Friday, July 29, 2011

Road Trip: California (Part 2)

From Muir Woods, we drove back to San Francisco ($6 lighter). Who knew it could be that expensive to cross a bridge? We headed back to Fisherman's Wharf to eat some chowder, see some seals, and see what the buzz was all about. It was mostly stores that cater tourists and WAY too many people milling around. There was a pretty fantastic left handed store that I was VERY tempted to buy some left handed cooking utensils from. Josh and I are both south paws and I'm hoping Gray is too because he is going to really put a kink in dinner time if he isn't. 

Side note: We (left handed people) are totally discriminated against. It was the desks in elementary school (and all the way into college if we are being honest). Notebooks hurt our hands with those metal spines. Pens that have advertisements don't advertise to us (the writing is upside down). Scissors, cooking utensils, etc. Totally discriminated against, see?

Gray did find the two-story carousel that he thought was fantastic. Two months ago, he hated the carousel at the Wild Animal Park. We get to San Fran, and he totally changes his mind. Crazy kid. He laughed and loved it. Josh thought it was great too. 
Carousel at Fisherman's Wharf
He also loved the view from our (8th floor) hotel room. He would climb onto the air conditioning unit and watch cars and people as often as we would let him. We had a pretty great view of the Golden Gate bridge from our room, but naturally it was lost on the Monkey. Josh was worried he was going to kill himself. I was worried the 'big' one was going to hit while we were in San Francisco. :)
Checking out the city from our hotel window (the bridge is just under his right hand). 
Alcatraz was maybe our favorite part of the whole trip. The prison has such a rich, interesting history and it was pretty cool to see the quarters and learn about the prisoner's day to day lives while at Alcatraz. I've never actually been in a jail, so it was kind of wild to go into a solitary cell. Talk about an unfriendly place. The solitary cells were small rooms with no beds, chairs, or anything else. They had metal walls, floor, and ceiling. They also had metal bars (like a typical jail cell) with a metal wall with another door and a small window. Does that make sense? Basically a metal box with an extra row of bars so the guard could open the door and then unlock the bars. I was glad that the doors were permanently opened, because I would hate to freak out and scream (like a little girl and like I was actually being locked up) if Josh decided it would be cute to close me in. 

The whole tour was pretty fantastic. Josh and I both loved it. Gray thought the head phones for the audio tour were pretty great, so we were actually able to listen to it and walk through instead of worrying about chasing Gray. I'll admit that I was looking for places where Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery might have been filming The Rock back in the 90s. I found none. I guess I should have re-watched the movie before going to San Francisco. 
Alcatraz. Awesome. 
Gray loved running around at Alcatraz. 
Josh, Gray, and I also got tickets for some of the tourist buses that run around the city, so we wouldn't have to worry about paying for parking, or actually finding parking. It worked out pretty well, as we saw practically everything on my list. (Similar to the list I made the weekend we got engaged in Washington, DC. We actually marked more things off in San Francisco. That's a whole 'nuther story. Engagement wasn't on the list, in case you were wondering. I was quite shocked!)

We were able to see Chinatown. It was stinky and way overcrowded. There were a lot of Asian people, and it was pretty much like the one in NYC (maybe smaller). Not a big shock on either front.
China Town. 
We also got to see the Painted Ladies. The park in front of them is a lot smaller than the people who filmed Full House would have the rest of America believe. It would have been a pretty nice place for a picnic though.
Painted Ladies
Naturally we hit up the Golden Gate Bridge. I think it's great and all, but why does every one ignore the Bay Bridge
The fam with the Golden Gate. Thanks random guy for the family portrait! 
I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to ride the cable cars, but the wait was 2+ hours just to get on one. Gray isn't really into two hours of waiting in line, so we passed. I'm a little bitter but it would have been a really bad two hours for a pretty glorious 15 minutes. I hope I don't regret this decision for the rest of my life. I'm only kidding.    

Mostly. 
Ding! Ding!
Our last stop in San Francisco on the way out of town, was at the Palace of Fine Arts. I wanted to hang out there all day. It's beautiful. If you are ever in San Francisco, I would recommend making time to see it. It has an interesting history. It was originally built in 1915, but it was not built to last. The city loved it so much they rebuilt many of the structures later. You may have seen it in So I Married an Axe Murder.
Palace of Fine Arts
From San Francisco, we drove north to the Napa Valley. We had to stop in Calistoga at the Petrified Forest. It was pretty neat, but good Lord was it hot. Josh and I have this strange way of always stopping at places that sell rocks. We normally buy something small to remember the trip (it's been some form of rock at least 2 other times), so this place was actually perfect for that since they had a pretty large gift shop. We got a small slice of petrified wood from the gift shop and Gray got a small bag of polished rocks that he got to pick out of a bin. He thinks that those rocks are the most fantastic souvenir of all time. It's cute until he puts 4 of them in his mouth at once...
Petrified Forest in Calistoga 
We were going to stop at some wineries (actually did stop but they were closing) on the way to Napa.  We decided to drive to a few the next morning instead, so we could get to the hotel and get in the pool. He had so much fun swimming with his Dada. I love watching them play together, so I just relaxed pool side with a book (that I never even opened). 

Gray thought the pool was the best idea ever. The worst idea ever? Getting out of the pool. 
Pool time in Napa, CA. 
We did a tour of the Robert Mondavi Winery after doing at least an hour of Internet searches for days and times the surrounding wineries were open, availability of tours, distance to travel, and if children were welcome. You would think that kids could at least tour most of the wineries, but there were quite a few that did not allow kids (or kids Gray's age). I didn't want to buy Gray his own flight of reds or anything, but come on Napa. Can he not walk through the tour like the rest of us or be carried by his parents? Several wineries had caves and/or other neat features that would have been pretty cool to see BUT Gray wasn't welcome. That seriously limited our visitation, so we only stopped at 3 different wineries. It wasn't a main focus of the trip for Josh and I, so we saw it and enjoyed the scenery. If we were ever to go back, we would fly in and spend several days winery hopping. Don't hold your breath for that vacation, because we weren't that impressed. Can't we just buy the bottles at the grocery store and try them at home? 
Mondavi Winery.
Then we were off to Sonoma Train Town. Gray loves trains almost more than his parents, so we thought he would be pretty excited. It was so hot and muggy I thought we had somehow passed thorough a location continuum and ended up at home in mid-July. We rode the scale train around the land, got out mid-ride to feed/pet some animals and hopped back on the train for the rest of the trip. There were several rides that Gray could ride, so we hit those up before deciding it was entirely too close to nap time and entirely too hot to stay at Train Town. 
Sonoma Train Town
Petting Zoo
We decided to basically head back home from there instead of stopping at Yosemite, as we had originally planned. We were all tired from the large amounts of fun (and traveling) so we got on the road and headed south. The drive south on I-5 was much less scenic than the drive north along the coast. I kept thinking I was in the area where they filmed the movie Seven. It was strange. 

I-5 looks like just like this north of LA. 

Overall, this was one of the best vacations Josh and I have ever been on together. Our Hawaiian honeymoon was amazing (as was Mexico), but it was a very different kind of vacation. Gray was pretty well behaved and travels well, so that made the whole trip easier. Josh and I also got to see a lot of new things for the first time together. We both really just enjoyed time away from everyone to do our own thing and not have to worry about work or whatever. I know I had such an amazing time, I could seriously do it all over again. Mom and I are discussing a trip with some of the same stops sometime this fall, so I may be able to do just that. I now thing I'm the resident expert on many things California so if you are planning a trip out West, I'm your gal! 

I hope this doesn't have a million errors, but I'm too tired to proof read it now. Good night blog world!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Road Trip: California (Part 1)

Josh had some leave to use before his deployment begins, so we decided to take a road trip we have been discussing since long before we moved to San Diego. We wanted to drive up the coast of California to San Francisco and see the sights. We had a pretty fantastic time and I would recommend the trip to anyone who is considering it. 

California is obviously a HUGE state, but what never ceases to amaze me is how many different types of landscapes that you can find here. As we were driving cross country during our most recent move, I kept waiting to see the "desert." Josh informed me that we were (in fact) in the middle of the desert and had been for several hours. I was a little confused (Where was all the sand? Why are there so many plants and green things?) and really disappointed because I was expecting the Sonoran Desert to be more like the Sahara. I was pretty bitter about the lack of sand (and camels if we are being honest), but the saving grace for the Sonoran is the fantastic saguaro

My Dad always watched westerns when I was growing up, and the saguaro cactus was in pretty much all of them.  As a child, I had always seen the saguaro but never noticed them. As an adult, I was mesmerized by them. Who knew they were THAT big? Josh is never surprised (sometimes irritated maybe) by the things I'm fascinated with, so he kindly let me take a short detour (which he pretends took all day) to the Saguaro National Park. It's a beautiful park even more so when the desert in in bloom, just watch out for rattlesnakes. As soon as we drove into California, what appeared? A real desert. Seriously. Miles of dunes. No plants. Very Sahara (minus the camels). I was pretty excited. I digress. 

That said, California also has some of the most beautiful beaches and coastline I've ever seen. You can live in a myriad of different climates or cities, all with a different feel. Part of the reason I wanted to take the road trip was to experience all of these different places. We started the trip driving up through Laguna Beach into Malibu. Josh and I had dinner at Duke's while we were on Waikiki on our honeymoon, so we wanted to have lunch there. Gray enjoyed the booth and the coloring. He didn't really care about the valet or the scenery. 

Coloring at Duke's 
Naturally we had to stop by the Malibu pier to check out the waves. Josh wasn't pleased that he left his board(s) at home because the waves were awesome. I was more interested in the people walking around and thinking how much this view reminded me of Baywatch. 
Malibu pier
We drove to Slovang after lunch at Duke's. This fun little town is just north of Santa Barbara (which is amazing and I want to move there). Slovang is basically a small (English speaking) Danish town in the middle of Southern California's wine country. Solvang has plenty of Dutch architecture and little pastry shops and Dutch food. We could have even had a smorgasbord at one restaurant. I wanted to try that, so I could sing Templeton's song (Charlotte's Web anyone?) to Josh and Gray. Josh passed.
Solvang, CA
Post-dinner sillies 
The next morning, we got back on the road. We had every intention of seeing Hearst Castle, but apparently it's a big fan favorite so we were going to have to wait 2 hours to see it. Not happening. We decided to get lunch at a place the woman at the front desk suggested and get back on the road. This is a glimpse of the less impressive scenery along Hwy 1. 
HWY 1 from the windshield. 
There are a million places you can pull over and take pictures, have a picnic, etc on the road to Carmel by the Sea along Hwy 1. We pulled over for photos just off the road many times along the way, but had to park and walk a few minutes to see this fantastic waterfall. McWay Falls "drops 84 feet off a cliff onto the beach nestled in a pretty little cove." It's amazing and I never wanted to leave. 
McWay Falls
Wikipedia tells me that Bixby Bridge is "one of the most photographed features on the West Coast" because of it's location along the scenic Central Coast of California, and has frequently been used in automobile commercials." I think it is quite scenic but I also think it's very windy. Not as cool as McWay Falls, but very pretty to look at for 3-4 minutes.
Bixby Bridge. Big Sur, CA
We spend one night in Carmel by the Sea then we drove through San Francisco (across the bay bridge) to the Muir Woods National Monument.  The redwoods are amazing. The park is the most peaceful place I've ever been. I told Josh I could see why the elves (in Lord of the Rings) chose to live here. hehe

Seriously, with all the people in there walking around, you would think it would be loud and obnoxious (even though you are outside) but it is seriously the most serene, beautiful place I've ever been. If they would let me move into the middle of the park, I'd pack my pillow and head north. 

I found no less than 4 places I wanted to move to while we were on this trip BTW.

Apparently before logging began in California, there were approximately 2 million acres of old growth forest with redwoods. Now there are few old growth forests remaining and approximately 240 acres of old growth forest is protected within the national park thanks to the generosity of a couple who bought the land to protect it and eventually donated it to the federal government in 1907. Was that a runonsentence? Becauseitfeltlikeit. 
Muir Woods National Monument
This post is taking way too long, so I'm going to split it into two posts. Check back in the next few days for the rest of our California road trip! 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Panang Curry

Josh and I found a fantastic Thai place here several months back. After getting dinner there at least 3 or 4 times, I asked myself how hard could it be to make Thai food. Apparently it's not as hard to make as it  is to actually find the ingredients.

I've fallen in love with the Panang curry at the local restaurant because it is so amazing. I thought it would be great if I could find a recipe to replicate it so we could just enjoy it at home without eating out. I figured I could try to recreate the panang first and maybe try some other curries later. I'm not the biggest fan of Indian food with curry, but Thai food with curry can be awesome. If you haven't ever tried it, I recommend it.

Panang Curry
Ingredients: (*substitutions) 
5 tablespoons Panang curry powder 
cooking oil
4 cups (2 cans) coconut milk
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
2 tablespoons palm sugar
   *2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce, to taste
6 kaffir lime leaves, torn
   *In my research, someone said they used lime zest...
2 fresh red chile peppers, sliced 
   *This is easily found, I just forgot to pick some up.
     red cayenne pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
   *I used a tablespoon or so of sweet basil.

I also added a handful of lightly salted peanuts, finely chopped (in food processor). You can use chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu, etc. You can also add any vegetables you like (sliced tomatoes, broccoli, etc.).

Directions:
1. Fry the curry paste in the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat until fragrant. 
2. Stir the coconut milk into the curry paste and bring to a boil. Add chicken and cook until chicken is nearly cooked through (about 10-15 minutes).
3. Stir in the palm sugar (or brown sugar), fish sauce, and lime leaves (or lime zest). Add basil and peppers. Simmer together.
4. Serve over jasmine rice. 

The biggest problem I had with this recipe was finding the ingredients. Apparently palm sugar is similar enough to brown sugar that it's an easy substitute. Fish sauce (The name itself is questionable. Not surprisingly, fish sauce doesn't actually smell pleasing either.) was in the Asian section of the commissary, so that wasn't too hard to find. What's a kafirr lime? I didn't figure that out, so someone said you could use lime zest. I also added a handful of peanuts, threw them into the food processor, and chopped them until they were ultra fine.

I didn't find the panang curry paste because I didn't want to go to the Asian market (they actually exist in San Diego), but I found a jar at the grocery store that was meant to be used alone (like spaghetti sauce in a jar). I poured the whole jar in, let it simmer a bit then added the coconut milk. I was skeptical about it turning out, but it was actually pretty good. I plan to hit up the Asian market and get the actual curry paste, because I think they flavor would be better/more intense. Overall the recipe was super easy to make and came together very quickly. It may not have been quite as good as the local place, but I will try it again with the curry paste and expect even better results. Let me know if you have tried something similar and any tips/tricks you know about. OR if you try it, let me know how you like the recipe! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Brown Sugar Meatloaf

I hate the word meatloaf. Don't you? 

Either way, I decided to try a new recipe last night. I found the recipe on allrecipes.com, but made a few changes from the original recipe based on the suggestions other users made. This is a fairly simple recipe to follow. Mix ingredients for the topping together. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and put it in the oven. I think this would be a great weeknight dinner with a vegetable side or two. The meatloaf had a great flavor and I'll make this one again!

Brown Sugar Meatloaf
Ingredients:
Topping:
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
Meatloaf:
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
   *(I used minced ginger in the jar. Can be found by the minced garlic in the grocery store.)
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 5X9 loaf pan.
2. In a small bowl, mix sugar, ketchup, and Worcestershire together.
3. In a mixing bowl, mix thoroughly all remaining ingredients and shape into a loaf.  Spoon the ketchup mixture on top of the loaf.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until juices are clear.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Deathly Hallows!

Well everyone, I have found one more reason to love San Diego. The Bob Hope Theater. 

A few weeks back the Bob Hope Theater previewed The Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds was in attendance) and Cars 2. They have previewed several other movies while we have been in San Diego, but most haven't been as exciting as Harry Potter. With all of the family members in, our vacation, Josh's training, etc we weren't able to make it to any of the other recent previews.

That all changed today because Josh and I were lucky enough to get seats in a free screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2)! I was a little worried that we weren't going to make it early enough to get seats (we had a babysitter blip) but luckily the theater holds more than 1,000 people. It was rumored that people began to show up as early as 7am for the 6:30pm showing, which is insane. They 'sold out' of seats not too long after we arrived, so they started the movie earlier than planned. Other than the random guy beside Josh talking back to the movie and all the tweens laughing at strange times, it was AMAZING. If you are a HP fan, you won't be disappointed! 

I want to see it again. And again. And again. 

Now I just need this movie to come out on DVD so I can watch it every day. Go out and watch it, then let me know if you loved it as much as I did! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We are back!

In case you were wondering where we have been the last month since I haven't really posted anything, it's been super busy around here. Josh got home from several weeks of desert training and some family members flew into San Diego the next day. We celebrated his birthday and Father's Day while they were in town. The second round of family came in two days after the first left. The day after the second round left, the boys and I went on a California road trip. We got home yesterday, so I'm washing clothes and putting things up to get everything back in order. I still haven't gotten all of the pictures from the trip on the computer, so I'll dedicate another post to my favorite photos from the trip ASAP. I hope your summer has been as fun-filled as ours has been so far! 

I would like to share at least one photo from our trip until I can post more. Alcatraz was an amazing tour and I recommend it to everyone! 
Alcatraz.