France and Spain – repeat

I had the opportunity to visit these countries for the third time in 10 years! It’s not a lot but hey, it’ll do for me! In France, besides visiting Paris for the third time, we also visited:

-Nice
-Cannes
-Le Rouret
-Mougin
-Verdon Gorge
-Moustier-Sainte-Marie
-Rousillon
-Luberon
-Aix
-Avignon
-Tavel
-Chateauneuf du Pape
-Gigondas

We also went to Monaco while in France!

In Spain, besides visiting Barcelona for the third time, we got to see Ibiza! 

There were so many wonderful experiences during this trip…driving along the south of France, which some have said is comparable to driving along PCH but I have to say it is such a different drive. Both are beautiful but have its own character. My favorite part was when we drove through Villefranche, going towards Monaco. I also feel so fortunate that my husband and I were able to visit the Cote du Rhone region, one of our favorite wines prior to this visit! Chateauneuf du Pape had a cute, small town and a castle with 360 degree view of the region! I love how intimate it felt and seeing how the wines we love grow. I would be curious to see what other oenophiles feel about this area.

We also had the honor of going to a wedding in Barcelona. It was by far one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. It was in a castle…the food was delicious…fireworks…and an awesome couple! It was my second wedding overseas (India was my other).

While I love traveling every time I return home I love the feeling of coming back to California. This is repetitive but seriously, the weather here is awesome! 28 countries later and I still love CA! So where to next? I’d love to see more of Spain, like southern Spain (Granada, Seville, Valencia, etc). I guess we’ll see :)

I’ll leave you with one photo…when we stopped in Villefranche.Image

The obvious questions

You know what they are:
You’ve been dating for XX months/years, when will you get engaged?

When are you guys going to get married?

When are you going to buy a house (this one gets asked before being engaged, during engagement and after the wedding)?

After the wedding, when are you going to have a baby?

Peers having babies, so does this make you want to have a baby? (Then repeat house/baby question)

If no one has asked you any of these questions then you must not be human! Is it a bad thing to not do any of these? Or how about not doing it when everyone else is doing it? People should just be happy for people, instead of instilling their lifestyle choices/expectations/perceptions onto others. I liked how technology executive Sonita Lontoh put it “I find it interesting though that most of the time, a child-free person will have to defend or explain their choice, but those who choose to have children seldom have to defend or explain their decision. Maybe that’s because having children is way more common in our society than not having children.”

Lately I’ve been taking pics of my friends babies which is such a fun challenge for me! I like seeing what my friends will do to get their child to pay attention to the camera. Sometimes I’m laughing so hard that I can’t keep my camera still! I love how my friends essentially have no shame in singing and making noises to get that photo! It’s so heartwarming and funny. Also, for me it’s quite a challenge to capture a nice photo of a baby. You have a small window of time where they are happy or have their eyes open! I’m getting a lot of good practice and am so happy that my friends ask and trust me to take photos. It makes me want to take better photos!! Anyway, I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorites from the past month!

One month old!

 

11 months!


I’ll keep practicing while these cuties aren’t annoyed by me! :)

Just kick!

 

Speedo

 

I never learned how to swim. The only opportunities I had to learn was in middle school with my cousins and in high school gym class. In middle school I did not have any interest and in high school I didn’t have to learn because I played on a team. Somehow I managed to not learn how to swim for 30+ years considering I live literally a few miles from the beach. I have snorkeled with the assistance of a vest and flippers in Hawaii and Mexico. Then we went to Thailand and I tried to snorkel without flippers. I fumbled big time! I got scared because I didn’t know how to kick properly, I didn’t like having my head in the water, and I didn’t even know how to keep myself afloat (I kept floating face-in). The Mr. was nearby and saved me. This was the turning point of where I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO SWIM. It’s not that I never tried, friends have tried to teach me. However, telling someone who has no idea how to float/kick to hold onto the edge of the pool and “just kick” does not work!

Since friends have tried teaching me, I thought the next best option was to get a professional. I ruled out group swim classes because I needed to get over my fear of water. So I got private swim lessons. Best decision ever! I wanted to share some of the tips I’ve learned as an adult learning to swim for the first time!

The first thing my instructor taught me was to breath. Get used to breathing in the water, not holding your breath in the water, but actually exhaling in it. Duh who would’ve thought? Before when friends told me this, I would hold my breath and never attempted to exhale. My instructor noticed immediately things I did that made it ineffecient to breathe (i.e. wiping my face/nose everytime I went up for air, holding my breath and not trying to exhale).

Kicking, oh the infamous “just kick” that EVERYONE tells you to do. Yes it really is kicking, but when you’ve never kicked in the water, I think of kicking a soccer ball. She noticed that I kicked from my knee. She taught me something useful, kick from your hip as if your hip and leg are part of a whip. Your hip is like the base of a whip. When you use a whip, all of the action happens at the base and everything follows in a curve. AH, so it’s more like whipping your legs up and down. Relax your legs, start your kick from the hip, and your leg/knee/feet will follow! This was a gamer changer!

Freestyle swimming. My instructor noticed that I kept my face facing towards the direction I was swimming. The next game changer was that your head has to face down, looking at the floor. Yeah, another “duh” moment. It’s something friends do not teach you because they think you’re supposed to know. Shockingly, this is when I floated. BUT YOU NEED TO KEEP KICKING!

Essentially I learned the basics of freestyle, how to swim on my back, and breaststroke. She also taught me how to tread using the eggbeater method (you need to learn the breaststroke first) but I haven’t mastered that. I still need to work on my breathing. Right now I will inhale, swim, exhale, then stop. However I’m so happy with what I’ve done so far. If you’ve ever been scared to learn, I highly recommend getting professional swim lessons. It also helped that I just came off of my half marathon training, so cardio-wise I wasn’t super tired or sore from the swim lessons. Learning how to swim is exhausting and requires so much coordination! Sometimes your friends/family can’t help you with everything and you need to hire a pro! :)

I’m so excited to take a dip in the water now and on our future trip!

No excuses

 

Tinkerbell

 

I ran my second half marathon this past Sunday. My time was 2:38:19, I didn’t improve my personal best. I was majorly sick. I was bedridden with a major fever for two nights before the race, so I guess “I should be happy” that I finished but I’m pretty disappointed that my time was so bad for myself. I hate telling people I was sick and that’s why I was slow. It sounds like such an excuse.

Don’t you hate it when people make excuses? Like when it comes to working out, I hear “Oh I would like to work out BUT *insert excuse here*” I’ve heard so many. I don’t like to run. I don’t have anyone to workout with. It’s too hot here. It’s too cold here. I’m tired when I get off of work. It’s too dark. I’m too slow. When I watch the Biggest Loser you can see all of the excuses come out. But there comes a moment where the contestant finally realizes that they just have to switch their mindset so that they CAN do it, and they are on fire. People need to change the way they think. Because when you do, you can even run a half marathon with the flu!

SE Asia

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a great 2012 because I sure did! We got married, that was a wonderful day filled with our favorite people. I’m glad I got to spend 2012 with the people that matter most. I got to see many different milestones among my friends and I’m so glad we got to share in these new experiences together.

In November we visited Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Why these countries? It was originally sparked by a friend who invited us to go to Vietnam…however after much research I was more drawn to visiting Thailand. The Mr. has been to Thailand a few times, he wanted to see Singapore since he hadn’t visited since he was a kid…and then we thought, why not visit Kuala Lumpur since it’s right there! At least husband gets to visit one new country on this trip! :) I have tons of hotel points from my days of traveling for work that I saved for our honeymoon. Turns out you get more bang for your points in SE Asia than anywhere else in the world. That’s because 4 star+ hotels are really nice here. Also, we’ve been wanting to visit these countries for awhile, always noting that airfare was ridiculously more expensive during Christmas. So why not go during Thanksgiving?

I’m including food pics:

Singapore – it was really hot. as in, in the 80s and humid. Singapore’s kinda boring. It’s very clean at least?

Brunch – Greenhouse at Ritz Carlton

Unlimited Moet…Rose and Grand Vintage Brut

Tian Tian Chicken Rice – the rice was disappointing

Jumbo Seafood

Kuala Lumpur – definitely one of those, “OK I’ve been here” and as fun as it was, I’m indifferent about going back.

Afternoon Tea at the Mandarin Oriental

Famous “last” coffee shop Yut Kee

Thailand – I <3 Thailand. I love the food. Thai people are so nice. The islands are stunning, unlike any islands I’ve seen before (I heard it looks similar in Vietnam too). I’m so happy we went, I would love to go back.

Street food is awesome here!!

our island for the day

Here’s to an awesome new year!

Portland, Oregon

In September we made a quick trip to Portland, Oregon. It was my first time there and I really enjoyed it! I would definitely go again because the food is so good. The food prices are very reasonable, with no sales tax to top it off! Since we both love wine, we also drove out to the Willamette Valley, pronounced “Will-lam-it” or as the phrase goes, “Willamette, damnit!” Willamette Valley is one of the largest wine regions in Oregon! It was the perfect time of the year because the weather was beautiful and the wineries hadn’t harvested the grapes yet, which meant that you saw tons of grape clusters on the vines still. YAY! Oregon is famous for Pinot Noir, which is a wine varietal that I prefer (husband prefers more medium to heavy bodied).

We went to four wineries, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, White Rose, and Alexana. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience at the last two. The first two were definitely more mainstream which I’m not too keen on (reminds me of stuff like V Sattui and Wilson Creek). We also ate at Jory Restaurant as our lunch break from the wineries.

Before I forget, just wanted to include the places that we ate at:

Pok Pok Noi – the bar version of Andy Ricker’s famous Pok Pok restaurant. We came here because it had a food menu with the key entrees that we wanted to try and supposedly less crowded. When we arrived we were seated immediately! I’d have to say Andy Ricker reminded me of Roy Choi, except with Thai flair vs Korean flair.

Pine State Biscuits – I looooove biscuits and gravy. Of course I had to come here…twice! :)

Voodoo Donuts – I had to see what the fuss was about with the maple bacon donut. It was OK.

Salt Straw Ice cream – Texture and quality was like SAMO’s Sweet Rose Creamery with the flavors that Scoops would make.

Toro Bravo – Tapas with locally sourced ingredients. This place was soooo good and reminded us of the tapas we had in Barcelona! Highly recommend.

Tasty n Sons – Since we were so impressed with Toro Bravo, we went to their other spot. American brunch served tapas style. I thought Toro Bravo was better than Tasty n Sons, but still a good alternative if you don’t want Spanish style cuisine. Chef John Gorham’s restaurants reminded me of LA’s Animal/Son of a Gun, a bit of WEHO’s Salt’s Cure, and SAMO’s Farmshop (all are great restaurants in LA, so hopefully no one’s offended by this comparison!).

We also tried the coffee, like at Stumptown. The coffee is indeed good, but living in LA spoils you because we have our fair share of great coffee places, like Intelligensia, Balconi, and the Conservatory to name a few.

I’ll leave you with a photo from Domaine Drouhin’s facebook page since their photo looked much better than mine. This is how the Willamette Valley looked when we were there. It’s so pretty!!

Asador Etxebarri – Bizkaia, Spain

Another restaurant that we tried during our honeymoon was Asador Etxebarri. If you’ve ever seen the Anthony Bourdain episode where he goes to Spain, Bourdain stops by a place that is famous for grilling meats. It is also one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, according to San Pellegrino’s list. Supposedly they have the best grilled shrimp in the world. My husband loves shrimp so we had to find out!

We started with chorizo. It was thinly sliced and had intense flavor. One of our friends said for such a thin slice it was very meaty. It also wasn’t too greasy for sausage.

Next was the shrimp! They were prepared very simple…isn’t that the best way to do it? It was cooked perfectly, you didn’t see any grill marks or anything burnt about it…but you could taste the grilled flavor. They were lightly salted. The best part was how sweet the shrimp were. I’ve never had shrimp so sweet. Prior to this meal, we thought maybe it IS the way they grill it. But after having shrimp throughout the trip, the shrimp in Spain is AMAZING. For one thing, the shrimp is already bright pink/orange in color while live. The closest thing in California would be the Santa Barbara Spotted Prawns…which come at a pretty steep price (unless you get them in the Asian markets like 99 ranch!). Awfully sweet shrimp + grilled to perfection = absolute shrimp bliss.

 

Then we had clams. They weren’t grilled but perfectly cooked! Sweet, buttery, and you could taste some white wine. It was great to dip with bread.

Up next, the beef chop! We had it rare and split among 3.25 folks (the 1/4 being our friend who doesn’t eat beef at all, but for this occasion she decided to give it a try!). It was a lot of beef and SO good. I also liked that it was grilled, some restaurants char the steak and I’m not a fan of that style. Oh and as you can see, they also served salad with the beef.

At this point I gave up eating and it was up to the men to finish the beef. What a dilemma :)

We then had dessert. I don’t even know how I managed to eat any because I was soooo full from everything else! It was smoked milk ice cream…which tasted more like frozen yogurt. It looked heavy but was actually light tasting. It was a pleasant surprise.

This was a pretty satisfying meal. If you happen to visit Bilbao and San Sebastian, this is definitely worth a visit. Besides having great food and a break from the drive, the area where this restaurant is situated is lovely. You’ll see pretty green hills full of sheep! How cute! This concludes me posting about the food during our honeymoon.

So where to next? I feel like I’m running out of time to travel! We’re debating between Thailand or Vietnam for our next trip to Asia. For Europe I’d like to visit Greece, specifically Santorini or Mykonos, or is that too touristy? I’d also like to visit Istanbul, Turkey…and I’m interested in Croatia. I heard Croatia’s pretty and they even have vineyards! I’m definitely keen on visiting anywhere that is known for wine! Maybe Champagne, France? I figure it’s best to visit the places that are 12+ hours of flying now, while my body can handle these long haul flights!

Asador Etxebarri
P
laza San Juan I
48291 Atxondo, Bizkaia, Spain

 

Mugaritz

I haven’t posted about our meal at Mugaritz which according to San Pellegrino & Acqua Panna is #3 best restaurant in the world! We were fortunate enough to score reservations, given that we booked our flights a month before our trip. We also tried to make reservations at El Celler de Can Roca and Asador Etxebarri. We didn’t luck out on the former but was able to go to the latter which I hopefully will post soon. Anyway, the reason we were lucky to book Mugaritz is because they were on their winter break. The restaurant closes down for the winter and re-opens in the spring…we got the third service for 2012, which means they were open for two days! During the break the entire team goes off in R&D mode, discovering and experimenting with new flavors. So the staff was very excited to serve us this very new menu. We even got to try items that did not appear on the menu. Mugaritz’ food should evoke different senses. Even the way they word the dishes sounds fancy!

Mugaritz is located outside of San Sebastian, we had a rental car and GPS, thank goodness because no one tells you about the numerous roundabouts in Spain!

So let’s get started!

“Satiation eludes bread and olives…” Is it sad that the Robuchon bread cart is still the most epic bread cart I’ve ever had? Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of their bread tray :(  Anyway, get it? Instead of bread you got paper, instead of olives you got butter that tasted like olives! Yes it looks like paper and even has the texture of kraft paper. There is this one snack that is sold at the Vietnamese supermarkets…it looks like white crackers that have roasted peanuts held together by a hardened sugar. I don’t know the name of this snack but the white cracker part tastes just like this paper! It was served with olive oil tasting butter.

“Grilled toast of bone marrow with herbs and horseradish ash” That’s a whole piece of bone marrow, it was like meaty butter on toast!

“Flax and wheat “Kraft” paper with roe and Arrow-grass buttons” Underneath this “paper” there was roe!

“crunchy sauce with citron and peppers” this reminds me of shrimp crackers, the same concept but much thinner. However when you bite into it, it immediately melts in your mouth like a creamy sauce! the black dots represent the peppers…it definitely balanced out the creaminess of the sauce.

“Lukewarm cannelloni of sea urchin and milk” Looks like cheong fun from dim sum, doesn’t it? Except the texture/flavor of the “cannelloni” piece does not taste like rice noodles, it tastes like non fat milk in…noodle form and when you bite into it you have HUGE pieces of sea urchin.

“Strings of skate and chard with Molli made with sunflower and pumpkin seeds” The strings of skate…also reminded me of another Asian dish, have you had dried cuttle fish? It’s like that but as if it’s been moistened in water, except in this case it was moistened by a sunflower/pumpkin seed sauce. Very interesting take on a childhood snack!

Here’s the bonus dish! Looks like de-skinned grapes right? When we bit into it it tasted like winter melon soup! The staff eagerly watched us eat this one to see how we reacted. When we finished they asked us what we thought it was, husband said winter melon soup and they said yes!

“cured cheese, in its own rind, mushrooms and coastal herbs” This one tasted as described, like a very creamy cheese, even creamier/softer than brie.

“Vegetable noodles in a meat and toasted onions consomme” It was like french onion soup, without the gruyere cheese. Without the cheese it tastes a lot lighter!

This next dish was fun:
“Bonding…” Toasted seeds and spices served in a Mortar with a paste of chopped shrimp
Yeah that’s exactly what we got, except the “bonding” part is where we did some work! This is what we received:

Once you smashed the seeds/spices, you received the broth:

And you also received a bowl of chopped shrimp, the shrimp looked like they were toasted or baked until it was crunchy:

And then you mix it altogether and had a yummy soup!

Back to more eating and less working! “Tagliatelle of concentrated milk lightly soaked in a silky juice of roasted squash and tomato.” The “tagliatelle” part of this was really interesting! It was like the texture of the part of the creme brulee or flan where the edge tastes harder than the rest of the custard, but harder and chewy, but tasted milky. Hope that makes sense.

“slices of monkfish cooked with the steam of its bones. crispy stew of roasted rinds and lilies.” There’s a steamed fish that my mom would make which included dried lilies…this dish reminded me of my mom’s dish. the fish was perfectly cooked, the crispy rinds/lilies were a nice compliment to the firm fish.

“Coastal fish with crunchy trimmings of aged sourdough and sweet pickled daikon.” This fish didn’t taste like monkfish bc of its thickness…it was very thin like sole but rolled up. It was well cooked too!

“Breast of guineafowl with lobster emulsion and its roasted skin” I’m not sure what guineafowl is but it tasted like a very tender chicken breast!

“Tender sweetbread with roasted parsnip and artisan praline” This was ok, maybe I’m just not a fan of sweetbreads in general…

“Light dices of sculpted apple with figs. Crunchy dark chocolate and mint” The apple part tasted like super thin slices of…apple pie crust!

“traditional almond fairy cake” I really liked this one…it tasted like very light vanilla ice cream with a nice coating of crushed raw almonds…it was a lovely, light dessert!

“Forgotten memory from childhood. Small bite of milky wafer with lemon ice cream” This ice cream was nice because it wasn’t pucker-y lemon. I’m not a fan of lemon/lime desserts but I was ok with this because of that.

Nails and flowers. Looks like rusted nails but it was chocolate shaped into nails, dusted with chocolate powder!

Candies of frankincense. The perfume of eucalyptus barks. After having the nails we weren’t sure which part to eat on this one! Turns out you eat the incense that was still burning! The texture reminded me of cigarette candy that I had as a kid but tasted a little anise-y. I wonder if it was intended to be another rendition of those cigarette candies?

Overall I really enjoyed the experience. Everyone was super helpful and well versed in their new menu. It was cool how they had so many renditions on Asian dishes. Fun times indeed!

Mugaritz
Otzazulueta baserria, Aldura-aldea 20,20100
Errenteria, Spain