31 May 2016

Sicily: Taormina Vistas

To say J & I are ambitious travelers is an understatement. Our time off together is precious and we like to fit as much in as possible (and yes, we do relax, too...kind of!). Our honeymoon was no exception. Over the span of three weeks -- a work trip was tacked on at the very end -- we hit twelve airports.
Enjoying Maine!

We started on a Thursday, heading down to Los Angeles to attend the wedding of our friends. We left
that wedding, and LA, on Friday evening to head to Maine (via Boston) to attend the wedding of another of our friends on a small island off the coast. Two days later, it was time to head and start our time overseas.

Getting there was not without incident. The day we were set to leave was the day the Lufthansa pilots went on strike. What airline were we on? Lufthansa! It was a very trying several hours -- but with the help of an awesome United rep in Boston Logan, Aaron, our adventures were only delayed by a few hours.

  • Protip #1: When you book on a codeshare flight, call your originating carrier. Their lines are going to be much shorter and they'll have more time to dedicate to you. (We eventually walked over to United's customer service)
  • Protip #2: If there are two of you, split the efforts...get in line, make calls, tweet. We did this until we got an answer. 
  • Protip #3: Try not to get stuck in Boston Logan. It has a terrible international terminal.
But soon enough, we did arrive. We had chosen to fly into Catania, the airport on the eastern coast, and spend the evening in Taormina, a beautiful hill town that overlooks the coast as well as Mt. Etna, even booking an awesome hotel. Our delay meant that we didn't get to spend much time enjoying the amenities of the hotel, and also meant that we arrived in the middle of some torrential rains!

Getting to Taormina is not for the feint of heart, even when the weather is dry. It requires a slow trek up a very steep mountainside road. With the rain, there were a few washouts, so the going was even slower. I had a data plan on my phone (this has become a must -- one of us gets the data plan, usually me since I'm the navigator, and we turn it on in moments like these when we aren't 100% sure where we are going). 

If you find yourself staying at the Hotel Monte Tauro, be prepared to wind around this little town, then, when you think you can go no more, look to your right. You'll see a sign and a very steep driveway. This is your spot. Be careful! We had a wonderful room at this wonderful hotel, overlooking the pool. It was closed due to the storm, but it offered a view of the ocean and lower-lying towns.

View from our room
Taormina captures the romantic idealism of Italy. As you walk around the small town, you will not find many cars, allowing you to move freely to the shops, caffes, and restaurants. Wander around and you will find all sorts of restaurants, places to stop for a espresso or Etna Rosso, and plenty of gelato!

Though we were tired, we stopped for dinner -- sharing a bottle of local wine and indulging on panelle (Sicilian fried chickpeas). The restauranteur had a love for California, so we talked for him with quite some time about that! We then meandered through town, which was simply magical in the post-rain evening. Not ready to go home yet, we stopped at the Caffe Wunderbar to sit and enjoy the music and people watching. 

It was in Taormina where we noticed all the pine cones -- La Pigna. These ceramics come in all sorts of sizes and colors, and we saw them everywhere we went in Sicily! 

The other image you will not escape in Sicily is that of "The Godfather." I had heard most Sicilians try to distance themselves, you will see Godfather paraphernalia everywhere you go. There is always a t-shirt snuck in there, or a small wallet, or something. This has some significance -- many of the "Corleone" scenes were shot in/around Taormina.  

I wish I had one full day to enjoy Taormina -- if you find yourself there, it is small enough to see a lot in that amount of time. If you have time to enjoy a second day, you will truly enjoy la dolce vita!

13 March 2016

So Cheesy: Bohemian Creamery

It was a rather rainy weekend -- one of many this year in Northern California (hooray!) -- and we had to make a day trip up to the River (the Russian River that is, also known as my happy place). We were not in any big hurry to get home, so we took a bit of time meandering, first stopping by a winery but finding our hearts weren't quite into wine tasting before a possibly hairy ride home.

Inspired by a class we had taken that week at The Cheese School of San Francisco, we decided to
turn our focus onto finding a few of the many creameries in the Marin/Sonoma County areas. After all, cheese is not only delicious, but the perfect accompaniment to wine and also an excellent indulgence for a lazy Sunday, which we knew ours would be.

You may see this pic a few times! Cheeses from Bohemian
in bottom left corner and the dark-rind next to the apples
As we left the winery, we say a sign that said "cheese, 300 meters." We had to follow! Following the road for a bit, we thought we had missed it, as we have no idea how long a meter really is (c'mon, we're Americans!). But shortly after we lamented that we had passed it and oh well, another signed popped up that said, "Cheese here." A quick turn into the parking lot and a run through the rain, and shortly we were in the tiny storefront of Bohemian Creamery.

What a treat this place is! They have a full case of cheeses -- approximately eight in refrigeration and three harder varieties -- that are made from cow, goat, and even water buffalo! They also serve a goat milk frozen yogurt...J loved this but I wasn't too keen on the flavor they were offering that day (orange blossom and chocolate...not my personal fave).

There were no limits on samples -- we tried almost every cheese they offered and were offered more if we'd like. Ultimately, we went home with three:

  • Cowabunga - this is a "dessert" cheese, which neither J nor I even knew existed. It's a cow's milk with a sweet goat milk carmel-y tasting treat in the middle. Tastes like really rich cheesecake. I am not a cheesecake eater so not my preference but J absolutely loved it.
  • BoDacious - a goat's milk cheese that is both mild and has a nice tang to it. Super spreadable on a delicious bread or cracker base.
  • Caproncino - an aged, semi-hard goat's milk cheese. Had a nice sharpness to complement the apples, and very delicious on a grilled cheese sandwich the next day.
What the store may lack in space it more than makes up for with the hospitality and yummy cheeses. We will definitely be stopping by here again, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

7380 Occidental Road
Sebastopol, CA
open only on weekends

06 March 2016

Wine Sipping: Twomey Winery

If you are looking for a relaxing spot to stop and take in the view of the Russian River Valley, then Twomey Cellars is the place for you. Bonus if you are looking for some of the best Pinots in Northern California (and the best Sauvingon Blanc).

Twomey is a modern-looking winery with a view that takes you back to the old world; for a moment you might mistake the rolling hills and acres of vineyards for those found in Tuscany. But make no mistake, this winery is all California. The sister winery of Silver Oak, the world-renowned Cab house, Twomey focuses largely on Pinot Noirs, though they have an excellent Merlot. On a recent visit here, we were told that their wine maker wants to bring Pinot grapes not only from local vineyards, but also from those a bit further away, so that visitors are able to compare and contrast.

I personally love their Bien Nacido (Santa Barbara) Pinot Noir -- it is a bit more fruit-forward and smooth in texture. JCH, my husband, favors the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which benefits from the fog the rolls in most nights in the coastal vineyards. Being that they welcome well-behaved pooches, Luca is usually with us, and he especially loves all the treats they bring him.

Twomey is a great stop on the Westside trail -- bring a picnic and enjoy the view. They also offer a cheese plate for purchase.

Twomey Cellars
3000 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA
small tasting fee

28 February 2016

Wine Sipping: Mazzocco Winery

By far, the winery we visit and recommend the most. How they haven't gotten tired of us and our friends by now is a mystery, but speaks to just how great this place is.

Mazzocco is part of the Wilson Artisan Wine Group, and focuses largely on Zinfadels. They also have a few other excellent varietals -- including one of my favorite Sauvingon Blancs (very limited release). Part of the fun here is tasting the different vineyard-designate Zinfandels, and finding how much diversity can occur with the same exact grape. My personal go-to is the Sullivan, though Maple Reserve is coming in a close second.

If you are lucky, a member, or with one, you may get to go into the Monkey Room to taste their higher-end wines. It isn't a guarantee but it is always worth an ask.

The tasting room and outdoor area are both very welcoming for well-behaved pooches. The outdoor area is big and serene; bring along some nice cheeses or a picnic, sit outside, and enjoy the scenery.

Mazzocco Winery
1400 Lytton Springs Road
Healdsburg, CA
11am - 5pm Daily
small tasting fee

It's Been a While!

Life sometimes gets in the way!

I'm back in 2016 with a renewed focus for this blog -- travel, wine, fun!