Saturday, August 20, 2011

BlogHer '11 Top 10 Alliteration List

10. Virgin Virgin. I'd never flown Virgin America before. Loved the design, service, and comfort. Its newish terminal at SFO has all the perks: Tyler Florence food (swooned over breakfast pizza with eggs, cheese, and bacon), Toto toilets, and free Google Chrome net books to use on the flight.

9. Silly Sculptures. Saw a 5' Statue of Liberty made from Twizzlers, a 6' high heel shoe made from Pepsi cans, and a 3' wide Ivory soap bar carved with the BlogHer logo.

8. Female Fun. Since the conference was designed by and for women, we had plenty of chocolate, pampering, parties, and celebs like Brandi Chastain. BlogHer creates an entirely different mood from the typical business conference. 

7. Sunny San Diego. Great location choice with our comfy Marriott room overlooking the marina, bay, and ocean, adjacent to the convention center meetings and an easy walk to downtown and Seaport Village.

6. Fab Food. Sponsors pulled through with Dove bars, Skinny Cow treats, King's Hawaiian bread sandwiches, Stacey's pita chips with Sabra hummus, and Shari's Berries cake pops.  I'd never had cake pops before but now intend to make them. 

5. Swell Swag. Best freebies ever: Tempurpedic pillow. Snapfish photo album. philosophy facial products. Nuance by Salma Hayek makeup. Knorr apron and flash drive recipes. Google+ shirt.

4. Excellent Energy. Everyone exuded creative passion and drive. What a great place to meet bloggers, network, brainstorm, and soak in all the innovative vibes.

3. Lots of Learning. Great panels on writing, ideation, product reviews, video blogging, proposals, food photography, and social media marketing. I love it when I attend talks and take lots of notes; it means I want to remember and use the info later.

2. Cooking Class. Knorr sponsored an asparagus parmesan risotto cooking class led by Master Chef Marco Pierre White. I'm glad I didn't know of his bad boy reputation beforehand since I would have been nervous. Met some lovely food bloggers like Kim and Amanda, and made a wonderfully creamy, flavorful risotto. Chef Marco led us expertly through the process, generously signed cookbooks and gave us lots of useful tips. What a treat to take a class from a 3-star Michelin chef!

1. Darling Daughter. I took my teenage daughter Valerie with me and immensely enjoyed experiencing everything with her. She was probably the youngest of 4000 or so attendees. BlogHer was our first mother-daughter getaway, but won't be our last.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Carmel Favorites

A favorite Bay Area getaway with beautiful beaches, rolling valleys, and plenty of great food, Carmel has it all. Known for its dog-friendly downtown, former movie star mayor Clint Eastwood, and its California Mission, Carmel has earned its reputation for fine dining as well.

My husband and I recently enjoyed a weekend getaway in Carmel and ate some great food. With so many restaurants to choose from, it's a good idea to check out websites with lists of optionsask friends for ideas, and check out Yelp reviews. On this occasion we tried some new places and returned to some old favorites.

Casanova Italian restaurant has never disappointed. Located near downtown in a converted cottage house, Casanova has a cozy feel, tasty food and attentive service. Only big enough to seat 30, it has a Zagat rating of 23/30 for food, 24 for decor, and 22 for service. We enjoyed:

- bread sticks with sun dried tomato dip (yum)
- antipasti: goat cheese with roasted eggplant, squash, and red pepper spread
- spinach gnocchi w/ parmesan cream sauce (a must)
- eggplant vegetable stack with mushrooms and tomatoes (Brad had pasta carbonara and slurped it right down)
- apple dessert w/ cinnamon ice cream

We found another dinner just as enjoyable at the Flying Fish Grill restaurant in the Carmel Plaza shopping center. Recommended by my sister-in-law, Flying Fish offers Japanese comfort food in a cozy setting. It feels even smaller than its seating capacity of 45 with private table nooks. Its Zagat ratings are 24/30 for food, 19 for decor, and 23 for service. My husband and I shared a shabu-shabu dinner, a very nourishing comfort meal cooked at a built-in stove at our table. The entire meal satisfied:

- fried won ton chips w/ ginger salsa (addictive)
- beef sabu sabu clay pot with mushrooms, bok choy, rice noodles, and tofu (oh yeah)
- 2 very different and flavorful sauces: ginger miso and aioli w/ mayo, ginger, and sesame oil
- creme brulee with strawberries, raspberries, and orange slices

When in town we always visit the Cottage of Sweets candy shop on Ocen Avenue, a small sweet shop jam-packed with all kinds of confections. Brad got some of his favorites--caramel pecan turtles and Australian kookaburra black licorice--while I went with my tried and true gourmet malted milk balls with a thick dark chocolate shell. We also picked up some realistic-looking chocolate rocks for the kids. Cottage of Sweets has been serving up its candies for fifty years, and offers a nice collection of handmade, classic, and foreign candies. There's something for everyone.

Lastly, we happily discovered a new breakfast favorite called the Little Swiss Cafe, a great spot to wake up with eggs benedict, buttermilk pancakes, omelets, and blintzes. Come early to avoid the wait, wake up with their good coffee and satisfying food, and bring enough cash to cover the bill. I really enjoyed the thin buttermilk pancakes with pure maple syrup. Since they were so thin, then didn't make me feel too full afterward. Brad gobbled up his Denver omelet with hash browns crisped up just right. The restaurant is decorated like a little Swiss cottage with a wonderful oil painting of the nearby coastal views on one wall. Service is friendly and efficient, and it's a solid way to start the day.

Carmel offers so many other splurge-worthy restaurants we've tried over the years: Fresh Cream (moved from Monterey), Marinus at the Bernardus Lodge, and the Rio Grill just to name a few that we will return to someday. Along with the natural beauty and proximity to the Bay Area, Carmel's delicious food options make the town an alluring getaway any time of year.