Friday, April 29
Last week we spent a day in Yosemite with Nate’s parents. (It was beyond breathtaking, by the way.) On the way home, we drove through California’s Central Valley (you know, one of the world’s best spots for growing food). We passed acres and acres of fields and orchards. On the particular road we were on, there were a gazillion almond trees. Here are a few unripe almonds from some of those trees. Aren’t they pretty?
None of us had ever seen an almond tree. We were intrigued. You could tell the fruit was in its early stages and Nate’s mom, Pat, was dying to hop out of the car to get a closer look. We finally found a spot where it was safe to pull over. As the car came to a stop, we noticed a “Beware of Dog” sign on a fence surrounding the orchard’s farmhouse. It was a few yards off and we kind of figured it was more of a sign to scare people. Nate’s mom hesitated before getting out, but we told her, “It will be fine. Go ahead!” So, she hops out of the car and walks to the nearest tree.
As her hand reaches out to feel what the almonds are like, we suddenly hear barking. We are all surprised. Yeah, we saw the sign. But still. Really? There is an actual dog to beware of? Nate’s mom sort of starts to panic. With only inches to go before her hand will reach the forbidden fruit, we all see it. The dog. It’s small, but scrappy, and has a fierce bark. And he’s running our way. Fast. Pat tears for the car, all the while yelling, “I’m just going to look at them! I’m not picking them!” For some reason, the dog didn’t listen.
Did you know that mini van doors close slowly? Well, they do. Thankfully, it closed just before the dog got to us.
As we drove away, laughing hysterically, I asked Pat, still recovering with adrenaline coursing through her veins, what the almonds felt like. “I don’t know, I didn’t even touch them!” Of course we laughed harder.
A mile or two down the road we saw a fabulous produce stand, surrounded by almond trees. We stopped to buy some nuts. Nate and Pat recounted the close call with the dog to the woman who owned the market. She told them they were more than welcome to look at her almonds and even pick a few to look at more closely. She wouldn’t even sic any dogs on us.
Thanks to Pat’s persistence and bravery, we all got a close-up look of an early-stage almond. And we all learned a lesson. If an orchard has a “Beware of Dog” sign, probably best to beware!
Friday, February 25
We found the trick to getting your kids to go to bed by 6:00 pm. And it only takes two days of “training.”
Day 1: Take them to Disneyland and stay until 9:00 pm when the park closes. Children will fall asleep during the car ride back to the hotel. You will have to carry them into the room (look out, they’re heavier when sleeping!) but they’ll stay asleep during transport because they are so stinking tired. You will actually get to stay up later in your shared hotel room with your kids because they will sleep through anything (even television) at this point.
Day 2: Take them swimming during the day. It doesn’t even have to be for very long. At around 5:00 pm, feed them ice cream on Balboa Island and then drive around for a while looking for dinner. They will once again fall asleep in the car. While the timing of their slumber will be a bit disappointing (i.e. right as you pull up to the Beachcomber Cafe, forcing you to give up and drive back to the hotel without any supper), they will be so exhausted from a week of vacation, no naps, and Disneyland fun, they will actually go to bed at 6:00 pm, leaving you to read books or watch episodes of Mad Men to your heart’s content!
And that is all you have to do. Easy peasy.
After a week of galavanting around Southern California, we are actually all feeling pretty exhausted, but all very happy.
Yesterday was our big Disneyland day. It was simply magical. Disneyland is always a fun place, but experiencing it with your children is the best. What I was most impressed with this time around was the staff. Everyone we interacted with was so friendly, it was amazing. And the characters? They’re all going straight to heaven. They make each and every child feel special. And they do it without saying a word.
Today we took it easy. A little swimming, a little eating, a little driving. And, apparently, a lot of sleeping. The girls really did fall asleep before 6:00 pm and I have a feeling will sleep all night no problem.
For these last two nights of our trip we are staying at the Marriott in Newport Beach. We we were treated to a delicious buffet breakfast this morning, and I was lucky enough to get a massage at the Marriott’s Pure Blu Spa in the afternoon. In all honesty, our room is very small by any hotel standards, which is just not very practical for a family of four with 1 weeks’ worth of luggage. But the room is nice and the view is phenomenal. Can’t be beat.
We made sure to get chocolate-dipped frozen bananas and balboa bars on Balboa Island, take the car on the tiny Balboa Island ferry (maybe a two-minute ride, but super fun) and grab some clam chowder at The Crab Cooker. The chowder was the best manhattan-style I think I’ve had – tomato-based but still creamy with great, fresh clams.
As for the chocolate-dipped frozen bananas…yum!!!! A question for those of you in the “know.” Which shop is the true original? Sugar ‘n Spice or Dad’s? They were just a few doors apart. We went with Sugar ‘n Spice because it said “the” original, and Dad’s just said “Dad’s original.” Anybody know the story about the two shops? Would love to hear it!
Time for bed. Big day of driving tomorrow. Thanks for joining us on our adventures this week, culinary and otherwise!
Legal mumbo jumbo: Disneyland provided us with admission tickets to the park, and the Marriott provided us with one free night of lodging. Thanks to both!
Thursday, February 24
Our two nights in Huntington Beach are already over! This week is going too FAST, people. I think we should have given ourselves twice as much time…too bad work and school have to get in the way, eh?
We were beyond lucky enough to get a chance to stay at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach. Okay, I thought I wanted to move into the Canary Hotel in Santa Barbara. Then we got to our room at the Hyatt. The PR woman who I’ve been working with pulled out ALL the stops. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that our suite was actually bigger than our apartment at home. And THIS was the view off of our GIGANTIC balcony.
Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves…despite the fact Nate was staying in a hotel on the beach, surfboard at the ready, and there were NO waves, rendering surfing impossible. Total bummer. But the resort made up for it. The hotel was beautiful and the staff was fantastic.
When we arrived Tuesday night, the executive chef for the hotel, Chris Savage, was waiting to cook dinner for us. Our dinner was prepared and served in a private dining room set aside just for us. I think this may have been one of the most fun, relaxing, delicious dinners I’ve ever had. The chef was wonderful, kind and interesting (not to mention busy…I can’t imagine doing his job!), and the Hyatt folks were beyond nice and helpful.
First we had a chicken tortilla soup, followed by a trio of salads, all of which were delicious. The bread served alongside was also great…I stole Anna’s leftover bread when she wasn’t looking. Yeah, I’m a good mom like that.
The main course was one of the hotel’s signature dishes – fish tacos with grilled mahi mahi. Oh my, these were some of the best fish tacos I’ve had. And I’ve had many.
Dessert was strawberry shortcake, accompanied by a giant chocolate covered strawberry. The biscuit was still warm, the cream perfect, and the strawberries just the right amount of sweet.
We were truly spoiled.
A few words on the resort. And I’m not just saying this because they paid for part of our stay. This place was SO MUCH FUN. On our full day at the resort, we spent the morning at the beach – the most fun the girls have had yet on the trip, resulting in very sandy, very wet clothes and very tired but very happy little girls. The afternoon was spent at the pool. They have these totally fun water slides that Cate could not get enough of. We ordered room service poolside (money well spent, by the way)…the food was super tasty and we got to stay out by the pool in the beautiful weather.
We seriously did not want to leave. And we’re already trying to figure out when we can get back. We are walking away from our time at the Hyatt in Huntington Beach with really wonderful memories. This may sound cheesy, but when we were sitting out in the beautiful weather eating lunch at the pool, I looked at my family and felt an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude. Those are the moments that you never forget.
Thank you, Hyatt!
On to Newport Beach and Disneyland!
Wednesday, February 23
Yesterday marked the end of our time in Santa Barbara. And what a good time it was!
For our last morning, we drove around town a bit (drooling over houses as we went) and then visited the Santa Barbara Mission, also known as the Queen of the California Missions. The buildings, gardens, church and cemetery were all beautiful. And the view was unbelievable. The door at the back of the chapel looks straight out to the ocean. It certainly puts one in a meditative mood.
For our last meal we had lunch at the Wine Cask. This was by far the fanciest restaurant of the three we tried – the tables and decor were lovely. And they had this wicked cool wall of wine bottles…we were all mesmerized by it. Our food was great and Nate had his favorite food from the trip…a Croque Madame. The bourbon caramel bread pudding was downright divine.
Big thanks to the Santa Barbara Visitor’s Bureau for helping us plan such a fabulous trip to their beautiful town! We can’t wait to return!
Tuesday, February 22
Is there a more beautiful town in the United States than Santa Barbara? I’m really not sure there is. And I lived in San Diego for 7 years, so that’s saying something! The landscape is amazing, the coastline gorgeous, the weather lovely, the architecture stunning…I’m running out of adjectives, so I’m just going to stop there. We are loving it here and we only have half a day left. It went by far too quickly!!
The Canary Hotel provided us with one free night and one night at a media rate. We could have stayed at another hotel for free both nights, but the call of the canary was too strong. We gave in. And I’m so glad we did. The hotel is in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara and is beautiful.
Our room is beautifully decorated, with gorgeous dark wood floors. And there’s plenty of space, even with all our stuff and four people.
And the rooftop? We could live there. There’s a heated pool, hot tub, tons of great tables and chairs for hanging out, and a 360-degree view of Santa Barbara. Absolutely gorgeous at sundown. I’m so glad we splurged a little to stay here. We’ll never forget it!
Yesterday we went to the Santa Barbara Zoo for half the day, aptly nicknamed the “Zoo with a View.” They weren’t kidding. The zoo is lovely, with great views of the ocean and the mountains. We at lunch on a beautiful lawn overlooking the twinkling waters of the Pacific Ocean. And it was a nice manageable zoo – the girls could walk the whole way, we saw all of their favorite animals, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly huge. It was a really fun time.
Let’s talk food, shall we? The first night Olio’s Pizzeria treated us to dinner. Our waitress was telling us that the couple who owns Olio’s Pizzeria also owns the fancier restaurant next door called Olio e Limone. They opened up the pizzeria to provide a more casual option. It is a fun space and was bustling with people. When we arrived at 6:00, the restaurant was already full, and when we left at 8:00 it was packed with a line out the door.
We had some really delicious food at Olio’s. We ordered a burrata appetizer that was served with the tastiest prosciutto we’ve ever had. Top the burrata and the prosciutto on their garlic-rubbed country bread and you are transported momentarily to heaven. Oh wait, we’re in Santa Barbara, so we’re already in heaven. But you get my drift. The girls couldn’t get enough meatballs, so it was a bummer that you only got three with the appetizer. But they were three thoroughly-enjoyed meatballs.
The pizzas are great. Awesome crust and lots of great flavors. There’s a lot of pizza in the world, and theirs holds its own. Of course I had to try their cannoli…it was, well, interesting. Different than any cannoli I’ve ever had. SUPER creamy, I wouldn’t have believe it was ricotta if I hadn’t read it on the menu. And not very sweet, which was also a surprise. It was yummy, but you have to eat it not expecting a traditional cannoli.
The restauarant was family-friendly – there were other kids there and I felt that my kids were welcome. However, there is no kids’ menu and no crayons. And service, while super friendly and helpful, was slow. Dinner and dessert took two hours. Kind of long for the girls, but they did surprisingly well.
Aldo’s Fine Italian Restaurant
On our second night, another popular spot Aldo’s Fine Italian Restaurant treated us to dinner. The restaurant has all the traditional Italian dishes you would expect, plus a few fun dishes like a pork chop cooked in a dried cherry sauce that sounded really good. I ordered the baked scallops cooked in a light cream sauce with mushrooms, tomatoes and spinach, as recommended by the waitress. She was right – the dish was delicious. Surprisingly light given it is baked in cream, and the vegetables were cooked perfectly, nice and fresh-tasting.
My favorite aspect of the food was the sauces. The mushroom and artichoke appetizer was in a delicious white wine sauce, the sauce on my scallops was wonderful, and the mushroom sauce on Nate’s steak was also super tasty.
Of course I had to try their cannoli, too. I’m a little obsessed. It was more traditional than Olio’s, which I think is a good thing. The owner and I agreed, though – nothing beats a cannoli in the Northeast! All the desserts were quite tasty. Cate gobbled up the chocolate raspberry mousse cake – I could barely get a bite in!
Like Olio’s, the restaurant was family-friendly. There was a kids’ menu and crayons available, which is always helpful, and they are willing to do 1/2 portions of most pasta dishes if your child feels more adventurous. I appreciate that. The waitstaff was super nice and helpful, but slow (like Olio’s). Long dinners can be really fun and nice, but with kids it is sometimes hard. Cate loved our waitress and talked about her on the walk home. It was really cute. The owner came to chat with us for a while. He started running the restaurant in December, so it was fun to talk with him about his experience. And, like I always say after talking to people who run restaurants, I really admire their hard work and can’t imagine doing it myself!
Today we’re going to go see the Santa Barbara Mission, drive around and look at big houses, and visit the Wine Cask for lunch. Then we’re off to Huntington Beach!
Sunday, February 20
Today I’m not making breakfast for dinner like I had originally planned. Instead we are doing something so much better – driving to Santa Barbara! Tonight we will be eating at Olio Pizzeria, which I’m certain will be better than pancakes. After spending a few days in Santa Barbara we will head down to Orange County. We are SO excited for this trip and will be sharing it with you as we go, especially since we have some great meals lined up!
Ford provided us with this awesome 2011 Explorer for the trip. We’ve borrowed cars for trips before, but this is our favorite. I fell in love as soon as I started driving. Nate felt the same way…after driving the car for the first time, he walked in the house and said, “That car is awesome.” It’s really too bad we have to give it back in a week. Maybe Ford will conveniently forget we have it. ;)
Here’s our menu for the week – gotta love vacation!
- Aldo’s Italian Restaurant in Santa Barbara
- Huntington Beach Day…any suggestions?
- Newport Beach Day…any suggestions?
- Lunch at Cafe Orleans in Disneyland!
- Driving home
- Breakfast for dinner, for real this time…we’ll be home and I’m sure exhausted! I’m thinking pancakes will fit the bill.
Since I’m not offering any helpful dinner ideas this week, I’m counting on all of you to share your menus and inspire one another!
Sunday, January 30
I’m not feeling great today, but Nate decided some fresh air and big ocean waves would do us all some good. We drove down to the coast and spent the morning watching giant waves crash against the shore. It was beautiful. And Nate was right, the walk out to Mavericks was pretty much the only time I didn’t feel sick today. Must have been the ocean air.
I love this shot of the boats on the harbor. It was a silvery, misty morning. And no, this photo is not in black and white. Pretty amazing.
Now that we’re home, time to snap back into real life and get our menu planned for the week!
- Soup (have some in the freezer)
- Chicken Parmesan
- Pasta with tomato sauce
- Eat out
- Nate’s omelettes (we got off the hook last week, had dinner with friends instead)
I know I am sounding like a broken record, but I am loving all the menu and recipe sharing that is going on each week on these weekly menu posts! Thank you all for creating such a wonderful community. And here we are again…please share your menu for the week! Can’t wait to see what’s for dinner.
Friday, September 17
Today I’m cheating a little. The restaurant I’m going to write about is actually in Palo Alto. But the owners have a second, more casual location in Menlo Park and it’s the same chef. So, it counts.
Okay, so I love Back A Yard in East Menlo Park. I think it might be my favorite take-out spot in town. Nate and I can split one jerk chicken dinner and be left with full bellies and tingly, happy taste buds. Their jerk sauce is perfection. Perfect texture, flavor, heat…I can’t get enough. Back A Yard has been serving Menlo Park for about 6 years. Two years ago they opened a second restaurant called Coconuts in Palo Alto, with the same wonderful Caribbean vibe and eats.
I knew I had to write about Back A Yard for Menlo Park week. When I emailed the chef, he offered to serve us dinner at Coconuts, which of course we took him up on! I already knew the chef’s wife Annetta from my frequent visits to Back A Yard, and it was a delight to finally meet Chef Robert. We also met the other Coconuts chef Emmanuel, who took very good care of us throughout the evening.
First off, we had a Jamaican soda called Ting. It rocked. My pictures of it did not rock. So, please just close your eyes and imagine what a Jamaican grapefruit soda in a pretty glass looks and tastes like. Pretty good, right?
On to the food.
Corn Festivals. They’re kind of like donuts. But maybe better. Not so sweet, but sweet enough. I can pop ‘em like candy. Seriously. It’s a good thing I only eat them every once in a while. You can also get the festivals at Back A Yard.
Curried Garbanzo Avocado Guacamole, with Crispy Plantain Tostones. Coconuts makes their tasty guacamole with smashed up garbanzo beans (kind of similar to the dip recipe from last week…interesting, eh?). And those tostones? LOVE them.
Pork bites. I love these tender little pork bites. Maybe because you get that bowl of jerk sauce. And we all know how I feel about the jerk sauce.
Curried shrimp. This was my dinner. It might be my favorite thing on the menu. Tons of perfectly cooked veggies. Delicious shrimp. The curry sauce is wonderful. Oh, and the little cup of mango salsa complements the entire dish so nicely.
Jerk Chicken and Curried Goat. This was Nate’s dinner. There’s that yummy jerk chicken I told you about. And the curried goat is quite good – very tender with, once again, a great sauce. These people know their sauces. You can’t see it, but this dish comes with rice and beans, which you can get at both restaurants. I love me some rice and beans, and these are no exception.
Tender Braised Oxtail. That’s right, OXtail. This meat is wicked tender. It’s also quite fatty, but seriously tasty. This is very traditional and we had to give it a try – glad we did.
By this point in the meal we were STUFFED and we had enough leftovers for a whole other dinner the next night! But we had to try at least one dessert. In the name of the blog, right? Ah, the sacrifices I make.
The chef recommended we go with the Sweet Potato Pudding. I told you Chef Emmanuel took care of us that night. I can’t tell you how happy I was we tried this pudding. I’m terrible at describing food…let’s see, it was warm, the sauce was yummy…see, terrible. Please just know this was good stuff.
Can you see why we love these restaurants? And I should mention that I credit Back A Yard with my new found ability to eat super spicy food. Before Back A Yard, I was a wimp. But that jerk is too good to pass up. And now, my heat tolerance is high. Bring it on.
Thank you to the owners and chefs for a fabulous meal!
Wednesday, September 15
Another Menlo Park (and, really, national) treasure is Kepler’s Books. You should click here to read the history of the bookstore. It’s fascinating and inspiring. Here are the highlights…Roy Kepler, peace activitist, opened the store in 1955. It attracted loyal customers from the start, oh, and The Grateful Dead and Joan Baez appeared/performed there regularly. There is a PBS documentary about Kepler’s and in 1990 Kepler’s was named “Bookseller of the Year” by Publisher’s Weekly. “Thanks” to the Internet, they had to close their doors in August of 2005…but after much support and investment from the community, they re-opened their doors two months later. Cool, right?
I love this place. I could spend hours browsing through the stacks and stacks of books.
They have events all the time with all kinds of amazing authors. I mean amazing. Like former-presidents-of-the-United-States amazing.
And the children’s section of the store is a little piece of heaven on earth.
We’re pretty lucky.
This might be my favorite part of the store. The Knuffle Bunnies fighting over who loves Kepler’s more.
So, there’s our bookstore. Are you in love with Menlo Park yet?
Hands down one of my favorite places in Menlo Park is Cafe Borrone. Every time I eat there I love it even more. I love the food. I love the atmosphere. I love the umbrellas. I love the chalkboard menus. I love the pretty dishes.
Last week Cafe Borrone treated us to dinner so I could write up this post. Our dinner was HEAVEN. Every last bite was scrumptious. Marina Borrone kept telling us we should call friends to come share the food with us because they were planning on bringing so much out…and, uh, yeah…Nate and I ate it all (with only a little help from the girls). So much for sharing!
Cafe Borrone has been around since 1971, first in Redwood City and now Menlo Park. The restaurant is family-owned and run by Marina, Josh (her husband who is also the chef) and Marina’s parents, who originally started the business. In fact, Josh started working here when he got out of high school, serving tables and whatnot, and is now chef!
Cafe Borrone uses almost all local ingredients (with the exception of around 5 items, such as bananas) and as much organic food as possible. Their menu changes day to day, based on what is fresh and in season. It’s a natural for lunchtime, but their breakfast food is wonderful. And dinner? Oh, dinner is too good.
Let’s take a gander at the food, shall we?
Corn fritters. I can’t begin to describe how good these are.
Beet Salad. The beets were soooooo yummy. Sweet, perfect texture. And the goat cheese on top of the greens? I didn’t know goat cheese could be so darn creamy.
Burrata. Have you ever had burrata? It’s basically fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream and curd. And it rocks. Especially topped on crostini with roasted peaches and tomatoes. Marina said they ate burrata in Italy and had to bring it to their restaurant…and now she’s seeing it in other places. That’s right, you saw it at Borrone’s first!
That was just the appetizers. How about some dinner?
Grouper BLT. Fresh line caught grouper with all kinds of bacony-tomatoey goodness surrounding it.
Steak Crostini. This was Nate’s favorite. I think mine too. But whenever I decide it’s my fave, I think about something else I ate and can’t go with a final decision. The Niman Ranch filet mignon on this crostini was cooked perfectly and tasted, well, amazing.
You have room for dessert, right? We all know I always do…
Nectarine and Blackberry Crisp.
Coconut Cream Tart.
This dog was totally judging me.
What, dog, what? You think I ate too much?
I think every single one of you reading this post needs to come visit me in Menlo Park, just so we can go to lunch at Cafe Barrone. Deal? Great! (Bonus for your trip: you get to see me pig out and get judged by snooty dogs.)
Click more to read Josh’s description of each dish. As if the pictures wouldn’t make you hungry enough.
Thank you, Cafe Borrone, for an amazing dinner…and, more importantly, for being around for everyone to enjoy!