Foodie Itinerary: Wine Country…beyond Napa & Sonoma

So you've explored Napa and Sonoma and fancy yourself a CA Wine Country enthusiast.  Not so fast...there's a whole lot more exploring to do!  When you first move to the Bay Area, you spend a lot of time in Napa and Sonoma and bring all of your visitors there...but after a while you branch out a bit, and fall in love with the California wine country all over again.  So when we don't have Wine Country virgins in town (who really should be first introduced through Napa in my opinion) our preference is actually some of these lesser known regions.  We prefer them for the more laid-back, humble feel and because they make wine (and sometimes food) just as good as the more famous and expensive regions.  So here are my favorite regions beyond Napa and Sonoma and a few recommendations for where to taste, eat and stay for each...photos to help inspire can be found here:
…and We’re Off! SavoryGirl Heads to Ecuador & Peru

It's been a little over a year since our last big trip to Thailand and Cambodia and we are itching for some exploring and gastronomic globe trotting.  Up next...Ecuador & Peru!  We're heading to South America for a little over 2 weeks on our very first organized/guided trip.  We typically like to do our own thing and create our own itineraries, but since the focus of this trip is two activities that you are required to have authorized guides for, the Galapagos Islands and hiking Machu Picchu, we figured this was the right trip to try out a guided tour.  So we did some research and booked this tour with G Adventures.  A few of our friends have vacationed with G Adventures in the past and they have a sustainable and local flavor focus, so it sounds like a good fit for us...fingers crossed!

 

In case you're interested in following along on our adventure, a high-level itinerary is below.  I'll get into the good stuff, all of the local cuisine that we are going to try to hunt down and try during the little bit of free time that we have, when I return.  All of the foodie related activities that I have on my list are recommendations from my fellow T-Bird alumni who are either from Ecuador or Peru or have lived there for extended periods of time...so I trust they'll be spot on, but I'd like to try everything for myself and have photos before recommending any food to you...

Postcards: Railay Beach, Thailand

This, was an amazing day.  We were nearing the end of our two week trip to Cambodia and Thailand, at our last Thai beach destination before heading to Bangkok and then home.  We had spent the previous 3 hours on a boat getting ferried from Koh Pi Pi island to Railay Beach in Krabi.  The ferry ride alone was spectacular...the turquoise blue sea streched out as far as the eye reached, dotted with craggily formations and clusters of islands.  This is what you see in the movies...and I sat like a child for 3 straight hours soaking it all in.  Legs hanging off the side of the top deck, face resting on the railing, and a huge grin plastered to my face.

Foodie Itinerary: Napa!

Summer is right around the corner; the grapevines are starting to fill out and soon will be heavy with grapes and lush foliage.  It's a wonderful time of year in wine country.  Living in the Bay Area and being passionate about food and wine means I often get asked for wine country suggestions, particularly since I actually used to live in Napa and worked at a winery for a summer.  I love wine country and boy do I have lots of recommendations!  So consider this the first of a three part series on Wine Country....Napa, Sonoma, and Beyond. First up, Napa!  If you've never been to wine country before, Napa should be first on your list. Yes, it's touristy and at times a bit cliche but it's Napa!  You should experience all Napa has to offer first and then move onto the smaller and more quaint wine regions like Sonoma, Russian River and Alexander Valley.  Exploring and understanding Napa will allow you to appreciate the others even more.  Trust me. If you can, try to go during the week since the weekends are more hectic. My recommendations for what to do, where to eat and of course where to taste are below...and to see some pictures of many of the wineries and surrounding valley check out my Napa Valley Album.  It will inspire you to start planning your trip right away!
Postcards: Spice Market in Nice, France

It felt as if we had the city of Nice, France to ourselves.  It was late January and the coldest winter in recent history throughout all of Europe, but here we were wandering the streets of Nice on this brilliantly sunny day and enjoying every cold yet satisfyingly intimate moment of it.  We had heard horror stories about the harassing street performers and bustling crowds, but that’s not our Nice…not the Nice we experienced.  Of course, we also didn’t experience the legendary beach scene…but our quiet, locally sourced picnic on the desolate rocky beach left a lasting impression of it’s own.  As did this charming little spice store we wandered into as we lost ourselves in the cobblestone alleys.
Postcards: Northern California Coast

This, my friends, is why we live in California.  I mean really does it get more serene and beautiful than this?  The day of this photo was an interesting one...near the start of a true life experience.  It was Day Two of the Brita California Climate Ride, a ~350 mile ride from Eureka to San Francisco. Since Brita was the title sponsor and I worked at our headquarters out here in the Bay Area, a co-worker and I came up with the idea of forming a team and doing it.  The twist? Christian and I didn't even own bikes at the time of this brilliant idea.

Postcards: Christian Cooking in Chiang Mai

 

The time: 9am.

The place: Siam Rice Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The temperature: a sweaty 90°.

The mood: hungover, hungry and excited for this part of the trip we've been looking forward to but sad it's our last day in Chiang Mai.

Hence Christian getting a bit randy with the cleaver he is handed by our instructor.  There were a lot of emotions swirling around that morning.  We had been out a bit late with some new friends the night before and the Tuk Tuk for class arrived at our hotel bright and early at 7:30am.  Of course we were the first people to be picked up so we had the joy of jostling around the back of the oppressively hot Tuk Tuk for the next 45 minutes while slowly meeting those who would be our fellow classmates for the next 4 hours.

Postcards: Cemetery at Sunset in Vence, France

Ah, the French Riviera and countryside...in January. Not exactly high tourist season, but Christian's sister and husband were living in Juan-les-Pins, France for 6 months so we took the opportunity to head over while we had a free place to stay and local-like tour guides.  The whole French Riviera was sleepy and quiet, which made for perfect exploration and minimal crowds which was idyllic.  The weather, not so idyllic.  This was 2009...you know, that record breaking winter in Europe where people were actually freezing to death, yeah, it was cold.

The cold, however, didn't slow us down...we wanted to see as much of the French Riviera as we could, and that included a snowy day-hike into the mountains and then lunch in the mountain city of Vence.  Vence is a medieval walled city that dates back to the 3rd century.  It's one of those cities that has you walking around in awe, tripping over ancient upturned cobblestones as you gawk at the beauty and architecture.  It was as we were doing this, right around sunset, that we stumbled upon this incredibly old but magical feeling cemetery right outside of the walled city.

What first attracted me to the cemetery, was actually the image that you see below. Light of the rapidly setting sun casting a shadow of the tombstones on a nearby wall.  It was ethereal and moving, so I worked rapidly to capture a shot.  Then, when I turned around I was surprised to see an equally beautiful view...the one that you see above.  To be clear, I'm not a religious person at all.  So the beauty didn't come from the religious meaning of the moment, but more the haunting and silent beauty surrounding us all.  We were alone in the cemetery with the noise of the nearby town completely blocked by the wall and streams of smoke billowing up from the homes in the valley below...a moment where you don't have to be religious to connect spiritually. That, to me, is my postcard from Vence.

This is the first post in my new SavoryGirl series, Postcards, which is described a bit here.  Let me know what you think?  Good addition to the site?  Interesting?  Hate it?  Feedback encouraged!

Postcards…a new SavoryGirl Segment

Photo from airliner.net

I've been struggling a bit with SavoryGirl these days...the passion and excitement that led me to start it 16 months ago has seemed to dissipate some making updating it feel more like a chore than an engaging form of self-expression.  The menu posts are easy since I do that for our family anyway, but the quantity (and probably quality) of the other posts have decreased some of late.  So I've come up with a new segment that I think will reinvigorate SavoryGirl that I'm excited to share.
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand...what an interesting, unique and ridiculously delicious place!  Now, there are things I love about Chiang Mai and some that I found extremely disappointing if I'm being honest.  I tend to get very high expectations based on what other people say...one of the reasons I never go to the movies to see blockbusters that everyone is raving about, I'm always disappointed! I think the same thing happened with Chiang Mai...at first. Everyone I knew told me how amazing it was and kept describing it as a "town" with a medieval-like wall around it, amazing markets and lots of historical and beautiful temples.  Now, technically that is all true...but to me those words conjured up an image of a small town that I would ramble through at leisure as I wistfully fingered silk at the markets.  Enter the reality of Chiang Mai.  This "town" may be up North nestled in the hills of Thailand, but town it is not...it is a big, crazy bustling city!  Horns honking, tuk tuks two-wheeling around corners, air thick with smog and dirt and oh so many people!  Of course, it's not Bangkok...but you expect Bangkok out of Bangkok and this is not what I was expecting out of Chiang Mai.  Yes there is a wall around the city (which is beautiful...especially at sunset), more beautiful temples than you could ever imagine and even an amazing and huge Sunday market (the normal nightly market, not so interesting!) where you can wistfully finger fine silk scarves...there will just be a lot of noise and commotion around you as you enjoy all of these things.  But if you set your expectations correctly, as I did after a day of adjustment, Chiang Mai is a fantastic place.  Particularly because of the food! So onto the food we go!