Things I Like

The California trip continues!

I’ll be the first to say that you should spend as much time in Big Sur as you can. As the name implies, it’s big. There are several state parks, plenty of places to camp or stay overnight, and so many incredible vistas that you could probably fill a week at least with to-dos. Our schedule, though, only had time for one day in Big Sur, so we did our best to make the most of it.

Tip: Print out paper directions to anything definitely want to see. Cell service is nonexistent through most of the drive, so you won’t be able to rely on a GPS.

Tuesday night, we drove from San Francisco to the Mariposa Inn & Suites in Monterey. The hotel was simple and clean, with a pool and a free breakfast in the morning. The next morning, we set out early to begin our trek.

Tip: Make sure you start out with a full tank of gas. There are loooong stretches on Highway 1 with exactly zero gas stations — the last thing you want is to get stuck with an empty tank. One full tank should get you the whole way through Big Sur, though.

First stop was Big Sur Bakery, which had been recommended to me by pretty much every person I told I was going to Big Sur. We got breakfast (eggs and greens on toast), but I’ve been told the dinner is also excellent.

Tip: This is also the last place to get good espresso before you get lost in the wilderness, so take advantage of the bustling coffee bar. I would also recommend getting a few baked goods for the road. (We opted for a pumpkin scone and a maple baon bowtie.)

After fueling up, we started our drive. There were a couple of things we wanted to see for sure (included below), but the main thing I would like to impress upon you is the importance of just stopping a lot and taking in your surroundings. This place? It is BEAUTIFUL. Like, stupid beautiful. You won’t even be able to believe it. It helped that we had the world’s most perfect weather, of course, but regardless, I truly believe California is the most gorgeous place on earth. Get OUT of the car and take it IN. Be the corny tourist on the side of the road taking deep breaths of the morning air and snapping a photo or two. It’s worth it.

LOOK AT IT.

LOOK AT IT.

Ok, now for the specifics. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park was one of my favorite stops. There are two must-see hikes here, both starting from the parking lot.

Tip: Do not park in the parking lot unless you like paying $20 for no reason. Park on the main road with everyone else who is not a tourist (for free) and walk down to the trail.

First up, McWay Falls. You’ve probably seen this shot a billion times from either movies or your West Coast friends’ Instagram feeds, but it is still 100 percent worth seeing in person. I mean, LOOK AT THAT WATER.

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The trail also barely qualifies as a hike — it’s short, totally flat, and can be done in flip flops. For something a bit more adventurous, hit up the Ewoldsen Trail on the opposite end of the parking lot. This will take you through redwood groves, over streams, and up some serious height if you feel industrious. The full trail is a little over five miles, but you can go as far as you like. If you’re in for the long haul, I’d recommend legitimate hiking boots and a backpack with water and snacks.

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One thing that we were not expecting but LOVED? An elephant seal rookery. Hundreds of these animals flock to this beach to sun themselves, sleep, and mate every year, and it was pretty incredible to see in person. And not just because they reminded us an awful lot of a certain lazy dog we adore. Definitely worth joining the crowd ooh-ing and ah-ing over the seals.

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After the seals, we started to head inland to Paso Robles where our hotel was. The downside was that we couldn’t see the water anymore. The upside is that we accidentally found ourselves in wine country! And, you guys. This country was so beautiful we almost couldn’t take it. The rolling hills and golden vineyards literally look painted on. We may have made a few more stops for photos. (And, okay, a wine tasting at Zenaida Cellars. We’re only human!)

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We ended the night with dinner in nearby San Luis Obispo at a place called Novo with a really pretty back deck.

All in all, this was our favorite day of the trip. (Not counting time spent with family, of course!) And even though it feels like we packed a lot into the day, I love knowing that we could go back again and do completely different things.

Here are a few things we could have done but didn’t have time to do:

Hearst Castle
My dad had actually mentioned this place when I was first soliciting for activity ideas, but I didn’t look into it enough at the time. Basically, William Randolph Hearst was a SUPER rich man who wanted to build an American castle that would rival the European versions. And, I’ve only seen pictures, but I think it’s safe to say he succeeded. You can tour the estate, but reservations are highly recommended. If I went again, I would book the night tour when docents dress in period clothing and you get to see the most of the castle.

Tip: Hearst also collected a pretty impressive menagerie of animals that he kept in a personal zoo and allowed to roam the grounds. Most of the animals were sent to zoos when the fortune dried up, but you can still see a small herd of zebras grazing along the highway — keep a sharp eye out!

Nepenthe Restaurant
I had actually planned to stop here for lunch, but I got my directions mixed up and it ended up being right by Big Sur Bakery. If you’ve done the bakery before, though, this place looks pretty awesome. The lunch seating is arranged stadium style next to this huge overlook so you can take in the view while you eat, and it has been run by the same family for three generations.

Have any of you been to Big Sur? Did you do something we didn’t? Give me ideas for our next trip in the comments!

Since our California Adventure spanned nine days and basically the entire state, I figured it would be easier to break down the trip into areas. It will also make it more useful for anyone who is not exploring the entire state at once. (Thought I do recommend that if you have the opportunity.)

We spent the first day and a half of our trip with my brother and his family. They live near Sacramento, so we saw a bit of their ‘hood as well as the Berkeley area. The highlight was a lunch at Easy Creole, where the kind folks will let you sample six of their menu selections before you make your final choice.

Tip: Spring the extra $2 for the corn bread. It’s gluten-free, and oh-so worth it.

Monday morning, we kissed the fam goodbye and headed into the city.

Tip: Give yourself an hour longer than you think you will need when traveling on a week day. It took us an hour JUST to get through the tolls into the city. AN HOUR. I was climbing the walls of the car by the time we got through.

Joey had never been to SF, so I had planned out a day of the finest touristy options the city has to offer. First up, Sears Fine Food for the “world-famous” Swedish silver-dollar pancakes. We also split the veggie omelet so we’d have enough energy to get through our busy day. Both were delicious.

Next up, we popped into Walgreens to purchase a visitor one-day pass, which you can use on almost all of the public transportation (cable cars included). Then we grabbed a cable car heading toward Ghirardelli Square.

Tip: Try to get on at one of the first stops on the line. These little cars fill up very quickly, and people WILL cut the line. You have to be New Yorker aggressive.

We hopped off the cable car at Lombard Street to see the crookedest street in the world. You’re also treated to a pretty spectacular view of the city.

From there, it was time to head to the Golden Gate bridge.

Tip: Take the bus. There is very little parking by the bridge, and the bus is actually pretty simple. Plus, it’s covered by your visitor’s pass.

I wasn’t truly aware of how spectacular the weather was until we got to the bridge. The water looks so blue next to the bridge (which is actually red, fun fact). We took a million pictures in the nearby park and then walked about halfway across. (We wanted to get back to the city before sunset.)

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A quick bus trip back brought us to Ghirardelli Square, where we just strolled along the coast making our way to Pier 39 because the ONE thing Joey really wanted to do was see the sea lions. Fisherman’s Wharf was predictably crowded, but the weather was great, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. We split a crab sandwich and enjoyed the views. And the sea lions did not disappoint.

Finally, we took the bus back to our hotel (the cable cars are impossible to get on from that end unless you want to wait an hour and a half), freshened up, and then went to dinner at Lolinda, an Argentinian steakhouse. Several people had recommended it to me as their favorite restaurant in SF, so we were excited to try it. And, you guys? So. Good. The food is served tapas-style, and we had four small plates, a large plate, and steak between the two of us. Plus two desserts because when they have banana bread pudding and peanut butter mousse, THAT IS THE RIGHT DECISION.

The second day, I worked in my company’s San Francisco office. (After a workout at Barry’s Bootcamp through my ClassPass, of course! The instructor was basically Barry’s Bootcamp Barbie, complete with anecdotes about her modeling gigs and her impending nose job. Oh, California!) Joey met up with me and my boss for lunch at Marlowe, which was SO GOOD. I highly recommend the brussel sprouts chips, baked cauliflower (it’s basically mac and cheese with cauliflower instead of mac), and gingerbread cake. That cake. I will dream about that cake.

After work, Joey and I went to dinner at The House near Chinatown. Do not be fooled by that sad little website — this place is boss. I highly recommend the coconut creme brûlée. And the take-home cookies, of course. (This was basically the vacation of desserts, as you can tell.)

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So that’s how we spent two days in San Fran! It was pretty awesome, and the perfect weather didn’t hurt one bit. Post-dinner, we headed to our hotel in Monterey to begin our day in Big Sur. More on that later.

So did I miss your favorite San Francisco treat? Share with the group in a comment below.

 

I’m not going to lie — there are a lot of days when I give Joey a lot of credit for staying married to me.

I mean, I’m annoying. Like, roll-your-eyes, is-she-serious annoying. I actually care about how things are arranged in the pantry, and I throw things out with wild abandon because the clutter gives me hives. But the man sticks around, God love ‘im.

Case in point? I am very annoying to go on vacation with. Because I like to plan. But not just, like, plan-to-go-on-a-trip. PLAN.

Not only have I been working on a Google doc itinerary for our upcoming California trip for the last couple of months, not only do I plan to put together a binder of confirmations and maps (like I did for our Paris trip), but today I spent about an hour outfit planning. And then turning those plans into detailed packing lists.

Don’t believe me?

The crazy is very, very real.

The crazy is very, very real.

Like I said. Annoying.

The one thing Joey can be grateful for? I am generally much more rational in person when I feel like I have my life together. AND these plans make it much less likely that I will overpack.

See, babe? Everyone wins!!

…please don’t leave me.

I tend to get the same response in New York (and really, most places) when I tell people I grew up in Iowa.

“Wow, that must have been some kind of culture shock, huh?”

“Iowa? IO-wa? So you grew up on a farm?

“Where is Iowa?”

In general, I shrug, duck my head with a Midwestern humility, and reply, “Well, it’s different, of course, but not as different as you would think.”

Because, really, I’m from Iowa, but I didn’t grow up even close to a farm. Unless you count the research powerhouse DuPont Pioneer, which did technically grow acres of corn a stone’s throw from my front door and high school. (I, obviously, do not.)

To their credit, though, these curious non-Midwesterners do have a point: Life in New York is pretty different from life in Iowa. But probably not for the reasons they think.

Here, in no particular order, are the things I miss the most about my Iowa life:

1. Drive-through Starbucks
Drive-throughs in general are much harder to come by in the city, most likely because only the certifiably insane (and/or taxi drivers) bother with cars in the city. I do, though, wish the drive-through coffee shop would make its way to the outer boroughs.

If you’ve never experiences the utter euphoria of getting to stay in your warm car during the dead of winter while you scoop up a latte, all I can tell you is that it makes you feel like you’ve done something right with your life.

2. Big parking lots
If I go the rest of my life without ever circling for street parking, a blaring brigade of cars barreling up behind me, only to break into a cold sweat as I try to maneuver into a parallel parking spot just a couple of inches too small for my car, it will be too soon.

You know how we handle those situations in the Midwest? WE DON’T. We just swoop into the entrance of the nearest sprawling parking lot and take our pick of spots. Our biggest stress? That we will have to walk and extra 20 feet because all the “good” spots are taken.

Here’s something I’ve learned in New York: ANY parking lot spot is a “good” spot when the alternative is a parallel parking spot next to a heap of yesterday’s trash.

3. A convenient Target
Now, we do have Target in New York. You just have to trek to Brooklyn or Long Island or a distant mall in Queens to get to it.

Do you want to know how far I had to travel to get to Target from my parents’ house in Iowa? Five minutes. It was literally on the same street as their neighborhood. In fact, you had to pass a few OTHER superstores to even get to the Target. (But we all know the Target was what you were really after anyway.)

And once you got there? You just cruised into the giant parking lot, found a spot, and grabbed a latte from Starbucks on your way in the door.

What I’m saying is, yes, moving to New York was a lifestyle change. But I’m not always sure which city is winning.

 

Healthy Chocolate Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

What? Two baking posts in one week? Who am I, you guys?

I guess this is me unofficially adding “bake more” to my fall bucket list.

Today’s recipe is technically a cookie recipe, but the health nuts out there will appreciate that it is flour-, egg-, dairy-, and gluten-free. It does have nuts, but those can easily be swapped out if you have an allergy.

I actually made a variation of these cookies a while back (recipe here), but this time around, I made a few substitutions and the whole process turned out a lot better. Here’s how to make them:

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Healthy Chocolate Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients:
2 overripe bananas
1 cup gluten-free oats
1 1/2 Tablespoons cacao powder
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Directions:
Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Step Two: Combine all ingredients, mashing the banana with a fork. Stir until the bananas are completely blended with the rest of the ingredients.

Step Three: Place 2-tablespoon clumps of the “batter” on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. These cookies don’t really spread, so you don’t have to worry about the cookies being close together. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cookies appear slightly crisp on the outside. Let cool and enjoy!

Cacao is one of my favorite chocolate substitutes — it’s high in antioxidants, magnesium, and iron. It adds a rich, chocolatey taste without too much sweetness. (In this recipe, the overripe bananas make the cookies sweet enough.)

Next, I’d like to try a variation of these cookies with canned pumpkin instead of bananas. Stay tuned!

I’ve noticed a few bloggers making bucket lists for the seasons. You’ve probably seen them: In the summer, they want to go to the beach, try surfing, throw a BBQ. In the fall, they want to make s’mores, go camping, wear plaid, etc.

You all know I love fall. And you know I love making lists. So I figured, why not? Here’s what I would put on my fall bucket list:

1. Go apple picking.
2. Make an apple crisp.
3. Go camping.
4. Hike a trail through fall leaves.
5. Drink apple cider.

You may notice a propensity for the outdoors and, well, eating. I am who I am.

And what a coincidence, I’ve already checked off three of those things. Last Friday, Joey, Boges, a few of our friends, and I went apple picking at an orchard upstate.

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Bogey clearly loved it most of all, but Joey and I also had a great time picking our own apples and drinking cider. (Hello, Bucket List Items #1 and #5!)

Last night, I decided to check off item #2 by making apple crisp for the first time evah. Here’s the recipe I used, in case you have your own list to tackle this season. Bonus: It’s also gluten free as long as you use gluten-free oats.

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Whiskey Pecan Apple Crisp
(gently modified from this recipe)

Ingredients:

For the filling:
6-7 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice

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For the topping:
1 cup hazelnut flour
1 cup gluten-free whole oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the garnish:
Cinnamon Whiskey (I used Fireball)
Cinnamon for sprinkling
Vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream (optional…but recommended)

 

Step One: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Step Two: Combine the apples, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 3 tablespoons honey, and lemon juice. Stir until apples are coated evenly.

Step Three: In a separate bowl, whisk the hazelnut flour, oats, salt, remaining cinnamon, and pecans.

Step Four: Use a fork or your fingers to mix in the remaining honey and butter until the topping has a crumbly consistency.

Step Five: Pour apples into two 9-inch pie dishes or baking dishes. Cover with the crumble topping.

Step Six: Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Step Seven: Spoon half a cup to one cup of crisp into a bowl while still warm. Drizzle with 1 oz of the cinnamon whiskey. Top with ice cream, whipped cream, and cinnamon as desired. Enjoy!

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