove all the way out to the Sonoma coast. It was about 20 degrees cooler out there, with such a pretty view.

Then we decided to head back to Guerneville (note to self, stay in this cute area sometime!) to see the Armstrong Redwoods park. I had no idea this beautiful place was up there, but I will definitely be going back.

It has the perfect set of easy trails through an amazing redwood canopy. As soon as I get to a place like that, my blood pressure drops 20 points and I am just so restored.

After that very full day we wanted something good to eat. We had the hardest time deciding on a restaurant. At first we wanted Indian or Himalayan, but there are just so many restaurants to choose from. So somehow we landed on Belly, which is sort of a gastropub. We were able to walk there from our airbnb place and we got seated right away. They have a lot of small plates that are good for sharing so we went kind of crazy trying them all. And they were all so good I didn’t even take pictures.

We had chorizo with brussels sprouts, mac ‘n cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach, a wedge salad and then the surprise of the night, corned beef tacos. We kind of rolled the dice on those, but they were so much better than anything I could have pictured. They kind of crisped the meat like carnitas, and then served it with a cream sauce and cabbage (St. Patrick’s Day alternative meal next year?). We actually didn’t even eat the guacamole it came with because the tacos were already so flavorful. After that we were in total bliss and about to burst. But then we saw the table next to us order this incredible looking chocolate mousse served on a wood slab with whipped cream and berries. So yeah, we had to have that too. We ended up taking so much food home.


When we got back, Harper couldn’t get enough of her “auntie Erin.”

All in all I’d say we crammed in just about as much enjoyable stuff as you possibly could in two days. And yet it still seemed incredibly relaxing. I cannot wait to do something like this again!

Montreal-Vermont-Pittsburgh

As usual, I’m a little behind in posting here, but I wanted to share some photos of our cross-country trip (without a kid!). We decided that if we were going to fly all the way to Vermont for our friends’ wedding in May, we might as well make a bigger vacation out of it. Mom agreed to watch Harper for a full week, so we went for it.

We started by flying to Montreal and staying at a super hip Airbnb apartment in the Mount Royal neighborhood. It turned out to be a great decision to stay there. We walked all over, shopping and trying out restaurants. Even though we had a rental car, we didn’t need it in that area.

I loved all the street art. It really reflects the city’s artsy personality.

Architecturally, it felt very European, with lots of brick row houses and wrought iron railings. The neighborhood was crawling with hipsters wearing man buns. Coming from San Francisco, it was oddly comforting.

For once we didn’t really have an agenda other than to explore the city. We did a lot of eating and a lot of relaxing. It was nice.

But let’s talk about the food. It was wonderful. We started out with poutine, of course. A friend recommended La Banquise, which is pretty casual and affordable. We ordered a classic poutine with cheese curds and gravy, and a giant one with beef, hot peppers and guacamole. They were both amazing and we pretty much stuffed ourselves way past full.

For breakfast we knew we wanted to try bagels. I didn’t realize Montreal was so famous for them, but they are definitely in the do-not-miss category. They’re thinner and crispier on the outside than New York bagels. We had some at a little cafe where you could watch them slide the bagels into a brick oven with a super long and skinny peel.

For lunch we had to try Schwartz’s. It’s a trip. You walk in and there are just tons of people squeezed into these long tables, so you are bunched up against strangers while you eat. It was actually kind of cool. We talked to the people next to us (and by the way, not knowing French well didn’t seem to be a problem at all). On the menu is “smoked meat.” Apparently that is a thing in that region. It’s basically brisket, and you get to choose your level of fattiness. We had sandwiches with mustard and pickles, and they were super good and filling. Don’t ask questions, just order the smoked meat!

For another meal we tried a Tibetan restaurant, which was also very good. Probably the best mango lassi I’ve ever had. And we got to try this Tibetan bread, that is basically wrapped up like a cinnamon roll.

On our last day there, we walked around Old Montreal, which feels much more like historical areas in Europe. But very touristy! We picked up some souvenirs and had crepes.

Overall, I really liked Montreal and it made me wonder why I have not traveled more in Canada. Especially after crossing both the US and Canadian borders twice, I really felt like Canada is so much more laid back. They just don’t get as worked up about things as Americans do. For example, when we went to rent a car we just gave them our reservation and they gave us the keys. No trying to convince us to buy insurance or inspect the car for 15 minutes or whatever else they do. Little things like that happened over and over. Plus, it’s like getting to Europe for half the price, and your money goes farther in Canada. So yeah, I’m definitely putting more Canadian cities on my to-do list.

After Montreal, we drove across the border to Vermont. We stayed at an adorable inn near Waitsfield, where they told us not to worry about coming in late because they literally never lock the door. Sigh. I loved Vermont so much. It is my kind of place. Laid back, outdoorsy, full of hippies. Into pickling and homebrew.

We went to the Waitsfield farmers market, which is surprisingly big and great for such a small area. We kind of went nuts and bought jam, cheese, soap and a tie dye T-shirt for Harper. We even bought whiskey from a local distillery to gift to our friends. Afterward we found the best baby/kids store and talked to the owner for a while. Everyone was so friendly!

Then of course we had to tour the Ben & Jerry’s factory. The tour was super cheesy, but at least there was ice cream at the end. That evening we went to the wedding, which was just beautiful and perfect. Congrats Torey and Chase! I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures, I just ate delicious barbecue and ice cream sandwiches.

The last leg of our trip was to Pittsburgh to visit our friends Jennie and Patrick. They traveled all over the country looking for a new city and ended up picking Pittsburgh. So I was anxious to see what it was like, since it sounded like a city going through a lot of changes. Plus, Mike lived there briefly before we started dating and he wanted to see how much it had changed.

It really did seem like the whole city was under construction and a lot of cool things were happening. As Patrick says, it’s got good bones. The infrastructure is there (and affordable), so people are converting old buildings into new bars, restaurants, and other cool spots. But it still has a lot of history and plenty of old-school joints. Like Primanti Brothers! That restaurant has been on my wish list for a long time. It’s the one where they put fries and cole slaw on the sandwiches and mash it all together. I could only manage to eat half a sandwich (they are huge!). And honestly, I thought each part would have been better separately. But I’m still glad I got to try it.

One thing I thought was really cool were the inclines. In order to get up or down these super steep bluffs that look out over the city, you can ride on little cable cars. I’m not the best with heights, so it was a little scary. But the views at the top are amazing. And I’m glad they preserved the cars — it’s a really unique thing.

So that was our trip. It was kind of crazy, but all the parts came together and we really enjoyed some time to relax and do adult things, for once.

Date night: Gather

When Mike’s parents were in town recently, we got to have a date night. I wore my new Madewell dress (snagged on mega sale, woo hoo!) and we went to this restaurant I’ve been eyeing for a while, Gather. It’s one of those trendy looking farm-to-table places and they specialize in crackly crust pizzas with unique toppings. I just noticed that their web site says the New York Times called it a “Michael Pollan book come to life.” My kind of place!

I was a little worried we were veering into snooty territory here, but they were actually really nice. Even though we had no reservation at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, they found us a seat right away. We had yummy cocktails — the list is long and fascinating — and a kale and sweet potato appetizer. 

Our pizza had shaved asparagus, goat cheese, and an egg. It couldn’t have felt more springlike. I thought it was all great, and reasonably priced. I loved that from our seat at the bar I could watch the cooks (between several jars of pickled veg) as they tossed pizza and carefully assembled plates. 

After dinner, we were so tired and it was getting late so we did what two nerds in love do — we went to 1/2 Price Books and spent $87. I was joking to Mike that he is the only person I know who could go to a cheap used book store and find a $35 book to buy. Gotta love us. 

A little love for Vik’s

For some reason I was on a kick a few months ago where I wanted to eat at Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley every week. Vik’s serves some of the best south Indian food I’ve ever had, and it’s quick, cheap, and baby friendly. You always see tons of families with kids there, probably because it’s noisy enough to drown out fussiness and there’s plenty of seating.

Harper loooves chickpeas, and Indian food pretty closely resembles baby purees anyway, so she likes it too. We usually get a masala dosa, which comes with soup and coconut sauce for dipping.

We’ve been loving the cholle bhature, both because it looks so cool when it comes out and because we love dipping pieces of the fluffy bread in chickpeas and tamarind sauce. If you go, don’t forget to lift up the bread and find the condiments underneath!

The lamb samosas and chicken kathi kabob sandwich are also favorites, but you can only get them on weekends.

If you’re in the east bay, I can’t recommend Vik’s enough for a fast casual dinner.

Homeroom mac ‘n cheese

Maybe you remember a while back I mentioned trying mac ‘n cheese at a few restaurants in the east bay. One of the places I mentioned was Homeroom, which is a restaurant dedicated to mac ‘n cheese. And their version is great — rich and creamy and even good reheated.

I’ve tried many times to recreate this type of mac ‘n cheese at home, but I’m never quite successful. My guilt-free recipe is great, but I don’t have one for when I want the laced-with-guilt version.


My adorable assistant.

The recipes I’ve tried, even ones with tons of whole milk and cheese come out lumpy or lack the creaminess I see in restaurant macs. So I was really excited when I saw that Joy had posted a recipe from Homeroom’s cookbook for their classic mac ‘n cheese. 

I tried it the other day and it was great. It seems that the secret is more butter and more flour in your roux. When you use their measurements, the sauce cooks up in minutes, so it’s not even hard to prepare. 

I decided to add some bacon to mine, just to make it a little more special. Two big slices, cut in half, cooked, then chopped into little pieces.

I mixed it in right before I put the mac in the oven so the breadcrumbs could toast.

I love panko breadcrumbs, but I think they might toast even a little better if you added a drizzle of butter on top before toasting. Then your mac will become truly evil. 

This recipe is a great base, and you can certainly add whatever other toppings you like, or change the types of cheeses to your liking. We were thinking more cheddar might make it more like the color of traditional mac ‘n cheese.

Anniversary date night

I’ve been meaning to talk about our anniversary (Sept. 18) for a while, but things have been crazy with craft show prep, so I’m just getting around to it. We decided that instead of giving each other gifts, we would gift ourselves a night out at a fancier-than-usual restaurant.

We booked a babysitter (um, prices have gone up since my babysitting days!) and started our night at our favorite bar, the Hotsy Totsy Club.

It has yummy mixed drinks and retro decor. The crowd is a mixed bag, and usually there’s at least one dog. I love it.

Then we drove to Rockridge and had dinner at Wood Tavern. I’d read good things about this restaurant, but I always try to temper my expectations, especially around service. Fortunately, this place was excellent. I only have one crappy iPhone photo of the food, but it was so, so good.

We had roasted Brussels sprouts and I think a corn chowder, which was more like a bisque. Then Mike had the halibut and I had an enormous pork chop. It was cooked to perfection and topped with a sauce that also included our favorite padron peppers. Apparently those are becoming a thing at bay area restaurants.

I don’t normally have more than one drink, but since it was a special occasion I also tried their “badass sidecar.” It was good enough to deserve the name.

Service was a little slow, but otherwise attentive and friendly. I would definitely go there again, and I’d like to try the restaurant next door, Southie. We also discovered another arm of the Belgian beer bar, the Trappist, down the street.

One thing that makes me sad about living here is that I don’t have the money to patronize these cool places all the time. But we get to them when we can!

Fenton’s Creamery

If you are ever in the bay area, specifically the Oakland area, you must go to Fenton’s. I can’t believe it took us this long to try it — it’s been on my to-do list for quite a while.

And here’s why.

That is one ginormous brownie sundae. It was $11! Mike and I failed to finish it. It was the first time I’ve ever taken ice cream home in a doggie bag.


A sundae as big as a baby!

They have a variety of huge sundaes made with their homemade ice creams, plus all kinds of shakes, malts and other soda fountain goodies. I can vouch for the fact that the ice cream is not just big, it’s really really good.

Harper was a total sweetheart when we took her there. We’ll definitely be going back with anyone who comes to visit if for no other reason than we need help to finish a sundae!

Brown Sugar Kitchen

I did not want any kind of grand celebration for my birthday last week (32, eek!), but I did really want to try breakfast at the Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, so that’s what we did.

The restaurant is located in the middle of a warehouse district, but plenty of people knew where to find it. The place was already filling up at 8:45 a.m. The menu is short and sweet — mainly soul food goodies like grits and eggs, chicken and waffles and pork hash. We ogled the baked goods at the entrance — bread pudding, pie, and the like.

Mike had the pork hash, which was really strongly flavored, but perfect with two plain poached eggs.

I had a waffle with a side of bacon. The waffle was light but crispy from the cornmeal inside, and came with a delish flavored syrup. We also tried one of the buttermilk biscuits. Along with coffee (a rare treat for me these days) it was the perfect breakfast.

The Brown Sugar Kitchen has a sister restaurant in Oakland called BSide BBQ, which we also tried a few weeks ago. We decided it’s as close to upscale as you ever want to go with something like barbecue, but we really liked the brisket.

Mike had a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw that was pretty tasty. The only miss was the lemonade of the day, which was flavored with mango, and just didn’t really work.

I think I’d like to go back and try lunch at Brown Sugar. They have some different offerings from BSide, and based on breakfast I’m willing to bet lunch is pretty darn good.

Road trip: Reno/Tahoe

Our friend Yvonne moved to Reno not too long ago, so we decided to visit her and see Reno and Lake Tahoe for the first time. Well, technically we saw Reno on our way out here in 2010, but we basically just drove through and stopped for a quick lunch. This time we saw a heck of a lot more, especially considering we were only there for about 24 hours.

We drove to Reno on Friday afternoon, which I will not do again. Traffic was horrible! But once we got to the mountains at sunset I got a little less cranky. It was beautiful up there!

We took the dogs with us so that they could see their friend Okie again, and meet Yvonne’s new dog, Bug. The dogs were like an instant pack, running around and wrestling with each other. They also managed to figure out how to open the sliding door and escape from the house, but blessedly they didn’t go anywhere.


Everybody on the bed!

Yvonne’s house is so cool. It’s full of midcentury stuff that I swoon over. I mean, look at this lamp!

Saturday morning we decided to go on a little nerdy historical expedition. We were looking for some wagon ruts that allegedly were used by the Donner party. And we actually found them.

It’s basically just a rocky path at this point, but cool nonetheless. On the way there we ran into a bunch of wild horses.

They had obviously been around people before because they were very curious about us and not at all afraid of the dogs. One even let Mike pet her.

After that we had to hit The Nugget casino in downtown Reno so I could try the famous Awful Awful burger.

And I can now confirm that it is both awful big and awful good.

It’s a nice peppery burger with enough sauce that it doesn’t get too dry. The only weird thing is that they give you a pound of fries, which no one can possibly eat in one sitting (at least without being in some sort of contest where you win a T-shirt).


Hey, I finally look pregnant. Kind of.

Our last adventure was to head up to Lake Tahoe so we could finally see what all the fuss was about. It was such a gorgeous day, and because it’s fall the traffic wasn’t too bad.

We walked the dogs around for a while. Poor little Bug is still a little skittish so we had to get him to relax.

We let the girls loose on the dog beach, too.

Yvonne got this great picture of all of us. Sadie was being shy.

I really enjoyed getting in a little bit of nature at the lake. The sky was so blue, I couldn’t stop looking up.

We would have stayed longer and explored some more of the Donner history, but we had to get home. The dogs were so tired from playing that they completely crashed in the car.

Now that we know what we’ve been missing, we’ll definitely be back.

Mac ‘n cheese, please

After Angeline’s, I cannot get enough mac ‘n cheese. It is definitely a big craving, of late. So I was fortunate to get to try it at a couple of new-to-me restaurants in Oakland.

First, we went to Chop Bar, which is in the Jack London Square area. It has this industrial chic look inside, and a gastropub-type menu.

Mike decided to try the oxtail poutine, which sounded so lovely and indulgent. But instead of the cheesy, ultra-rich concoction we were expecting, it was kind of skimpy with bland fries.

But the mac ‘n cheese side did not disappoint. It was gooey and cheesy with crunchy crumbs on top.

The best thing I ate, though, was the only thing I didn’t get a picture of, and that was the burger. It had bacon, avocado, and heirloom tomato slices, and was just heavenly. I would go back just for that. The bloody Marys also looked yummy, and you can get yours with bacon!

Our next mac ‘n cheese adventure came at Homeroom, which is an entire restaurant devoted to the dish. They have all different varieties of cheeses and add-ins, plus a few sides and desserts. The decor is sort of homey and vintage, and drinks are served in Mason jars.


I love this photo because it totally looks Instagram-ed, but it’s not!

I ordered the Trailer Mac, which comes with Niman Ranch hot dog pieces and potato chips on top. Our waiter recommended that we get ours baked with breadcrumbs, so I said OK. In the end I thought the breadcrumbs added much more than the chips. Either way – yum!

We also discovered a big list of Oakland restaurants to try, so we’ve been sampling other cuisines, too. When one of Mike’s map nerd friends was in town we took him to Cosecha, which is kind of like fancied-up Mexican street food.

The guacamole was excellent, and I liked the grilled corn with chile, lime, and cheese sprinkled on top.

I had a quesadilla with grilled chicken and hot peppers, and Mike tried a few different tacos. We decided our favorite was the braised pork taco.

Then last weekend we met a college friend of ours at the Thai Buddhist temple in Berkeley for brunch, of all things. The best way I can describe it is to say I think it’s the most Berkeley thing I’ve done since I’ve been here.

The temple is really just a house on a residential street that has a big ornate facade. But you go around back and there are all these stations serving curries, noodle soups, spring rolls, and the like. You exchange your money for tokens, and pay with those. We got there at 10 a.m., and by the time we left around 11 there were hundreds of people there and the line was all the way to the street. It is just the coolest thing.


Attempting to smile with a mouth full of curry.

We tried a few different curried stir-fries, Thai iced tea, and mango sticky rice. It was definitely a lot of rich food for so early in the day, but I loved it.

Every time I think we’ve settled into a routine, I realize there is so much more to discover around here. We’ve got at least 30 more restaurants on our list to try. Bring it on!