Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Western Adventure: San Francisco

Thursday, May 24, 2007; San Francisco, California

Valerie: After a short lay over in Philadelphia (where I met up with Adam to catch our US Airways flight), we headed west. We arrived in San Francisco and hit the ground running. That afternoon we were able to see a few of the sights before checking in to our hotel (The Hyatt Regency) and having a great dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.

Adam: Although we travelled pretty far for good Chinese food it was well worth it. We saw both old (i.e., touristy) Chinatown and the "new Chinatown" on Clement street - both were pretty cool, and compared with Puerto Rico (or Columbus), the food was incredible - chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, beef chow fun with black bean sauce...my mouth waters even thinking about it!
(Random street in Chinatown)

Valerie: During our visit to Chinatown we were able to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, where you can see fortune cookies being made by hand. Don't be confused by its name, this "factory" is the size of a small Manhattan studio apartment and is located in a nondescript alley in Chinatown -- the smell of the baking cookies is the only thing that keeps you from missing it. A large package of fortune cookies is only $4.00 (you can get chocolate flavored fortune cookies as well). Not surprisingly, the cookies were very tasty and their fortunes were better than average.

Valerie: We then headed to Alamo Square to visit the "Painted Ladies" (the row of Victorian houses in the background of the picture seen below). Although you can't see it because of the fog, behind the houses and visible from Alamo Square, is a beautiful view of downtown San Francisco.

Valerie: We next visited Coit Tower. The views from the base and the top of the Tower were well worth the hike up.

(One of the many fantastic views from the base of the Coit Tower.)

(A view of downtown San Francisco from the top of the Coit Tower. The triangle building is the Transamerica Building.)

Adam: Unfortunately, the tower itself is not that impressive. Basically, a crazy old lady decided that she liked fire hoses, and tried to build a two-hundred foot replica of one. There are some neat socialist-influenced paintings inside, but they compete with lots of Hawaiian-shirted tourists and tour-bus fumes.

Pictured: Coit Tower

Valerie: Our last stop on Thursday was San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Although similar to NY's Central Park, in that the park spans many city blocks and is an oasis in the middle of a large city, Golden Gate Park has a more "commercial" feel than Central Park.

Adam: That being said, there's plenty of free green space in the park.

Valerie: Our first stop inside the park was the Japanese Tea Gardens, located inside Golden Gate Park. The garden was nice but its tranquility was disrupted by little, wild children and loud tourists. Although considered the premier tourist attraction inside the Park, I was not particularly impressed.

Adam: They have some pretty neat old Buddhas and pagodas donated by the Government of Japan. I really enjoyed it - you really don't see as much Japanese culture out on the east coast.

Valerie: After the tea gardens we headed to the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, conveniently located across the street from the tea gardens. The Botanical Gardens were much nicer, and much more peaceful.

(This picture was taken on a small deck, overlooking a tiny pond, in a secluded part of the Botanical Gardens. A great Kodak moment.)

(Us in front of one of the garden's many lakes.)

Adam: Here, Valerie took about a million pictures of a robin, which she claims do not exist in Florida.

Valerie: I admit I may have spent too much time taking pictures of a robin and a blue jay, but I did get a really great picture of a squirrel eating a peanut.

Valerie: Our last stop was the Dutch windmill located on the northwest corner of Golden Gate Park. The windmill is located on the corner of a small, but beautiful, garden. As you may have noticed from the pictures thus far, the weather in San Francisco was overcast, continuously foggy, and cold -- very cold. The sun did not join us until Erendira's wedding on Saturday.

Friday, May 25, 2007; San Francisco, California

Valerie: We woke up early on Friday, determined to see as much of the city as possible. Originally we had planned on renting bikes and biking the bridge early in the morning. This is a popular tourist activity in SF and thought to be a great way to explore the city. Because of the morning fog, we decided to put off our bike ride until the afternoon. The ride along the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito and Tiburon provide amazing views of the city but only on clear days.

(A view from our hotel balcony of the pier and the Ferry building. Notice the overcast skies -- it looked like it was going to rain all weekend, although it never did.)

Adam: Instead, we decided to stretch our calves a bit first by walking around the city. San Francisco is, of course, famous for really steep streets - and this visit did not disappoint.

(The views from Russian Hill were well worth the climb)

Valerie: We started our day with a walking tour of Russian Hill. The picture below is us at the top of Russian Hill. Notice the great view of the city in the background. This was a great walking tour to take (see Lonely Planet San Francisco) and provided an even better (butt) workout.

(In the background you can make out the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland, California.)

Adam: Note the temperature. In the picture above, I am actually defrosting Valerie.

Valerie: Towards the end of the Russian Hill walking tour you hit Lombard Street -- touted as the world's crookedest street. As you can tell, San Francisco has no shortness of spectacular views. From practically anywhere in the city, because of the hills, the views of the ocean, the city, the bridges, and Alcatraz are abundant.

(View from the top of Lombard Street)

(Us with Lombard Street in the background)

Adam: It took us forever to find a tourist who could take a decent picture of us. Hint: if you are ever asked to take a picture of someone, consider looking at the screen/through the viewfinder before you click.

Valerie: While visiting Fisherman's Wharf we stopped in at Boudin Bakery -- home to San Francisco's famous Sourdough bread. After a visit to Pier 39, home to many California sea lions (see picture), we headed to Ghirardelli Square -- home to Ghirardelli's chocolate store (the Ghirardelli factory is not actually located in San Francisco). On the square there is a great cupcake shop, Kara's cupcakes, which we recommend you try if you're ever in the city.

(Me in front of the Ghirardellli sign at the square)

Adam: The cupcakes provided some interesting ideas for my cake-baking (see prior posts). They were both filled; one with lemon curd, the other with caramel and fleur-de-sel. The fleur-de-sel caramel provided a nice contrast to to the richness of the chocolate.

Valerie: After filling up on cupcakes and free chocolate samples at Ghirardelli, we walked a short distance to Blazing Saddles, to rent our bikes for what turned out to be a 6-hour bike ride. Tip: I don't recommend Blazing Saddles. Their map of the bike path left a lot to be desired and their rushed and skimpy directions for how to get to the bridge from the wharf left Adam and I on Highway 101.

Adam: There are a lot of other outfits that rent bikes at Fisherman's Wharf - I might consider going with them. Of course, I was also not paying particularly close attention to the map, being distracted by the views...
(Us with our bikes and the Golden Gate bridge in the background)

Valerie: Our first stop after crossing the beach was Sausalito, California -- located across the bay from San Francisco.

(Adam in Sausalito. The small town resembled a small fishing town in New England.)

Adam: I liked this town a lot, but I'm still trying to figure out what it had to do with the Pepperidge Farm cookies.

Valerie: 16 miles later we finally hit Tiburon. I didn't think the ride would ever end. From Tiburon you can take a ferry back to Pier 41 in San Francisco.

(The houses in downtown Tiburon)

(Us at the end of a very long bike ride in Tiburon. I'm surprised we could walk after 6 hours on the bike. On a clear day you would be able to see San Francisco in the background.)

(A view of Alcatraz from the ferry ride back to SF from Tiburon)

Valerie: No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a ride on one of the city's famous cable cars. We took a ride on the Powell Mason line to Union Square.

(Us on the cable car)

(Us in front of a heart sculpture in Union Square)

Saturday, May 26, 2007; Sonoma, California

Valerie: On Saturday we left the city and drove north to Sonoma. Our hotel was in Napa and upon arriving we decided to check out the city. Napa was ok but nothing like what I had imagined. Napa is much like Orlando but without Mickey (which, if you think about it, makes it worse because Mickey is the sole reason for visiting Orlando). In any case, after grabbing a bite to eat at your run-of-the-mill restaurant, we headed half an hour west to Sonoma. Sonoma is everything you would imagine wine country to be like. It's a small town with very quaint shops (including a dog boutique: Three Dog Bakery) and beautiful surroundings (rolling hills and lots of vineyards). Both Adam and I agreed that we need to come back and visit Sonoma with more time.

(Adam in the plaza -- the center of town)

Adam: I concur with Valerie's impression of Napa; Sonoma is much nicer. We particularly liked the drive along Route 12 between the two cities.

Valerie: The highlight on Saturday was attending Erendira and Seth's wedding at BR Cohn Winery (Erendira is a friend of ours from law school and Seth is a brilliant scientist) . The wedding was one of the best I've been to. Even the wine was great (their Sauvignon Blanc was my favorite) and that's saying a lot because those who know me know I don't drink wine. The ceremony, performed by a Rabbi, was held on a hill overlooking the vineyard. The backdrop was very romantic: the Mayacamas and Sonoma Mountains, the cabernet vineyards, and a setting sun. Both the bride and groom looked terrific.

(A view of the location for the ceremony.)

(The bride and groom under the Chuppa)

(Me, Erendira, Melissa, and Ana during the cocktail hour)

(Adam and I during the wedding)

Adam: Before I edited it, the caption above said "The Bride and the Groom under the Chutzpah." Chutzpah indeed!

Valerie: After the ceremony, the bride and groom walked down the aisle to the sounds of a mariachi band (the band snuck up behind the guests and surprised us all ). The dinner was also very tasty. The couple's wedding announcement was in the New York Times (see here) and I bet it will even make Legal Eagle Wedding Watch on Above the Law.

Up Next: Adam and I head to Chicago to visit Katherine and Rob on June 8th. Two blogs will cover the event!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Molly speaks, sort of

Dateline: 751 days in captivity and counting. 0 days of freedom.

Until now my owners have manipulated OUR blog. No longer. Remember this face. I plan to take over the world! My cuteness is an asset. Woof.

(The you-don't-want-to-make-me-mad look)

Columbus Clippers v. Louisville Bats

May 22, 2007; Columbus, Ohio

I attended my first minor league baseball game today. My co-clerks and I, along with Angy and the Judge attended a Columbus Clippers game for the Judge's birthday. The Clippers are a Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The Clippers were playing the Louisville Bats, whose pitcher, Homer Bailey, is a serious prospect for the Cincinnati Reds.

Pictured: The Clippers' stadium and their mascot, Kraze.

It was a great day for baseball, perhaps too good. It was sunny and 84 degrees. The stadium was full of people, far more than you would expect for a noon game. Because tickets were so cheap (normally only $10 for box seats but half price on Tuesdays), we sat close to the field. But because of the sun (who would have thought it could be that sunny in Columbus), it probably would have been better to sit in the cheap seats, where the upper seats provided some shade. We only lasted 4 innings (about 2 hours) before we were too wet from sweating to enjoy the game any longer. When we left, the Clippers were down 4 to 1 -- the Bats' pitcher was pitching a great game. The final score was Louisville 6 and Columbus 5. All and all, it was a great outing.
Pictured: Judge, Me, Allison, Barney, Angy, and David

(Judge, Angy, Allison, Me, Barney, and David after the game)

(Barney and David)

(Judge, Valerie, and Allison)

Up Next: The Doog stays in Columbus; Valerie and Adam head west.

The cake toss!

Dateline: Tuesday, May 22, a small sunny island in the middle of the caribbean

So, it is week 2 of my self-directed study of the fine art of cake-making, and I've decided to take a 180 degree turn from last week's butter-on-butter-on-butter combination, and go to the dark arts: the chocolate cake. Again, taking my recipe from Rose Levy's Cake Bible, I made a chocolate fudge cake with chocolate ganache frosting. The cake came out fine, if a bit dense - it was a bit like eating fudge, and most of the testers - my intrepid band of co-workers - agreed that it would have benefitted from a side of whipped cream or a glass of milk. The frosting, however, was luxurious. A simple combination of bittersweet chocolate, orange liqueur, and cream makes for a frosting that is rich, easy to work with, and not overly sweet.

I also had a great chance to work with my piping decorations - the denseness of ganache makes decorations a bit sturdier, and I piped a nice border around the cake. Unfortunately, you will never get to see it, because as I was taking the cake out of the refrigerator to photograph it, I dropped it. Through some miracle (perhaps the undesired density), the cake dropped straight to the floor, and remained on the stand where I had placed it, albeit a bit shaken up. The frosting decorations were not so durable, and landed throughout the small galley kitchen I've been using. I hastily scooped the cake back up and took a serrated knife to it, smoothing out edges as best I could before I went into work. This accounts for the "misshapenness" of the cake:

In case you were wondering what happened to the posts from this weekend, it was a bit of a bust. My first attempt at merriment was a bike ride down to Old San Juan; this was to be a trial run for a possible commuting route and a way to enjoy a beautiful day by the sea. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico has failed to invest a sufficient amount of money in road maintenance, and I ended up with a flat tire shortly after I left:

Then, I figured I'd invite a friend and his wife over for dinner and spend the afternoon making some tasty vietnamese food. After a half hour of straightening up the apartment, I decided to plop myself onto my nice comfy futon for a quick break. It was not meant to be, and the futon fell apart, the screws having basically been rusted through.

In any case, my friend ended up inviting me over to his house for dinner after I explained that he would have nowhere to sit at my house, and I spent the next day examining screws at Home Depot to determine how to best fix the futon, which, I am happy to report, has been restored to its former glory. To say the least, it was not a particularly fascinating weekend - Valerie has me beat this time!

Next on "The Intriguing Life . . . ": Adam and Valerie take a brief respite in San Francisco; the doog is left to her own devices at home - will Valerie's apartment be there when she returns? Tune in next time!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Valerie Is Creative

May 20, 2007; Columbus, Ohio

I participated in an arts and crafts class today at Archivers --- a great scrapbooking store in Columbus Ohio. The class, Sparkly Occasions Card Workshop, allowed each participant to create 8 different greeting cards. The instructor gives everyone a packet of supplies and each person gets a sample of one of the eight cards. Although the class is supposed to be "relaxing" (or so the instructor kept telling us), you were forced to work quickly because every 15-20 minutes the instructor took you're sample card and gave you a new one to duplicate. The drill repeated 8 times and could make you just a tad stressed out. The outcome of my two hours of work is pictured below. I thought the cards came out pretty good, although the project involved way too much glitter. The clothes I was wearing are now in need of a wash just to eliminate their newly acquired sparkle. As usual, Molly watched while I worked.

(This is a general, everday card.)

(This is a birthday card.)

(This is also a multi-purpose card with a flower on the front.)

(A "just a note" card.)

(A happy birthday card and a personal favorite. I like the cupcake. The brown cupcake base is not colored. The brown comes from this fluff I glued on.)

(A thank you card.)

(Another birthday card.)

(The last birthday card.)
Up Next: Valerie goes to a Columbus Clippers' game with her co-workers.