Keeping Busy In San Francisco.

We just came back from a pretty busy weekend in San Francisco, which was filled with great times with family and friends. I also managed to squeeze in a half marathon, which we will cover in a separate post.

The plane ride and some recovery time after the race allowed me to read Wheelman: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever. Not sure I would recommend it because it just confirmed what I already thought of Lance Armstrong. That's not a knock on the authors from the WSJ, as it was meticulously researched, but it just provided more insight as to what a diabolical and selfish person he is. If you're interested in how pervasive the drug culture was in cycling and the extent to which Armstrong wanted to protect his legacy, read the book.

Our time in SF had us hitting some excellent restaurants. Coqueta, which focuses on Spanish cuisine, was the standout. We went to Frances to celebrate the 1/2 marathon finish, which was also excellent. Great service too. Rich Table had so much hype, so it was slightly disappointing that it didn't knock your socks off. That said, it was very good and even better to catch up with some of the SF cousins.

We went and visited with a former neighbor of mine from Massapequa, who is now a paramedic with the SFFD. It was really fun catching up with him, and he told us of a museum we never heard of called 'The Disney Museum'. It's historical artifacts from the Disney family about how Walt Disney & Co. became the massive entertainment company that it is today. Not really for kids, but for those of you who grew up with Disney as they grew up, you'll appreciate it.

Marc is a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and it just so happened that the Cartoon Art Museum is showcasing an exhibit on some of the drawings used in 'The Sandman' series. It was interesting, but unfortunately they had some other kind of festival going on that made things very loud and chaotic in there, which took away from wanting to read more about the drawings.

It wasn't what we would call an awesome sports weekend by Beck standards. The Broncos lost and the Red Sox advanced to the World Series. The New York Giants are about to kick off for MNF, so no news on if they will put their 2014 1st draft pick status in jeopardy.

And yeah, Congress and Obama finally got their act together.... until we get to do this again in January-February, 2014. Good job, elected officials! Idiots - all of them. But props to Chris Christie for giving up the fight against same-sex marriage in New Jersey - progress for my friends who live there!

All in all, a fun and a busy weekend in SF catching up with a bunch of people. Now back in Seattle to face reality and the Giants playing on Monday Night Football.

Phil the Thrill.

I wouldn't say I am a huge golf fan, compared to say baseball or football (US), but after taking up the game once I moved to Seattle, I definitely started to appreciate it more. I never was a fan of Tiger Woods. He just always seemed to be arrogant and a poor sport, especially given how much success he had playing golf and how much money he made as a result. The events in late 2009 only cemented my disdain for him. His conduct on the course has finally become a topic for discussion, which was well overdue since it seemed like sportscasters just kissed his rear for fear of angering Tiger. Oooh.

My beloved grandmother, Mollie, was a Phil Mickelson fan. I remember watching the US Open with her in 2002 on Father's Day when it was played just down the road from us at Bethpage Black. I somehow became a Phil fan on that Sunday afternoon even though he lost to Tiger. He just always seemed like he knew that he had it really good and knew his role was to golf and entertain the fans. And he played to win, and not just collect a paycheck.

Phil can be maddeningly frustrating to watch. Winged Foot. Merion. But when he pulls something out of nowhere, you get just as rewarded. His win yesterday at the Open Championship was a shock and thoroughly enjoyable. And he has done something Tiger hasn't - Phil knows how to win majors from behind

I have no idea what Phil is like in private, but I know that he realizes his job is to be with the fans and thank them for supporting the game, in addition to golfing. I like that. I LOVE that he doesn't slam his club down when he hits a poor shot, swear incessantly after a mishit, and doesn't treat interviewers like garbage when he has a bad round.  So congrats, Phil, and I know Mollie had a celebratory G&T "upstairs" in your honor.

Of course we have the other side of the spectrum in bad behavior in Ryan Braun, who finally admitted to taking PEDs. I hope the sample collector who Braun demonized and caused to lose his job sues the pants off of him. Braun was so adamant about the collection process being flawed and blaming this person that one can hope that karma comes back to Braun's checkbook. Speaking of reformed cheaters, I always wonder if Lance Armstrong ever apologized to Emma O'Reilly after making her life miserable?  

Moving back to being positive, I had a good week on the running front. I actually hit my assigned paces/HR zones on my runs this past week, so I am incredibly pleased. The work is paying off, but we have so much more work to do to get me where I need to be for my race. My stretching program is helping and more routine, so that is good. I definitely got inspired watching my former coach race and place 2nd in her age group in yesterday's Lake Stevens 70.3 Ironman.

Moving on to food, we were able to hit Crush for dinner -- one of Marc's faves. We chatted with Jason (chef and owner) about his new restaurant, our visit to Quay in Sydney and the awesomeness of the Big Green Egg. Really great restaurant with the food and service, plus we opted to sit at the bar so we saw some of the interesting prep they do in the kitchen.

I signed us up for a Gluten-Free Doughs class (focused on pasta) at the Pantry at Delancey. It wasn't Paleo-oriented but it was good to learn a few more tricks when working with non-traditional flours when making pasta/dumplings from scratch. We only wished that the class started at 5:30pm instead of 6:30pm because we didn't eat until 9:15pm, which is a tad late for us. I don't think we're at the "early bird special" stage yet, but still... we're not in NYC either. That said, I am somewhat inspired to experiment some more on this front with Paleo "doughs". Stay tuned for more in this space after last year's sweet potato gnocchi (success after FIVE attempts!)

I also attempted some other dishes in the kitchen last week. Two of them are Paleo versions of existing recipes from 'Avec Eric' by Eric Ripert and 'Simply Ming One Pot Recipes' by Ming Tsai. A third night consisted of a meal from 'Practical Paleo' by Diane Sanfilippo so obviously no versioning required to make it Paleo.

My Australian Summary

Great time and I'm sure I forgot some things.

+Jill is now known as "Aussie J". That was her nickname on my temporary phone over there.

Best (no particular order)
    * Great Ocean Road
    * Great Barrier Reef
    * Wilson's Promontory
    * Cradle Mountain / Dove Lake
    * Flight over SW Tasmania and boat ride while out there (wow!)
    * Whitsunday Islands - 3x snorkeling in single day
    * New Years Eve
    * Open That Bottle Night
  Wine Regions
    * Barossa
    * Margaret River
    * McLaren Vale
  Sights/Tours (not already mentioned)
    * Ferry system in Sydney Harbour
    * Pinnacles
  Pools (in order)
    * Andrew Charlton Pool (clean)
    * North Sydney Olympic Pool (view/location)
    * Icebergs - Bondi Beach Pool (stunning but cold)

Worst (no order)
    * King's Canyon --> Alice Springs via Tour Bus (talk about boring and trapped)
    * Fraser Island --> Mackay via car (too long with last 90 minutes dark and animals lurking)
    * Fraser Island (not that great in general other than Champagne Pools)
    * Mount Kosciuszko (drenching rain & no visibility == miserable)
    * Fraser Island (salty starter AND main for dinner. yuk.)
    * Daintree (mosquitos)
  Wine Regions
    * Mornington Peninsula
    * Heathcote (there is good stuff here)
    * Grampians area
    * Tasmania
  Sights/Tours (not already mentioned)
    * MONA in Tasmania
    * Bike tour in Melbourne (too much bike WALKING)

21 Feb: Perth (WA) --> "Rotto" (WA) --> Perth (WA).

Quokka sighting and a bonus 'Scrabble' word
Jill never heard of before
One of the great things about traveling is the people you meet along the way. +Marc and I have been really lucky to get some solid recos on things to check out during various parts of our journey. Our server from Monday night suggested that we check out Rottnest Island (aka "Rotto" to the locals) during our stay in Perth as it was an easy day trip for us.

We slept in a bit because the last few mornings have been early starts for us and because the forecast called for some morning rain, which meant no need to rush out the door. After buying some tickets, we caught a ferry from Fremantle to Rotto, which also included bike rentals. We knew it was going to be another scorcher in Perth, but Andrew, one of our hosts told us that being on Rotto will give us 2-3 Celsius worth of relief. 

Views from the bike ride around "Rotto"
It sure didn't feel like that. The rain passed, as did the clouds. It was hot, sunny and hot (yes, I said that twice). No shade and not many places to refill the water bottles. My refill bottle was boiling so I opted not to drink that. We cycled the perimeter of the island, which is just under 18 miles. Towards the end, Marc wanted to stop at a particular cove to swim and look for sea creatures. We didn't get any snorkel gear but boy, did that water feel good.... Wow. We found out that it was a "cool" 37 Celsius on the island. Oy.

Wait - is that a "Jill in the water" sighting?
While we enjoyed cycling on Rotto (and got to see some native quokkas!!), we decided to catch an earlier ferry back. Lunchtime had passed and I knew we were eating dinner on the early side to accommodate the school schedule of young Dylan. My gimpy wrist was absolutely not pleased with me. Quite honestly all I wanted was some fresh ice cream or gelato, which is very rare these days. No luck in Fremantle. Had to settle for a somewhat all-natural mint chip ice cream at the local supermarket near our friends' house. Oh well.

We decided to cook dinner for our friends again since it's nice to get in some home cooking when you can on a trip like this. We got some duck, sauteed a bunch of veggies, and cracked open some wine. It was a nice way to end what was a very hot and steamy day.

Thanks for tuning in. More entries to come on here and more photos to be updated to Flickr.

18 Jan : Melbourne [By Bike]

The day started at 5am when Chris got up for swim squad and I got talked into it so I got up 10 minutes later. Let's just say that almost 4500 meters with a 2100 meter main set was NOT an enjoyable part of the vacation although it did feel good to get that "yardage" in with all the food and wine going on here. Fortunately it wasn't crowded because people were out doing other things and coach Ben was in one of his "nicer moods" according to Chris.

Site of Chris and Marc's "Swim Squad" workout
Of course, we biked TO & FROM the pool which is 3-4 km each way. All of this on the same day that we had scheduled a bike tour of the city - lot of activity AND biking. +Jill and Shelly went off to Crossfit. Jill to WOD and Shelly to check it out to see if she would like it. An early start for EVERYONE.

Fortunately, today was cooler than yesterday for the bike tour. Shelly joined us and off we went to meet up with the tour guide at 10am at one of the "Blue Bikes" locations in Melbourne. These things are everywhere and people can rent a bike from one and return it in another rack somewhere else in the city. There are smart phone apps to tell you how many bikes are available in a location as well as how many open spots are available in one when you are ready to return the bike.
"Pup-arazzi" in Melbourne CBD (Central Business District)
It turns out that our tour guide met us first to take us into the city center to get the remaining guests. This unfortunately led to two safety briefings as well as photo delays among other things before actually starting - we started at around 11:20-11:30. You can imagine what this did to lunch!

We started with a few nice spots by bike including a "pea patch", an inner city park for kids, and a great view of the sporting megaplex from a foot bridge that includes the Aussie Open, the sporting oval (the main attraction), and more.

Biking through Chinatown
She then guided us to (and through) a walk-only area with restaurants, shops, etc called Degraves Place. We had to walk our bikes single file because it isn't a big/wide place and it was packed for lunch &/or shopping. Once lane walked through would be fine, but she took us through pretty much all of them. Not easy and it took a while. Even after we got out of there we had to walk the bikes a lot. We then locked them up at one of the main market areas and walked around some more. It was beginning to look a lot like a walking tour. At this point I asked when lunch was: "40 minutes. Maybe an hour." 40 minutes later we hadn't stopped walking around in the market. This meant more like 40-60 minutes more of biking BEFORE lunch. The saving grace was a coffee and donut I got while we walked around.
Jill making friends. Where is Jarrett?
Once we did eat, it was actually good. We had Spanish tapas that were true and the place had a great rooftop bar to check out too.

We ended up seeing some cool stuff post "lunch", but we were worried about getting back in time to shower and get to our 7pm dinner reservation at Albert Street Food and Wine. So we broke off from the tour and took our bikes back to the closest docking station to the house.
"Snickers Bar" at Albert Street Food and Wine
Dinner was awesome there and the dessert was great. They had a "Snickers Bar" knock off that was truly delicious.

10 Jan: Canberra (ACT).

The day started out on a little adventure near McD's house early to see some kangaroos "in the wild" (aka not in a zoo). We had to get up early since they tend to be up and hopping around at dawn and dusk. So off we went to find them in a local park about 3 miles from the house. As luck would have it, we not only found a few but we saw one with a joey in it! Wow! What a score! What a "benny" of staying with locals who know this stuff!

View from Parliament building down
ANZAC Parade
As noted yesterday, Canberra is a great place to tour around by bicycle. Loads and loads of paved bike paths. Our hosts generously loaned us their bikes and gave us some ideas for touring around. They live by a lake, which is about a 20 mile flat loop. +Marc and I knew that it would be warm for us relatively speaking, but we knew if we were going to tour around, today was the day to do it as the temps are slated to climb tomorrow.

Kinda like the opposite of Seattle's annual bike event in January known as 'Chilly Hilly', right +Keith? :-)

Crest of Australia: Kangaroo on the
left and Emu on the right
We had a light breakfast and went off. First stop was the Parliament building in the Parliamentary Zone of the city, where many of the government buildings reside. Since it is summer holidays here in Australia, Parliament was not in session but it was still open for looking around. The building is relatively new and we got to see both chambers plus a nice viewing spot down the long avenue known as ANZAC Parade. We learned some interesting tidbits like the crest of Australia on Parliament and other government buildings has a kangaroo and an emu on it because it indicates 'forwards'. Neither one of those animals can move backwards, so it is a metaphor for the country always moving forward. Interesting.
Cool displays of Olympic athletes near the Museum of Sport
After Parliament, we continued on our bikes over to the ANZAC War Memorial, which was an actual museum compared to the memorial we saw in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. It was very informative and well thought out. Much of the focus was on WW1 and WW2, and while the extent of most Americans education about those wars tends to focus on Europe, Pearl Harbor and the atomic bombs in Japan, the museum covered a lot more about the battles being fought in the Pacific. Lots to learn and much sacrifice by the Australian Military Forces. For my friends who work at Boeing, you will be happy to know that they are a major sponsor of the museum (which is why you were tagged in this note).

ANZAC War Memorial - incredibly informative
museum in Canberra
Grabbed some lunch and continued on the loop towards the museum that Ashley, +Christine's (aka McD) husband, recommended - the National Museum of Australia. This was comprehensive in covering prehistoric times, indigenous settlers (Aborigines and residents of the Torres Strait Islands) and through current days. The only thing that made this museum challenging was that it was free-form and no real pattern to work through the extensive material they had on hand, so you weren't sure if you were missing certain exhibits. That said, much was learned about the evolution of the land and the people of Australia.

Sunset over Canberra
We headed back out on the bikes and it was pretty warm, but we got in 20.4 miles. McD hosted a BBQ for us with another family in attendance, which was a lot of fun. One of them was a runner who was from Lausanne, Switzerland, and she let out a hearty laugh when I told her of plans to run Marathon du Medoc with my friend, Tricia, in 2014. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!! All in all, a great day in Canberra (they pronounce it Can-burra).

JDRF, Golf and Catching Up with Friends/Cousins

Cousin Claire, who is very active in the Bay Area JDRF chapter, has been inviting Marc and I to the annual JDRF golf tournament at Wente Vineyards for a number of years now. Given our schedules, we were finally able to take her up on her offer and fly down for a weekend of sun, laughs and excellent food. BTW if you're interested in donating, please click here.

Marc and I were in a foursome with Cousin Bobby, who visited just a few weeks earlier on his own, and close family friend, Jim D. Jim knows Bandon, OR well as he used to own property there, so we were able to talk about how much the place has evolved over the years. Plus we had fun golfing even though we had no chance of winning the tournament. 

JDRF and Active Charity sponsored a tremendous auction and dinner after the round, which was a lot of fun, and allowed us to connect with Cousins Rebecca Anne and Annie. Some hijinks ensued, which involved another close family friend climbing up on a chair to claim an auction item because she was concerned about being too vertically challenged, or "short" as we say in our family!

After our time in the East Bay, Marc and I made our way into San Francisco. We were fortunate to be able to connect with friends from my days in the Bay Area, Anne-Cecile and Dan. Many laughs were had in the time we were able to have a cocktail or two before we headed off to dinner. We ate at SPQR and at Michael Mina (of course, lobster pot pie) over the next couple of nights and enjoyed both of those.

In between the dinners, we decided to rent a couple of bikes to go from the Ferry Building in SF over the Golden Gate Bridge through Sausalito, Mill Valley and Tiburon. Marc has never done the ride before so we thought it would be nice to do while getting some exercise. It started out pretty foggy and then cleared up nicely, as per usual summer weather in the area. 

The only thing I didn't think about was wearing jeans while cycling 21+ of miles. Trust me when I tell you that this wasn't one of my brighter fashion choices. Still it was nice to get to Tiburon, have a quick lunch and catch the ferry back to the city while the sun was shining. A great weekend!

Healdsburg – A Favorite Place of Ours

On a very recent trip to Healdsburg, Marc posed the question, "what are your top 5 favorite restaurants?" I thought for awhile because Healdsburg, while very small in size, has a plethora of great food options for people to choose from. Of course I had to ask a clarifying question around if 'favorite' just encompassed food, or if it included food and atmosphere (inc. service). We started with just food, so my list was (in no particular order):

So in the end, we both ended up with Top 4 lists. If we took service into account, Dry Creek Kitchen would drop off of the list based on our most recent experience. Unfortunately we were not able to hit Restaurant Charcuterie on this last trip, but the concierge at the Hotel Healdsburg enthusiastically recommended we try Scopa, which had just opened in the past month. For such a new place, there were surprisingly very few kinks that were noticeable by the two of us. If you are in Healdsburg, check it out as it's right on the square.

Our friend, Erik, who is the Manager/Sommelier at Daniel's Lake Union, hooked us up with a tour at Jordan Winery, which is in the Alexander Valley. The grounds at Jordan are gorgeous, and they do a number of food and wine events, so we saw the garden where they source their vegetables and herbs from. What made this tour different than other tours that we were on was that it was an "industry tour" so the questions being asked by the participants were very different than the typical customer tour. We had restaurant owners, people who worked at other wineries, buyers, etc. so Marc and I were able to learn a great deal about some of the business aspects of making wine. They do customer tours as well, but they are serious when they say you need an appointment. Marc and I biked up some serious hills on a lark on a previous visit, and we were graciously turned down when we asked to join a tour. So make an appointment because it is worth checking out. Thanks to Erik for the great experience!

Other activities on the trip included some biking around Dry Creek Valley to wineries we hadn't been to before including Bella (great wine caves and they had a dog named Mollie), Kokomo and Amphora

There is a great 'general store' in the middle of the valley called the Dry Creek General Store, which continues to make great sandwiches. Marc also found a canoeing company that allowed us to boat down the very pedestrian Russian River. That was fun except when the water was so shallow that we needed to walk the boat down the river, so no 'Captain Nemo' moments this time around. We picked up some great picnic food for the ride at the Oakville Grocery – good stuff. Marc also continued his love of skin treatments by getting a 'honey wrap' at the Spa at the Hotel Healdsburg. And of course, we needed to do some wine tasting in the Russian River Valley.

And we have no official comment on how much wine was purchased on this trip. J