Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Memories/Dreams/Discoveries for 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, I'm taking a look back at some of the year's great experiences, a few lessons learned and a few changes in life.
  1. Service work with indigenous Mayan people (January) - a long-time dream of mine that I hope to expand in the future.
  2.  
    Tulum, Mexico
  3. The cross-(2)country drive from Washington state to Washington, DC (August) - Special shout-outs to Wyoming, South Dakota and Alberta. I'll be back.
       
  4. My high school reunion (October) - 20 friggin years!!!!!!!! I had such a wonderful time, not only that evening, but getting to collaborate with two amazing women whom I didn't really know back then, and am glad to know now. Getting to see my old best friends and the after-party at Denny's, also highlights.
       
  5. Moving to DC (April/May) - While the process was as painful as could be (physically, mentally, emotionally and especially financially), I made the decision last November while working here that whatever it took, I was going to move in 2010. Gratitude to Bill & Melinda for the job and JS for the home. Of course, thank you to the very dear friends I have here, this place would be nowhere near as wonderful without you.
       
  6. I really do love New York (September) - A couple of magical weekends that included The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, UN General Assembly, Clinton Global Initiative, Climate Week and one of the most best parties I've been to in a long time courtesy of Kimpton Hotels and the Eventi Hotel. Another reason why I love New York? It's an easy and cheap bus ride (or a super-fun drive with a friend). 
       
  7. Racquel's College Graduation (June) - I'm so proud of my little sister (and brother who graduated last year). It was a great reason to venture to Southern California and see my family. Even prouder she's now studying at one of the top graduate schools in the country. Added bonus: she's just a couple of hours by plane, so I look forward to a few flights between the two of us.
  8. 
  9. Waking up the artist within (all year) - I'm finally writing more, got to "act" in my first indie, explored photography enough to get a piece of work displayed, and interior decorating (still a work in progress).
  10.        
  11. Mis nuevos amigos (March) - Definitely one of my biggest highlights of the year was getting to Los Amigos Invisibles show at the Black Cat in DC, and even hang out backstage for a bit.
       
  12.    
  13. An evening Avec Eric (May) - Hanging out with Eric Ripert, the sexiest man in the culinary world. 
       
  14. Ta-ta to T-Grrr (September) - The most bittersweet of all, I had to bid farewell to my most beloved and devoted companion of the past 11.5 years. I'm so grateful for the time we had together and that I could be with him when he made the transition.
T-Grrr and my sister, Racquel
 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Starveless in Seattle

Yay! I'm back in Seattle and I'm excited to see dear friends and visit a few old haunts. A popular question while living here, or when I have friends coming to town, is where are my favorite places to eat. I often have difficulty answering, mainly because I hate having to compete for a seat and second, I appreciate a certain level of anonymity, especially for breakfast spots when I just want to be able to roll in casually without having to primp myself, just hiding under a baseball cap. But since I no longer live here, I will happily share a few spots that I've been craving, aside from the usual suspects listed in all the "top lists" and guidebooks, including a few of my secret spots that for some reason tend to fly under the radar.

Breakfast/Brunch:

Voula's Offshore Cafe (North Lake Union/Wallingford) - Not exactly a secret, especially after it was featured on the Food Network. This family-owned institution has a special place in my heart. The guys behind the counter and the waitresses running around all treat me like extended family. And Niko's hash browns are both plentiful and wonderfully crispy. My main issues with the place are figuring out whether to dive right into my usual Smokey the Salmon, indulge in a Chinese Pancake or try one of their tasty specials.

Bay Cafe (Fisherman's Terminal/Magnolia) - This place is the culmination of just about everything I want in a restaurant: good food (including hash browns!), great view, excellent service, easy parking, and decent prices. If it's in season, I usually go for the halibut & eggs. The prime location where the Alaskan fishermen dock (including those on Deadliest Catch), gives the restaurant prime access to fresh halibut, and other seafood. If not, the California Scramble is a solid choice. Many of the staff have worked at the restaurant for over a decade, and some over generations including a mother-daughter waitressing team. The decor is really no-nonsense. It's about the food, silly, but you get so much more. Sometimes super-quickly, too.

Dahlia Bakery (Belltown) - The casual darling of the Tom Douglas empire. I stop here as often as I can for one of the best breakfast sandwiches in Seattle. Their housemade English muffins w/ organic eggs and artfully put-together combinations that change weekly make this place so irresistable in the morning. And if I feel even more indulgent, I grab one of their famous Triple Coconut Cream Bites -- ok, two.

Le Fournil (Eastlake) - Home of my favorite chai in Seattle and their Croque Fournil Special (ham, egg & swiss on a toasted croissant) make this a dear spot to stop and sip for breakfast. They also have a delightful selection of pastries and sandwiches, so it's good for lunch, too.

Dinner:

Art of the Table (Wallingford/Greenlake) - Quite possibly, my ideal dinner spot. A quaint, tucked away restaurant with some of the most clever dishes I've ever had that is truly dear to my heart. I love Chef Dustin Ronspies' cooking, especially his creative Monday Happy Hour. You never know what you're going to get, but rest assured, it'll be good. My recommendation: get one of everything.

Tidbit Bistro (Capitol Hill) - I fell in love with this darling place when it first opened in the sleepy part of North Capitol Hill, but so did everyone else, and it had to expand into a larger space in the more bustling Pike/Pine Corridor of Capitol Hill. The food is still wonderful and the owners still dear. I still love their food, especially the divine grilled Cesare Salad (actually better than mine) and Mushroom Crostini. One of the best happy hour deals in town, before 6:30p.

There's more, stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Living a Life of Yum

It's been an embarrassingly long stint since my last public post where I shared one of my many "Come to Jesus" moments during my Renegade Road Trip. I really freaked out after sharing a truly personal experience publicly, which likely shocks some of you who actually read my blog or see my Facebook or Twitter postings where I give the impression that I can easily share myself freely. No one believes me when I confide that I'm actually really shy. I mean, it's easy to write about food I eat, places I go, things I see and events I experience, but to share my deeper feelings publicly creates a whole anxiety I've chosen to avoid most of my life. Perhaps this is ironic since that post has drawn the most supportive commentary from readers publicly and privately.

But I'm a Feeler, as was blatantly pointed out by some recent personality and strengths tests that I had to take for my new team in DC. Not exactly a shocker, but it's an adjustment for me to own that label. Proudly? Not yet, but I'm working on it.

When I first came up with my blog's subtitle "Adventures in Yumminess," I wasn't just referring to the taste of food, but meant it as a metaphor about savoring the deliciousness of life. We experience so many moments of pleasure, and of pain, and then they go, like a bite of food. The memories linger, but the moments pass, and sometimes I'd like to capture them through words or photos.

So I'll be expanding the scope of this blog to capture those times when I live a life of YUM, whether through food, travel or other unimaginable moments of joy I get blessed to experience every now and then. And my hope is you get inspired to take some time to savor such occasions as they happen in your life -- and capture them, so the wonderful memories can live on.

In the meantime, I may post-date some of my writings that I've been hiding all this time. (Yes, I think some of us bloggers do that on occasion. Shhhhh...) Or, at the very least, this will get me to write more often without limiting my topics to just food and travel, two of my biggest, but not my only joys in life.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It Really Does Get Better

Read my post for The DC Ladies about overcoming my development years and more importantly, overcoming my high school reunion. There is a bonus pic of one of those awkward high school photos I am incredibly embarrassed about.

Homecoming w/ Bill Johnson my senior year
 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Looking Back

Still at the Outlaw Inn
Kalispell, MT

I wondered if there is some kind of metaphor about going backwards in order to move forward, and perhaps, sometimes, you really do need to go back into your past and ponder the reality of past events. It's easy to get caught up into the emotion while you're in it, and it is only after some time that you can look back and realize things like others' actions weren't about you, that you have some (if not all) accountability, that things were actually happening for the better, or it's just time to get over it. Regardless of the situation, it usually comes down to the latter option. And not to dismiss what ever pent up feelings of hurt and betrayal we may feel, there does come a point when we not only have to forgive our perpetrators, but ourselves.

I am not one to preach about religion, but I will caveat that over the years, I've been drawn more and more to a sense of spirituality. I mean, when it comes down to severe moments of pain, don't we pray to some kind of God for mercy? Or even during moments of extreme pleasure, how often have we or our partners screamed some declaration to God?

Kidding aside, I've found there is a power to prayer whether it's to some greater power or a promise or intention to ourselves. So this said, I share a Buddhist prayer I was taught a couple of years ago that's helped me (and several of my clients) get over many of the difficult events, people and obstacles in life, especially caused by ourselves, so we could move forward into our journeys, without the extra baggage of emotional pain we have a tendency to carry around.

Buddhist Forgiveness Prayer


If I have harmed anyone, in any way,
either knowingly or unknowingly,
I ask for forgiveness.


If anyone has harmed me in any way,
either knowingly or unknowingly,
I forgive them.


And if there is a situation I am not yet ready to forgive,
I forgive myself for that.


For all the ways that I harm myself,
judge or be unkind to myself,
negate, doubt or belittle myself,
I forgive myself for that.

Sometimes you have to go backwards in order to move forward

Outlaw Inn
Kalispell, MT

It felt very strange to drive west from Canmore to Banff. Not only was I backtracking, but I felt like I was going the wrong direction. Most people think of going west for new direction, new start. I, however am going east. Not "back East," but more like "forward East." But once I got to Banff, I felt a strange sense of calm. It's a cute village, more extensive than I thought it would be. What is it about ski-town villages that bring so much charm. Doesn't matter which country.

I didn't spend much time there. Just had breakfast at this cute cafe, outside in the cold crisp air and warmed by the newly cleared sun. Got to plan my day thanks to free wifi and decided to go to the hot springs up the hill and go up Sulphur Mountain. I wish I had done it the other way around. I was rather underwhelmed by the hot springs. I mean, it was nice to be in warm water, but I didn't quite feel the healing powers they say hot springs are supposed to bring.

They say hot springs help cure various ailments and I wondered if it would help heal my broken heart. I stepped in with that intention, hung out and even swam in the pool a bit I didn't like the heat of the water in my face, however. Overall, underwhelming. Physically, my neck still hurt, so not sure what the point was of the springs.

Afterwards, I decided to ride the gondola up the Banff Mountain and then hike up Sulphur Mountain. It felt strange going in my own gondola, without all the groups and families and couples going together. Just me and luckily my iPod, so I had such a wonderful soundtrack for my ride and my hike. I was disappointed to find out I could have saved the $30 and hiked up, but I didn't want to spend that much time anyway.

What was I thinking just wearing my fliip flops? I guess I was just so focused on the hot springs and I didn't realize how much mroe there was to do up top. I simply thought it was a simple ride, oooh and ahhhh and then come down. It ended up being a bit like Grouse Mountain which offered so much more than just nice views. I hesitated about the walk to the other summit. It seemed so much further and higher. There was a sign about wearing proper footwear and a picture of a hiking boot and then of a person falling. Not exactly encouraging for a gal still dripping from the hot springs. I kept hearing, "I have everything I need," and I really could do it. That happened with this path in Uxmal which was supposed to be a metaphor for life, wearing what I thought were the wrong shoes, but I still did it. And, with going up the summit, I still did it. And I was neither cold nor uncomfortable.

Leaving Banff, I decided it was time to head back to the US and my goal was to get as far south down Montana as possible. It was about 2pm and if I were to resume my easternly direction, I would have hit Calgary around rush hour and then headed south for the border. If my experience the night before of the standstill Calgary traffic were any indication of what I would have to deal with, then I thought it'd be better to keep going west and then take the alternative highway through Radium Hot Springs.

I debated strongly about making a stop there. It seemed like such a large town to celebrate the natural resource. What would happen if I were to go twice in one day? But I was so underwhelmed with the first time, would the second be any different? I decided to move on.

The border was a step up from a gas station at an abandoned ghost town. There were 3 car lanes available, but barely any sign of life. When the red light turned green and I pulled in next to the stand, the lady questioned my citizenship. I suppose I didn't exactly fit the typical Montanan profile. But I handed her my US passport. Every answer I gave her led to more questions. I suppose I do have a puzzling story that could only arouse suspicion.

Where do you live? - Washington, DC
(? why does the car have Washington state license plates)

Do you have any tobacco or alcohol? - No! (my one fib)

Where is the car from? - Seattle, I just moved to DC and I'm driving it over

If you're going east, why on earth are you coming from Canada? - I love Vancouver and I decided to check out Banff
(This led to a thorough inspection of the vehicle.)

How long were you in Canada? - 3 days (I had to think about it for a bit, since I really didn't have much concept of time. Hence, arousing even more suspicion.)

What were you doing in Vancouver? - Pride weekend (She didn't seem to like my answer, not sure whether it was because she didn't know what "Pride" meant -- this is rural Montana after all -- or because she thought she'd have to let some queer into the states.)

Why are you going this way? - I've already been to Eastern Washington and I'm not going wine tasting, so why not. It's my summer vacation. Oh, and I didn't want to go through Calgary during rush hour.

What kind of work do you do? - I work at a non-profit.

What kind of non-profit? - Philanthropy

What does that do? - We help fund charitable organizations
(At this point, she does catch me in my one fib. I did have a bottle of wine that I was bringing for my friends whom I would be staying with at Yellowstone. Thankfully, she ignored it)

What non-profit? - I tell her, she never heard of it, so I explain the history of the founders and tell her that I transferred from the Seattle office to the DC one.

How much cash do you have?

Why are you driving?

For how long?

. . . and the questions persisted, which luckily the physical evidence corroborated. And, it's not like anyone could make my story up. I have to admit, it was nice not having to worry about anything (except the wine). Had this been 10 years ago, my attitude would have been far different, especially with British Columbia's very liberal medicinal marijuana laws.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

For the Love of Granny

It's really hitting me that I'm taking Granny away from Seattle for good. She's been such a great car and the idea of letting her go was incredibly difficult. She's my first car, and we were meant to be together. Even now, through this cross-country drive, I believe we are still meant to be.




The back license plate cover says my alma matter, but the front says Kirkland Toyota. I'm sure, if anyone ever bothers to notice, it appears odd since she's a Volkswagen. I keep it on there for symbolic reasons, which remind me of how some things really are destined.



Living in San Francisco, I never felt the need to own a car. As soon as I knew I was moving to Seattle, looking for a car was an even bigger priority than looking for an apartment. For some reason, I had always wanted a Jetta. I generally always liked sedans (no, I'm not a sports car or minivan kind of gal), 4 doors, compact and practical. I liked Jettas specifically because I found Toyotas and Hondas too suburban and common, while the more luxury BMWs & Mercedes too materialistic. The first car I drove was an Audi, and it had so many problems, it was called an Ouchie. Jettas just seemed to provide a fun combination of unique style without the flash, and the skillful German engineering without the escalated price tag.



When it came time to buy my car, I had a tough decision about getting a Jetta or something more practical. I was moving to Seattle without a job and I wanted to be practical about this investment. I'd never actually owned a car before, let alone gone through the whole dealership negotiation, so I had to prepare myself. I had no need getting something brand new, so finding something 2-4 years old was just fine with me. I researched Jettas and Audis and their respective longevity. Keep in mind, I'd be moving out without a job, so I really had no idea how much I could really spend. It would just be based on my savings, and I decided it might be better to make the practical decision, and buy Toyota.



Most dealerships listed their available cars online so I could do my research and selection while from San Francisco. I saw a Jetta at this Toyota dealership and noticed their Corollas, too. A Corolla would be a more practical decision, both from a logistical and financial perspective, and they had one in black that met my basic requirements. I made an appointment one weekend when I was flying up to see it. I had my car loan set up with my credit union and was ready to purchase right then and there, barring some bad situation in my test-drive. Showed up that Saturday morning and it turned out the car had been sold the night before, to my disappointment and to the dealer with whom I'd been corresponding.



My boyfriend (now ex-husband) noticed the Jetta and pointed it out to me. It was the one I had originally seen online and opened me up to Toyotas instead. I thought it was too expensive, but he convinced me to test drive it anyway. "For shits and giggles," he nudged. As I drove it, the bright blue lights and perfect fit with my body just felt like Fate. I kept telling myself, "Don't fall in love. Don't fall in love," so I could contain my excitement from the dealer next to me. When we returned to the dealership, he asked me what I thought. I looked as nonchalant as I could and told him it was fine, but it's too bad it costed almost twice as much as the Toyota I was originally going to buy. He said it was because of all the bells and whistles, the heated seats, sun and moon roof, 6-cd stereo. If he had known that I actually dreamed of having heated seats but non-leather (which I didn't know was possible), which the Jetta had, the negotiations would not have gone as well. After about 3 hours, I got the Jetta for only $500 more than the Toyota's price. I named her Granny because she's epitomizes many of the qualities I'd like to be when I'm older: practical, just enough style, can fit in anywhere, and with all the bells and whistles.

As I was saying

That rainstorm was a "friendly" reminder that this city where I left my heart is also known as the rainiest city in North America. A fact simply proven yesterday.
That aside, I still love Vancouver. Top ten reasons why:
10. No high fructose corn syrup. Seriously, it makes a difference. Just taste the Heinz ketchup here.

9. Great public transportation.

8. Beautiful high-rise buildings, most of which are residential.

7. Pretty money.

6. If you see a well-dressed man, wondering if he's gay or European is futile.

5. It's safe. Far safer than the United States. Although to be fair, Seattle is pretty safe, too.

4. Hiking up Grouse Mountain.

3. Midnight Market, just like in Asia.

2. Hot dog vendors. There's Japadog, but even the regular vendors have outstanding dogs, grilled to perfection with a variety of delicious sauces.

1. Style. Everyone here has got style, even the elder ladies.
I admit, not the most clever or most thought out right now. Just want to get this done so I can go watch the parade and play on the beach.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A few reasons why I think Vancouver is Cooler than Seattle

Random cafe patio on Davie St.Vancouver, British Columbia

Don't get me wrong, I really like Seattle. And there are things about the town that I can even say I love. But the truth is, Vancouver is way cooler. WAY. It's got a cosmopolitan/European flair with American conveniences, and certain civilities that tend to be lacking in American culture. It's also just incredibly gorgeous, with the beautiful highrise buildings and majestic natural backdrop of mountains and water. It also helps that you don't really need a car here as so much is within walking distance and the public transportation is comparative to New York.

I've learned not to bother coming here with an agenda. Just walking down the block can offer amazing sites and sounds, and if you're willing to walk even further, you can transport across so many different worlds, cultures, artforms and celebrations.

Last time I was here, back in late September, it was just a one-day stop on a cruise. I guess my friend and I really needed a vacation because we hadn't had time to even think about our Vancouver stop, let alone plan it. We got off the ship, grabbed a map, and realized our choices were to turn left, right or forward. We chose left. In a span of about 8 hours, we hit the Gastown District, Chinatown, the 60th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China Parade, the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens (gorgeous), Restaurant Salt, a 1st American Peoples Celebration, Anti-Iraq War protest & rap contest, Downtown, Japadog, and waterfront. I also want to include Stanley Park and the Sea Wall, mainly because we got such an incredible view from the ship, that we couldn't have gotten otherwise from land.

(Holy $&!t, just heard super-loud thunder. Must get back to hotel before rain hits.)

For the Traveler

Every time you leave home, Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening a conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing;
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free the heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life;
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way
to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

— John O’ Donahue

Friday, July 30, 2010

Creature Comforts

It's hard for me to think of Seattle as "home," especially now that I am no longer an official resident. I didn't grow up here and I don't have family other than dear friends I consider close enough to be family and the adorable dog of whose I lost custody in my divorce. But, I do find some home-style comforts, not just with the people I get to see, but some of the food I get to eat.

I'm often asked where my favorite place to eat is, and it's easy to randomly pick one of the more popular, highly-rated, and usually more expensive restaurants. The truth is, something I would truly consider a favorite has to be more accessible, not just price-wise but personality-wise. The kind of place I could go to on a regular basis and know the food and know the folks, that whether I were dressed up or dressed down, I'd be treated well and get the same great food regardless. While I generally live my life open to outcome, I do take a large measure of comfort in consistency, too.

I love breakfast and can enjoy any of its components during any meal. However, there's something quite magical about weekend breakfast for me. Oh, better yet, if I could get an unhurried, sit-down breakfast during the week, too, I'd be in Heaven. There are two places in Seattle that offer the comfort food component for such sacred meals, and rarely do I ever share their identities or their meaningfulness with others. But now that I have moved away and I won't be coming here so often, I will share them now. Think of it as a reward for actually taking the time to actually read my blog.

The first place is Voula's Offshore Cafe, already pretty well-known, not just because of its long-standing existence, but was well-publicized on the Food Network's Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, so I didn't mind writing about it in a previous blog post, nor publicizing my outings there on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, even sending out invitations. The place is crowded already, so I'd rather see it crowded with people I already know. It's a family-owned and -run restaurant, with Voula as the matriarch and her two sons, Sikey and Nikos handling the day to day operations. There's also Brian behind the counter, who seems to be more of an adopted brother. Nikos has probably the most important job in my book, making me crispy hash browns. While we both elevate the importance of their crispiness, his way is to focus on one side's perfection while keeping the other side moist and more potato-y. And he believes the time taken to grill the second side would actually sacrifice the first side's perfection by making it soggy. And for us two-sided fans, it's not like there isn't plenty of hash and brownage to go around. In fact, the plate itself can barely contain how much is served. I usually just eat the crispy parts and if there were 2 sides available, I wouldn't have room for the rest of the breakfast. Actually, I don't usually have room for the entire breakfast anyway. And along with the boys behind the counter, I have to send a special shout out to one particular waitress, ZeZe, who has just been such a sweetheart to me over the years. She really helps me feel like I'm "home."

The other place, I'll have to think about whether to share . . .

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sleepless in Seattle

Super Amazing Kimpton Hotel Suite
Seattle, WA

At first, I had no idea where I was when I woke up at 3:30 this morning. Although, to be fair, it's more like 6:30 to me. This place is almost the size of my apartment. The bedroom portion itself is already sizeable, but there is also an offset livingroom/den/office space, even a kitchen sink. A nice upgrade perk thanks to my new status as an Inner Circle member for Kimpton hotels. I don't know why I feel guilty for having such luxuries all to myself, at least one of my best friends got to hang out for a bit while I checked in and got ready for post-dinner cocktails/dessert. I had better enjoy this while it lasts. I'll have two weeks of having to wake up in unknown surroundings and I don't think any of them will be as spacious as this.

It started to hit me, while I was driving my car yesterday, that this could be the longest couple of weeks of my life. I've never done a road trip for more than a few days, let alone by myself. Why am I doing this again?

All I know is I have to, despite being tested and tempted to do otherwise. Just the other day, I got a good offer on my car. When I posed the question on Facebook about whether to sell my car or keep it, overwhelmingly, everyone suggested I sell. And it was hard for me to leave home because of my air-conditioning issues and worries about my cat baking at home. Yet, I'm here now.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The View from Here

Alaska Airlines, Flight 1, DC to Seattle

Staring out my window at the various landscapes of the country from 15,000 feet above, I wonder if it'll look as magical from on the ground. I recall various road trips winding around mountain ranges wondering, if at the next bend, I'll finally feel like we got some headway to our destination. Perhaps it was the anxiety to be at whatever event I was going to, or perhaps it was because I wanted to do anything to just get out of the car. Perhaps it was before learning the phrase, "it's about the journey, not the destination." Ha, I don't think this applied to the 5-hour road trips from San Francisco to Black Rock City in the middle of the night at the end of summer.

Luckily, I can wholeheartedly say, even though I am only a few hours into my journey so far, I'm having a great time. I'm sitting comfortably in a bulk head seat, munching on a Cougar Mountain cookie, option for a free cocktail (thanks to my new MVP Gold status), and free wifi. My work laptop isn't working, so I have to use my personal one, and nothing of any real significance I can do for work from here. Shucks, Facebook it is. And what an amazing invention it has become.

Comment from a dear former colleague back in San Francisco on my status about my draft road trip itinerary so far, discovering that we will actually be in the same general area (Idaho/Montana/Wyoming) at the same time. Yes, I am counting three states as the same general area given that we do live across the country from each other. We are going opposite directions (he and his family going west and I going east), we can intersect at Yellowstone. They will be staying at their cabin at the entrance to Yellowstone, and even better, they have space for me to stay. Talk about serious score! Get to see old friends and their sons whose pictures I've been admiring over the years, get a place to stay, and get to see the Old Faithful Geyser.

Ironically, I was actually considering skipping Yellowstone, but I guess this was just meant to be. Part of the beauty of not having a set itinerary is being open to these gems of opportunities.

Two Weeks

TO STRIVE, TO SEEK, TO FIND.
AND NOT TO YIELD.

Written on a chalkboard at the very end of the movie One Week. Interesting mantra to inspire me on this road adventure I'm about to undertake, to drive my car from the old Washington (state) to the new Washington (DC). I didn't think I was seeking anything, not even the inevitable adventure part, but I suppose it's actually a new vision quest I have begun.

While, unlike the movie's main character, I have not been diagnosed with a terminal disease (thank God), but we both seek new life somehow. My transition to life on the East Coast almost complete, I get the feeling the real transition is yet to come.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Present-Forward

It’s been a ridiculously long time since my last post and I apologize, not just to you, my readers (are there any of you?), but my Self. This blog’s been an important outlet for me and despite the ridiculous amount of drafts I have hidden, I’ve been neglecting it.

I can list a hundred excuses, and most of them would actually be valid, but the truth is, we can make time for things that are important to us. I’ve sat in a plane at least 48 hours since February and while I did do a bit of writing and working, did I really need to do all those crossword puzzles (some twice if it was the second flight that month) or play all those games on my iPod? Oh yeah, and make the mistake of watching Avatar on one of those tiny Digi-players?

But no use in beating myself up now, which I’m sure none of you can relate to. A great bit of advice my now former boss gave me was just to move present-forward. Now that we realize the consequence/s of our actions (or inaction, in this case), going forward, we do what we can to make sure to prevent it in the future.
I say “now former” because a few changes have happened in my life, biggest of which is I have now officially moved to DC. *SHOCK!* I can hear your gasps now. As if my tweets whining of teary-eyed evenings whenever I had to pack to leave weren’t any clue. That means new job, new home and to some degree, a new life and it’s been exciting at best and overwhelmingly anxiety-ridden and stressful at worst. The key (well, more like the lock-pick) for me has just been taking one step at a time. I’ve now vacated my Seattle apartment and relinquished maybe 75% of my physical possessions. I brought no furniture with me and the majority of items I moved were books, clothes and a few kitchen essentials. What I’ve gained is a beautiful apartment with a great view of the District, ideally located in one of my favorite neighborhoods and walking distance to my favorite cafĂ©. I plan to furnish my home as stylishly and eco-friendly as possible, using Feng Shui guidelines, somehow affordably. The crazy thing is I don’t think it’s impossible! You can read about my progress on the e-zine, The DC Ladies, where I am now a contributing writer on eco-living.

You’re probably wondering, did I still eat? Ummmm, yes of course. It’s an addiction for me. I eat every day, multiple times a day. And yes, I’ve had some amazing adventures which I hope to eventually log into this blog (probably backdating), but present-forward, remember? To list a few (in NO particular order):

  • Komi – Washingtonian Magazine’s #1-rated restaurant. Yes, the title is well-deserved. Only drawback is they wouldn’t allow me to take pictures.
  • Omakazi dinner at Sushi Taro – incredible, but too much food, even for me.
  • Sushi Concierge dinner with Trevor Corson at Zentan – informative, but too many people to maintain everyone’s attention for too long, especially the loud Dutch girls next to us. Best part of the evening was the Singapore Slaw. I think I went back twice to the restaurant for dinner so I could have more.
  • Reverence Dinner (Seattle) – A Gypsy-style dinner with 8 of Seattle’s most incredible chefs.
  • Robin Leventhal’s Top Chef Dinner (Seattle) – A fantasy come-true for me to try the food I see on tv. Robin recreated some of the dishes from the hit show, and now I know I’m not out of my mind whenever I want to lick the screen.
  • Cherry Blossom Festival and cooking class TenPenh – Being in DC for the festival was another item on my bucket list and I couldn’t think of a better way to start the celebration than with a cherry blossom-inspired cooking class. Only drawback was being served 4 glasses of wine before noon. I couldn’t remember everything, but luckily I have pictures.
  • J&G Steakhouse – Most incredible calamari ever! Oh yes, and a surprisingly beautiful pavlova dessert.  
  • POV at the W Hotel – My favorite place to go on a warm afternoon or evening, especially after walking the monuments. Unfortunately it’s difficult to get up there without a room at the hotel or a reservation in the restaurant. Oh, and unfortunately the food at the restaurant isn’t quite the same as at J&G downstairs.
  • Restaurant Nora – This may be the winner of my favorite splurgy restaurant in DC. Aside from being the first certified organic restaurant, the food is absolutely superb and the service impeccable.
  • Vidalia – Another restaurant in the running for my favorite. The bartender created an incredible Valentine’s Day cocktail which he shared with me and my dining companion. Both food and service were incredible.
  • Marcel – Two words: Boudin Blanc. Most incredible sausage ever, although I feel so bourgeois calling it a sausage.
  • Art of the Table (Seattle) - I may have said this once and I'll say it again, I absolutely love Chef Dustin Ronspies' food. If you don't have time to sit down to one of the restaurant's four-course dinners, the Monday happy hours are the best. It's sort of like an Iron Chef dinner where he can experiment with different ingredients and come out with something incredible.
  • Po Dog (Seattle) - I totally dig on the ghetto gourmet this place embodies.
  • Old School Frozen Custard (Seattle) – Super-fresh, incredible tasting. Not sure if I can ever go back to normal ice cream again.
  • Pho 14 – I love having great Vietnamese in my hood!
  • Full Kee – One great thing about living in a diverse city is I can get wonderful dishes like congee again!
  • Dante’s Inferno Dogs (Seattle) – Sure, I’ve had them before, but on a whim, I tried one with cream cheese and sweet chili sauce.
  • Marination Mobile (Seattle) – Hey brah! Howzit? OK, not a typical Hawaiian-style plate lunch food truck, but really damn good.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Daphifying DC

Just last week, I had a couple of friends tell me they were going to DC this fall and they asked me for suggestions on things to do, where to stay and places to go. While I generally list such information on my main site, GoGastronomy.com, I admit it's more of a list and a quick-hash versus more thoughtful musings, so I thought I'd write something a little more tailored for them on this blog. So, KR (and anyone else who wants to know), here goes:

Best Places to Hit the Snooze Button

In general, I like to stay in Dupont Circle. I just like the idea of staying in a more residential neighborhood, especially if I will be there for more extended period (at least a couple of weeks). It's safe, convenient and super-fun. It's a 1.5 mile walk to downtown and I enjoy every block, especially when I make a slight detour to pass the White House. Regardless of which direction I go, there are always interesting nooks and neighborhoods to discover, with Georgetown to the west, Kalorama to the north, Columbia Heights to the northeast, U Street Corridor and/or Capitol Hill to the east, the White House and National Mall to the south and I've been known to walk to or walk from Arlington in the southwest. I've stayed at a couple of different places and highly recommend the Hotel Palomar on P Street NW and 21st. It's two blocks from the Metro and there are quite a few restaurants right there on that block. And Joe from Urbana, the hotel restaurant, is one of the most strategic and friendliest bartenders I've met in DC.

For my most recent time this summer, I stayed in the downtown/Penn Quarter. I normally avoid high touristy areas but it offered the most convenience (and it was the cheap). Hotel Monaco and Sofitel are quite popular, but there is a plethora of accommodations to fit any taste and budget. (Note: I must caution that sometimes rooms at the Hotel Monaco can be unsatisfactory, especially in the basement, so much so that a few readers have mentioned they checked out early and/or requested different rooms.) The big advantage, to the Hotel Monaco is its location next to restaurants, including it's own highly acclaimed Poste and some of DC's most popular tourist attractions.

My Way

First, perhaps I should disclose my typical travel Modus Operandi.

  1. I rarely have a set itinerary. Sure, I'll know when I'm arriving and returning, but if I'm on vacation or making the most of an evening or weekend while traveling for work, the last thing I want is a rigid schedule. I do, however, make particular appointments just to give me a bit of structure (e.g., meeting a friend, taking a class, attending an event that is only a set date), but it's important to allow for some flexibility. I do generally keep a list of things I'd like to do and I may have an idea of when may be ideal to do them. But again, flexibility is key. I rarely pay attention to directives like, "You MUST do ___," or "You haven't seen ___ if you didn't do ____." We all have our different priorities and preferences. For instance, I've never been on top of the Empire State Building or even seen the Statue of Liberty from the ground, but I've walked innumerable blocks in Manhattan, have shopped at the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, eaten a slice of pizza (or 12) and picnicked in Central Park. Pretty quintessential New York experiences in my book.
  2. An ideal day for me would consist of actual (and sometimes made up) plans in the beginning or end of a day (like a class or brunch date in the morning or dinner or show in the evening) and walk my way to or from those locations (weather depending of course). Sometimes you never know what you'll discover. One weekend in DC, I walked from my hotel, had coffee in Dupont Circle, ran an errand on 17th St., NW, walked to U Street to try out the infamous Ben's Chili Bowl before visiting some friends who lived in that area later that afternoon. On my way, I came across cupcake samples at Cake Love and the culinary mecca of U Street Corridor with it's burgeoning farmers market. Not likely places I would have come across had I not been flexible with my day and itinerary.
  3. One of the most idyllic ways I get to know a town is to do everyday activities. This could mean walking through random residential neighborhoods (well, be cautious and keep your street smarts), traveling via its public transportation system or my personal favorite is hitting the local farmers market and grocery store, especially in foreign countries. (HINT: it's also a much less expensive place to buy authentic local culinary delights.)
Again, I'll admit I'm not usually into touristy stuff, but this is one town that begs for it. While I think one can have an excellent time just walking around, peeking at sights and plopping down at an outdoor cafe and people watching, the history, design, monuments and museums of this town deserve attention. There are thousands of books, brochures and sites that will offer all the how-tos and ins and outs of DC. These are just my personal highlights. If you have specific questions or want something more tailored for your interests. Send me a note. I'd love to design something more tailored for you.
I'm all about convenience and flexibility, so these are clumped up geographically because, let's face it, if you're gonna be there, you might as well take advantage of what's around.

While I may be devout about not having rigid itineraries, DC is one of those towns where you can get a good advantage by planning ahead. Write to your Congressional Representative or Senator and they will provide "VIP Tour" tickets to DC's main attractions including the Capitol Building and the White House. The big disadvantage to these tours is they start incredibly early (8am-ish), which isn't exactly desirable when you're on vacation. But I suppose if you were looking for some relaxing time off, you'd be going to the beach, right? So, if you have a goal to see specific places, plan ahead. Or do what I would do and leave it up to fate and sign up for a waitlist once you're there.

Touristy, but cool

White House and surrounding area
If you must visit the White House (which really is as magical as it looks in the movies), then it is mandatory to plan ahead. Post-9/11 rules state that White House visitors make arrangements through their Congressional Representative or their embassy and this can be done up to 6 months in advance. There is also the Visitors Center on 15th & E if you didn't plan ahead or want to learn more of its history.

You'll probably work up an appetite, and THE place I recommend is Old Ebbitt Grill. It's a good place for basics (ground chuck hamburgers, crabcakes, or just drinks) and the history and design of this place makes it a tourist destination all on its own. Rumors have it that the bar in "Murphy Brown" was based on the Old Ebbitt Grill and judging by the dark walls and beautifully detailed woodwork, you'll see why. What makes this even more remarkable is its price. Whether you're in a power suit or your power sneakers, you can get a great meal for $10-15. [Update 2/20/10: I recently found out the oyster menu and Oysters Bill of Rights was designed by none other than Seattle's own Jon Rowley. I'd say small world, but he is known worldwide as a leading oyster expert.]

My kind of Mall

Walk south of the White House and around The Ellipse, and you hit the National Mall. It's a bit hard to miss the Washington Monument and it's a tough choice whether to turn right (west towards the Lincoln Memorial) or left (east towards the Capitol Building). It's easy to spend an entire day just walking the Mall in either direction, or both.
Usually I will combine walking the west side of the mall with a hike to or from Arlington National Cemetery (see Virginia section below). My heart races whenever I cross the Memorial Bridge from the Cemetery into DC with its view of the Potomac River and the Lincoln Memorial, so I usually save the west side of the Mall for post-cemetery trekking. In fact, one of the reasons I like staying in Dupont Circle is the taxi will cross the Memorial Bridge after arriving at Reagan-National Airport.

Virginia

Whenever possible, I spend at least 1 weekend day away from DC proper to see a friend or two who live in Alexandria. Although now that I have some new friends in Arlington, I will be more intent about including that city in my itinerary, too.

Start with brunch in Old Town Alexandria (approx 30 minutes from DC on the Metro). It is an absolutely darling area, with cute shops and surprising good food along King Street. I was most recently introduced to Restaurant Eve by some serious foodie friends and it was well worth an evening trip in addition to my usual brunch in the area. In fact, this may be my new go-to place in Virginia. From the King Street Metro stop, walk 2 blocks to the left and turn right on King Street. Or save your feet a bit by taking the free cable car that leaves the Metro station every 20 minutes.

Another brunch option is dim sum at China Garden in Rosslyn. While I am usually apprehensive about the idea of restaurants in a mall, this place is one of those exceptions. It's not only convenient to the Metro, but an easy walk to the Iwo Jima Memorial and then a subsequent walk to Arlington National Cemetery (you'll actually be going through one of the side entrances). Now, if you are actually starting off in Alexandria, then just make your way back towards DC on the Metro and get off early at Arlington.

I'm all about win-win, so while being able to dear friends, spending a day in Virginia means I get to make my ritual stop at Arlington National Cemetery. Granted, this is really contingent upon the weather as one of my greatest joys is "climbing" up the hill to General Lee's House and sitting on the steps while gazing at the gaping view of Washington, DC on a warm afternoon and maybe reading a book or writing in my journal. There is also my mandatory stop at the Changing of the Guards Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which never gets old, even through 2 or 3 cycles (which happen every half hour). In fact, I'm usually one of the last people to leave at closing time. And no, this place does not give that creepy cemetery vibe. Well, maybe in the right light.

If you haven't figured this out by now, then I'll have to be explicit that it is important to have good walking shoes. I say this more as a reminder to myself than to my readers. Unfortunately, fashion and comfort rarely go together, especially when I have limited room in my suitcase so if anyone has a suggestion for a good combo, please let me know. When my feet are sturdy enough, long extensive walks are my favorite way to enjoy the city.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tie-Grrr

Didn't take long for me to fall behind. No excuse, really, aside from just being busy. I guess it's all about choices: sleep or write, go to work or write, go out and play or write, watch the Daily Show or write... How many times have I don't this (have we done this), waited til the last minute, or longer to do what we have to do, or worse, what we really want to do.

While I could complain about my jet lag for waking me up at 4:30am Pacific Time, I'm considering this a jump start. I have a few extra hours of nothing to do but write. Ok, I could Facebook or write, email or write, catch up on TV or write, check out DC Snowpocalypse pics or write, or try to fall back asleep or write. Well, truth is, I kinda did and none of those worked, so here I am, tied to this blog. I made a commitment, right? Write.

So today I sit in my comfy apartment in Seattle next to the sweetest and most affectionate cat ever. I've had T-Grrr since March 14, 1999 and he's witnessed so much of the evolution of my life. How could I leave this creature for so long and so often? I've only been home a week or a week and half every month the past few months and it's starting to take its toll on both of us.

At first I didn't mind so much. I had a friend who could use a place to stay and could appreciate T-Grr's super-affectionate nature. But now she's probably not going to stay as much and I hate the idea of T being home alone so much and for so long. My other friends who could have used an extra place to stay now have their own places to be. And even with a cat-sitter coming daily, 30 minutes out of the day really isn't that much time over a 3-week span. Shall I bite the bullet and have him come with me?

It's a thought, but between all the airline fees, hotel fees, vet paperwork fees and mainly just the trauma to the poor cat since I have two cities to travel to, may not be worthwhile. Well, if only I could explain the situation to T-Grrr and if only he could explain his preference to me, we could figure this out together.

Right now, he is lying across my hands and arms above the keyboard as I type this. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cutting those ties with my new knife skills

It's probably a little early in the month to write about cutting ties, but I just completed the Knife Skills class at Hill's Kitchen in DC's Capitol Hill and figure it's only too appropriate. Cutting, chopping, dicing, slicing area all words you'll see in any given recipe. If you cook, there's rarely any getting around working with knives (well, unless you get any of the pre-cut items from Trader Joe's like I've done -- shhhhh...) so good knife skills are really important.

One of my biggest regrets is not taking a class from Culinary Communion in Seattle, and I've vowed that while I'm traveling around so much, I would do what I can to learn about food and cooking. I've been blessed to learn about some of the regional specialties from the different cities but sometimes, you've just got to learn the basics. Plus, living in a hotel 3 weeks out of the month, I get the itch to work in a kitchen every once in a while. Luckily, I was able to score a spot at Hill's Kitchen, a gourmet's paradise both for products and education. I say luckily because every time I've tried to sign up for their Basic Knife Skills class during my limited times in DC, they've been full. (LESSON: plan far in advance, or just get on the watilst and pray.)

Prayer was answered. $40 and 2 hours later, I learned about the different knives and their functions, how to hold a knife, and the differences between slicing and chopping. Most importantly, I learned good posture and hand/finger control to ensure I don't cut myself. Embarrassingly, I also learned that many of the issues from my own kitchen have to do with the dullness of my knives, the way I store my special chef's knife (unprotected in a drawer with other objects) and that I just need to practice, practice and practice. So perhaps I'll be cutting my ties to the prechopped and prepackaged stuff from Trader Joe's and start prepping and cooking from scratch some more next time I'm home.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Excuses be Gone!

Not sure why it's been so long since my last post. Not like it's been for lack of inspiration. Guess I've just been focusing on experiencing versus reflecting, which is contrary to what being a writer is about and quite sad given the many amazing experiences I've been blessed with the last few months across the country and internationally. Thanks to NaBloPoMo (NAtional BLOg POsting MOnth), I'm inspired once again and February's theme is TIES so I'll focus on writing things I'm tied to, and perhaps if you pay attention closely enough, I may write about something (or someone) being tied up. ;-)

Happy February!