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fabulous fungi

What I got him for Christmas: Spending yesterday on the Sonoma Coast, on a private mushroom foray led by the president of the Mycological Society of San Francisco. (Followed by a cookout featuring our spoils.)

I didn't grow up an outdoors girl. My parents hated dirt. I hardly ever played outside, much less tramped through the woods in search of mushrooms, both edible and otherwise. So yesterday was so much fun for me. Salt Point is absolutely gorgeous (imagine walking under pines and oaks while listening to the ocean crash beneath the cliffs behind you). And mushrooming is fantastic -- it's like going to an antique fair or a flea market or even Ross Dress for Less in search of a fabulous treasure, only the treasure is edible and there's an element of risk; if you misidentify it and eat the wrong one, you could have serious gastrointestinal problems or even poison your liver and die.

Luckily, we had no problem finding edibles. The woods were full of candycap mushrooms (see the photo above), which smell like maple syrup when you're cooking them and taste wonderful -- who would've thought mushrooms could be sweet? Candycaps can also be dried and used to make desserts, like candycap mushroom cookies and candycap mushroom ice cream.

We also found some yellowfoot mushrooms, which are a type of chanterelle that is only just now starting to appear in the woods. (So proud to say I was the first person to spot them -- and they are super-tiny and hard to see!) We only found enough for maybe one serving, but we cooked them up anyway. They were very mild, especially in comparison to the candycap.

And we found some boletes as well. These are pretty crazy-looking. If our guide hadn't been with us, I probably would've dismissed these as totally inedible and possibly even dangerous. Instead of gills under their caps, boletes have a sponge-like flesh. We found one that actually bruised blue when you touched the sponge. (Never seen anything like this in my life -- the colors were amazing.) Our guide told us boletes are one of the "unsung edibles" of the mushroom world. He sauteed one up for us with butter and sea salt, and it was pretty good -- a strange, slightly slimy, custardy texture, but still tasty.

Of course, we also found our share of inedible and even dangerous mushrooms, like red amanitas (the ones that look like Smurf houses), which are beautiful to look at but which contain toxins. We also came across false chanterelles (which are a distinct gold color and have real gills as compared to real chanterelles, which have false gills).

So much information for one day ... and still so much to learn! Mushroom-hunting is something we definitely want to do again.

wine and basketball

Remember when basketball players were heroes and there were no scandalous court cases and egos were kept in check and you wore your Lakers 3-Peat shirt with pride? (Man, I loved Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.)

I'm not going to pretend I know a lot about basketball. I don't even watch it anymore. And I'm not exactly the biggest sports fan. But it does seem to me that things have changed, and the game is showier now, less "gentlemanly" -- kind of like the way many of today's wines are: big, brash, muscular, in-your-face.

So it's interesting that Larry Bird has a wine. Called Legends, the wine is a collaboration with Cosentino. And it has a basketball on the label. I picked up a bottle of the Legends 2004 Merlot at the last Merlot in May tasting. (It's like this unspoken rule that after a tasting is done, whoever is pouring can trade any leftover wine with another winery. Cosentino traded us for a bottle of our 03 Merlot, and I ended up taking home the Legends.)

I wasn't sure what to expect. Would this be a huge, alcoholic fruit bomb? Or something entirely different? Would the wine even be good, or are people just riding on Larry Bird's name for sales? I mean, what kind of wine does Larry Bird even like to drink?

We opened it last night with dinner. Immediately, I got lots of strawberry on the nose. In the mouth, the wine was fairly light-bodied, much lighter than I would expect from Merlot, which led me to believe that it was made to be more of an "elegant" type of wine rather than a huge red monster (alcohol was only 13.5 percent, which was nice). Unfortunately, I probably should've waited at least another year to drink the Legends, or used a decanter (both of mine need a serious cleaning) because it was very, very young and still very tight. (We haven't even released our 04 Merlot yet, so I'm surprised that this wine was already available last May.) Also, I wanted a longer finish than I got and a tad more complexity. Still, it was decent. And I had fun tasting it. And that's what really counts, right?


I figured out the truth about Santa Claus when my dad told me that Santa isn't the fat, bearded man in all the pictures. "No," my dad said. "He's really a skinny Filipino guy."

finally, I can spill it

It is absolutely lovely when two of your best friends get engaged, when they are giddy and kissing and holding hands at the table. This is how they must have been when they first met, you think.

You knew it was coming for at least a week beforehand. You were told to keep it a secret. You thought maybe you would explode. But you didn't. And it happened. And you feel like, somehow, you were involved, you were an accomplice.

My co-worker thinks a Christmas proposal is silly. She says it's routine, everyone expects it.

But I disagree. Because of the lights. And this city. And the way we surround ourselves this time of year: Tonight, I will put on my red coat and sit at a table with my family. Maybe we will talk about this year, what we did and didn't do. Maybe we will make plans for what comes next. Or maybe we will just be, and savor.

food coma

The past few days have been a feeding frenzy.

First, Terzo on Monday. Then Tuesday was Project Open Hand's Hand to Hand luncheon, which our winery sponsors every year and which featured dishes from the chefs of Greens, One Market, Americano and Ana Mandara, among others. (My favorite course was dessert. The pumpkin bread pudding from Loan Co of the San Francisco Marriott was unbelievable. I didn't want it to end.)

And if lunch wasn't decadent enough, Jessa and I went to 415 for our gifty-gifty exchange that night. (We had orginally planned on dinner at Osteria, but the restaurant is the size of a shoebox, and I was told -- rather coldly -- that the wait would be an hour since we didn't have reservations.) This was our first time at 415. The restaurant is pretty new, and it's sort of a weird idea -- Asian fusion in a primarily Jewish neighborhood. We ordered edamame, a spicy hamachi roll, something called the Red Dragon (which was extremely, extremely spicy -- like if you ate your lip-plumper and it made your entire mouth swell up), a side of snow peas and fondue for dessert (yes, fondue at an Asian restaurant -- I told you it was strange). And our server was awkward. Very awkward. He saw we were exchanging gifts, so his opening line to us was: "Can I offer you the gift of cocktails to start?" Oh, man. Honestly -- glad we checked it out, but not sure how long this place will be around.

Then there was yesterday. We had our marketing team off-site meeting at the Carneros Inn, which is amazing -- and if I ever have $400 to spare, I would love to spend the night in one of their cottages. Our team had lunch at Farm, the inn's brand-spanking new restaurant that has been getting rave reviews and is nothing short of spectacular (yes, even for lunch). The menu is seasonal and ingredients are locally sourced. I really wanted to order a full-on three-course meal, but I was afraid of looking like a complete pig in front of my co-workers, so I settled for two appetizers instead: the butternut squash soup with apples, chanterelle mushrooms and fried sage; and the tuna tartare with housemade Yukon Gold potato chips (which turned out to be the best chips I have ever eaten in my life). All of us also split a wood-oven pizza and a dessert.

For dinner last night, I was off to Frisson to meet some girls from college -- people I haven't seen or really even talked to (or thought about) in a very long time. The meal was sort of like the conversation: showy, but not terribly memorable. I don't like being reminded of why my past life is my past life. And I don't like servers who try to make you feel guilty for not ordering appetizers and a bottle of wine for the table.

Of course, the mass consumption isn't over yet. Tonight, we are meeting friends at my my favorite restaurant, which sadly, is closing after the New Year because the landlord has raised rent. They're looking for a new location; I want to suggest the vacant apartment across from ours, but somehow, I don't think that will work. Anyway, should be a good meal tonight. (Especially since we will also be celebrating some big, big news -- I'll spill all details tomorrow.)

And this weekend is huge, too. Family descends on Saturday. Food itinerary (yes, of course, there is a food itinerary) includes the best sushi in the Bay Area and what is arguably one of the top three restaurants in San Francisco. My mouth is watering just thinking about this.

Here's to elastic-waisted pants!


Best way to celebrate a secular holiday and the satisfaction of obtaining your Level 1 graduation g-string: A glass of AlbariƱo paired with sea bass (topped with a sun-dried tomato tapenade and served over garbanzo beans).

Jenn and I went to Terzo last night after class to exchange gifts. We were the last table -- scurried in just after 10 p.m. (and giggling, of course, when our server asked us where we had just come from). All the tables had been cleared off, and the staff was already settling in at the bar and opening bottles of bubbly and other goodies (I assumed it was an educational tasting because they had flights going -- I love that drinking is "educational"). We tried to put in our order as fast as we could so the kitchen could close up. (I waited tables for two years, and there's nothing worse than the party that comes in at the very end of the night and lingers until midnight and totally ignores the fact that no one else is in the restaurant.)

The food was good. The wine was crisp and dry and reminded me of apples. And our server felt bad about rushing us, so he kept refilling our glasses, "on the house." Cheers to that!

they're upon us

Full-blown: It's holiday time. Three parties this past weekend, including the work luncheon (mags of 2000 Stags Leap District Cab at every table -- yum) and the sweater soiree (where he glowed and won the prize for "#1 Sweater").

We have no time for anything. I haven't finished my shopping. There are friends in town this week. And family on the way. There are events and obligations and the exchanging of "little somethings." There is so much planning and scheduling. We've had to postpone our own Christmas until next week, when all of this is over. I'm worried that what I ordered online still won't have arrived by then.

It feels different, this year. Actually, I am exhausted. And I kind of wish it was done.

today I envy

... everyone who works from home or is on vacation or lives in a place where the clouds haven't burst. I envy those who have dry pant legs, dry shoes and dry socks, who don't smell like wet dogs. I envy those who have garages, who don't have to trek for blocks in rain and wind sans umbrella to get to their car because PG&E has put no-parking signs up in front of their apartment.

it only looks uncomfortable

The truth is, he loves it.

Kind of like me and stress. Today: My boss sends an e-mail at exactly 11:35 a.m., but I don't get it until 11:48 a.m. because I am tasting Merlot to confirm that this article is completely nuts and there's no way Napa River or even Franciscan makes better Merlot than we do. (I am correct. The Napa River is too light-bodied and "worked with," and the Franciscan is much too oaky and alcoholic. My conclusion: The Wines & Vines tasting panel must have all had serious sinus infections/bad colds/allergies when they tasted these wines.)

When I open my boss's e-mail, I realize I have to speak at the board of directors meeting next week. It's a last-minute request from one of the board members, who wants to hear all about our PR highlights for 2006, as well as my plan for 2007. I freak out for about two seconds. And then I start to work. I've been going back and forth all afternoon between Powerpoint (for visuals), Excel (for stats) and Word (for my handout) to create my presentation. I am tired now. I am sick of pie charts. I feel like I am going blind from staring at the computer (and yet I am still staring at the computer -- I am a masochist).

And yet there's something strangely exciting about seeing all the numbers and all the results and all the pitches I've done over the past year, all laid out in front of me. And it feels kind of good to be given the opportunity to talk about them. And to bring up the things I feel will be challenges for the next year.

And the truth is, I just really love deadlines.

of love and stuff

Jenn is planning her honeymoon. She keeps sending me links with photos of beautiful resorts in the Caribbean, and now I am distracted and want something far away and exotic.

But right now, I will have to settle for leftovers from last night's dinner, a fundraiser for TNDC at Maharani. This is a restaurant that pitches itself as one of the most romantic places in San Francisco. Clinging (too tightly) to this theme, the Web site actually has love poems written by the restaurant's owner, J. Kapur. Click on the "Poetry" link only if you want to make yourself cringe.

And the lovey-dovey theme doesn't stop there. Maharani also has something called the Fantasy Room, where each table is curtained off with beads and has a dimmer switch and a service button (no servers come unless you hit the button) for maximum privacy. One reviewer on Yelp said his girlfriend "surrendered her V card" after an evening in the Fantasy Room. Classy. There's nothing better than having your boyfriend announce the loss of your virginity to millions of people online.

We did not dine in the Fantasy Room. There were 11 of us, so we ate in the main room. I ordered the Vegan Dinner -- roasted papadums and a salad with mango dressing to start and dal and saag with rice and naan for my main course. Then I cheated and upgraded from the fresh fruit that normally comes with the meal to the Mango Melba Dream Cloud, which is mango ice cream (so much for the vegan thing), gulab jamun and shaved pistachios. (Freaking amazing -- the photo above doesn't do it justice.)

The food was good (leftovers, also good). But was it V card good? Eh. If I had to do it over again, this would seal the deal.

all aboard

I'm embarrassed to say this, but up until last Friday, I had never experienced the Napa Valley Wine Train. Yes, the Wine Train is an extremely touristy thing to do (it is exactly the kind of outing my parents would love), but I feel like it's something everyone does when they visit Napa.

Luckily, we were the featured winery in the Wine Train's Vista Dome Vintners Luncheon series last week, so I got to ride the train for work. (My co-worker, who had also never been on the Wine Train before, and I kept joking about losing our Wine Train virginity.)

The trip takes about three hours -- you leave the station in Napa, chug up the valley (parallel to Highway 29 -- I got to see Mustards' backside -- heehee), turn around in St. Helena and then head home. All the while, you're treated to a multi-course lunch, courtesy of redheaded chef Kelly Macdonald, who makes melt-in-your-mouth veal (see my photo above) and goes from table to table, chatting with guests, during the meal. And you're also drinking a lot of wine, which makes it even harder to navigate the already-rocking railcars. (I actually had to tell our server to stop refilling my glass.)

All in all, it was a fun experience. Although I do have to say the trip would've been cooler if the train actually stopped somewhere -- like at a winery. Or even just let people walk around St. Helena for a little bit.

But then again, maybe releasing a train full of tipsy tourists isn't exactly the best idea. (Yikes. Cringe.)

comfort food

Sometimes, when I come home, there is a fire in the fireplace. One night, there is pizza from our favorite pizza place; another night, he makes roasted carrots and beets, sauteed mushrooms and bok choy in a soy-ginger sauce, garlic mashed potatoes. We drink 2003 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir; it reminds me of ripe red cherries.

These days are better than good.