Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fly, Fly Away

Well, my holidays have come to an end and I am back in Australia.  I also have a hideous head cold which I got around Christmas, so the congestion just added to the joy of a long haul flight.  Thankfully the flights were smooth and I didn't have any major coughing fits.  However, the pressure on my ears when landing was a bit painful and I'm still waiting for them to completely pop.  I watched three movies on the flights: Pitch Perfect, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.  I also got to see the sunrise while at Auckland Airport waiting for my flight to Melbourne.  At least I have another day to recover before returning to work on Monday.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Dinner

It has been two years since I was last home for Christmas so I was really looking forward to the annual Christmas dinner at my parents' house.  Before dinner though there was a lot of cooking and cleaning to be done.  I baked up a storm on Christmas Eve, making sugar cookies, snowball cookies and pumpkin pie while Mom made tiramisu.  When my aunt Chrissie and cousins Leilani and Meinani arrived we had the cookies along with cheese, dip and crackers for hors d'oeuvres as well as my favorite holiday drink- mulled cider.  As is the case most years, my brother had to work so he was unable to join us.  Simi, her parents, Logan and Kylie were running late, so by the time they arrived and settled we were ready to sit down for dinner.

As requested Mom and Dad made some of my favorites for dinner.  We started off with vegetable soup, and then had turkey, stuffing, scalloped potatoes, green beans and biscuits for dinner.  Lei brought one of the sparkling wines from our little wine country adventure- the Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi, which everyone enjoyed.  Logan was pretty well behaved throughout dinner, but the lure of presents under the tree became too hard to resist, so as we finished we headed out to the living room to open presents.  All my gifts were Aussie themed this year as I bought nearly everything before I left Melbourne.  We were also treated to a photo slide show of Chrissie and Lei's trip a few months ago to Sicily and Italy during dessert.  It was a lovely evening, and the kids were very well behaved. 
Today Mom, Dad and I headed up to James and Simi's for lunch.  It was good to finally see their new place, which they moved into a couple months ago.  We also got to give James his presents and finished up opening the rest of ours.  It was a bit sad to say goodbye to everyone as I have had such fun spending time with my niece and nephew on this trip.  Tomorrow afternoon I head back to the airport for the long flight to Australia.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Angela and Kevin's Wedding

Yesterday was my cousin Angela's wedding, which she thoughtfully scheduled during the time I had already planned to be in the Bay Area.  The ceremony took place at Saint Ignatius Church in San Francisco, which was decorated for Christmas and looked amazing.  Since this was a black tie event everyone was dressed very glamorously as they arrived at the church.  Thankfully the rain held off so we didn't get drenched.  It was a rather large wedding party that preceded the bride down the aisle, including Angela's sister Jennifer who was the matron of honor (and got married a little over a year ago).  Angela looked beautiful in her dress and they did a full mass for the wedding ceremony.  After mass they took group family photos on the alter before we all headed off for the reception.
The reception was at the San Francisco Design Center which they decorated in a winter wonderland theme.  We had the cocktail hour up on the second level before coming down to our tables for dinner.  All the cousins were sitting together near the back of one side of the room, while our parents were on another table closer to the dance floor.  When we discovered that there was a photo booth we went to do a few shots in there before dinner service started.  Once again we had a multi-course Italian feast that was both good and filling.  During speeches my uncle Tony pointed out the generational family connections between the bride and groom, which was interesting to hear.  After the father/daughter dance we all hit the dance floor.  They had the same band that was at Jennifer's wedding, so it became a real party atmosphere.  While the female cousins let the bridal bouquet fall to the floor around us, our cousin Alan somehow ended up with the garter during the toss.  The cake cutting went smoothly and each layer was a different flavor (I sampled the vanilla and chocolate pieces).  After some more dancing and another dash to the photo booth we decided to call it a day and head for home.  It was nice to see all my extended family again and I wish Angela and Kevin all the best in this next phase of their life together.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Wine Country Adventures- Napa

I knew Day 2 of our wine country adventure would be rainy, but it was a bit of a worry waking up to torrential rain this morning.  However, Lei and I were brave and headed out for breakfast at Bubba's Diner in San Anselmo (the creme brûleé French toast did not disappoint) before hitting the road to Napa County. 

Thankfully the rain calmed down as we arrived at our first stop for the day, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards in Sonoma.  Their tastings are seated, which allows you to relax and take as long as you need.  Lei and I were interested in sampling sparkling wines not on their tasting menu, so we each ordered two glasses.  However, since they weren't tasting size we actually got four full glasses of sparkling wine, which was a little much at 10:30 am!  Our four choices were:
- 2004 Extra Brut
- 2007 Brut Rosé
- Anniversary Cuvée
- Va de Vi
Even though the Va de Vi was more sweet and fruity tasting, I liked that one the best.  The staff in the tasting room were very knowledgeable, and having four separate glasses allowed us to revisit each one as it warmed up.

Our next stop was Domaine Carneros in Napa, which features an impressive château that houses a tasting room overlooking the organic vineyards.  We decided to do the sparkling wine sampler which included:
- 2008 Brut Cuvée
- Brut Rosé
- 2008 Verméil Demi-Sec
Our server was a lovely guy who really took care of us when he saw Lei's tasting wheel and notebook.  He generously also allowed us to sample:
- 2008 Ultra Brut
- 2006 Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs
- 2007 Le Rêve Rosé
Along with these fabulous sparkling wines we also got a cheese platter of both soft and hard cheeses from producers in the North Bay.  It was a really wonderful tasting experience, and the 2008 Brut Cuvée was my favorite one.

We next headed to Domaine Chandon in Yountville.  I had been to their winery in the Yarra Valley in Australia a few years ago, so I was expecting similar service.  However, the servers in the tasting room seemed distracted and not very interested in us as potential customers, which was disappointing.  Lei and I shared two different tastings.
Prestige Tasting:
- étoile Brut
- étoile Rosé
Reserve Tasting:
- Reserve Blanc de Blancs
- 2007 Carneros Vintage Brut
- Reserve Brut
I preferred the 2007 Carneros Vintage Brut, which is exclusive to the winery.

After so much sparkling wine I was ready to take a break for a late lunch.  We went to this great place that is well known by the locals in Napa, the Rutherford Grill.  I had the hickory burger which was very filling.  The place had a comfy vibe to it, so I can see why Lei used to be a regular here when she lived in Napa.

Our final stop on the two day sparkling wine tour was Mumm Napa.  We were fortunate enough to have a seated tasting and another excellent server who looked after us since Lei was in the wine industry.  We shared two different tastings of sparkling wines which were at least 3 years or older.
Club Vivant Taster:
- 2008 Devaux Ranch
- 2007 Blanc de Blancs
- Brut Prestige Extended Tirage
Staff Favorites:
- Brut Reserve
- Brut Reserve Rosé
- Santana Brut (done in partnership with guitarist Carlos Santana)
Our lovely server also treated us to the 2000 DVX, which was amazing and my favorite wine of the day.  It had a strong creme brûleé scent and taste right from the start, and I think Lei ended up buying two bottles!  Although my palate was a bit blown out by the end of our wine tour I still had a great time. 

We finished up our Napa adventure by heading over to the Oxbow Public Market for a light dinner.  It reminded me a lot of the San Francisco Ferry Building with its boutique artisan stalls.  I tried some oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. (and discovered I am not a raw oyster fan).  Since I was still full from lunch and all the sparkling wine, I settled for dessert from the local and organic Three Twins Ice Cream (I remember when Neal was just starting out the business at his Terra Linda scoop shop).  The scoops of lemon cookie and peppermint stick ice cream were amazing.  I also picked up some holiday themed cupcakes from Kara's Cupcakes to share with the family.  After a quick drive around Lei's old neighborhood in Napa we headed back on the road for home.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wine Country Adventures- Sonoma

My cousin Leilani (writer of the blog Wine Deviant) decided that since I was in town we should hit up some wineries for tastings.  She organised a mini two day sparkling wine tour for us, and today we focused on Sonoma County.  Our first stop was J Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg.  We sampled from their J Sparkling Flight option which included:
- 2002 J Vintage Brut Magnum
- 2003 J Vintage Brut Magnum
- 2005 J Vintage Brut
- J Bin 1008, NV Brut
- J Cuvée 20
The woman leading us through the tasting was knowledgeable and even threw in a Brut Rosé for us to sample. Since she provided each sparkling wine in its own glass it allowed us the opportunity to let them breathe and return to each one after it had warmed up (I found it interesting how much more you could smell/taste).  My favorite was the 2003 J Vintage Brut Magnum.

Next we drove to the Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville, which were established in the late 1800s.  Lei and I each chose four different complementary sparkling wines to sample and share:
- Le Premier
- Master's Reserve Blanc de Noirs
- Brut (made with organic grapes)
- Brut
- Chardonnay California Champagne
- Brut Rosé
- Sec Anniversary Cuvée
- Riesling
At this tasting we used the same two glasses throughout so we didn't get the opportunity to go back and compare each one.  After finishing we went to their delicatessen for lunch and both ordered the warm pastrami sandwiches and shared a roast vegetable salad.  The sandwiches tasted amazing and were perfect for a cold day.

Our last stop was Iron Horse Vineyards in Green Valley.  Their tasting room is outside on a hill overlooking the vineyards but undercover with heat lamps to keep you warm.  Thankfully the rain held off while we were there.  Lei and I shared two of the flight options.
Sparkling Flight:
- 2008 Wedding Cuvée
- 2008 Classic Vintage Brut
- 2008 Russian Cuvée
- 2003 Brut LD
- 2006 Brut Rosé
Reserve Sparkling Flight:
- 2007 Ocean Reserve
- 2008 Brut-X
- 2008 Fairy Tale Cuvée (made exclusively for Disney)
- 2004 Chinese Cuvée
- 2008 Winter's Cuvée
I really liked the informal and rustic tasting room which allowed for different groups to chat with each other during their tastings.  Unfortunately we once again only had the two tasting glasses, and therefore couldn't really do a full comparison of the sparkling wines.  Iron Horse seems to partner with different organisations for limited edition wines, and the Russian Cuvée was originally served at the Reagan Gorbachev summit meetings!

Overall I enjoyed this first day of tastings and learned about the percentage blends of pinot noir and chardonnay that make up different types of sparkling wines, as well as some new terms such as dosage.  I am looking forward to tomorrow's trip to Napa.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shopping And The City

Since it is the holiday season I think everyone is currently focused on shopping for Christmas presents.  I have been to every major mall in Marin County over the past week and a half, even though I bought nearly all my gifts before I left Melbourne.  However, when I come home I do stock up on clothes and other items, so it's been a mixture of online and store shopping for myself. 

I have also been catching up with family, friends, and former work colleagues. We attended Logan's preschool Christmas pageant last week, which consisted of his class walking up an aisle to a Christmas song and waving (very cute and short!).  Today I headed into San Francisco with Lynne for some shopping around Union Square.  It was a sunny yet cool day in the City, and I had Boudin's clam chowder in a bread bowl for lunch and then we went over to Ghiradelli Square for some hot fudge sundaes after our shopping adventure.  Both were very yummy and quintessential San Francisco!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Back In The Homeland

Yesterday was my epic long day of travel across the Pacific.  I killed my time on the plane trying to sleep, listening to music, and watching a few movies- The Campaign as well as the documentaries I Am Eleven and Paul Kelly: Stories Of Me.  I arrived to a crisp but sunny San Francisco Bay Area and repeated December 7th all over again by catching up with my family and trying on my online purchases.

Today we had my nephew Logan's family celebration of his 3rd birthday that was earlier in the week.  He is so much more talkative than when I was last home, but still a whirlwind of activity.  I also got to meet my niece Kylie for the first time, but spent the majority of my time playing with Logan outside as he rode around on his little bike and scooter.  We had a very yummy lunch of my Dad's clam chowder and my favorite Bordenave's sourdough bread.  After opening presents we gathered around to sing "Happy Birthday" to Logan- his third celebration this week!
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