November 30, 2008

Giving Thanks

I'm grateful for so many things in my life, not least of which is the opportunity to spend 5 glorious days with the boyfriend and his family in northern California for the Thanksgiving holiday. Last Tuesday we caught a plane to San Francisco and we made a last-minute decision to upgrade to first class. It was very swish: there was loads of leg room, the flight attendant was extra attentive, and we had bits of cheese and mushrooms as a little on-flight treat.

Upon our arrival, we hopped in a car and drove to North Beach, San Francisco's Italian district. Not only does the neighborhood boast a myriad of cozy Italian bistros, but it is also home to City Lights, one of the best independent bookshops on the planet, and a mecca for all Beat enthusiasts. The shop has three levels, is well-stocked, and the sales people are super helpful (I had inquired after a book of which at the time I could not for the life of me remember the title nor the author, and when I offered the briefest of descriptions, the salesperson instantly knew exactly what book I was talking about!). Since it's flat out impossible for me to walk inside the shop without buying anything, I quite happily gave in to temptation and purchased three books: The Haunted House by Charles Dickens (each chapter is written by a different author; Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell are contributors, so it should be a fun read indeed!), Night and Day by Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Woolf and the Servants by Allison Light (the book I had trouble remembering, which came highly recommended by the fabulous Mary-Laure!).

After the book spree, we drove about an hour north of the city to the tiny farm town of Petaluma. It was a pretty idyllic location to spend Thanksgiving. Golden leaves impart a pop of color to an otherwise gray Petaluma street.

The guys went out mushroom hunting and brought back these beauties.

While the ladies stayed indoors, lit a fire, and sipped spicy Xocolatl hot chocolate.

Good to the last delectable drop.

On Thanksgiving day, we shared an exquisitely prepared meal in the barn in the backyard, where we feasted on pumpkin soup, roasted turkey, and sweet potatoes with marshmallow (though the combination sounds quite bizarre, the dish is mouth-wateringly delicious). Our lovely and gracious hosts are real foodies, which I loved because eating is one of my favorite things to do! Everything was absolutely incredible. This shot was taken during the day.

And this is the night-time shot complete with roasted pig, of which I did not partake.

All good things must come to an end. Sniff, sniff. We decided to drive back to Los Angeles, taking in the Richmond bridge, golden-drenched central coast vineyards, and a Cheshire cat Santa Barbara moon along the way.

November 24, 2008

Me encanta vino

I love wine. I love the taste of a really smooth pinot noir around the campfire or a grassy New Zealand sauvignon blanc on a scorching summer day. I adore wine-tasting with friends and living in California means I have an abundance of wine regions to visit. Not only does wine-tasting offer an excellent opportunity to sample local varietals, but it also provides much-needed solace from the city (not to mention, walking among the vineyards reminds me of my childhood spent picking grapes from the vines which grew all around our house).

I especially love trying different wines when I go out shopping, though lately I haven't been very successful with the ones I've chosen. I have a propensity to favor anything that has a creative, eye-catching label, but more often than not, the wines rarely live up to the originality of whatever artwork is adorning the bottle. Which is why when I do find a wine I love, I tend to drink it again and again and again, and this was the case for me over the weekend. For a house party with friends, I brought my standby chianti, Santa Margherita Chianti Classico. It's fruity and spicy without all those bitter tannins and utterly delicious. And the accompanying blurry photo is a testament to how much vino and delicious food I consumed that evening.

November 21, 2008

It's always nice to get free stuff

Last weekend I indulged my girly side and stopped by the local Fred Segal to attend a special demonstration of the organic skin line, Liz Earle Naturally Active Skincare. My skin was feeling dry and a bit rough after spending a week in the strong Hawaiian sunshine (I know, woe is me), so I was looking forward to picking up a few tips. I already own a few of her products (the superskin concentrate, an aromatic oil blend, smells heavenly), so I was happy to chat with Liz and some of the skincare specialists she brought with her from England.

All were really sweet and knowledgeable about the products and after making a few purchases (I couldn't help it!), I received a free goody bag* which contained, among other things, an extra bottle of the superskin concentrate. Score! My skin feels better already.

*I love the snowflake-esque design adorning the gift bag. It's a picture of the sea holly, a plant indigenous to the Isle of Wight, where the company is based.

November 16, 2008

Birthday Cake

This week we celebrated the boyfriend's birthday with a deliciously healthy dinner (made by him) and a not-so-healthy golden layer cake with chocolate buttercream frosting (made by moi). This was my first attempt at baking a cake completely from scratch, and I have to say it was a pretty decent initial effort. Although I found a couple things I could have done differently--there's always room for improvement, after all--the birthday boy loved it. And really, that's all that matters.

November 13, 2008

Mahalo, Hawaii

I've just returned from a lovely sojourn on the big island of Hawaii. I stayed on the Kona coast, which is known for its rocky terrain and dry climate, at the stunning Four Seasons. The hotel grounds were pretty spectacular.

It felt heavenly to sit in the sunshine and relax with a book and a mojito by the pool, snorkel with sea turtles and schools of fish, go for walks on the beach. Hawaii was an absolute paradise and I look forward to returning one day.

November 1, 2008

Rainy days

On gloomy overcast days such as this, I find no greater pleasure than staying indoors with a pile of books at my side. I've about 100 pages to go in The Amber Spyglass, the final book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. After that, I'll continue the Halloween theme (the rain is keeping me in a Halloween state of mind), with some deliciously ghoulish stories from The Mammoth Book of Modern Ghost Stories and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, which is one of my all-time favorites.

I also get a kick out of this Halloween card. It just makes me smile.