Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Hidden Staircase(s)

I adored reading mysteries growing up. Not the scary kind of mysteries, I couldn't handle those (I think Tom Sawyer still had me in its clutches weeks later), but the puzzle kind, with hidden passageways, secret gardens, and unknown compartments and latches. I loved the idea of unlocking and discovering a secret worth keeping.

Like many things about me in childhood, that has stayed the same. I just re-read an Agatha Christie novel and found a Burmese restaurant with a small sign, out of view behind a beautiful tree. The discoveries thrill. Luckily Brian loves to discover too. A few weeks ago he found this book at a Berkeley book shop and couldn't resist.

Urban hiking? Yes. Getting to know our new city? Yes. Secrets? Yes, yes, please. The book outlines delicious walking tours throughout the secret stairs that bedeck the hills of Berkeley and Oakland. With simple maps and enjoyable text, we sauntered up and down, excitedly (and nerdily) reading the tidbits and reveling in the discovery of hidden gems.

beautiful houses...and completely decked out for Halloween.
this place takes holiday decor very seriously.

this belongs in the Harry Potter Goblet of Fire maze....

our unequivocal favorite: the personal funicular

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Birthday on the Bay

Fun fact stat:

Since 2004, I have spent three birthdays in the San Francisco/Bay Area. Rather strange for a girl who lived on the other side of the country and just moved here! And I've loved every one.

My 28th birthday started out with Ina Garten's omelet for 2, since every day is better with Ina's cooking. She is truly my go-to for any occasion...a fancy dinner, quick meal for surprise drop-ins, and the frequent after-work dinner that I want to deeply enjoy.

To celebrate another year, Brian and I went sightseeing in San Francisco for the weekend. We BARTed in, emerging right in the midst of hustling Market Street, eyes wide and immediately clambering for sights of ornate architecture, intriguing people, and of course some Ghirardelli chocolate. Hopping a bus to the Richmond District, we rode west and, reaching our starting point, strode off into the wilds of Golden Gate Park. The dappled sunlight filtered through the giant redwoods as we meandered our way past the Conservatory of Flowers, the Botanical Garden, and fields full of volleyball tournaments and picnics, somehow missing the herd of bison that live somewhere.

Conservatory of Flowers

At the De Young Museum of Art we caught the closing weekend of the Picasso Exhibit, fresh from the Picasso Museum in Paris. Now, I never liked Picasso. But, on a random weekend in Paris I went and fell into liking him very much. His acres of sketchbook pages, some only 2 inches across, showed studies and lines very much like my own doodles. I loved that they were so simple. The exhibit here featured his own collection of Picasso's....his favorites you could say. Brian and I left in silent awe, forced into silence by the vastness of his creativity.
Sculpture Garden at the De Young

We walked all the way down Golden Gate Park (okay, okay, we caught a bus for the last 10 blocks) to the Pacific Ocean. I never think about San Francisco being on the ocean...and definitely didn't think about them having a beach. Who knew? There is a great old building that used to be the beach bathhouses, complete with detailed murals of SF and a live jazz band. We sauntered through the sand, eating asian-inspired tacos and judging the leftover creations from a sand castle contest. Up around past the Cliff-House, the Sutro Baths, and down the Coastal Trail.

Old Bathhouse

Sutro Baths

The Coastal Trail is being restored. Volunteers have planted thousands of native species on the hillsides...hopefully to soon be covering the ground once more. The views are incredible. My breath caught in my throat as we rounded the western corner of SF and caught sight of the burnt red Golden Gate Bridge. As Brian said, it really couldn't be any other color. The red stands out from the green-brown hillsides of the Marin Headlands, and the abundant blueness of the water and sky force it into your vision like a pop-up book.

We didn't make it as far as my optimistic mind initially wanted (the Presidio). But we made it to China Beach, with its towering homes and views behind them that i can only imagine are to die for. Tired and a bit hungry, we headed for the nearest bus stop to take us home.

Brian in front of our house. Just kidding. 

Not bad for a 28th birthday.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Italy is Oakland is Paris is Italy is Oakland

I really want to live in Europe. After studying in Paris and touring Switzerland and Italy, I fell madly in love with their joie de vivre, impressive architecture, love of beauty, and pursuit of authentic food. There's just nothing like it.

At least, I thought so until Brian and I took a jaunt around our new hometown of Oakland. Tell me this is not Europe.

Foot-bound by a nail in my car's rear tire, we started with savoring margarita pizza slices and pellegrino aranciatas at an outdoor cafe, followed by a slow saunter around Lake Merritt. Across the lake narrow buildings crowd the edges and climb the hillside, offering views of the sparkling water and sleek black gondolas skimming by.

Strolling through downtown Oakland we happened upon multiple buildings, some that made us stare up for minutes on end, admiring the details and the history, others that made us grin in delight, laughing in joy at our good fortune and adventure. Check out that sky and those colors!

The afternoon was made perfect by ice cream at the famous ICI. Owned by the former pastry chef from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, Ici is a delight to the lines of customers that wait patiently along the sidewalk. Candied Meyer Lemon, Mint Chocolate, Raspberry, Rose Vanilla, and Vanilla Malt with Sour Cherry, to name a few favorites. Brian and I marveled in delight at the root beer floats, huckleberry meringue cakes and homemade ice cream sandwiches, then slowly walked back home, licking our two-scoops in fresh sugar cones. That is until I inadvertently pushed mine off and had to use my amazing hand-eye coordination to catch the ice-cream with my bare hands.

Inspired, I made almond meringue cookies. To drink with French-pressed coffee, of course. I think it's safe to say that we're enjoying ourselves.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Food Reinvented

I love food.

I love to taste it, smell it, create it, bake it, cook it, and dream about it. But as of yet, I really haven't had to reinvent it.

My incredibly organized mom always had meals planned out well in advance. Delicious and healthy with beautiful balanced colors, she had a 3-month supply of menus before she'd repeat (we'd have to beg for boxed macaroni and cheese). 6 days on and one night of leftovers a week. Which we would consume in total like ravenous wolves we were. Then I moved out of the house and realized that I don't like leftovers. I'd eat them maybe once, and end up tossing out the rest if friends or boyfriend didn't want to finish them off for me. However, Brian and I now find ourselves in the East Bay, living off of a awfully strict student that doesn't leave any room for throwing out food. Quite a disturbing quandry for me and my food sensibilities.

So, I'm learning to reinvent.

Greek salad skewers of marinated cucumbers, feta, and tomatoes turn into mediterranean lunches when paired with hummus in soft pitas. (Fine Cooking Appetizers: skewers and hummus)

Too-ripe fruit gets thrown in the freezer, to be made into banana bread, snacked on later (grapes), or combined with the last spoonful of yogurt and splash of milk for breakfast smoothies.

Chicken fajitas and rice become hearty salads tossed with a vinaigrette, chick peas, and typical taco toppings. (George Geary: Parmesan Vinaigrette)

Overflowing amounts of pears from the lovely ladies at work are baked with a generous sprinkling of oatmeal (it's cheap), brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter to create my new favorite breakfast. The sweet, nutty flavor and the soft texture of the fruit is perfection.

Like Cinderella, almost-expiring sour cream when paired with almost-expiring strawberries magically becomes a sweet cloud of tart sweetness. (Mark Bittman: 15-Minute Fruit Gratin)

As a designer I've always been told that design challenges always result in more elegant and intelligent solutions. I've never liked hearing that because struggling with challenges is painful and difficult. However, the truth is the same. Our budget conciousness is frequently a struggle, and yet it is producing some delectable, inventive, and fun meals to our repetoire. For that, dear budget, I thank you.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

New Ventures

Do you know someone who always has incredible ideas? It doesn't matter what it is, but they can take any idea and run with it in new and creative ways? I'm always in wonderful awe of those people. I would like to think that I'm a thinker too, but they are always brainstorming bigger and better. I've tried to make myself like that but have come to realization that it's not my skill, not my talent. best thing: find someone who IS like that and join them!

I was recently asked my great friend Allison Crnic to be a contributor to one of her new initiatives. I said yes before I even knew what it was, because Allison is one of those incredible thinkers.

I'd like to introduce you to The Bohemian Atlas. It's a beautiful marriage of fun, travel, and finding bohemian beauty in cities and life all over, not just the famous ones. Check it out and let us know what you think. We hope you'll enjoy it as much as we are already.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Respite Next Door

One of my favorite things about being in a new location is finding those special spots. They could be anything: a cafe, a quaint bookstore, or even....a cemetery. My love for cemeteries stems from Paris, when I would pick a spot on the map and spend hours wandering. At first I shied away from those large green patches on the maps until one day there was one between me and my desired cafe. Summoning my courage I briskly strolled in, only to slow immediately at the still beauty. Birds flitted across the continuous stones, from the lush lavender wisteria twining over a monument to the pooling water on a centuries-old marker. It was a secret garden, full of unexpected treasures, and I fell in love. I remember the Cimetiere du Montparnasse and the side-by-side graves of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir. I clambered across the hills and crowded stones of Pere Lachaise, in search of Chopin, Colette, and Jim Morrison. I spent hours strolling, simply enjoying the stillness and the reverent beauty.

And now I've found my new respite. Last weekend Brian came home and told tale of a cemetery right down the street. So, on a sun-filled afternoon we sauntered in and once more I found myself slowing at the sight. Mountain View Cemetery, the location for many movie scene filmings, is so for a reason. Much less crowded than its parisian counterparts, this cemetery wooed me with vastness and views. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (of Central Park), the gently curving roads wind their way to the hilltop, with glowing sunset views of downtown Oakland and the San Francisco Bay. Brian and I are both enamored and are already planning afternoon picnics and slow walks, to continue our discussions on the romance of side-by-side stones, the incredible detail on the personal mausoleums, or the beauty of family legacy. 


Friday, September 9, 2011

Catching up on September

"Welcome to the future. Today's date is September 9, 2011. I know that, to you, only 3 weeks have gone by, but to the rest of the world, your last post was 4 months ago."

That, my friends, is the dialogue that just occurred when I sat down to write this post. Um, what? April 28th? My last post? I thought that during this time of transition for Brian and I, the whole rest of the world was put on hold just like we were. Apparently I was in a time warp. Sigh. that the pressure of 4 months of missing posts is all on this one, I'm unsure where to begin. Perhaps I will revert to my writing crutch: a bulleted list. 

1. April 29th, 2011: Brian and I flew from Beijing, China to our "home" in Orlando, after an incredible goodbye party thrown by none other than Greg Kaeuper. Set in the dappled shade of the Stone Boat in Ritan Park, we ate dumplings, speared marinated peanuts, drank chinese beer, and played the range of Chinese kids games for an entire, glorious afternoon. Friends from our offices, church, and elsewhere all gamely played badminton, hackysack, and some sort of game with a string and a double-sided orange top...and sent us off in grand fashion. (These were taken on our Diana Mini...not sure exactly what happened, but i think somewhere the film got stuck and started double exposing. I hated them at first, but the more I see them, the more I'm intrigued)

EDSA group
EDSA friends: Austin, Yan, and more
Nathan and his beautiful mom Bridget
the incredible Kristiana Leniart
Justin and Sadie Stone
Me, Sadie + Me and the always-lovely Ariane Brault
Small group! Kelsey, Melissa, Maria, and Ryan + The poker fiends: Dana and Tom Zemke
having fun...and looking really cool
Maria and Melissa
Yan. Coolest girl in school.
Gordon, Kristiana
Ashton, Tracy (Guo Xiaoying)
The Russian Princess Marina, all-around cool guy Stephen
The best Tawainese ever: Tiger and Jenny
the one, the only: Greg Kaeuper (and stephen trying to do the double-top thing....and failing)
Jenny succeeding at the double-top and string game
Brian....dubious success.
absolutely gorgeous afternoon

2. In the above statement, "home" is in quotes because all of our belongings were still in storage from the previous August and we had given up our apartment in Lake Eola Heights. To our rescue, however, were Kristina and Justin Miller, who allowed us to completely crash their new home and stay with them for 3 months. 

3. Brian and I both worked at our respective companies through June, finished projects, were hosted by wonderful and gracious people for welcome back/goodbye dinners, and attended lots of weddings. 

4. Then came 3 weeks off, in which we spent loads of time with our loved family members, eating incredible food, laughing, adventuring, and Florida, Minnesota, and Texas. 
Camping in the Boundary Waters & Quetico
Brian did really well in not yelling at me.
cooking delicious food for my parents' 30th wedding anniversary

saw some incredible art in Houston
hung out with family

5. Road trip. Brian and I have decided to move to the Bay Area of California in order for Brian to get his masters in Urban Design from UC Berkeley. We're so excited. So we took 4 days, piled our little Toyota Corolla high with suitcases, dog treats, and Hanna and ventured cross country. We saw the Grand Canyon, cruised the Las Vegas Strip, and regaled one another with facts about Albuquerque. 

6. Now, we're here! We settled in the Piedmont area of Oakland, California and are absolutely loving it. There is so much to see, do, and experience in short reach. We've got great shops, grocery stores, and amazing fish tacos all within walking distance and San Francisco is only a short BART jaunt away. I'm so looking forward to sharing our new adventures with all of you!

San Francisco Bay