Tuesday, July 30, 2013

San Fran Days

The second day of our vacation started with an early morning fire to stave off the chilly, foggy morning, yogurt and fruit for breakfast at home, and stiff coffee in Vallejo while we waited for a ferry to take us across the San Francisco Bay.

We planned to spend our day in the city, and thought it would be nice and leisurely to take the scenic ferry into San Fran rather than drive. Apparently 1 1/2 year olds don't think ferries are very fun or relaxing. Every picture I have with Riker looks like this one. Lol. ;)

I'd been told that one of the best things to do in San Francisco is walk from the wharf along Crissy Park all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge, and after being in the car all day on Monday, a long walk sounded great. We had a pit stop for chowder, crab and sourdough at Fisherman's Wharf and then headed out for a 6 mile walk along the water.

The walk was long but we saw some beautiful scenery and great sites - Alcatraz, palm trees, the famous bridge, clear blue water (I swear, it was prettier than these pictures!), and the skyline along the bay.

The walk ended with a short hike up a steep hill to the top of the bridge, which had gorgeous views of the bay and city.

We unfortunately got lost on our way back taking a really long bus detour before finally just hitching a cab back to the wharf, and by that time Riker was starving and antsy and in no mood to sit down at Pier 23 Cafe which I'd been dying to try. We switched up plans and went to Pier 39 instead - the famous dock filled with eateries, ice cream shops, rides and street performers. And wild sea lions! Much better option for a  hungry toddler who wants to run around.

Over 6 miles of walking = no guilt on a double scoop waffle cone.

A short ferry ride home at sunset and we were home by nightfall, in time to put Riker to bed and enjoy a glass of wine and some card playing on the deck. I really did have my heart set on trying Pier 23 Cafe, though, so we decided to go back in on Saturday to re-do San Fran and not spend the whole day taking the ferry and walking to the bridge. It ended up being a perfect decision since we had more time to relax at home in the morning, and more time to enjoy the city in the afternoon.

Serendipitously, we found out the day before that one of Matt's old friends and fraternity brothers, Damon, had recently moved to San Francisco, so he and his girlfriend Emily met us at the pier for an early dinner and a walk down the Embarcadero.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (which I take very seriously) gave major props to Pier 23 Cafe's whole roasted Dungeness Crab and fresh fish tacos, so of course we had to try both. They didn't disappoint - they were both delicious! The cafe also had ginger beer which I love, so I washed it all down with a refreshing Moscow Mule.

There's aren't many things that make me happier than outdoor dining on the water, fresh seafood, and a cocktail shared with family and friends.

And now I'm off to bed for an early morning of work in the city tomorrow. More on Cali later!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cali Day 1: Coastal Drive

We're heading into the last day of our annual summer vacation, and Cali sure has been a great trip. I took the week off from blogging so I could just enjoy each day with my family, but I have a lot to share so will try to sum it up over the next few days. This is the first day we've relaxed around the house without any real plan, so while Riker has been napping and Matt went running through the California hillsides, I sat outside sipping coffee and reading Dan Brown's Inferno.

My eyes started to go hazy after about 100 pages, so I figured now's as good a time as any to take a break from the book and tell you about our first full day here. Last Monday we all woke up early - probably because of the time change - so got on the road by 8 am to drive the coastal Route 1 from San Fran all the way down to Monterey Bay.

Matt and I actually drove this route about six years ago -- actually, it was on that cross country trip that we stayed for two days in Napa and got engaged at a vineyard, so we chose this location for this year's summer vaca so we could also celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary at the same place we got engaged -- but, on that trip we drove all the way down to San Diego so didn't have time for many stops along the way. This time we stopped in a bunch of places and really explored.

We stopped at Mavericks, the famous surfing beach known for its huge waves and dangerous conditions. I've seen documentaries on this place so it was really neat to see it in person.

It was windy and rough even during the summertime, but we saw lots of seals and other wildlife.

We drove through Santa Cruz and stopped at a few other surfing beaches too. I love how the coastline here is so different from Jersey; it's all cliffs and rocky shorelines with crazy fog and powdery soft sand.

We stopped and had lunch at a seafood place in Half Moon Bay, where we ate chowder, fish tacos and fresh Ahi tuna. I've eaten my fair share of clam chowder on this trip, but have tried to balance it out with fresh fish and salads too.

We drove through dozens of strawberry, garlic, artichoke and all other kinds of farms, and when we saw a sign at a farm stand that said "Avocados 10 for $1" you can bet we screeched to a stop and picked up a bagful. We've been eating avocados right out of the skin with salt and pepper for snacks.

And eventually we made it to the cute town of Monterey, where we walked around town and then hung out in the famous aquarium for a few hours. The aquarium is beautiful - it's right on the bay so you can see wild seals, sea lions and birds from their decks, and they have huge exhibits full of sharks, jellyfish and amazing sea horses.

By the time we left the aquarium at closing, Riker was pretty tired and sitting down to dinner didn't seem like a great option. Instead, we picked up fresh crab cakes and veggies from a fish market on the wharf and ate in the car on the drive home. We took a shortcut off the coast and watched a gorgeous sunset most of the way and finally ended up home around 9:30 that night. Talk about a packed day! The sunset pics turned out kind of crappy, so instead I'll leave you with this picture of the most insane sea horse I've ever seen. Doesn't it look exactly like a plant? So crazy.

And with that, I can hear Riker stirring which means it's time to head out and enjoy our last full day. We're planning to spend the afternoon in San Francisco and eat at Pier 29 Cafe, which apparently has the best Dungeness crabs and fish tacos according to Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. We'll see!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Travel Snacks (Recipe ReDux)

I'm a little late posting today's Recipe ReDux, but for good reason. Today was the first day of our vacation and we've been on the go ever since we landed in San Francisco around 11:30 am this morning.

We rented a house in Port Costa for the week, which is nestled in between San Fran and Napa. We plan to spend a few days in and around the bay area both in the city and along the coastal route, and then we'll be staying in Napa Valley for two nights to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary. I'm so excited for a whole week of fun and relaxation with my family.

This afternoon we settled into our rental house, took a nice long walk checking out the town and a drive to enjoy the beautiful scenery, had Thai for lunch at a local favorite, and then ended up at a SummerFest in a neighboring town before coming home so Riker could crash. Our house has a nice deck with a gorgeous view of the bay, so we're hanging outside for the evening enjoying the nice cool northern California breeze. The weather here is such a nice break from the heat and humidity back in Jersey right now - that leave-your-windows-open-all-night and sleep with a light quilt kind of weather.

But anyway, back to ReDux. Ironically, this month's ReDux was all about healthy snacks for airports, summer vacations and travel in general. How fitting! I tried to think of some interesting, unique snack to make, but I was packing till 11 pm last night and honestly, there are such good simple travel snacks out there that I thought, why reinvent the wheel? I've done my fair share of air travel, and in order to avoid the greasy food vendors and bla airline snack boxes, there are a few snacks I always bring with me to the airport.

Dried fruits and nuts make perfect travel snacks since they are portable, healthy, filling and need no refrigeration. I usually bring a bag of my homemade nut mix and a baggie of dried fruits (today's bag included pears, apricots and prunes), and sometimes I throw some freeze dried fruit into the mix as well. I love freeze dried fruit since it contains no other ingredients - just fruit - but they are crispy and just something a little different.

Protein is also a must, so I love to pack a few Baybel cheese wheels. They are so handy, and since they're covered in wax I find they can go a few hours without being refrigerated and still taste great.

And finally, I never travel without my trusty Blender Bottle.

Before leaving the house I add a scoop of protein powder, and then whenever I need a pick-me-up I fill the bottle with water, shake it up and I have an instant shake. Love this thing!

If you have any other travel snack ideas, please share! I am always on the go so can always use new tips.

Time to go finish my glass of raspberry stout on the deck and then let my head hit the pillow. We're heading down to Monterey Bay tomorrow to drive coastal Route 1, see the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo and then take Riker to the famous Monterey Aquarium. G'night!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Honey Grilled Peach Salad with Avocados & Macadamias (Product Review)

A few weeks ago I came home from work to find a box on my doorstep with a brand new product to try: Nektar Honey Crystals. The company sent me a box to test out, and being a honey lover, I couldn't wait to try out this new version of the sweet stuff. Nektar Honey Crystals are pretty simple - just granulated honey. Nothing else added.

The company's founder decided to make Nektar Honey Crystals because he was sick of the sticky mess and bottle cap that won't close (I know the feeling). I don't mind the honey bottle until it gets down to the end and I have to turn it upside down on a dish in my cabinet and it starts to ooze everywhere. I am also a big tea drinker in the winter, and I find that most coffee shops don't carry honey; I hate using white sugar in place of honey, so being the little neurotic that I am, I can see myself carrying packets of this stuff around with me in my purse when it gets cold out.

Other pros: the crystals are GMO free, which is really important to me.

But I digress. We're here for a recipe! I loved the honey crystals as soon as I tried them, but I thought there had to be more ways to use them other than just in tea. I've sprinkled them over yogurt, coated shrimp with them for "honey lime shrimp", and most recently, made honey grilled peaches.

Peaches are gorgeous right now, and these ones were giant and super sweet. I coated them in olive oil and then sprinkled on a few packets of the Nektar Honey Crystals. Then, to the grill they went!

I originally planned to eat these as dessert, but I felt like I needed a little frozen yogurt or something to bring them together, so instead I decided to use them in a salad for dinner.

Um, delish! I love, love the colors of this.

I started with a bed of romaine, then added red onions, cucumbers, avocado and macadamia nuts, then tossed it all with a honey vinaigrette. The peaches were really the show stoppers, though.

I added them to the salad when they were still warm, and they were so perfect. The honey crystals formed a crust on the outside of the peaches, so after they were grilled they were crispy on the outside (imagine the top of a creme brulee) but warm and juicy on the inside.

I served the salad as a side dish to burgers on the grill (veggie burger for me of course), but if you wanted to make this a main meal you could just add some grilled chicken or shrimp for extra protein. It would totally stand up as a full lunch or dinner on a hot day, and it begs to be eaten outside on the patio. It reminds me of a salad I loved to get in San Diego when Heather used to live there years ago.

If you want to grab some honey crystals of your own, the company is running a Groupon special right where you can order two boxes for 20% off. Check out the deal here.** Give 'em a try!

Honey Grilled Peach Salad with Avocados & Macadamias

Serves 2-4

2 large peaches, quartered
2 tsp. olive oil
4 packets Nektar Honey Crystals
2 heads romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
1 cucumber, seeded and sliced or chopped
1/4 red onion, sliced then
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped

Honey Vinaigrette
1/8 cup walnut oil (or other mild oil)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. salt
Pepper, to taste

Coat peaches with olive oil and sprinkle with Nektar Honey Crystals. Cook an a grill over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side; turn once so each side is charred.

On a platter, lay a bed of romaine lettuce and top with remaining ingredients. Pour vinaigrette over the top. When peaches are grilled, place gently on top of the salad and serve.

To make vinaigrette, mix together all ingredients except oil. Then add oil slowly, whisking as you add it.

**The company provided the samples of this product. As always, views expressed are my own.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fair Days

Friday night we kicked the weekend off with a little impromptu date night. I worked a lot of late nights last week and Matt and I felt like we needed a little "us time," so after Riker went to bed Matt's mom kept an eye on him for a few hours while we went for a pint and some garlic clams.

On the way home we stopped and splurged for Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie to eat straight out of the pint on the couch. It was just that kind of week.

When I woke up yesterday morning I was really exhausted and just felt like lying around for a little while. I think Riker knew it because he took an epic 4 hour nap. Amazing! Normally when Riker goes down for a nap we take the time to get stuff done around the house, but not yesterday. When he napped, I sipped on coffee and caught up on cooking shows I've been taping for weeks. Then I read for a while (I finished Firefly Lane and I'm halfway through Dan Brown's new book, Inferno), and then Matt and I dozed off for a little while ourselves. Let me tell you, it felt glorious to be that lazy on a Saturday.

Once Riker finally got up, we spent the afternoon on yard work.

The garden is in full swing! A lot of weeding had to be done, so I took care of gardening while Matt mowed the lawn. The vegetable garden has been planted for a while, but I never had a chance to do my herb garden and have had planters of basil, thyme and sage sitting in their plastic containers for about a month. They're finally in the ground!

We plucked some garden veggies and fired up the garden for lunch. We had fresh cucumbers with salt & pepper (a summer favorite), grilled carrots & broccoli, charred hot peppers, and grilled sausages (chicken for the boys, soy for me).

The grilled hot peppers were so good. Yum!

We wrapped up the day with a fun filled evening at the annual Ocean County Fair. A first for the Riker, and he loved it!

There were tons of animals to pet, rides to go on, shows to watch and snacks to eat. A fair is always a good time.

Gah, that grin! I can't take it. He's turning into such a little kid.

We're headed out now for round 2 at the fair with Heather and Kevin. There's got to be some things we missed yesterday. :)

Enjoy your Sunday!