Monday, October 26, 2015

an early golden birthday for me

When I was a kid, I remembered someone talking about their Golden Birthday. They were 10 on the 10th or something like that. I thought that by the time mine rolled around - 31 on the 31st - I would be too old to care.

Well, younger me, you were way wrong. Ever since last year, I've looked forward to my upcoming golden birthday. I may have gone so far as to ask my husband for a surprise party. And, thankfully for me, he (and a friend!) listened.

I had plans with Miranda and Sarah to go to dinner at Dolce Vita on Saturday night. Normally, we have brunch or lunch but our plans changed a few days ago and I just went with it. The weather reports had been saying all week that Hurricane Patricia was going to dump a ton of rain on Houston over the weekend, and on Friday morning when I learned that the school I work for was worried about flooding, I texted my friends to see if we needed to change plans. Unknown to me, I started a whole domino effect of changed plans.

Saturday morning, Andrew and I had fun things planned like taking the cat to the vet and an allergy shot. After that, we were going to go somewhere "in Houston" (i.e., outside of our suburb) for lunch and then I would go have dinner with my friends. No one had definitively cancelled so I thought we were all crossing our fingers and hoping our dinner would work out. Between errands, I did think it was weird that Andrew decided to take a shower and change from shorts and a t-shirt to jeans and a polo shirt, but it didn't tip me off. Luckily for me, all of my grungy t-shirts were dirty so I was dressed more decently than usual on a Saturday - had Andrew tried to tell me what to wear, I would have really gotten suspicious. We were on our way to what I assumed was lunch when I got a text from Sarah canceling for that night because her baby was running a fever. It was no big deal, since it had been raining steadily all day, and I was nervous about driving home that night anyway. Andrew was excited about this as he claimed that hearing me talk about Dolce Vita made him hungry for it, so he said we should go to lunch there. Now, we both like Dolce Vita but it isn't in our regular rotation. It was definitely weird that he was suddenly so insistent on going there. But, I like pizza, so I wasn't going to complain.

We got to Dolce Vita and Andrew was really distracted by his phone. We walked in and were shown to a table for two. Andrew immediately got up and headed down a hallway, presumably to the bathroom, but didn't say anything. He came back with a weird look on his face and said there was someone in there. He looked uncomfortable for a few seconds, and then said there was a pretty bar upstairs and we should see if we could sit at it.

Ump what? Since when did he care? We were just eating pizza, and then going to Half Price Books and to buy coffee. We didn't need anything special. That's when I realized he had to be up to something. He talked to a waitress who then came to our table and said something like "Oh, you're supposed to sit somewhere else" and then they led me upstairs to a big table and five of my favorite people yelling "Surprise!"

And in that moment, I was just happy. Happy that my husband cared and listened. Happy that my friends had braved the nasty weather to come have lunch with me for my birthday (a week early, because a Halloween birthday is nice in theory but sucks in logistics). They were all planning to be there for a birthday dinner, but decided to move it to lunch so everyone could get home safely and before the worst part of the weather hit, and because of the move, a few people couldn't come. Sarah and Tig offered to bring decorations and had the cutest gold accents, complete with gold rings and tiaras, to highlight my golden birthday wishes. And there were wine cocktails and pizza and presents. Such a fun afternoon!

It pays to be friends with bloggers because they take great pictures before everyone arrives. They had great ideas - gold doilies for coasters, gold paper straws glittery gold Ls, and even a table runner. Also, my blurry surprised face is pretty dorky but definitely genuine.

A pear pizza with arugula, a margherita pizza, and chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream for dessert. There was more food, but I was too excited to take pictures! 

 The ladies of the party (thanks to Miranda's husband George for taking that pic [since he's a blogger husband, he's a pro!] | a selfie with my blog friends | Andrew and me in coordinating crowns!

It was so fun for my friends to converge - from high school, work, and blog life - for a few hours. Surprise parties seem like something out of a movie, or something that happens to other people. A few years ago, I never would have thought I would have enough people to make up anything resembling a surprise party. I've said it so many times, but simply having people in your life to share it with is worth more than some people realize. I was so overwhelmed with wanting to talk to everyone and oohing and aahing over things that I couldn't even make myself read the menu. It was just exciting for me and I was so, so grateful for all of them and for my husband for coordinating everyone and making it happen, and then rearranging everything due to the weather. We may not have gotten to visit my favorite bar like he had originally planned, but we can do that another time. A golden birthday only happens once, but I wouldn't be opposed to another surprise party next year...

Friday, October 23, 2015

goings on: october

I haven't written a post that isn't about books or a trip recap in three weeks and as I texted my BBQ Wife friend Amber yesterday, I need me some blog post therapy. I can't guarantee it will be short.

- So my dog Duncan had a lump on his leg and so his paranoid mama (that would be me) took him to the vet to be told it was probably nothing, but as it grew, so did my anxiety, and we had it removed. Several hundred dollars later, we were given the less-than-awesome news that the lump was cancerous BUT they removed it with clear margins. It's the yucky cancer that spreads that we lost our sweet Jake to over four years ago. No connection, just crappy luck (and increased paranoia). We're going to get Duncan's bloodwork done every six months moving forward and keep an eye on the area of the lump, but there's really nothing else to do. He's happy and eating and seems fine for now, but any positive puppy vibes that you want to send our way are appreciated. Fingers and paws crossed all stays well, though.

- A few months ago, my coveted kitchen wall shelf met its untimely demise and took all of my favorite collectibles with it.The broken shelf laid on its side for far too long until one weekend, when my husband suggested a stop at an antique mall. I shifted my focus from a wall shelf (what we had) to a corner cabinet (that I thought would fit) and actually found a cabinet narrow enough to go on the same wall where the old shelf fell, which is a bonus because the chair rail got messed up in the accident and the new cabinet covers it up. The pale green has really grown on me, it matches my chairs perfectly, and it's the perfect "collected eclectic" look for our house. Oh, and bonus points to Andrew for spotting it and making me buy it on the spot. Now I just need to find fun things to fill it.

- I just read a book called Forever, Interrupted which is a little chick-lit-esque for my usual taste, but I really liked anyway. In the book, the main character's husband died after they had been married less than two weeks and her best friend comes in and basically peels her off of the bathroom floor and helps her function as a grieving newlywed widow. It made me wonder, if I was ever in a heart wrenching situation, who would be the friend pulling me up? And who could I be that friend for? I don't know that that question has an answer for me right now. I think a friend that sits through a crisis with you has to come with a lot of history that I just don't have with anyone. Perhaps that can be a friendship goal for me. Friendship is an ongoing theme in my life and something I think about more than the average person so trying to be better at that is something I'm always wondering about.

- Our friends came to Houston a few weeks ago and we had lots of fun playing Head's Up (no one listens when I tell them it will be awesome. It's always awesome.), going to breweries, eating ice cream, visiting the We Heart Houston sign, eating at Coltivare, and watching our respective baseball teams play one another. Oh, and just reconnecting after five years. I think a trip to Kansas needs to happen for Andrew and me at some point.

- Other fun lately: I went to a craft fair with my friend and her friends for the second year in a row. Maybe in another year, I'll feel like I can call them my friends, too? Either way, it was nice to be included. Bre came all the way out to my side of Houston for my favorite breakfast tacos and record shopping. The record store had a sign on it that said "back in 15" for an hour and we got tired of waiting, so that was a bummer, but now at least she has a good reason to come all the way back to my area for more tacos.

Duncan on surgery day | my charcuterie spread for Head's Up night with friends (I was very proud) | Ice Cream Stop #2 with our friends at Cloud 10 - the maple butter was amazing | Group pic at Coltivare | Breakfast tacos with Bre for #AustinInHumble | My new cabinet - the glass has been removed and the inside is a dark blue-green that matches the kitchen chairs.

- I deactivated Facebook. I was looking at it far too often and I found it kind of annoying. Plus, a lot of people post the same stuff on Facebook that's also on their instagram (me included) and a lot was repetitive or political or just plain ridiculous. It probably isn't forever but it works for now.

- The Gilmore Girls Revival: Let me first say that of course I will watch it pretty much the first second I can. With that said... and knowing that I'm a huge fan... I'm not sure how I feel about it. A few more escapades in Stars Hollow sounds great, sure, but it will be so definite. The way the finale ended, Luke and Lorelei were left wide open. Rory was just growing up. I know the finale's tone wasn't the best, but the way it wrapped up worked for me and I've had seven years to accept it. Going back for a few more hours has a chance of being like watching a favorite childhood movie as an adult - not as good as you remembered, and it can tarnish all of your previous memories. All of that said, bring on my favorite townies and please don't make Emily a completely depressed widow - I need more of her judgey one liners in my life!

That's enough of that. Maybe once a month, since I like to blog about once a week, I'll do a general documenting, goings on post. And maybe one day, I'll finish talking about California...

Monday, October 19, 2015

california, here we come: five wineries in a day

On our first full day in Napa, we had big winery plans. But first, we needed breakfast. The aforementioned famed Thomas Keller has a bakery in Yountville called Bouchon Bakery that also has locations in Vegas and NYC (and that we have visited and loved), so that was the obvious choice. I got a savory scone, knowing I would have many opportunities for sweets later in the day, and it wasn't that good. Note to all: Keller's sweet treats are where you really get a payoff. Live and learn. We took a walk after breakfast and came across the garden for Keller's restaurants. It was huge! It was cool to see where food we had eaten the night before was grown. It's directly across the street from the French Laundry, and on another nighttime walk, it looked like patrons were taken out there for a quick tour. Dinner at the French Laundry would easily cost $700 so I will add it to my yet-to-be-made bucket list as we clearly skipped it on this trip.

The garden looking to my left and right (should have taken a panoramic) and then the French Laundry on the other side of the street.

Our first stop that day was Domaine Chandon, close to our hotel. Chandon sparking wines are easily found in stores throughout the US, but Andrew went there on his last visit and remembered it well. This is a large, commercial winery. It has beautiful views and an interesting art collection, but since we shared a tasting, the service was less than stellar. We got a glass at a time and walked around the tasting room and surrounding grounds taking pictures. It was probably one of my least favorite places to visit since I didn't learn anything and can get so many of their wines at home.

Next, we went to V. Sattui Winery and almost accidentally crashed a wedding. V. Sattui encourages picnicking (which requires a permit in Napa!) and had a large deli-type counter for you to buy food, lots of olive oils and cheeses, and a ton of souvenirs. The tasting area was a huge, U-shaped bar and the guy who helped us was super attentive, even though we shared a tasting (and he was nice enough to give us extras to try). There were a few white options as well as a fortified dessert wine and some reds we liked, so we ended up buying half a case to have shipped home.

Our third stop of the day was Prager Family Winery. This one was off the beaten path a little. Napa Valley is known for its Cabernet and Chardonnay for the most part. Prager specializes in ports, or dessert wines. We pulled up to what looked like someone's house and walked in. We saw lots of wine barrels and a counter. Further along in the space, there was a room like a dining room in a house with a ceiling fan and a bar with a sink and a mini-fridge but the walls and ceiling were covered with dollar bills with different messages on them. I kept thinking of Arrested Development and how the money was in the banana stand. We called out and a guy came out to help us. We shared a tasting (again) and we got to keep the glass. The tasting room's soundtrack went from Pink Floyd to Counting Crows and another couple came in as the man working told us about how Prager was truly a family business and offered us some of the sugared pecans that his mom still makes for them to sell. Ports aren't my favorite but I really liked this unique experience. We bought a bottle to bring home and our total ended in a 9, giving us $1 in change, so I of course had to add a dollar to the huge collection. If you ever go, look for the LM <3 AM dollar in the ceiling of the doorway!

These pics are of a wall, the ceiling, and the opposite wall | The yellow arrow is pointing to our dollar

Three wineries before 1pm had me feeling a little off, so I was happy we had plans to visit Gott's Roadside for a big lunch. There are a few locations in Napa Valley. The one we went to was like a roadside stand, but much bigger. All seating was outside, behind the restaurant. My burger was good, though not really memorable, and I liked that it was fast and convenient. I also loved their ketchup.

We had a cave tour scheduled at Failla Winery later in the afternoon. The attention to detail there really made the trip. There was a sign welcoming us and the other party as soon as we walked into the vintage farmhouse which was covered with all kinds of books and knick-knacks. After a welcome glass of wine, we were led outside for a quick explanation of what all the tanks and equipment were for. We actually saw a team hand sorting grapes that had just been harvested into a large vat of dry ice. There were six people along a short conveyor belt pulling out grapes that were too green as well as any twigs, bugs, or anything else that didn't look good (like Lucy at the chocolate factory, but more capable). We also saw the concrete eggs that they were aging some wines in, which was different than the stainless steel and wooden barrels we had seen everywhere else. Failla's cave was different from the one the day before in that it was manmade and all concrete. There were overhead lights and it was like being in a room, not a cave. Barrels lined the wall to age wine, but there was a lounge-type area with couches and the farmhouse table we were shown to for our tasting. We were with a group of four women on a girls' trip, so we mostly all just chatted with our tour guide in between glasses of wine. I was still feeling bad, so I didn't enjoy this one as much as I should have, but we still found wines we wanted to send home. The tastings were charged per person and you couldn't share, but one fee was waived for every two bottles purchased. We bought two to have shipped home and the women we were with bought so many that our guide waived both of our fees, which made the tasting experience free.

Left to right, top to bottom: A tasting area inside the cave | barrels aging in the cave | the farmhouse shelves | a welcome sign | our tasting inside the cave, complete with personalized order form | another aging area with a random Beatles poster | a farm table outside.

Scenes from production and the concrete aging eggs.

The final tour of the day was at Signorello Estate. This winery was by appointment only and it was on the pricier side, but it had great reviews and was one of my favorites. The estate sits up on a mountain, and has an amazing infinity pool. I don't like the water, but I would love to be in that pool with Napa Valley behind me. There were two employees and the two of us for the first part of the tasting, so the individual attention was fantastic. Our tasting came with an antipasti plate, so we were told which meat or cheese to eat with each wine, which I loved. The person who led our tasting was a sommelier at restaurants in San Francisco, so he had lots to share about winemaking and food and drink in the area in general. We did get to go outside and take a peek at the winemaking equipment, but they weren't currently in production, so there wasn't much to see. We fell in love with a wine that we will likely save for our 10th anniversary there and got a few other bottles to bring home, too. Signorello was one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.

 The infinity pool from afar and the view from closer to it as well as views from other spots on the property. It was beautiful!

After lots of wine and driving around, we were both tired when we headed back to the hotel. As much fun as another Thomas Keller restaurant would have been - Ad Lib, his temporary pop-up - we thought we would be too tired to enjoy it. So, we cancelled our reservation, I took a nap, and then we walked to Bistro Jeanty in Yountville for something simpler. The food was good and it wasn't too expensive compared to other restaurants in the area, but I wouldn't recommend it as a destination. You can't beat the location, though. Lesson learned: five wineries in a day is about all I can handle.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

california, here we come: sonoma, thomas keller, and a train

I'm slowly but surely posting about my trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley...

After leaving San Francisco, our first stop was Fremont Diner, which was recommended to us by Justin Yu, a James Beard nominated chef at Oxheart, a Houston favorite. When someone who can cook like that tells you where to go, you go there. The wait was 45 minutes, but we had some time so we decided to wait it out. We shared a Mexican chocolate shake while we waited, and it was great - not too rich with just enough cinnamon. And filling. By the time we got a table, we weren't that hungry so we shared a smoked pastrami sandwich with potato salad (the only pic I took was after we had started eating, so I'll spare you). The food was good and I wish we had either had more time or been hungrier, but we had a schedule to stick to!

The trailer was in the back seating area (top right) so you could order shakes, beer, or wine while you waited. I loved it - it felt like Austin!

After lunch, we went from Sonoma Valley over to Napa. Our first winery stop was Domaine Carneros, known for being pretty and having sparkling wines. I'm not usually a red wine drinker, so Andrew tried to add in as many sparkling stops as he could while he was planning the trip. On this trip, I learned that every winery and tasting experience is different. I think that noting what the experience was like is important because it really affected how I perceived each place, especially once I had many different places to compare. We only did a tasting at Domaine Carneros. We were shown to a table and given a menu, like you would be at a restaurant. Since we were full, we just shared a tasting. The waiter brought out a laminated sheet and four glasses and poured generous portions of the corresponding wine in each glass - easy. He checked on us a few times and answered questions, but wasn't terribly informative. When we were finished, we walked around the tasting room's deck and took a few photos of the gorgeous surroundings, but there wasn't much else to do. On to the next!

 The tasting room on the top of a mountain | hills, vines, and blue skies | the tasting | proof that Andrew enjoyed himself (honestly? He was drinking water in this pic.)

Oxbow Public Market came up a lot in Andrew's research. It's a large marketplace with restaurants, a bakery, a coffee shop, a produce market, and small shops. We stopped in to check out the shops and because Hog Island Oyster Depot inside of it is known for having fantastic oysters. I can't really get on board with raw oysters, but I will eat them cooked. Andrew did a tasting of the raw and found a variety he fell in love with. I had some that were grilled and they were delicious. Of course I can't remember what they were, but brown sugar was involved and though it sounds strange, it was great. We checked out the small shops and Andrew had to bring something home from the store that sold nothing but bitters.

From the front of the market looking back | all those tiny bottles are different flavors of bitters | Hog Island, raw and cooked.

When planning this trip, Andrew kept mentioning cave tours and I wanted to go in any that we could. Something about a cave sounds magical and interesting, right? Our first cave tour was at Del Dotto in Napa. Reservations were required and we had to each pay for a tasting. The cave was hand dug before Prohibition began and was much smaller than I expected it to be. This tasting was a barrel tasting, which was a unique experience. The tour guide had a rounded glass tube called a wine thief that she used to take wine straight from the barrel and pour into our glasses. All of the wines were red, but there were a few I enjoyed. We got to taste the same wine - same grapes from the same place, aged the same amount of time - but from barrels made from wood from different countries side by side and the difference was so interesting to me. Did you know that a barrel of wine is about 300 bottles? It seems much smaller to me.

The lines on the cave are from chisels. It was dark inside but I felt like the candlelight setting on my camera was pretty true to the way the cave was lit.

By this time, it was late afternoon so we went to our hotel, the Napa Valley Railway Inn. Andrew chose it for the location - in downtown Yountville  - and because it was a cheaper option. Nearby hotels were as high as $850 per night and I am all about treating yourself on vacation, but that's a little crazy. The Inn is mostly made of rail cars converted into hotel rooms, which sounds cute and cozy. The room we got, though, was a permanent building adjacent to the office area. There was no quaint rail car feel inside. A window AC unit ran the whole time, there wasn't enough light, and the bathroom was tiny - a shower stall and a sink with no room on the edge to put anything. We never saw a hotel employee the entire time - our keys were left in a mailbox outside the office - so it was a different experience. The place gets five stars for price and location, but two stars for the actual accommodations. If we had either been there for a shorter amount of time or if there was more to do in the evenings in the area, it wouldn't have mattered as much, but the hotel was the only "eh" spot on an otherwise stellar trip.

Standing outside of our room and facing all of the railcar rooms | our room was the top window. This is the view from the parking lot. It looks really quaint but wasn't as cute inside!

Speaking of location, Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller has multiple restaurants in Yountville, all on the same street, and all on the same street as our hotel. We had dinner plans at Ad Hoc, Keller's mid-priced restaurant that has one menu a night, take it or leave it. Andrew had hoped for his notorious fried chicken, but no such luck. The meal was great anyway. We had a caesar salad (with anchovies, which I ate. I no longer fear them), grilled BBQ hanger steak with quinoa and tomatoes, a cheese course, and sundaes with housemade strawberry sauce, butterscotch, chocolate sauce, toasted pecans, and whipped cream since they always serve sundaes on Sundays. I loved the meal, especially the entree when I was able to get a little bit of everything in each bite. The mustard with the cheese course was a little strong, but the sundaes were a fun and unexpected touch in that kind of environment.

Caesar salad | steak | cheese plate | sundae toppings | sundae

Other than restaurants and one bar for the locals, there was really nothing to do each night after dinner. So, after our fantastic dinner at an acclaimed restaurant, we went back to our sad, sad room. It kept us from getting used to feeling too fancy. Who wants to open a sports bar or something like that for tourist with me in Yountville?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

september books

I already mentioned that this was a slow month for me, book-wise, due to being sick and on vacation and a book I just didn't love, but I still have a few things to say.

All the Bright Places - I wanted to love this book. Honesty, I completely forgot that I read it and since I didn't write my book post as I finished each book like I normally do, I can't remember exactly why I didn't like it. I liked the premise and the characters were likable enough, even though teenagers in books tend to be whiny jerks. I feel like it might be helpful to a teenager in a similar situation, and I did like parts of it, but I guess I didn't like how we were in Theo's head throughout the book until suddenly... we weren't. It's hard to explain, especially because I kind of can't remember, but I mostly liked this one until the end.

(A) The Good Girl - This is yet another book that has been compared to Gone Girl. The (adult) daughter of a judge is kidnapped by a man and taken to a remote cabin in the woods. The story is told from the points of view of her mother, her kidnapper, and the lead detective trying to solve her case and jumps from before the kidnapping, her time in the cabin, and then what happens after the crime is solved. The thing I liked about Gone Girl is that the twist was so surprising, and we got to see the effects of it. Without giving too much away, I want to say that isn't so with this book; a twist is revealed in the last few pages and I was left with a few questions, so the resolution felt abrupt. This was the first book I've read from the list that my library's Book Hunters program suggested for me, and I think they did a good job nailing down my taste.

Who Do You Love - This is the book that (hopefully) ended my reading funk as I finished it over a weekend. If you've read the book One Day, this is similar in that it's the story of two people told little by little over the passage of time. It's a love story, but I really appreciated the author's attention to detail in bringing up things that actually happened during the years being referenced. Again, its ending came abruptly. I would have loved a short epilogue that told me a little more about what happened after the last page. This isn't a work of great literature, but the story and characters kept me interested.

Did Not Finish:

Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? True Stories and Confessions - Several people recommended this to me, but I hated it. HATED. It's short stories, all mostly about nothing, and not tied together at all. I found the tone grating. If this appeared in the newspaper once a week (which, I think it does), it would have been fine, but a book full of stories with no point wasn't for me. I found myself not wanting to read at night, so I blame this one for my slump!

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar - This is a collection of advice, some of which was previously posted online. Sugar is actually Cheryl Strayed (the lady who wrote Wild) and her advice is very no nonsense and drawn from her real life experiences. Some of the passages were beautifully written. Some of the questions and situations didn't apply to me, so I skimmed them. With this one, time mostly ran out and I couldn't finish it. Maybe one day, I'll pick it up again.

Silver Linings Playbook - In the book, Pat is super annoying and doesn't seem like Bradley Cooper. I still have this one, but I doubt I'll go back to it, which is a bummer because I have loved other Matthew Quick books.

I'm even more excited for this link-up and hoping to find an audiobook that will really draw me in. Thanks as always to Steph and Jana and happy one year of Show Us Your Books! I think I speak for lots of people when I say please keep it up!

Friday, October 2, 2015

california, here we come: san francisco

Our great California trip has come and gone. Don't you hate how vacation takes forever to get here and then is over so fast? I feel like we crammed a lot into a few days though, so of course I will have to write about it in painstaking detail so I never forget a thing. You've been warned. I'll bold the best stuff in case you want to skim.

We left early on Saturday morning so we could spend the late afternoon and evening in San Francisco. We flew into Oakland because it was a lot cheaper, but traffic to get into San Francisco was pretty crazy (an hour and 20 minutes to go about 25 miles, I believe). We stayed at the Marriott Marquis San Francisco and I think they must have my job listed next to my Rewards number because we were immediately upgraded to a junior suite at check-in. It had a sitting area with a TV and then another TV by the bed and ample counter space in case we wanted to bring some food or wine to the room. The TV system wasn't working right and I mentioned it at check-out since I couldn't just check out through the TV and they took $100 off our bill. Fantastic service. The hotel's location was also great - plenty of shopping (though they were chains) and dining nearby and close enough so that we could take the BART (subway) to our first stop of the afternoon. The only drawback was that the offsite parking was hard to access (and valet was twice the price!) but we made it work.

After checking into the hotel, we went to Tartine Bakery, known for their bread that comes out of the oven daily at 4:30. We arrived around 4:45, and there was a line. Fortunately, it moved fast. Since carrying a baguette around the city didn't sound very appealing, we settled on a croissant and a lemon tart. I loved how pretty the tart was, and it had a tart lemon flavor and a sweet crust. The cream on top wasn't too sweet but added just enough to take some of the sourness away. Plain croissants aren't really my thing, but this one was very buttery and flaky.

 Trying to be artsy with my fancy camera while waiting in line | lemon tart | croissant | pastry counter

After that, we went two blocks to Dandelion Chocolate, a dessert spot I was dying to try. They do different kinds of dessert flights. When I asked the woman who took our order about them, she said the brownie bite flight was the only thing they currently had, so I ordered it: three different brownie bites made from chocolate from different parts of the world. The idea behind it and the presentation were great; the brownies themselves, not so much. One I downright didn't care for (too molasses-y) and the other two were just okay. Andrew ordered a s'more bite and the chocolate was too rich, the marshmallow too large, and the graham crust delicious, but there wasn't enough of it. As we were eating our treats, they put out a Chef's Dessert Tasting that I would have loved to try (and that the cashier could have told me was on its way) but it was too late. I was bummed! Andrew planned for us to try two more places - Craftsman and the Wolves for coffee and Bi-Rite Creamery for ice cream - but I was already full and knew we had dinner soon, so I was ready to move on to something with less food.

Sign, s'more, and brownie bite flight (Guatemala was the best and Papua New Guinea was the worst!)

I had to do at least one touristy thing in San Francisco, so we went to Fisherman's Wharf. It has all of your typical tourist stuff, including chain restaurants, overpriced souvenirs, and tons of people, but I'm glad we went. I would have loved to visit Alcatraz if we had more time and I really enjoyed the sea lions. They were just hanging out and "talking" to each other for the tourists. The views over the water were also lovely - there's nothing like that in my part of Texas!

The island looking thing is Alcatraz - I wish we had time to visit!

So many sea lions!

We had dinner reservations at a place called The Progress, which was nominated for a James Beard Award and has all the buzz of a place we would want to go to on our one night in town. I loved the idea behind it - it's a set price per person and you can choose six plates off of the menu to share (or five plates and you each get your own dessert). You get a pencil and you bubble in your choices, scantron-style. We arrived early and had cocktails and they were excellent (I can't get enough citrus-y gin drinks lately). A plate of snacks arrived first - they were not on the menu, so they were a total surprise. The first bite was a piece of grapefruit (which I normally hate) with cardamom and it was so incredibly good. It sounds so simple, and it probably was, but the flavors together were so unexpectedly fantastic that I wanted to order a bowl full for dessert. I also surprisingly really liked the whole anchovy (another thing I normally hate) and the shishito peppers. Everything on the plate was really, really good, with the exception of the grape thing. The stuff underneath it was gritty and I felt like I was eating dirt. As far as dinner went, the meal was great. The restaurant is hard to describe but we had some cheese fritters with corn and tomatoes that I loved and some potato-sauerkraut dumplings with plum preserves that the waitress recommended that were fantastic (the waitstaff will rarely ever steer you wrong!). We skipped dessert, though I wish I had saved room. I loved The Progress.

Snacks | Melon soup with albacore | Mt. Tam cheese fritters with corn and tomato | Potato-horseradish dumplings with plum preserves | Lamb merguez with octopus and squid | Charcuterie salad with fried pig ears

We tried to check out the hotel's 39th floor bar, but it was too crowded so we called it a night pretty early. The next day, we made a stop at the Full House house since it was close to our breakfast destination. The house is just a regular house in a neighborhood with other houses that look very similar. The owners have to hate it. I didn't see any space for the basement recording studio or Uncle Jesse's apartment. We had breakfast at B. Patisserie, a bakery that smelled like heaven. Andrew wanted the kouign amann, which they are known for, so we got both a plain and a chocolate. I ordered the banana chocolate almond croissant because it sounded incredible. And it was. Far denser than a traditional croissant, but with very pronounced flavors and a little lightness in the center to keep you from feeling like you ate a cake. I would have gladly ordered another, but I knew there was more food in my future.

The amazing croissant is on the right | I loved all the little public parklets outside of so many restaurants - we had breakfast at this one | The Full House house, with a fresh coat of paint.

After breakfast, we drove to Chinatown. There was a festival going on, so many streets were shut down in favor of booths. The set-up was just beginning, and we didn't have much time, so I got a Chinese money cat that I came for, found the famed Chinatown gateway, and we went on our way to Sonoma.

The weather was beautiful (though warmer than I expected), the architecture so different from what I'm used to, and the hills were quite a workout. I really loved San Francisco and would gladly spend more time there, but I'm definitely happy with my little taste of the city. We took the Golden Gate Bridge out of town and headed past Sausalito for Wine Country.

Views from the car window. Love those hillside houses!