Sipping in the Suburbs at Sipurbia

Last weekend was reserved for two things: unpacking my living room and going to Sipurbia. My living room has been in boxes since we had our floors redone last year and I needed to get it unpacked and put back together once and for all. (Yes, I said last year, but it was December. And I’m a busy person. So shut up.)

sunday funday at wine and beer tasting event sipurbia
Sunday Funday at #Sipurbia

 

But we were hit with an unexpected flood (I guess all floods are unexpected) due to a home plumbing repair gone wrong. So instead of returning my living room to its former glory, I spent most of the weekend mitigating the damage of the flood. Which included (but was definitely not limited to) emptying all of the books off five floor to ceiling book shelves. And then re-shelving them. (Thank you, Mom and Aunt Debbie – I couldn’t have done it without you.)

But this is not a story about the flood, or the brand new floorboards that need to be replaced (not all of them – just a few), or my disaster living room that keeps me from having company over to my house.

It’s a story about an unlimited wine and beer tasting event called Sipurbia.

Because who says no to that? (Not me!)

So, on Sunday afternoon when we finished our damage control (with the help of my mom and step-dad – again, THANK YOU!), instead of tackling the living room or (you know,) resting, we decided to go to Sipurbia as we had originally planned.

Because as my mom said to me Sunday morning, “You like to do everything.” And she is not wrong. (I like to have fun.)

Sipurbia was held just a few miles away from my house at Paramount Ranch, a national park where they have filmed literally hundreds of movies and TV shows including American Sniper (which must be why my friend Karin saw Bradley Cooper in Westlake Village a few years ago, because why the hell else would he be in Westlake Village?) and HBO’s Westworld. Plus the event benefited an awesome charity called the BumbleBee Foundation, so the beer and wine weren’t the only things there to make you feel good!

Westworld Church Paramount Ranch
Selfie time in front of the Westworld church.

Because I am a nice wife I acquiesced volunteered to drive, so my wine drinking was limited, but my lucky husband’s beer drinking was unlimited. (Very unlimited – everyone was extremely generous with their pours.) My favorite wine was Cielo (so good) and Dave’s favorite beer was Santa Monica Brew Works (he thinks – remember his beer tasting was unlimited).

In addition to taking selfies, we stopped by the cutest photo booth in the world, Shutter Bus Co. and posed for some fun photo booth photos.

VW Bus Shutter Bus Co Photo Booth
Seriously, how cute is this photo booth?

 

I drank a little more wine. Dave drank a lot more beer. We shopped at the stalls and danced to the Spazmatics, which everyone knows is the best 80’s cover band on the planet.

Spazmatics best 80's cover band in the world
Day drinking meets day dancing – what could be better?

 

And we ran into a bunch of our friends. Including my friend Kim (AKA Agoura Hills Mom) and her husband Stewart.

suburban friends at sipurbia
One of these days we’ll learn to take selfies without cutting half of someone’s face off. (Sorry, Kim!)

 

Who knew life in the suburbs could be so fun. (Actually, I totally knew that.)

When we were talking about our weekends at the office on Monday a twenty-two year old said to me, “You have the most fun life.” (I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m trying.)

A co-worker (much) closer to my age said, “You are always doing something. You have really embraced this age.” (I don’t know if that’s true either. But I’m trying.)

And while my house (and quite possibly my life) might be a total disaster, one thing is for sure: I’m definitely having fun.

 

 

A Taste of Alsace Wine and Swine

I have a confession to make. I don’t really practice what I preach. I might even be a bit of a liar. You see, I am constantly telling my kids to live outside their comfort zone. Try something new. Do something scary.

But me?

I don’t do that.

I run the same three mile route. (Because I know I can do it.)

I always order carnitas at Mexican restaurants. (They’re so delicious, why risk getting something not nearly as yummy?)

And I always (always, always) drink California wine. (Non-California wine = Scary!)

So, when I was invited to the Wine and Swine event at Terrine Restaurant featuring wines from the Alsace region in France paired with a variety of pork dishes,I figured it was a great opportunity to take a step (or two) outside my comfort zone. Oh sure, you’re thinking the only reason I went is because of the free wine and amazingly delicious food created by chefs Kris Morningstar of Terrine and Chris Oh of Hanjip, and to that I would say you are being very rude! I was trying to do something new and scary and outside my comfort zone. (Also, remember, I’m a liar, so you’re right, it was totally about the wine and food.)

Anyway…

Wines of Alsace was a terrific host. The day started off with a seminar titled Alsace 101 – an in-depth look at the region’s location, terroirs (that’s a fancy word for environmental conditions), culture and main varieties, led by Master Sommelier Brian McClintic of SOMM Films and ViticoleWine.com.

Alsace wine tasting
What a great way to start a day!

 

The seminar was informative and interesting, Brian was super-dreamy, and we tasted six wines: a dry Crémant d’Alsace, a fruity Pinot Blanc, a light Riesling, a complex Pinot Gris (my favorite), a sweet Gewurztaminer (my very-close second favorite) and a Pinot Noir that I was not a huge fan of, but I’m not a Pinot Noir girl, so I’m never the girl to ask about Pinot Noir.

Of course I enjoyed tasting the wines, but I also really enjoyed finding out about the region – its culture, its climate, its food. I’m pretty sure I need to vacation there. Soon.

After the seminar we retreated to the back patio for more wine tasting and the pork dish pairing. The pairing took place on Terrine’s iconic patio where tasting stations were set up for each varietal and the food was placed on tables in the middle.

Terrine Los Angeles patio wine tasting

 

The menu included:

Alsatian-Style Pork with Sauerkraut (Chef Morningstar made this sausage from scratch and in case you’re wondering, yes it is better than the pineapple bacon sausage you’re currently obsessing on from Costco. Like times one thousand. In other words: OMG! Best Sausage I’ve Ever Had!)

Cuban Sandwiches with Smoked Ham, Capicolla, Gruyere and Spicy Pickle Relish (Crazy good!)

Carnitas Tacos (These tacos were the bomb! Because, carnitas.)

Korean-Style Pork Lettuce Wraps – (Delish!)

Crispy Pork Croquettes with Sauce Gribiche and Frisée (Yum!)

Oh and there were servers passing around appetizers as well, including this burrata-to-die-for with mashed peas on toast (I might have had three. Or five. But who’s counting?)

Terrine-and-Hanjip-pork-dishes
As you can see, being a food photographer is not my specialty. (However, eating all this delicious food is.)

 

As my teenage daughter said the other day, “Don’t eat until you’re full. Eat until you hate yourself.” I kind of hated myself. But it was so, so good!

During this time there was a tasting of over 60 wines. (And no, I did not try them all!) But I may or may not have tried 10 different Pinot Gris (shh!),  7 or 8 different Pinot Blancs and a Gerwurztraminer or two. (Look, I’m talking the tiniest of sips.)

Oh, but I was not done. After the food and wine pairing there was one more seminar with my boyfriend Brian. (It makes no difference that he does not know he’s my boyfriend. )

Master-Sommelier-Brian-McClintic
Photographs of cute master sommeliers, also not my specialty.

 

The second seminar was titled Rocks & Riesling Retrospective. In this seminar we sampled a new and old vintage Riesling from four of Alsace’s top producers.

Trimbach Clos Ste Hune 2009 & 1997

Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Sainte Catherine 2014 & 1998

Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2012 & 2001

Zind-Humbrecht RieslingGrand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos Saint Urbain 2012 & 1993

Alsace Riesling Tasting
Two more glasses than the first tasting – whoo hoo!

I loved all of these wines and tasting the differences between the old and new vintages was a fantastic experience. The vintages tasted nothing alike. The older wines smelled sweeter and tasted thicker. The younger wines were crisp, grassy, fresh. (Yeah, my descriptions are spot-on aren’t they? I don’t think there’s any chance of me becoming the 24th female American Master Sommelier any time soon.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this tasting and actually learned a thing or two. I even found out that French wine isn’t (that) scary. The next time I’m out to dinner, I might even take a departure from the California wine section and take a trip to my new favorite French region.

#drinkAlsace

 

 

My Fantastique Wine Tasting Experience at Whole Foods Venice

While A-list celebrities were being fabulous around Hollywood on Saturday night at pre-Oscar galas and what-not, I was being fabulous as well at Whole Foods in Venice. Yeah, you heard me, Whole Foods.

My friend Kim and I braved the rain and the 405 Freeway on a Saturday night and left the comfort of our suburban bubble to hang out at the wine tasting bar inside of Whole Foods Venice for the Fantastique French Wine Tasting and Gildras Coudrais Art Show. (Wow! That was a long sentence. Have you caught your breath?)

Whole-Foods-Venice-wine-tasting-bar
Who knew grocery shopping could be so hip?

 

And ooh la la – it was fantastique indeed!

We got there just as the event started and were introduced to the artist, Gildas Coudrais. He claimed that his English wasn’t very good, but trust me, it’s a million times better than my French. (I can say: please, thank you , thank you very much, one, two, where is, good morning and good night. Poorly.) He was incredibly charming. And very talented. (Pretty cute too!)

Gildas-Coudrais-Whole-Foods-Venice
Kim and I with the charming and talented wine label artist Gildas Coudrais.

 

The artwork he created for the show was a drawing of the rabbit on the King Rabbit Malbec label with a quote from a famous person. Then the famous person’s name was crossed out and “King Rabbit” was written in it’s place. Very avant-garde. I thought the pieces were fabulous. If I had the disposable income I aspire to have one day I would have bought this one and hung it in my bedroom:

I-am-fucking-James-Bond
It’s quirky. I like it.

 

Or maybe this one…

I-came-I-saw-I-conquered
Would it be weird to have “I came. I saw. I conquered.” in your bedroom when you’ve been married for 20 years?

 

Gildas told us about his partnership with Whole Foods and how he worked with them and the wine makers to create his wine labels. (It sounded like there was a lot of wine tasting involved. Talk about a dream job!)

Gildas-Coudrais-wine-label-art

 

We tried all five wines and I liked them all. The wines are French, but developed in a style more pleasing to the California palete. They are only available at Whole Foods Markets and are a steal at $9.99. Magnifique! I wanted to buy them all, but I’m a girl on a budget, so I only bought two. (But I can guarantee that I’ll be back to my local Whole Foods quite soon to buy more.)

The wines I purchased were the Chantebelle Sauvignon Blanc which was crisp and delightful, and the Anciens Temps Cabernet–Syrah, an intense and bold-flavored wine. I like my red wine bold. (Like my men!)

wine
My fantastique autographed wine

 

And speaking of men – check out this picture:

French-film-makers
(Quit calling me a cougar!)

 

Okay, stop being rude and ignore the fact that I’m probably old enough to be their mother. These adorable French boys were filming the event. I’ll share the link when it’s up on YouTube.

The evening really was a lot of fun.

Delicious food…

Whole-Foods
Now this is my kind of party food! (Fantastique!)

 

Fabulous wine…

Eagle-Coq-Pinot-Noir

 

A cute and charming artist…

Gildas-Coudrais-Whole-Foods

 

Fantastique!

 

*Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post for Whole Foods Market Venice. (But trust me when I tell you, the evening was quite delightful!)

Wine, Olive Oil, Gourmet Food, Oh My!

Last Wednesday I received a text from my friend Kim. “Wanna come with me to a wine bar opening in Thousand Oaks?”

I was supposed to go to the gym. But my workout buddies had shifted their workout to the early morning (when I’m stuck at home slaving away over blog posts to entertain the masses dozens), so I wouldn’t be flaking on anyone. (Except for myself and my new commitment to fitness – but whatever with that, right?) And I had run four miles the day before.

So blowing off the gym to go wine tasting (for free) – not even a dilemma, right?

But If you want to know the truth, I was really, really tired. What I wanted to do more than anything was blow off the gym and spend the night of loafing around on the couch.

Fortunately for Kim I am a good friend and a trooper. I couldn’t let her taste wine alone. So I changed out of my work clothes into something a little less officey, put on shoes that would have made my friends Tina and (a different) Kim proud, and went out for a little Conejo Valley mid-week wine tasting.

Michael-Kors-shoes
Pretend I don’t have fat ankles and these gorgeous shoes actually look cute on me!

Kim had been invited to the opening of We Olive in The Oaks Mall. Part wine bar, part gourmet food shop, part olive oil tasting (yes, olive oil tasting!) shop and 100% FABULOUS.

We-Olive-Thousand-Oaks
Thousand Oaks’ newest wine bar (plus so much more).

We chatted with the franchise owners of the store, one of the food vendors, and with the very cute Josh from the parent company.

We-Olive-Franchise
I never give up the opportunity for a photo with a cute boy. (Even if I am old enough to be his mother. Sigh…)

The wine bar features small-production, boutique California wines and every wine I tasted was excellent. I especially enjoyed a Syrah from the vineyard Niner in Paso Robles. (I will definitely be visiting them on my next trip to Paso.)

The olive oil was wonderful – yes there is a difference (and it’s huge) in taste and quality from the stuff I usually buy at Costco. Josh gave us a tasting of a lemon-infused olive oil with aged balsamic vinegar that was to die for. (You sip it out of a little cup – kind of like tasting wine, except you take a MUCH smaller sip.)

We-Olive-Extra-Virgin-Olive-Oil
Extra virgin Olive Oil (EVOO for those in the know) and balsamic vinegar tasting – yes please!

Plus, this happened…

cheese platter
The people at We Olive certainly know how to make a beautiful cheese plate.

I will definitely be heading out to We Olive during the holidays to pick up some delicious party food (unique pestos that can be used as a base for some amazing dips), stocking stuffers for my husband (blue cheese Dijon mustard – hello), and of course maybe a bit of wine tasting. You know, to reward myself for all the tireless and selfless shopping for others I’m sure to be doing.

We Olive is sounding pretty awesome, right? Of course it is. It’s located just across from Forever 21 (in the newish outdoor section between The Oaks Mall proper and Muvico). So the next time you drive your teenage daughter to the mall, give her twenty bucks and send her to Forever 21 to buy something inappropriate for school on her own while you hang out at a lovely wine bar. Sample some pesto. Treat yourself to some gourmet olive oil. Buy a nice bottle of California wine. And remember to thank me for blowing off the gym so I could hang out with my friend Kim and discover this wonderful gem.

(You’re welcome.)

Just Lose It: What It’s Really Like to Join a Six-Week Weight Loss Competition (Week 2)

I’ve completed Week 2 of my “Biggest Loser-style” Just Lose It program at Stevenson Fitness, but I’m sure what everyone really wants to know is how much weight I lost from Week 1. (What, you mean you haven’t been curiously obsessing over it all week? Whatever. I’ll tell you anyway.)

After my first week I lost 5.8 pounds. Yes, I am awesome. Or just fat. Either way…  I have to admit I was pretty happy with the results.

As a team we lost 14.4 pounds – an average of 2.5% per person. Our team is in 2nd place – the first place team lost 38.4 pounds total (wow!) and an average of 3.9% per person. Obviously they are cheating. Plus there are five of them and only four of us, so there! (But I have faith. Our team will pull ahead and be the biggest losers – you’ll see.)

Biggest-Loser-Style-Weight-Loss-Team
Trainer Safia (middle) hanging with Phil and his Pink Bitches

After our weigh-in last week we had a meeting with our nutritionist, Holly, who went over our food diary. (Yes, we have to keep a diary and write down everything we eat and at what time. And I mean everything.)

Holly said I’ve done very good on my diet (um hello, see weight loss above), but I’m not eating enough carbs. And by carbs she does not mean yummy bread, pasta or French fries. She means brown rice, the smallest portion of (non-French-fried) potatoes you’ve ever seen, or fruit. (Yawn.)

She explained that while the lack of carbs could be part of the reason I lost almost six pounds in a week, in the long run it’s not going to serve me well. I’ll become cranky and irritable and more likely to binge.

If you want to know the truth I think that’s a little rude. She doesn’t even know me. How does she know whether or not I’m cranky and irritable? Maybe that’s just my personality. And maybe I lost 5.8 pounds because I did not cheat on my diet (which is not a diet, but a lifestyle change -ugh!) even once and because bad mean Phil (quite literally) worked my ass off! Lack of carbs is making me cranky – Pffft! I might hate Holly too.

Um… anyway…

I found Week 2 to be a bit more challenging diet-wise. I mean, how much freaking chicken can one person eat? I swear if I see one more piece of chicken on my plate I’m going to kill it. Oh wait, it’s already dead. Well, I’m going to… to… I don’t know, I’m going to anything but eat it is what I’m going to do.

Chicken with black beans
Chicken with black beans and corn. (You see that Holly – plenty of carbs!)

And if I’m honest (and sadly I always am), I will admit that the over-eating of chicken is my fault and not rude Holly’s. I can eat beef or pork or fish, but I don’t really like to eat too much red meat. (Okay, that’s a lie. I could eat red meat every day, possibly every meal, and be happy as a Survivor contestant after winning a food-reward challenge, but I’m pretty sure that’s not really good for you.)

But my family is fairly picky and doesn’t really like pork (unless it’s Easter ham or bacon) and my daughter won’t eat fish. So, we eat a lot of chicken. But these past two weeks we’ve eaten even more than usual in replacement of the quesadilla/pasta/grilled cheese gourmet meals that I usually rely on presenting to my family a few times a week. Even my husband who never complains about what I serve for dinner gently suggested we might have something else.

And then I snapped at him. And not because I didn’t eat any carbs. I mean I had 12 cherries that day. I think.

Also during Week 2 I’m sad to admit that I cheated and went wine tasting. But it wasn’t my fault. My friend bought a Groupon for SIP and it was about to expire. And friends don’t let friends let wine-tasting-Groupons expire.

I did talk to Holly about it beforehand and she told me to treat wine as my carb and to be sure to balance it out with a protein. (Wine as my carb? I might like this Holly afterall!) So I brought some cheese. Except that you can’t bring food to SIP so I had to sneak it in my purse.

wine-and-cheese
Some people sneak wine where they’re not supposed to – I sneak food!

I enjoyed wine tasting very much. (Like you wouldn’t believe.)

wine-glow
See how wine makes me glow? Or perhaps I’m cleverly minimizing my wrinkles with a filter. At least one of those statements is true.

I also enjoyed flirting with our cute 24-year-old wine pourer, Austin. (And yes, I am familiar with the term sommelier, but are cute 24-year-olds who work at wine tasting rooms considered sommeliers? I don’t think so. Let’s just go with wine pourer.) And I think my 5.8 pound one week weight loss gave me a confidence that translated to hotness because my boyfriend Austin did not bust me on the cheese.

cute-wine-bar-guy
In my mind Austin’s red eyes are only for me.

And then we went to Ladyface for a late light dinner where I enjoyed their Salade Niçoise and a club soda with a splash of cranberry. And do you know who showed up 20 minutes later and sat right next to us at the bar? Austin! (5.8 pound weigh loss = confidence = cute boys following you.)

The fact that we didn’t tell him we were headed to Ladyface and he left after about 10 minutes when his friend showed up is really none of your business.

Yes, I enjoyed my cheater wine tasting evening very much.

Do you know what I did not enjoy? That night I slept like crap. And the next day I felt like crap. Following Rude Holly and Mean Phil’s program had my body so detoxed and clean that drinking wine made me feel crappy. And feeling crappy makes me crabby. And wine was my carb. So obviously Holly does not know what she’s talking about when she says lack of carbs will make me crabby because it turns out that it’s carbs that make me crabby.

At least program-cheating-wine-carbs.

Sh*t.

I do not like that. Not one little bit.

Check out my post on Thursday to find out about my girls’ night at my friend’s beach house with my six drunk-ass friends and sober-wine-carb-free me. (Yeah, that happened.) And check back next Monday to continue on my “Biggest Loser-style” Just Lose It weight loss journey.

 

Where Would YOU Go if Money Was No Object?

This post was inspired by Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop. I chose prompt #5:  8 places you’d go this summer if money wasn’t an object.

Hmmm… do I have to do them all this summer? I guess I’d better get started. And since we’re talking Lotto Dreams travel, I’ll have to hire a Lear Jet so I don’t have to mingle with the type of people who fly tourist. (Which is pretty much me!)

Earth
Earth – photo credit Tonynetone via Creative Commons

#1 Istanbul

When I was in college a favorite marketing professor of mine told tales of her backpacking trips abroad. She was the one who sparked the desire in me to backpack across Europe during the summer of 1986. She traveled to many places and her favorite place hands down was Istanbul. She made it sound so magical I’ve wanted to go ever since. She especially loved the Grand Bazaar where haggling for beautiful and unique treasures was an art form. Most Saturdays Chandler and I go yard saling and haggle over prices of used junk unique treasures. I cherish the time with him and I enjoy our little treasure hunts, but somehow I think shopping for shit we don’t need in Turkey would be way better.

Istanbul-Grand-Bazaar
Istanbul Grand Bazaar Photo credit Brian Snelson via Creative Commons

#2 Italy

I became engaged in Italy and it holds a very special place in my heart. The food, the art, the culture, the people, the gorgeous countryside, the art, the wine, the fooood (yeah, there’s a reason Elizabeth Gilbert ate her way through Italy) – I am madly in love with Italy. However, I have not spent any time at the lake district or on the Italian coast. (Unless you count those nine hours in 1986 when I sat at the very unattractive port of Brindisi waiting for the ferry to the party nation of Greece.) I would love to rent a villa at Lake Como or the Amalfi Coast and spend an entire summer there lying around doing absolutely nothing but drinking wine and eating. (Except that I have six more destinations to visit!)

Verona-Italy-Juliet-balcony
Standing on Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy the day after my engagement.

#3 London

I spent a semester of college attending school in London and it quickly became one of my favorite cities. Dave and I have often talked about how we would love to live in London for a year or two. I love the museums and the architecture, the parks and the pubs. I love shopping on Portobello Road and Kensington High Street. I can’t wait to take my kids to London one day and show them the sights. My kids don’t really love cities, but I think London would turn them around.

London-Big-Ben
Lovely London – Photo credit Tim Morris via Creative Commons

#4 Greece

Was that nine hour wait in the industrial port of Brindisi and 24 hour barf-over-the-side ferry ride worth it? You bet. During that 1986 trip I went to Athens (don’t bother) and Ios (party paradise) and then returned to Greece in 1988 (before starting my semester in London) to visit Ios once again, and added Mykonos and Santorini. The stark contrast of the white stucco buildings and bright blue sea is just breathtaking. I think I’d skip Ios this time (mostly out of fear that they wouldn’t let me off the boat because I’m too old!) But I would love to spend some serious time there lounging on the beaches of Santori, Mykonos and Corfu reading a book and eating  a lot of simple Mediterranean food and not much else. Ah yes, the art of doing nothing!

Brindisi-to-Greece
Heading to Greece via huge ferry slumber party

#5 New York City

Well, I’m halfway through my fantasy travel summer and of course a trip to New York is mandatory. I haven’t been to New York in eight years and I miss it desperately. I always feel so alive in that city. I love the shops and restaurants. I love the bars and seeing plays both on and off Broadway. I love walking everywhere. And I simply adore the fashion. People don’t dress up in California like they do in New York.  I could stand on the streets of Manhattan and people watch all day.

Side note:  I follow a fabulous blog called Fashables that features street style photography. (Photographs taken of random people walking down the street.) It helps me get my New York fix. But I am dying to go back soon for reals.

Fashables collage
New York street style photography by Ryan Shell of Fashables

# 6 Napa Valley/San Francisco 

Napa/San Francisco totally counts as one place right? I went to Napa earlier this year for the 2013 Wine Sisterhood trip (did I mention it was amazing) and can’t wait to go back. The trip I went on was a girlfriend’s trip, but I’d love to take my husband there. We went in 1990 when we were dating and we are well overdue for a trip back. And since this is a money-is-no-object fantasy, I’d like to hire a limo to take us to all the wineries and restaurants (yes every single one) and drink until I start to slur and eat until I start to waddle. I think a week should do it. I loved the Andaz Napa Hotel and would definitely stay there again. And a trip to San Fransicso on the way to our next destination would definitely be in order.

Chappellet-vineyards
Beautiful Chappellet vineyards in Napa Valley

#7 Hawaii

Dave and I have been there three times – twice to Maui (once before we were married and for our honeymoon) and once to Kauai when Chandler was just under two. As much as I love Hawaii (and I do), I probably wouldn’t put it in my Top 8, but Marley is dying to go to Hawaii. She finds it horribly unfair that Chandler has been to Hawaii and she hasn’t. The fact that Chandler doesn’t remember the trip at all does not seem to sway her thinking about this gross injustice we have committed against her.

Maui-honeymoon
Honeymooning in Maui

Hmmm… now that I’ve looked over my list I’m not sure I’ve really chosen that wisely. Maybe I should ditch London and Greece and tell Marley too bad about Hawaii and choose an African Safari or Costa Rica or Machu Picchu or Puerto Rico. I also love the Canadian Rockies and I’d like to see Columbia and Brazil and Berlin and Croatia. Eight is just not enough. So where would my final destination be?…

#8 Michigan

Michigan? What?! Instead of an African Safari? Well, I’ve already decided to ditch Hawaii (sorry Marley) and all this traveling has made me rather tired. And my mom and uncle own a lovely little cottage on a small lake in Michigan and my cousins own the house next door. It’s like we have our own little family compound. And while it’s not exactly rustic, it’s not very luxurious either -somewhere in between. Just right as Goldilocks would say. There are boats and wave runners and kayaks for sport and plenty of lounge chairs for reading and napping. The trees are green and the people are friendly. (Like scary-weird friendly.) It’s a little bit of heaven right smack in the middle of the country and it feels like home. At the end of a long journey (even an imaginary one) there’s no place like home.

White Lake Sunrise
Michigan Sunrise

What 8 places would you travel to if money were no object? I’d love to know!

Mama Kat workshop logo

So, I Won This Contest on Pinterest… (Part 3)

Napa-collage
Wine Sisterhood Gathering 2013

Yes, it’s my last installment of my fabulous weekend in Napa with the Wine Sisterhood. If you missed part one and/or part two you can read them here and here.

When I woke up on Tuesday morning I had purple teeth. And not just a little. Ah, the price of drinking wine for 10 hours straight! Instead of Zumba I did a quick 1/2 hour on the elliptical at the gym next door because I needed extra time to wash my hair. (No, I don’t wash my hair every day – so?!) After my shower I ran downstairs, grabbed some breakfast, and brought it back to my room so I could pretend I was having room service for breakfast. (Which you might be interested to know is just about my most favorite thing in life.)

Jennifer went for a run and picked up coffee and a biscotti. I like big breakfasts (and lunches and dinners). Jennifer likes small breakfasts (and lunches and dinners). If you were to look at us standing side by side this would not be a surprise. (Skinny bitch!)

When we went downstairs to the conference room I noticed an incredibly beautiful woman I hadn’t seen before. She was stunning. Like a model. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed her before as she had that type of presence that one takes notice of. Her name was Leila Janah and she was one of the morning’s speakers and founder of Samasource and Samahope.

Leila-Janah-Samasource
Leila Janah tells the Wine Sisterhood about her mission

Sama means equal in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language. Leila’s father taught her that all people are equally deserving of dignity and opportunity, and that landing in a middle class family with access to good schools, health care, and food on the table every night is pure chance. Her father instilled in her a belief that we have a duty to help people who aren’t as lucky in life’s birth lottery.

Samasource  connects women and youth living in poverty to dignified work via the Internet. Samahope uses crowdfunding to pay for low-cost life-saving surgeries in impovershed parts of the world.

So it turns out Leila Janah is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. Leila showed us this film about one of the women that benefited from Samasource:

She then told us about her two non-profits. It was really amazing to hear from a woman who is making a true difference in the world.

Our next speaker, Danielle Smith, was just as beautiful and just as dynamic. I was lucky enough to get to know Danielle a bit before she spoke as she was in my group, the Mischief Makers. She is an award winning former television news anchor and reporter with two websites – Extraordinary Mommy and Danielle Smith Media.

Danielle-Smith-Extraordinary Mommy
Danielle Smith in an interactive video workshop. Photo credit M.J. Wickham

Danielle led an interactive workshop about getting comfortable with video and was looking for three volunteers to get up in front of everyone and record a one-minute video. Because I knew I’d never hear the end of it from Jennifer (and in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t mind being the center of attention) I volunteered. I didn’t have anything planned, so I just gave my blog a shameless plug and joked about the fact that I was bitter about Pinterest winner Katie getting a shout out instead of me the day before. I got a few laughs and during my critique Danielle told me my humor really came across. So perhaps there will be video in this blog’s future. We’ll see…

Danielle-Smith-video-workshop
Hey, here’s another crappy picture of me on the Internet! Photo credit: M.J. Wickham

Okay, it’s 10:30 AM already – on to the drinking! We had a wine and cheese pairing with Cabot Cheese and Culture Magazine.

Cabot Creamery is a 1,200+ farm family dairy cooperative that produces all natural, award-winning cheeses. (If you like spicy their Habanero Cheese is deliciously hot, Hot, HOT!)

Culture Magazine is a magazine about cheese. Cheese! (Have I mentioned that I really, REALLY like cheese?) Note to self: get subscription to Culture Magazine ASAP.

The cheeses were paired with wines from the Wine Sisterhood labels – Middles Sister “Surfer Chick” Sauvignon Blanc, Purple Cowboy Tenacious Red, Monogamy Cabernet Sauvignon, Deep Purple Zinfandel, Middle Sister, “Sweet & Sassy” Moscato. My favorite cheese was the Humboldt Fog goat cheese. One woman said she thought she only liked Brie, but she was wrong. (Oh boy was she – this cheese rocks!)

wine-and-cheese-pairing
Wine Sisterhood wines + cheese + Culture Magazine = FABULOUS!

Of course after the wine and cheese pairing we were starving, not to mention thirsty, so we split into our groups for lunch and more wine tasting.

The Mischief Makers got on our party bus and headed to Domaine Carneros for a sparkling wine tasting and a lovely light lunch. We took a tour of the beautiful chateau and met wine maker Eileen Crane. I added her to the list of fabulously dynamic women I met on this trip. I loved learning more about the sparkling wine process and would definitely recommend a tour of Domaine Carneros if you are a sparkling wine fan.

“Art of Sparkling Wine” Tour offered daily at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m and is $30 per person.

Domaine-Carneros
The wonderful Domaine Carneros

After our wonderful lunch we headed to Palmaz Vineyards for a tour and tasting led by Florencia Palmaz. Palmaz is a gorgeous family-owned and operated winery. The Palmaz family is originally from Argentina, but moved to the states in the 1970’s. They fell in love with Napa while patriarch Julio Palmaz was finishing his medical residency at UC Davis. Palmaz turned his love of mechanics and engineering (he invented the coronary stent) into designing the vineyard’s elaborate gravity flow winery. From the stunning views to the deep basement caverns, this multi-level winery is truly something to see. Jennifer thought it was the highlight of the trip.

We had an amazing wine and food pairing (The wine was spectacular and the smoked duck breast wrapped around a cream cheese and fig filling was to die for). The tour and wine pairing is by reservation only. It costs $60 and is worth every penny.

Palmaz Vineyards
The view from Palmaz Vineyards
Palmaz-vineyards-tanks
A wine engineering masterpiece!
Palmaz-vineyards-tanks-downstairs
Another view
Palmaz-wine-and-food-pairing
Heaven!

After Palmaz we went back to the hotel. Do not however think there was any time to rest. After a quick stop to our room Jennifer and I checked out the Wine Sisterhood Sassy Suite. What is a Sassy Suite? It was a suite reserved to showcase the Wine Sisterhood wines and fabulous items for sale at the Wine Sisterhood online shop. (Looking for a gift for a wine-loving girlfriend? Look no further, this online shop will hook you up!)

Wine-Sisterhood-Shop
Welcome to the Sassy Suite

Next was The Hess Collection for more wine tasting and our last dinner. The Hess Collection is a vineyard, winery, art gallery, and local artisan gift shop all rolled into one. I loved the Hess Collection Winery because not only are their wines very good, they are sustainably farmed and Napa Green certified. We enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner. I loved (and I mean LOVED) every meal, but I think this one prepared by Chef Chad Hendrickson was my favorite. (And the blue crab mini-tostada appetizers – Oh. My. Gawd!)

The Hess Collection
The Hess Collection

Napa-Green

The Hess Collection
Our closing dinner
Dinner at Hess Collection
Jennifer’s tiny plate
Dinner-Hess-Collection
My ginormous plate!
empty-plate
All done!

Complimentary winery tours, including an overview of The Hess Collection Winery and Vineyards are offered daily between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. A tasting of four current release wines is $10. Unique experiences including a private tour and tasting, and wine and food pairings start at $25. Reservations can be made here.

After dinner we boarded the party bus for the last time. And I have to admit, I may have been over-fine-wined-and-dined. (Well, can anyone ever be over-fine-wined-and-dined?) I was tired. But happy. So happy. I felt so lucky and so blessed to be able to have this experience.

So what’s it like to win a contest on Pinterest? What do you think?

So, I Won This Contest on Pinterest… (Part 2)

Wine Sisterhood Gathering 2013
Wine Sisterhood Gathering 2013

As promised here is the Day Two recap of my trip to the 2013 Wine Sisterhood in Napa that I won on Pinterest. (If you missed Day One you can find it here.)

Jennifer is a good travel partner because she is an early-riser like me so when I wake up at o’dark thirty I don’t have to worry about disturbing her. We actually had a wake-up call for 6AM. (Yes, we are freaks.) She wanted to run and I wanted to hit the 7:00 Zumba class. She discovered the quiet early morning streets of Napa on foot and I put on a coin skirt and shook my booty (in a very uncoordinated-Kate-Gosselin-on-Dancing-with-the-Stars kind of way).

There was a gorgeously delicious breakfast buffet in the conference room at 8:00, but after our workouts showers were quite necessary so we didn’t make it down to the conference room until about 8:50. There was still plenty of food, but I missed out on morning socializing.

At 9:00 Terry Wheatley, our organizer and hostess extraordinaire gave opening remarks that were emotional and quite inspiring. She spoke of her vision for the Wine Sisterhood and quoted Walt Disney when she said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Terry Wheatley Wine Sisterhood
Terry Wheatley talks about big dreams

Then Terry gave a shout out and congratulations to a Pinterest winner…

named Katie

Katie brought her husband to the girl’s trip with her because he is her best friend blah blah blah.

What the… What about ME?! I’m a Pinterest winner too! Who loves to be the center of attention. Don’t I get a shout-out or a crown or something?

Katie of Hems for Her
Curtis and Katie at the flapper party at Raymond Vineyards

Katie obviously got the shout out because she is younger and cuter than me and the fact that she brought her best-friend-husband is just adorable right? Whatever Katie! (I’m just kidding – Katie is awesome. And she has a beautiful fashion blog called Hems for Her. You should check it out.)

Wine Sisterhood Pinterest winners
Two happy Pinterest Winners (I think I look drunk in this photo, but afterall it was taken at 11:30 AM!)

At 9:30 we listened to our first keynote speaker, Digital Diva Aliza Sherman, talk about all the fabulous phone apps that are available right now. Aliza is a great speaker and had fantastic information. Some of the apps she told us about were Drink-u-lator, an app that helps you know how much wine to buy when you’re planning a party (hint – it’s not a bottle per person!); Trover, a sort-of Instagram meets Trip Advisor; and Foodspotting, a sort-of Instagram meets FourSquare. I learned so much from her. Mostly, that I have a really lame phone. (I actually already knew that.)

Aliza-Sherman
Aliza Sherman talks apps

At 10:30 (yes in the morning) it was time for Bubble University. Translation: Sparkling Wine Tasting. (Now we are talking!)

The bubbly Leslie Sbrocco guided us through our tasting. (Yes, that pun was intended!)

Leslie is an emmy-award winning television host and Today Show Contributor and my new girl-crush. Leslie told us about getting the HUGE tattoo of a glass of  rosé sparkling wine on her calf, the different types of sparkling wine, what food to pair sparkling wine with (in her opinion all) and showed us how to saber a champagne (or sparkling wine) bottle. (That means pop the cork with a saber. It’s super-cool. Check out a 6-second video posted by Girlfriendology of Leslie sabering a bottle of sparkling rose here.)

Sparkling-wine-tasting
The fabulous Leslie Sbrocco schools the Wine Sisterhood on Sparkling Wine

After the sparkling wine tasting we broke off into two groups: Mischief Makers and Drama Queens – named after two of the Middle Sister wines and boarded luxury mini-buses for food and wine tastings aplenty. I was in the Mischief Maker group. (Oh don’t act all surprised by that – I am totally not a Drama Queen!) The groups would flip itineraries the next day.

The Mischief Makers went to a restaurant called Bistro Don Giovanni’s for lunch. It was Oh-my-god-I-feel-like-I’m-in-Italy delicious! We were given a four-course meal and a white and a red choice of Don Giovanni’s own estate grown wines. (So what if I chose both – be quiet!) One of the many things we talked about during lunch was the importance of a great wine label. We loved the label for Gio, Don Giovanni’s Sangiovese.

Don-Giovanni-Napa
Good times and great lunch with some winesisters – Lisa (@belvinowinery) and Sue (@kaysyrah) at Don Giovanni

After our lunch we waddled onto the bus to head to our first winery of the day.

Chappellet 

Our tour of Chappellet Winery was given by their Director of Hospitality, Candice Pannetier.  Candice gave us a tour of the barrel storage room and vineyards and told us the history of the family-owned winery and its owners, Donn and Molly Chappellet. Founded in 1967, the winery is located in Pritchard Hill and was one of the first wineries to pioneer high-elevation hillside planting. I don’t know what any of the means, but whatever it is they’re doing over at Chappellet, they are doing it right – this wine is crazy good. The winery is now run by three of the Chappellet children, but we had the privilege of meeting Molly Chappellet. She was an extraordinary woman with such a warm and lovely presence about her. She was so gracious and sophisticated and beautiful it felt like meeting royalty. (And I’m sure in Napa she is akin to royalty.)

Tastings at Chappellet can be booked here and start at $25.

Chappellet-vineyards
Beautiful Chappellet
Chappellet wine pour
More wine please Candice!
Wine sisterhood at Chappellet
Time for more wine!
Molly-Chappellet
Napa royalty, Molly Chappellet tells us about her beautiful winery
Chappellet wines
Yes please!

During lunch and the bus ride and walking around the Chappellet, I got to know some of the women in my group a little better. One of the best things about this trip was the amazing women I met from all over the country. Two of them were Debba Haupert of Girlfriendology and Beth Robeson of Healthy Kids Fast. Debba and Beth were both smart and interesting and funny. (Love them! Do yourselves a favor and check out their websites.)

Quintessa

Our next stop was Quintessa Winery.  When Agustin and Valeria Huneeus purchased the property for this winery in 1989 it was one of the few estates in Napa Valley that had never been planted to grapes. (I met Dave in 1989 and loved that Quintessa was established the same year we were.)

Our tour was given by Gwen McGill, their Director of Marketing, who showed us their beautiful grounds that includes a lake, five hills, a river and two forests. Not only were the grounds beautiful and the wine fantastic (we tasted the Illumination Sauvignon Blanc ($40), their Quintessa 2009 ($145) and Quintessa 2008 ($150) – hello!), but the vineyard is farmed entirely with biodynamic and organic techniques. We also tasted three different cheeses including this Seascape cheese from the Central Coast Creamy that was so ridiculously good I’m seriously considering having some shipped to my house even though it’s $17/pound. (Yes, it’s that good!) I was swooning over Quintessa.

Tastings are $65 and can be booked here.

Quintessa Gwen McGill
Gwen McGil pours Illumination Sauvignon Blanc
Quintessa
Gorgeous!
Quintessa Lake
What a view!

The Kitchen Door

Next we headed to The Kitchen Door for dinner. (You know, because we were so hungry.)

The Kitchen Door is located in the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa and is definitely a must-visit destination. The restaurant was closed for our party and chefs Todd Humphries and Christoper Litts made a special menu for our dinner.

First appetizers were passed around – Gourgeres Stuffed with Spinach and Mornay Sauce (think creamed spinach stuffed into a little bite-sized pastry), Deviled Eggs with Wasabi Tobiko (um, yum!), Salmon Pastrami with Sauerkraut on a Rye Crouton (ridiculous!) and Demitasse of Mushroom Soup (best mushroom soup I’ve ever had). Is your mouth watering yet? We still had three courses to go!

1st course
Spinach Salad with Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese, Shaved Apples, Toasted Walnuts and a Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

Entree
Pot Roast – Whole roasted center cut beef shoulder with garden vegetables and fresh grated horse radish.
(a vegetarian option was offered, but who wants that?)

Dessert
Bettermilk Panna Cotta with Sour Cherry Compote (Oh. My. Gawd. So good!)

Wine
2011 Tablas Creek, Patelin de Tablis Blanc, Paso Robles, CA
Unti, Rose of Grenache/Mourvedre, Dry Creek, CA
2008 Six Sigma, Tempranillo, Lake County, CA
2010 Bonny Doon, Old Vine Field Blend, ‘Contra’, Santa Cruz, CA

I chose the Bonny Doon ‘Contra’. It was excellent.

Our hotel was only two blocks away so the buses left after dropping us off and when we finished dinner we all walked home. I don’t think the walking home, the morning’s Zumba class, or all the walking we did around the vineyards was nearly enough to keep this food and wine from sticking to my middle-aged middle -but who cares? I was in foodie-food and wine-snob heaven.  So different from my $7-Costco-and-fake-it-like-you-made-it-Trader-Joe’s-frozen-dinner regular existence.

Kitchen-Door-Napa
The Kitchen Door – you MUST eat here when you are in Napa

Stay tuned for Day Three. Could it be any better? Maybe…

So, I Won This Contest on Pinterest…

That’s right – I won a contest on Pinterest. And you should be jealous. Because it was freaking awesome.

That sounds a little snotty doesn’t it? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to come out that way. I’m not trying to brag (much), it’s just that – WOW – this was really super fantastic and I really, really have to share.

Last year I found out about this contest from Middle Sister Wines on Pinterest. You had to pin a picture of one of their new wines –Rebel Red, Drama Queen, Wild One or Mischief Maker- and where you spotted it (or bought it) onto a pinboard on Pinterest. The prize was a trip for two to Napa for the 2nd annual Wine Sisterhood Gathering. I had no idea what the Wine Sisterhood Gathering was, but I knew I wanted to win. I mean a free trip to Napa with a girlfriend – what could be better? (It turns out nothing! Could be better, I mean. Because this trip was the bomb!)

Here is the photo I pinned:

Pinterest-Contest-Winner
This may be a crappy photo of me, but it won me a trip to Napa!

Yeah, it’s a pretty sucky picture of me. In fact, I almost didn’t post it because I really didn’t like it. But I’m so glad I did. I mean, who needs dignity when free wine and travel are involved?

What exactly is the Wine Sisterhood Gathering? It was a three-day conference featuring interactive workshops, winery visits, ridiculous dining experiences, and time to mingle with influential women from a variety of industries and backgrounds. Translation: Wine tasting + gourmet food + amazing women = AWESOME!

I was a good friend to one and a bad friend to many when I chose my friend Jennifer to go to Napa with me. (Sorry everyone else – really!)

It started on Sunday, March 3, when Jennifer and I flew to Napa on a teeny tiny airplane.

small-airplane
Yikes! That is one small airplane!

Once we landed at SFO were met by a stretch limo (that I’m pretty sure was bigger than the plane) that whisked us away to the fabulous Andaz Napa Hotel. We shared our limo with three amazing women who had flown in together from the East Coast – Elizabeth Mascali and Dawn Sandomeno from the fantastic better-than-Martha-Stewart party planning blog Party Bluprints, and Carol Cain from the very cool (I wish it was my) travel blog Girl Gone Travel. We chatted the entire hour-long limo ride and really hit it off. These ladies are FAB!

Limo-ride
My chariot awaits!

When we arrived at the hotel our rooms weren’t ready yet (we arrived before official check-in time) and everyone was starving, so the five of us had lunch two doors down at a restaurant called Tarla Mediterranean Grill. I chose their crab sandwich which was basically a BLT with avocado and lump crab meat on ciabatta bread. So in a word – YUM!

crab sandwich
Lump meat crab sandwich – like a BLT on crack!

When we went back to the hotel we had to wait a little longer for our room so we checked in with the sisterhood and each got this awesome bag full of swag with items that can  be purchased at the Wine Sisterhood store in the near future.

swag
What an awesome gift bag!

We sat in the hotel lobby and enjoyed a complimentary (and very delicious) glass of John Anthony 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. I’m telling you – I could get used to the Napa lifestyle. We were given a beautiful double king room that I was too lame to remember to take pictures of.

So here’s one I stole from the Internet. (It’s from their website – I don’t think they’ll mind!)

Andaz-hotel
Oh yeah!

After relaxing for a short while we changed into flapper(ish) outfits because we were headed to the speakeasy at Raymond Vineyards Winery.

Raymond Vineyards – what a trip. We are talking crazy good wine and a winery that David Lynch could have created. I’m telling you this place was surreal. Our host, Jean-Charles Boisset (who was wearing a purple velvet suit) greeted us and told us the history of the winery in the red room.

Jean-Charles Boisset
Our wonderful host at Raymond Vineyards
Raymond-vineyards-speakeasy
The red room at Raymond Vineyards (yes, this is the best picture I have – sorry!)

We then headed to the Crystal Cellar for an appetizer dinner. (My favorite kind!)

Raymond-Vineyars-Crystal-Cellar
David Lynch has nothing on Jean-Charles Boisset

Here I am enjoying some yummy apps with my new friends…

Lorraine Robertson, Carol Cain, me, Elizabeth Mascali and Dawn Sandomeno
Lorraine Robertson, Carol Cain, me, Elizabeth Mascali and Dawn Sandomeno

BTW – side note… speaking of awesome women – do you see the 1st person in this picture? Her name is Lorraine Robertson and she ran a marathon earlier in the day. Yes, you read that right. Lorraine flew in from Atlanta on Saturday, ran a marathon Sunday morning and Sunday evening partied like a rockstar. She is my idol. Seriously!

Off of the Crystal Cellar was the Barrel room. And it was full of cheese.

Raymond-vineyards-barrel-room
If I died, this would be my heaven!

And olives…

party-food

and other yummy things…

party food

While we were in the barrel room Jean-Charles came in and offered a back-room tour of the place. Unfortunately I was treating the table in the barrel room like a feed bag and did not see my friends go. Dawn and Elizabeth told me I really missed out. Boo! (But seriously, can you blame me? Look at all that cheese!)

cheese plate
Get in my belly!

After much eating and drinking and winery exploring the Wine Sisters were done and ready to retire. We had get to bed at a decent hour to gear up for the next day that involved 7AM Zumba, a 10:30 AM champagne tasting and more food and wine than even someone who uses a cheese table as a feedbag would have thought possible.

Stay tuned to find out all about it…

*photo of Jean-Charles Boisset courtesy of Sarah Nelson.

Home

Last night I returned home from a 4-day girl’s weekend. (Well, it was a Sunday – Wednesday, does that make it a week beginning?)

It was a fabulous trip to Napa that I will be writing about all next week to fill you in on my decadent wine and food gluttony, but for now, I am just happy to be home, back to the normalcy of my house with Dave and the kids.

Even though when I walked into my bedroom I was greeted with this…

laundry-hamper
Guess what I’ll be doing today

And then I went to the kitchen and found that all the sports water bottles I washed on Saturday night and left in the sink were still there. Because apparently I’m the only one who knows how to put them away. Funny, everyone seems to know where to find them in the cupboard when they need them. (I would have put them away myself before I left, but I had an early flight on Sunday morning.)

dishes-in-a-sink
Sigh…

At the beginning of the week I was making new connections and meeting new friends. I was tasting wine paired with gourmet food and cheese starting at 10:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night and eating four-course five-star meals (and have the extra five pounds to prove it). I had a king-size bed and four big pillows All. To. Myself.

wine-and-food-pairing
I could get used to this!

And it was all so wonderful.

But today… that glamorous life is over.

Today will be filled with unpacking and laundry. Cooking and cleaning up messes. Catching up on my work and fighting over Marley’s homework.

It’s back to the grind. Back to normal. Back to my real life. (Did I mention the laundry?)

And though it doesn’t make sense on paper (or computer screen), as wonderful as Napa is, it seemed a little bit like Oz.

And like Dorothy said…

There’s no place like home.