That one time in the woods

So remember way back when when I talked about being a tourist in my own state? I finally was able to cross off one of those places!

This past August, my company held its annual retreat in Oakhurst, which is in the middle of nowhere California but also a mere hour and a half from…dun dun dun…Yosemite National Park!

The house was lovely and we had a great time (even after I abandoned the mister with my coworkers for half a day so I could play golf with a few other coworkers). But I was so excited to take a side trip to Yosemite and I was only slightly disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong; the park is absolutely gorgeous. I just couldn’t get around how beautiful everything was and I kept remarking about how I just wanted to take pictures of everything. The entire park is postcard-worthy. But you can’t live behind the view finder so I eventually packed the camera away so I could actually enjoy the park.

We walked around for a bit and then rented bikes and rode from one end of the park to the other. I made jokes about the bears, we saw a mountain lion run across our path a safe distance away from us, I marveled at how the wild squirrels were so much smaller than their Ann Arbor cousins, and I tried to lobby the mister into trusting the general public to not steal our rental bikes so we could hike towards Mirror Lake and get a peek at Half Dome. It didn’t work.

So what could possibly be so disappointing? There were no waterfalls. When we got to the park, we found a ranger who informed us that due to the dry winter, the waterfalls were not falling. And if there were any water, it would only be a trickle.

Cue sad panda.

So instead of seeing this:

Source: National Park Services

We had this:

Beautiful but still, no waterfall. Granted, Yosemite Falls is usually dry during the summer anyway, but the others were supposed to be somewhat active but were not due to the dry winter. While I did not get to see the waterfalls I always wanted to see, I’m very glad we still made the trip out to the park just for the sake of being at the park. Definitely an experience I am grateful to have had.

Besides, now I have the perfect excuse for a return trip!

WEverb11: #7 Travel

Travel

Where did you travel this year? What was your favorite part? If you didn’t get to travel, where do you want to go next year?

When I first read this prompt, I thought I would skip it, seeing how I didn’t travel anywhere. But then I realized that I did go places. While they were modest trips, they were still trips that required packing.

First, I had an overnight trip to Monterey with the bf in January. It was his first time there and I was more than happy to show him around. The weather was absolutely beautiful, sunny and in the 60s, which made for perfect walking around and sitting outside enjoying the ocean moments. My favorite part was our trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is quite possibly one of my favorite places in this entire world. Since we went during the off-season, we were able to take our time and really explore the aquarium without dealing with the massive crowds that are typical during the warmer summer months. We got some face time with the sea otters, played “Is it dead or sleeping?” with the seahorses, touched the rays in the tide pool, and watched some penguins get it on. Very awkward for all involved.

In June, I roadtripped with my mom, older sister, nephew and aunt to Los Angeles to see my younger sister graduate from UCLA. The trip started out bumpy (I forgot the clothes we were going to wear to her graduation and didn’t realize until we had gotten to the airport to pick up the rental car. We debated heading to LA without them or going back home to pick them up. We went back home and added another hour to our trip) but it was a lot of fun. My favorite moment was hanging out with my older sister at the hotel lounge sipping on drinks and chatting like we were old girlfriends. Especially the part where we giggled at the couple we suspected to be swingers looking to pick up a partner.

July brought me back to the Pacific Northwest. My first trip to Seattle was a whirlwind filled with food, delicious food. This one was for a wedding, and while I had a fantastic time celebrating with the couple and being included with the family (seeing how I’ve known them since Junior High, that should be a given by now) my favorite moment came the Sunday morning following the wedding. I woke up early and decided to head out to Pike’s Market on my own to get my hands on a piroshky from Piroshky Piroshky. After munching on my potato and cheese piroshky, I settled down on a bench at the middle of a hill overlooking the market and water. It was a quiet morning and after spending my entire weekend surrounded by people, it was a joy having a moment to myself. I took my time enjoying my breakfast dessert (a cinnamon cardamon braid – yum!) and simply relished the moment.

My last trip of the year saw me flying back to Michigan to spend time with the bf. Trips to visit him are always special since they don’t happen nearly as often as we’d like. We didn’t do anything special, this time opting to hang out around town and took a side trip to Ann Arbor, but my favorite moment actually spawned from a sad one. We were discussing my job search and my subsequent frustration with it, and the questioning turned tense and I broke from the pressure I had been feeling but never spoke up until that moment. And as I cried and hiccuped my way through rambling claims of being a failure at life and how I’m not even marriage material (yeah, it was a rough moment), he held me and let me cry, listening to everything I was saying and reassuring me that I wasn’t a failure and that it would all work out. This is why I love him.

I have a list of places I want to go and hope I can cross at some of them of them off the list next year, but if I can cross off only one of them, then I hope it’s Jamaica. It’s where we plan on honeymooning.

Want to know what this #WEverb11 thing is all about? Are you interested in participating? Find out more here!

Rescue Me

This year has already shaped up to be a fairly memorable year, what with my exploits in Indoor Skydiving, graduating, white water rafting, and then my “Birth Month Celebrations” that included turning 30, running a 10k [did I talk about that epic adventure yet? I’ll have to fill you in soon], and watching a borderline inappropriate puppet improv show [I’ll let you try to wrap your head around that one], and one of my favorite moments to date: riding along with the San Francisco Fire Department.

Firelady has been inviting me to visit her at work for several years now, but since I was always working, I just couldn’t get our schedules to match up (because it seemed kind of weird to take off work to hang out at someone else’s job) but since I’m out on “sabbatical” I figured why not now? I finally got around to scheduling my ride-along at the end of August and I’m kind of bummed that I hadn’t done it sooner.

Sidebar: I will admit that I’ve always had this thing about firefighters since I was in preschool after we had a fire engine visit and I got to hold the hose, which later blew up while I was in elementary school. Well, really it was because I had this thing about Prince Charming from Cinderella. Wait! I have a point. I promise! So I was obsessed with the movie and while I was at my friend’s house one day, his sister was having a slumber party and they were watching Cinderella and their dad popped in and made some joke about being Prince Charming in real life. Well, in my six year old mind, that made him the most awesome person in the world coupled with the fact that he was a fireman. Oh my poor six year mind was blown. Prince Charming AND a fireman? Mr. Baker, when you walked me home that night, you cemented your place in my six-year old heart.

And we digress. I took the little six-year old me and spent a lovely Friday with Battalion 3, which is made up of four stations: Stations 1, 8, 35 [which includes two fire boats!] and 48. Upon my arrival, Firelady filled me in about the “Ride Along Curse” where those were typically the days that were quiet. While I was hoping to see some kind of action that day, I did feel pretty weird about hoping for it. I mean, I didn’t want someone’s house to catch on fire. But I do feel that the “curse” is actually a good thing because it sets the record straight on what actually happens on a daily basis. We always think firefighters are rushing out to fight fires all day, every day. Sometimes they do, most times they don’t. It’s a lot of rushing to the scene to find out it’s only a false alarm, or someone burned a pan while cooking, or someone thought they smelled gas but it turned out to be some neighboring building was having its roof re-tarred, or even getting called off at the last minute, things like that.

Sure there are fires to fight, but for the most part, it’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” going on. We had a fair amount of downtime to attend to the daily duties that she has to do, like checking on her other stations, meetings, fire inspections and the like. But what I really enjoyed was being able to spend time with Firelady and get a better idea of what she experiences every day. She’s a really fascinating person [outside of being a firefighter] and I’m really honored that she invited me to share a small tastes of her life away from church.

So what did I get to see that day [I can’t disclose specifics here due to a NDA]? A few false alarms, one including a very eye-opening conversation with a “concerned neighbor” who doesn’t know the meaning of too much information [I had a great laugh with the tillerman [that’s the guy that steers the back of the fire truck] about that], a naked man riding a bicycle during Critical Mass, how crazy a Battalion Chief’s vehicle gets on calls [there’s a monitor that lists the pertinent info, a radio that’s connected to dispatch, and then a personal radio so they can talk to the dispatched stations and all of them are going at once…while they’re driving!], and how to navigate to calls that require going over the Bay Bridge. In traffic. But the highlight of the day? Riding the fire boat!

Station 35 has two fire boats and after our morning rounds, invited me back for a ride on the boat before they headed out to test out a new foam hose they just had installed. I have always wanted to ride on one of these boats so I was really excited about the chance to finally check it out. They took me and a couple of police officers out for a quick spin on the bay along the Embarcadero. The weather was perfect and I really enjoyed the view of the Ferry Building, Golden Gate, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge. I think the trip lasted about 15 or so minutes but it was a wonderful experience that few have actually had the pleasure of having.

I absolutely would love to join Firelady again on another ride along but even if I never get that chance, I’m most certainly grateful for this one. Thanks again to Battalion 3, Stations 1, 8, 35 and 48 for welcoming me into your houses and a special shot out to Stations 8 for housing and feeding me [and for making sure the bathrooms were especially clean] and Station 35 for the epic boat ride. Stay safe guys.

Battling the rapids with a paddle

One of the things that I love about Groupon and Living Social is that I’m now able to do things I otherwise wouldn’t have done, or at least do the things I wanted to do sooner.

Like the deal with Indoor Skydiving, I had been wanting to go white water rafting for a few years now after I saw how much fun some of my friends had on their trip. I don’t remember why I didn’t go but I do remember an incredible feeling of regret that I wasn’t able to join them.

After a friend from church saw this offer on Living Social, I jumped at the chance. There was no way I was going to miss this experience a second time around. We were able to get a group of six of us who were brave enough to go in on the deal and we set our date to tackle the rapids for the second weekend in July.

We went through Gold Rush Rafting and they were fabulous to work with. The coordinator, Cammie, is actually a trained EMT so we were in highly capable hands. The best part was that, after our group expressed their nervousness (out of six of us, only myself and another girl knew how to swim!), she made sure to pair us with their best river guide, Jim, who left a cushy job in Silicon Valley to work outside (and lost a good deal of weight in the process).

The biggest worry is falling out the boat, but thankfully we all stayed inside ours. There were a few people from other boats that fell out but since we go out in a group of several boats [a flotilla?] people are on the lookout for wayward rafters and help to catch them. So long as you remember to roll over onto you back and keep your legs up, you’ll be fine. Someone will fish you out of the water in no time.

The ride down the South Fork of the American River was absolutely beautiful. It was a warm 90-some degree day and the water was perfectly cold that it was a welcomed relief when you hit a huge rapid and was splashed though you were bone dry again within minutes. So what does it feel like to shoot down the rapids? Have you been on those rapid-like rides at amusement parks? Multiply that by about a million and you’re pretty close. Oh, and your arms are like wet noodles at the end of the day.

In short: IT’S AWESOME!

I definitely want to go again (and again) and would highly encourage everyone to give it a shot. You don’t really know how to swim but it helps if you’re at least comfortable in water and can float (not to worry: everyone has a life jacket). It’s a fantastic way to get outside and a little wet. It’s challenging but in a good way.

All pictures are courtesy of Gold Rush Rafting

Flying through tunnel vision

So way back in May [yeah, yeah, yeah. I know] while the bf was visiting, one of the things I was really looking forward to doing with him was going Indoor Skydiving.

Have you seen Hertz’ most recent ad campaign, “Gas or Brake” where there’s an odd couple of sort with the crazy, “up for anything” girl and the cautious guy? That’s us. I’m down for doing almost anything and most of the time he’s looking at me and really only able to shake his head in response.

One of the things I have always wanted to experience is skydiving. I had a chance to go many moons ago but couldn’t due to some scheduling conflicts; read: I couldn’t get the time off work.

Needless to say, he is not enamored with this idea like I am. He doesn’t want to risk the chance of losing me, since it’s not like it’s the most safest of activities that I could presently be obsessed with. I fought it but eventually agreed to put my skydiving dreams on hold for the moment.

In the meantime, I came across a Groupon for Indoor Skydiving at IFly and figured this would be a great thing to do together. Plus, it’s like skydiving! without the diving! IT’S PERFECTLY SAFE!!

Yes, that was a work-around to my previous compromise. We all knew exactly what I was doing. I wasn’t fooling anyone. Thankfully the bf loves me and tolerates a good amount of my nonsense. I must remember to watch my level of nonsense from here on out. I also feel like I was working towards a debt ceiling joke [haha, how topical!] but it’s just not getting there. So let’s just imagine that I did and all laugh and slap our knees while remarking at just how clever I really am.

I didn’t know what to expect but we both had a great time. They have you arrive early to register and also give you a chance to watch other people as they take their turn in the wind tunnel. It was fun watching everyone take their flight and helped to prepare you for what to expect when it was your turn.

After a quick video orientation, we suited up and loaded into the jump area to await our turns. The package we purchased included two one-minute flights and a DVD of the session [which includes EVERYONE in your group]. I was a little nervous about the bf enjoying himself but he ended up having a great time!

It took me a few seconds but I got my bearings and did pretty well during my time in the wind tunnel. Towards the end of your second flight, the instructor hangs on and takes you up high into the tunnel. It is at once thrilling and exhilarating and a little scary. That was my favorite part [duh, right?]. On my way down I had a huge grin on my face.

I would totally do this again, and if you need more of a reason [because I would do a lot of things again] so would the bf. If that’s not enough of an endorsement, I don’t know what is. Just do it.

I wanted to include the edited video the bf made but I’m having trouble getting it to play on Vimeo. If I get it working, I’ll add the link to the post.

*All photos courtesy of IFly SFBay

Eating…Seattle: Second Helpings

Before I left for Seattle I made a list of new restaurants to try while I was in town. I am nothing, if not prepared. Especially when it comes to eating. That is no joke.

I didn’t get a chance to try too many new things, since we were kind of pressed for time with all the wedding events that had to be done [including an amusing family get together at the house – oh the copious amount of beer that had been consumed that day] but I did try a few good places and revisited some familiar sites.

After getting picked up at the airport, we stopped by the Jewel Box Café for boba milk tea and a Seattle Dog for me. If you don’t remember from last time, a Seattle dog is a hot dog on a slightly toasted bun with cream cheese. Don’t knock it until you try it. The one at the café was passable, though the street vendors make a much better dog. I think the bun was a bit too toasty to wield to the dog and there definitely was not enough cream cheese.

On Thursday, the family got together at Red Hook Brewery for a few [hundred] pitchers and food. I’m not a real fan of beer but somehow I had a glass pored for me and I slowly, and I mean, S-L-O-W-L-Y, sucked that thing down over the course of the lunch. And we were there for at least a few hours. The food was your typical pub food: burgers, sandwiches, other stuff, and nothing really to write about. The shenanigans that happened while we were there..well, we had fun.

Things turned towards fun on Friday. J and I went to pick up some cupcakes from Trophy with a Groupon he bought and I had the pleasure of picking the flavors. Oh, I was in heaven. We ended up with the following: two pineapple upside down, two hummingbirds, snickerdoodle, red velvet, lemon, salted caramel, snowball, triple chocolate, something else and the monthly special: the Elvis. As soon as I saw the sign, my eyes lit up. Not because I was a fan of Elvis, but because it was a banana cake with peanut butter frosting drizzled with honey. Can you say delicious?


I tore into that cupcake as soon as physically possible. The frosting was perfect: just the right amount of peanut butter, not too sweet and delightfully light and fluffy. I’m not a big frosting person but I wanted to lick it all off right then and there. Trophy, my goodness. I puffy heart you.

Then I took a bite out of the cake. It was moist [much better texture over the red velvet one I had previously] and banana-ey and…FILLED WITH COCONUT. I was appalled. And disgusted. And utterly crushed. Oh Trophy! Why do you hate me so?! I was miffed but because the frosting was so delicious, I suffered through the rest of the cake. I sat there with a very noticeable frown on my face. I was NOT happy. Who puts coconut in a banana cake? I was mad that the clerk at the shop failed to mention they baked their cake with coconut. What if I was allergic to coconut? Who thinks to ask if there’s coconut in a banana cake?! Oh. You? You think to ask if there’s coconut in a banana cake? You disgust me. I later tried the snicker doodle and was disappointed with that one as well. The frosting was too sweet and the cake was dry and flavorless. It reminded me of a corn muffin. Not very appetizing to say the least.

At least lunch didn’t disappoint. After picking up the cupcakes, J and I headed to Paseo since we were near the neighborhood and it was only a few minutes before it opened, which was key since a line quickly formed soon after we arrived [with another 10 minutes to go before opening!]. They serve Caribbean sandwiches and other stuff and the smell from the bbq was intoxicating. I ended up getting the #1: Grilled Pork sandwich and could not wait to sink my teeth into that baby.


Not the best picture, but still delicious. Wish I could reach in and grab it

By the time we got to the house, the baguette had soaked up just enough of the sauce to make it a bit more pliable but seriously, this was the best pork sandwich I have ever eaten. I could have done with less lettuce as it kind of just got in the way, but the grilled onions, the meat, and the aioli sauce…simply delicioso. One of the groomsmen was more than excited to talk to me about the joys of eating at Paseo and was shocked that I didn’t have to wait in line for 45 minutes like he did. Timing is everything. I will definitely be adding this to my “must eat” list for any and all future trips to Seattle. We had the rehearsal dinner at O’Asian Kitchen but I wasn’t really feeling the food so I didn’t have much to eat.

On Sunday I made revisited a past favorite, Piroshky Piroshky, for breakfast. I was kind of shocked to find a line at 9 in the morning but hey, at least it’s quick moving. I picked up a potato, onion and cheese piroshky as well as a cinnamon cardamon braid to munch on. The piroshky was just as delicious as I remembered and I happily tore into it as I walked around the market. I was going to save the braid for later but later came a lot sooner than I anticipated and sat on a bench to enjoy the view before hiking it to the Space Needle.


Delicious Cinnamon Cardamon braidy goodness


My love, in food form

After saying by to the newlyweds, I headed out on my own to do a little foodie adventuring. Thankfully the two places I planned to visit were in the same area as the hotel, my biggest issue was just finding parking. What a hassle. I stopped by The Yellow Leaf Cupcakes to pick up, well what else, a cupcake. There were a lot of flavors vying for my attention but the blood orange cupcake caught my eye. I had never seen that flavor anywhere before and had to snap it up. I saved it though for later so I could indulge at my last stop of the day: Serious Pie.

Look at all the pretty cupcakes!

Time for lunch!

I had heard of Serious Pie thanks to Food Networks’ “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” series when Tyler Florence was expounding on the deliciousness of the chanterelle mushroom and truffle cheese pizza and  my desire to check it out only heightened when A and J both heartily endorsed it. The restaurant itself is tiny and filled with long benches for communal dining. I was a little nervous about my time since I only had a couple hours before I had to return the rental car but thankfully being a single diner was an advantage and I was seated within minutes. I gave the menu a cursory glance since I knew exactly what I wanted, much to the apparent disappointed from my server, who seemed put off that I refused to hear the specials [but in my defense: why would you wait until AFTER I placed my order to ask if I want to hear the specials? Why don’t you lead off with that?].


Caught him working the meat. Heh.

The pizza itself was really good. It was a thin crust/flatbread-esque pizza that was crispy and chewy and slightly salty, though it was a little too salty in some areas. I really enjoyed the mushrooms and the floral fragrance from the truffle cheese [I think]. I had to consciously tell myself to slow down or else run the risk of scarfing the whole thing down in minutes.


I want this. RIGHT. NOW.

After lunch, I had enough time to hit up Kerry Point to enjoy my cupcake and take in one last view of the Seattle skyline before heading home. I was excited about trying the cupcake and even purposefully stopped eating just so I had room to eat the cupcake. It was a beautiful looking layered cupcake, I’m not sure what they were but from the looks of it, possibly a yellow and red velvet, with orange buttercream frosting and a dollop of what I assumed to be blood orange puree.

I tasted the frosting but couldn’t discern any flavor. It just tasted like whipped cream or something. I was confused but forged ahead, taking a bite out of the cupcake itself. It was dry and also flavorless [which was why I couldn’t figure out what flavors the cake was – if they were flavored or maybe they were just colored batter. And as far as I know, you can’t taste colors while sober]. The only thing that had any kind of flavor was the orange filling, which was appropriately sweet and orangey. Cupcake: FAIL.

I was utterly disappointed and ended up not finishing the cupcake. I just couldn’t get over how flavorless that thing was. Would I be open to trying another flavor? Probably, but I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way to try it either.

All in all, while this wasn’t my best attempt at stuffing my face, I still enjoyed my meals, especially the heavenly pork sandwich and pizza. I know where I”m going next time I’m in Seattle!

Eating…Oxbow Public Market

Lately the weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy, odd considering that it was late May/early June in California and it’s usually warmer around this time. The bf was actually a bit disappointed since he was looking forward to the warmer weather. In fact, my plans for a fun outing in Napa Valley with him was cancelled due to general un-picnic like weather. Boo rain. Because of the weird weather, I’ve spent the past few days hanging out at home so when the need to be outside to photosynthesize suddenly became overwhelming, I decided to pretend I was a tourist and hit up Oxbow Public Market near downtown Napa.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s basically a large market hall with a bunch of small alcoves for shops, similar to the Ferry Building marketplace [apparently the guy behind the Ferry Building space is the genius behind Oxbow]. I wandered around for a bit checking everything out and getting a lay of the land. One shop in particular, Whole Spice, really grabbed my attention which had a ton of different spices, extracts and salts, including Himalayan Pink salt. I’m not quite sure how I would use the Himalayan Pink salt but I was tempted to buy a few ounces just because. I would like to go back to further discover what else they had in store.  Since I didn’t really have a game plan when I came to the market, I ended up deciding to make it a day of eating. Of course I did.

My first stop was to C Casa. There were a lot of things on the menu that I wanted to try but since I had plans on sampling a few other bites, I had to pick only one. Instead of leaning on my go to [steak], I inched outside my comfort zone and ordered the spicy lamb taco (with goat cheese, avocado crema, mint, jalapeños, garlic aioli & micro greens) and the hibiscus orange iced tea.

I really enjoyed this taco. The lamb was nicely seasoned and really tender and there was a slight heat from the jalapeno peppers. The lamb was so good I would have eaten it by itself. I was disappointed that I couldn’t really taste the mint and I ended up taking out almost half of the micro greens because it was just too much. They really overwhelmed the rest of the taco.

Next, I stopped by Gott’s Roadside in hopes of getting an order of their crazily delicious calamari, however my plans were thwarted when I found out there was, in fact, NO CALAMARI. How rude!

I sulked for a second as I slowly made my way back to the marketplace before realizing the bakery I wanted to try was just around the corner. The Model Bakery has tons of different breads, cakes, cookies and other yummy looking pastries available all day long. I stopped in to try one of their famous English Muffins that was featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate…

This was no ordinary English Muffin; it was large, fluffy, and crispy. The dough is actually a ciabatta bread so it lends its unique texture to the muffin, plus they griddle them to give it a nice outside crust. I had mine toasted and slathered it with butter and apricot jam and I instantly fell in love with it on the first bite. The bread itself is really chewy, the good kind of chewy, and my mouth is watering just thinking about it right now. I want more and I know I won’t ever be able to enjoy a Thomas English Muffin ever again. I have effectively been ruined and I’m not mad about it in the slightest.

Thomas would be jealous of these nooks and crannies.

After feasting on the world’s best English Muffins, I made one last stop at Pica Pica Bar to see if anything on the menu could entice me. Originally I was going to order some tajadas [sweet plantains] but I ended up being swayed by a display of patacones. I’m not exactly sure what I got [I let the cashier pick the fillings for me] but they’re like twice baked potatoes with meat fillings instead of more potato. Also, instead of potato, it’s actually a plantain. I ended up with a trio of pork, chicken and steak with a spicy cream dipping sauce [which was sour cream with smoked chile].

Of the three, the chicken was actually my favorite. It’s rare when I prefer chicken over steak but the chicken had a smoky almost barbequed taste to it that I really liked. The pork was good too, it was just salty enough for me, though the tomato and avocado slice made it a little messy to eat. I could have done without the steak; it was just meh. It didn’t really taste like they had done anything to it. I would have rather have a second chicken patacone.

In all, I’m really glad I made the trip up to Oxbow and loved everything I nommed on during the two hours I was there. It was the perfect distraction from my day and I’d definitely come back to eat everything again. Especially that English Muffin.