Friday, January 31, 2014

What to Wear: Holman Ranch Spanish Wedding

To wrap up our week of Holman Ranch daydreaming, here's what I would wear as a guest to that Spanish-themed wedding in Carmel Valley:
Dress - A bohemian dress in a navy print for $138 from Anthropologie is floaty for dancing and eating paella under the oak trees.
Belt - A basic leather belt from J. Crew.
Earrings - At $8,000 maybe not exactly these coral and gold drops but something inspired by them.
Bracelets - A set of organic-styled gold bangles for $35.
Clutch - Turquoise clutch with a gold buckle.
Shoes - These French Connection sandals with coral leather are so pretty.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Holman Ranch: Spanish-Inspired Wedding

Inspired by Holman Ranch, I put together an idea board for a Spanish-themed wedding in Carmel Valley. This is the kind of event that I love to attend: unfussy with a focus on excellent food, a beautiful setting and a few memorable details.  This wedding makes the most of the Spanish-colonial style of Holman Ranch, and the laid-back elegance of the grounds.
Location: Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley, California. If you rent it for the weekend, your families can stay in the property's 10 hotel rooms and relax for a few days by the pool.

Invitations: White ink on real wood is memorable and elegant without being too theme-y.

Decorations: A few candles in recycled glass votives, a few flowers, some lights. You don't need much when the venue is already so pretty.

Food: Some of the best weddings I've attended had a menu focused on one "showpiece" dish. For this wedding, a massive paella with chorizo, crabs and mussels cooked over an open fire would be delicious and special. For appetizers (and guests who won't eat the paella), serve a big spread of spanish tapas, cheeses, roast vegetables and olives. Another idea borrowed from a fancy San Francisco gala: have a caterer shaving a full serrano ham right on to your guest's plates.

Drinks: Sangria, wine and beer. Holman Ranch's policies on bringing in your own caterer and alcohol are quite generous. They don't charge corkage fees and include most of the tables/chairs that you would need to otherwise rent.

Entertainment: Live spanish guitar in the courtyard while your guests eat.

More Details: The complete pinboard for our Holman Ranch wedding is available online. And, if you're looking for a planner, I happen to know that Jean Marks in Palo Alto is itching to hold something at Holman Ranch!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Holman Ranch at Night

You've seen how pretty Holman Ranch looks by day - now let's take a tour of the historic ranch in Carmel Valley at night. When Rob and I first arrived, it seemed like we had the whole place to ourselves.
The barn was set up for dinner, but there was no one around.
We explored the grounds and the property's hidden courtyards until meeting up with our host, Nick, and the rest of the guests invited that evening.
Our hosts poured delicious wine from the Holman Ranch vineyards while touring the buildings and learning about their history.
Then went out to the barn to sit down for a family-style dinner provided by a local chef.
A great meal with our hosts in a beautiful location. Along with chicken piccata, mashed potatoes and local vegetables, we were also served poached pears with chocolate sauce and plenty of wine.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Visit to Holman Ranch, Carmel Valley

Earlier this month, Rob and I were invited down to Carmel Valley to spend the night at Holman Ranch.

To start, let's talk about the setting: Carmel Valley is tucked up in the hills 20 minutes from Carmel-by-the-Sea, full of vineyards, oak trees and ranches.
Holman Ranch started out as cattle land in the 1880's. In the 1920's it was developed into a Spanish-style hacienda using local stone.
Over the next decades, the ranch was expanded and a swimming pool was added. Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Marlon Brando all passed through. The Holman Ranch website has a great recap of the property's history.
Today, Nick and Hunter live on the ranch and maintain the 10 guest rooms, gardens and event spaces. They also run the Holman Ranch winery, stables and olive grove. Very busy, very kind people!
It would be a beautiful place to get married, with a groomed lawn overlooking the valley.
And a Spanish-style courtyard for the reception.
But I think it would be even more fun as a place for a really special family reunion. With a pool, gardens, all kinds of activities and lounges - it's the kind of place you would want to relax all weekend. They even have workout classes in the barn open to the public. I had a great time trying the Zumba class the morning before we left.
It is so quiet and peaceful up at the ranch.
All those giant oak trees are spectacular.
I'm so grateful to our hosts that we had an opportunity to visit Holman Ranch and learn about the property's history. For more information, visit the Holman Ranch website.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Update on the Monster Flu turns out that I didn't exactly survive the 2014 monster flu, as reported last week. Shortly after writing those tips, my health took a downturn.

It wasn't until after we packed up the car for a ski trip in Utah and spent the night in Reno, that I went back to urgent care and got diagnosed with double pneumonia. There was a tense hour where I waited to see if I was going to have to go to the hospital but I got sent home with antibiotics instead.

Now, three days after that and twelve days after originally coming down with the flu I'm starting to finally feel somewhat better.  I'm still very weak and I get winded after just climbing the stairs. I'm the third person I know to have gotten the flu and then pneumonia this winter.

If you haven't had your flu shot yet this year - get it! If you do get the flu, start taking Mucinex right away. Don't be like me and combine your personal dislike for coughing with pathological stubbornness to make the whole thing much worse.  Stay healthy out there!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Five Ways I Survived the 2014 Monster Flu

There is a massive flu outbreak in California right now and it is a really nasty strain of the virus. I'm just now emerging from a four-day misery tour of high fevers, rattling congestion and despair. I've never been this sick, for this long, before in my life.

I have a sinking feeling that I helped spread the flu around the city with a busy day of meetings in crowded public places on Thursday before falling ill with 104 degree temperature that night. In penance, I have some survival tips to share from my experience and the advice of the friendly urgent care doctor:

Bust the fever. Normally, I'm a believer in a healthy fever working to clear away the germs. But this fever is not that. This fever's sole intention is to make you feel miserable and to make your eyes burn when you blink and it won't go away on its own. A strict regimen of Tylenol and Advil (I didn't know that it was safe to take them together) every six hours is the way to go. I even set an alarm for 3:00 am to take this combination during the night.  And when even that doesn't help, a lukewarm bath can bring down your fever too.

Stay upright. Another one of my tried-and-true recovery methods is to sleep all day and all night until a cold goes away. The Rip Van Winkle method usually works wonders. However, with this flu the doctor told me to sleep less. Fevers can go up when you're sleeping and lying down just makes it harder to breathe with the chest congestion. I probably added an extra day or two to my flu by staying horizontal in bed for too long.

Set small goals. When you can't keep things down, set a goal of just one spoonful of gatorade every ten minutes or one goldfish cracker every ten minutes. Focus on keeping your temperature down just until the next medication window. Savor your tiny victories.

Take a walk. Even if you feel like a zombie and it takes you an hour to get dressed in leggings, try to go for a walk around the block once a day when you're sick. Another great piece of advice from the urgent care doctor. I took my first walk yesterday and it was pitifully slow compared to my normal city pace. The fresh air and sun did help me feel more human.

Get help. Start by making sure you have the flu shot for this year (which I stupidly missed) they still have them available at most pharmacies. And if you get sick, go see a doctor if your fever is high for more than a few days. There may not be much that the clinic can do, but the consultation still helps.

Big thanks to Rob, who has been the zombie-minder this last week and my sister who sent over bags of groceries. Stay healthy out there! Any other flu advice you have to share? Leave it in the comments below.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Holman Ranch Preview

Ugh, I just got hit HARD with the flu. 24-hours of a 104+ could I have forgotten to get my flu shot this year? Anyway, stay tuned shortly for a report from a trip earlier this week to Holman Ranch in Carmel!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Recipe: Apricot Carrot Muffins

This recipe is adapted from a new favorite cookbook. I was given a copy of Serena, Food & Stories by a family friend and immediately fell in love with her writing and cooking style. Serena Bass was a high-profile caterer in New York and ran a bar in the basement of the Chelsea Hotel. Her book's reviews come from the likes of Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and Minnie Driver. Originally from London, Serena has a relaxed and non-fussy approach to entertaining that I really appreciate.
For these muffins, I modified the book's recipe for Carrot and Date Muffins to use dried apricots instead. The recipe uses a good portion of iron-rich molasses and fresh carrots, so the muffins are practically a health food!

Apricot Carrot Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

  • 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed grated carrots
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, cut into small chunks
  • Extra slices of dried apricots, slivers of almonds and sugar for the top of the muffins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and move a rack to the top third of the oven. Grease the muffin tin.

Sift together the dry ingredients in one bowl. In a second bowl, combine the eggs, oil, molasses, sugar and whisk. Stir in the carrots and apricots. 

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and gently fold together with as few strokes as possible. Spoon into the muffin tin, sprinkle the tops with your almonds, apricot slivers and sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the muffins are firm. Remove from the tin and cool on a rack after 5 minutes. 

This recipe was a snap even for a "challenged" baker like myself. The cookbook also includes delicious-looking recipes for plum and almond muffins and mocha oatmeal muffins. You should purchase a Kindle version of her cookbook online today for only $7.99! 

We Have a New Car!

Rob and I bought a new car last weekend! A black 2014 Subaru Impreza with manual transmission that we've named "Simone." It's not that much bigger than our beloved 2007 Honda Fit, but the 4WD transmission and heated seats are awesome.
It is so exciting to take home a car with only 13 miles on the odometer:
In the meantime, I'm selling the Honda Fit. If you know anyone in the Bay Area looking for a manual-transmission hatchback in great condition, send them my way! The Fit is an amazing car and perfect for all kinds of fun adventures.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Two Valentine Ideas Using Martha Stewart's Glitter Collection

Almost every woman I know owns (or has considered buying) one of Martha Stewart's 24-piece glitter sets.  Tiny glittery vials packed in rainbow order with elegant names? That's essentially irresistible to anyone passing through Michael's or Pinterest. But once you have all that glitter...what do you do with it?
My sister and I tackled this issue with an impromptu Valentine's Day craft night.
Using brushes to paint on Elmer's Glue, we started with small ombre hearts using the silver, gold, pink and red glitter colors.
Martha's fine glitter is so much nicer than the standard grade! We also worked on lettering for a framed "Love" sign.
After all that crafting, we maybe used up only 1% of the glitter collection. You'd have to wallpaper your bathroom in glitter to use it all. Wax envelopes for the tiny glitter hearts will be cute for Valentine's Day in a few weeks.

To keep the glitter adhered to your final designs, try a light coat of hairspray or clear spray paint.

Recipe: Chile Verde with Pork Shoulder

Looking for an hearty and healthy winter stew that brings the spice and can serve a crowd? A big pot of green chile made with pork shoulder is the answer. It takes a few hours to simmer, but the end result is so worth the effort. I used this recipe from Martha Stewart as an inspiration, but used beans and hominy to replace half the requested pork shoulder. We've already served this to two different friends for lunch and dinner and still have another meal's worth left over.
Chile Verde with Pork Shoulder
Makes 10 servings

  • 2 lbs of pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch cubes with the largest pieces of fat trimmed off
  • 10-14 fresh tomatillos
  • 1 28 ounce can of black beans
  • 1 28 ounce of pinto beans
  • 1 28 ounce can of white hominy (aka: "Maize Blanco")
  • 1 32 ounce box of organic chicken broth
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro (with some reserved to top the finished chile) 
  • 1 fresh jalapeƱo pepper
  • 1 fresh serrano pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of chile powder
  • Salt and pepper
Cube and cut off the largest pieces of fat from your piece of pork shoulder. Rub with a dash of salt and pepper. Brown the cubes of pork in a large pan. Add a dash of oil if needed, depending on how much fat you managed to trim off. When the pork is nearly browned, add the chopped onion and cook down together. 

While your pork is browning, remove the "husk" from the tomatillos, rinse and put under a hot broiler in a baking pan with the fresh peppers. Roast until each tomatillo has a good brown color, about 10 minutes. Blend the tomatillos in a food processor or blender with the fresh cilantro.  Chop the roasted peppers into 1/4 inch slices. Remove the seeds and ribs if you want a less spicy chile (I don't!). 

Top the browned pork and onions with the tomatillo mixture, roasted chilies, your three large cans of drained beans/hominy, the chicken broth and the chile powder.  Be forewarned, at this stage and for the next couple hours, the chile will not look appetizing at all. 
Stir while bringing the chile to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and continue to cook for 2 or 3 hours. At the end of 3 hours, the cubes of pork should start to fall apart and any fat should be melted away. I'm sure a slow-cooker would do a great job with this recipe, but I don't have one to test it.

Top your finished chile with crushed corn chips, cilantro and shredded cheese or sour cream. This recipe freezes and reheats well. It also works without the pork or with ground turkey in it's place - but isn't quite as good.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hawaii: My Favorite Finds in Maui

Now that our 20-day vacation in Maui is over, let's recap the best beaches, food and other activities of the trip for future reference!

  1. Nipili Bay - My favorite beach of the trip! A small gem with deep water for swimming and virtually no waves, ideal for the baby to splash around. Plus, a nice restaurant right on the beach and easy parking.
  2. Po'olenalena Beach - A very pretty beach in Wailea with trees for shade and a huge population of turtles for snorkeling.
  3. Makena Landing - Makena in general seemed really pretty and quiet, this bay was perfect for kayaking and full of lots of snorkeling.
  4. Baby beach in Lahaina - Shallow, warm and coral reef filled waters that were baby heaven, Lots of shady trees to sit under. With a bonus nearby Japanese temple to explore.
  5. Kam 1 - This was the beach closest to our house and the one we went to most often. Convenient, nice for swimming and only very rarely occupied by sea urchins
  6. Polo Beach - Only at this Wailea beach for a short while before a rainstorm. A bit packed from the hotel behind it.

  1. Lots of fresh tropical fruit including cherimoya and taro 
  2. Hawaiian rice bowls with swordfish and poke on our first night
  3. Making our own sushi and tataki
  4. 808 Deli sandwiches and butterscotch pudding
  5. Lunch at the Sea House Restaurant in Napili
  6. Making mango scones and papaya parfaits
  7. One of the best pizzas I've ever had at the Kula Bistro
  8. Kalua pork and chicken katsu plate lunches at Da Kitchen
  9. The best shave ice in Kihei at S&Q's Shave Ice Shack
  10. Chocolate and banana cream pies from Leoda's
  11. I can't think of a bad thing that we ate on the trip! It was all delicious. 

Off the Beach Activities
  1. Driving the Southeast side of Maui
  2. The free hula show in Lahaina
  3. Driving the Road to Hana, with its temples and waterfalls
  4. Dressing up in fun tropical outfits
  5. Kayaking Makena Bay
  6. Maui's Friday Night Town Parties with cheesy local bands and great food
  7. Exploring Kula's Portugese history and the upcountry lavender farm
  8. Badminton on the beach at sunset 
  9. Hiking the Waihe'e Ridge Trail
  10. Kepaniwai Heritage Park
  11. Snorkeling Boat TripYou can snorkel easily from most beaches, but you need a boat to get to Molokini. Not great for people with unsteady sea legs
  12. Ioa State Park - Pretty but maybe not worth the $5 parking fee for such a short hike 

Hawaii: Driving Maui's Southeastern Upcountry

On Sunday afternoon, after we had spent the morning cleaning and preparing for Haley's return home, Rob and I decided to check out the other end of the Road to Hana.  You can technically drive all the way around the east side of Maui, but the road after Hana is unpaved and quite dangerous.

At dusk, this verdant upcountry was one of the highlights of my trip. The green grass spotted with black lava rocks looks like mint chip ice cream. It's just you, cows and nothing but Pacific Ocean all the way to Mexico from here. That's the Pokowai Sea Arch in the distance:
A nicely paved one lane road most of the way.
Next time, I'd love to spend more time on this of the island. Hiking and picnicking along this empty stretch of Maui.

Hawaii: Beyond Hana

We arrived in Hana just in time for lunch. A tasty kalua pork sandwich with pineapple slaw from the snack stand facing Hana Bay. A black sand beach was easily seen from across the water.
A very pretty whitewashed Buddhist temple sits on the road out of Hana.
With the sun now out, we stopped at the Kipahulu gate of Haleakala National Park to hike the "Seven Sacred Pools" trail.
Tyler, our hitchhiker friend, gamely came along as we hiked up past the banyan trees.
Through famous Maui bamboo forest.
At the top of the trail, you're rewarded with a view of a secluded canyon filled with waterfalls.
Rob and I played a game of Kohane - Hawaiian checkers - at the ranger station while waiting for Tyler to get his camping permits.
Dropped him off at the trail head and then double backed through the Road to Hana's 52 miles and 59 bridges.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hawaii: Kahanu Gardens on the Way to Hana

Still raining on the Road to Hana, we turned off the road on a whim to follow signs for the National Tropical Botanical Garden. At $10 each, entrance to Kahanu Gardens wasn't cheap but it was interesting to explore the grounds and see the largest ancient temple on the Hawaiian Islands. 300 by 400 feet, the lava platform dates back to the 14th century.
The grounds also feature a wide variety of tropical plants, including taro, yams, breadfruit and coconuts.
A traditional thatched house contains a carved wood canoe.
Nice and dry inside the canoe house!
One other feature: massive, menacing garden spiders. Apparently, they don't bite humans - but I didn't want to test that out.
Along with the pretty grounds, Kahanu Gardens had some of the nicest bathrooms I saw anywhere on Maui and a very informative guide book that went into detail about each type of tropical plant.