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counting down

Two hours until our New Year's Eve dinner, a Southern-themed extravaganza featuring a collaborative effort from our kitchen, Whit and Derek's, and Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits. We'll have black-eyed peas, collared greens, cornbread (which Todd is making now), fried pickles, mashed potatoes and Popeye's fried chicken goodness (or badness -- you decide).

And of course, cupcakes.

I spent a good portion of the afternoon testing out a recipe for chocolate cupcakes from Elinor Klivans' book, which was a Christmas gift from Carisa. My plan was to make the chocolate sour cream cupcakes, fill them with a chocolate espresso custard and then top them with mocha buttercream frosting. I didn't think it would be too hard.

But apparently I have the magic touch and turned a fairly simple, straightforward recipe into something bizarre and complicated. The batter came out extremely fluffy, like chocolate mousse, and the cupcakes didn't rise very high. And then I took the first batch out too early, so I ended up with six mini chocolate lava cakes instead of cupcakes. (They tasted fabulous, though!)

I adjusted the cooking time for the remaining cupcakes, which turned out to be delicious, but again, didn't rise very high. So I scrapped the chocolate filling idea because I was worried that cutting holes in cupcakes that were already smaller than expected would turn out to be a disaster. And I nixed the mocha buttercream plan, too, because the cupcakes just didn't look like "normal" cupcakes.

Instead, I decided to make caramel, drizzle it on the cupcakes and then add a teeny-tiny pinch of sea salt (because to me, nothing is more wonderful than that salty-sweet combo).

After wrestling with the caramel -- such a challenge, since it kept cooling and getting stringy and then I'd have to heat it up again -- I finally finished my project. I'm fairly pleased with the results. The cupcakes are moist and have a nice texture, and the caramel and salt add a little something.

Of course, the real verdict comes tonight. OK -- now to take a shower and finish getting ready! Happy New Year!

first stop

I arrived in L.A. yesterday. The weather was sunny with only the very slightest winter chill (I actually felt silly with a coat). There were no lines at the rental car pickup.

And right next to the airport was a brand-spanking-new Del Taco.

I could almost hear the choirs of angels singing as I went through the drive-through.

seeking sol

Since I can't seem to click my heels together the right number of times or pick the winning Lotto numbers to magically transport myself to a tropical island, I went for the next best thing: Sol Food.

This Puerto Rican restaurant is a favorite -- so popular, in fact, that there are two locations within blocks of each other in downtown San Rafael. (Kind of like Del Taco in Costa Mesa, only not.)

I ended up sitting at a community table next to some former hippies (after all, this was San Rafael). In front of me was a plate heaping with thinly-sliced bistec encebollado, rice and pink beans, two kinds of plantains and some salad. And there was also a jar (yes, a jar!) of limeade.

It was very nice. Not the tropics, but still very nice.

the christmas burrito

While others dined on turkey and ham and pies and puddings, we discovered the Taqueria Santa Cruz taco truck.

Feliz Navidad indeed. This was the best burrito I've had since I moved to Petaluma!


Usually, 95 percent of the time, Christmas is my favorite holiday. But this year, it feels like just another item to check off on the never-ending to-do list.

There was no time or space to put up a tree, not even our teeny-tiny fake one that comes with all of its ornaments and a tree skirt. In fact, we are so behind that we still have mini pumpkins on the front porch. It's like we're permanently stuck in Thanksgivingland.

And then there was the shopping -- or lack thereof. I tried to order everything online, which worked, except that Todd's present is lost somewhere in cyberspace. I don't think it's shipped yet, and I ordered it two weeks ago. And apparently I can't even make an official complaint until Monday because I have to wait until after 15 days before I can contact customer service.

And Christmas cards -- usually a tradition that I enjoy -- may end up being more like New Year's cards. Possibly even Martin Luther King, Jr., Day cards.

And I had all of these plans for holiday baking. But how to find time to make food when last night's dinner consisted of a box full of leftover fries from the marketing team lunch on Thursday?

I desperately need an eggnog latte to cheer me up.

the unveiling

Here's to a great grand opening for Tillerman! (And Taoist priests with great shoes!)

The event went really well. Plenty of people showed up to check out the new tea shop and the Oxbow Public Market. (Oxbow is partially open now, but it may take awhile before the entire market is up and running; it's still missing a few tenants. But when things come together, Oxbow will be like the North Bay's version of the Ferry Plaza, a.k.a. foodie heaven. I can't wait.) Photogs from the Chron and the Register took lots of shots of the cleansing ceremony, people loved the tea (I am now officially a big fan of pu'erh, by the way) and the dim sum snacks were a hit for dim sum-deprived Napans. (I can't even tell you how many people asked me where the food came from and then shared their stories about making road trips to San Francisco just for Chinese food.)

But the best part was catching up with people I hadn't seen in awhile. The former VP of sales at Clos Du Val was there -- I think it's been about a year since I saw her. She looks fabulous! And Jessa and Matt went, too. (There was lots of reminiscing about our old impromptu parties -- man, I miss those days.)

The mini-reunion made me realize how much I've been working lately -- and how I've hardly seen so many of my friends because of it. Yikes. I know it's early for resolutions, but note to self: Make more time to see people!

learn more, want more

This is the photo I took in late October of the brand-spanking-new tea shop I am doing the PR for. (Yes, in addition to my full-time job at the winery.)

I'm really hoping it doesn't look like this anymore because the grand opening (complete with traditional Chinese cleansing ceremony) is tomorrow.

It's definitely challenging to launch a company. New businesses always involve a level of risk, and there's so much education involved -- not just for consumers and media, but also for the people launching the company. Up until I started working with Tillerman Tea, I pretty much knew zilch about the beverage except that you pour hot water over it and that for some reason, green tea seems to make me get well faster whenever I have a cold.

But now it's like a whole new world has opened for me. I've been reading a book called All the Tea in China, so I can get some background on the subject. (If you want to learn about tea, this is a great reference!) I am now dying to try Pu'erh, an aged and fermented tea, that apparently works wonders for the digestive system.

Funny how learning about something makes you want more than what you already have, though. I've experienced the same thing with wine -- before, I would've been perfectly happy with a non-vintage late-harvest Muscat from California for dessert. And then I met Sauternes, and worse, Yquem. How am I supposed to go back now? Same thing with coffee -- after Todd started roasting his own beans and brewing one cup at a time, the thin, woody coffee at work feels like an insult.

And now it's happening with tea. I'm realizing that most of the tea I have here at home should probably just be tossed in the compost heap. Tea has a shelf life -- in fact, I've heard green tea should be consumed within six months of harvest -- so most of the tea at the store and in restaurants is probably way past its prime: Old, dead, lacking in true flavor.

The more I know, the more I want.

Blame it all on that biblical first apple: I bet that was the best freaking apple in the history of the world. The right balance of sweet and tart and crisp. So good it was terrifying and inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time.

Worth risking paradise for another bite.


This is Mari's holiday dress.

(It's also possible that she may kill me in my sleep tonight.)

six minutes of fame

Had my "big TV debut" today -- I did a segment on Australian sparkling wine on "The View From the Bay," a daytime talkshow based out of the San Francisco ABC station.

I can't even tell you how nervous I was. So much preparation went into this. The producer wanted three sparkling wines, and the wineries I represent only have two, so I had to track down a third -- and then learn all about it. (Crash course in sparkling Shiraz!)

I also made a list of all the potential questions I could think of and made sure I knew the answers. I even looked up Australian geography and how to properly pronounce Melbourne ("Mel-burn," not "Mel-born").

Basically, I felt like my head was spinning.

The nerves were so bad that I could barely sleep last night. I kept waking up in a panic, thinking: Oh my god, will they ask me to explain the secondary fermentation process?

Luckily, I was able to calm down by the time I got to the studio. And the whole experience turned out to be a lot of fun. (I adore Spencer Christian -- I remember watching him on "Good Morning America" when I was growing up. He is an incredibly nice guy -- one of my favorite media contacts. Doing the segment actually felt a lot like I was just hanging out with friends and talking about wine.)

Anyway, here's the segment in case you want to check it out. (And by the way, behind that counter, I am wearing stilettos and standing on a box, yet I am still ridiculously short compared to everyone else!)

booby prize

This is the "prize" that goes to the last place wine at our tasting group meetings. (It's also known as "vag-wine-a." For real.)

And tonight, our wine very much deserved the honors.

The theme for the evening was "Bargain Bordeaux Under $25." We brought a bottle of Château Les Ancres 2000 that I bought from Garagiste, my go-to wine retailer, almost two years ago. According to them, the wine arrived in "impeccable provenance" and was stored in "ideal conditions" until shipping. And when we got it here, it went straight into the wine refrigerator. So as far as I know, there were no storage or temperature problems.

And yet the wine -- which is only 7 years old -- was showing major evaporation. The fill level was at the top shoulder of the bottle (this is the part just below the neck, where the bottle starts to widen). For a wine that's 10 years old or older, the top shoulder is fine. But for a 2000, it's a little strange -- like this wine is ageing at superspeed. There was also a ton of sediment in the bottle -- looked like the inside had been coated in tar.

I should've taken this as a warning sign, but I brought the bottle to the tasting group anyway. Man, it was not good. Not good at all. It smelled like cough syrup, and the taste was bizarre -- like a combination of overripe (prunes, raisins) and underripe (green, vegetal).

Our group ranked it last. (Although I have to admit I ranked it second-to-last because there was another wine -- the Château Brandey 2006 -- that I just didn't like at all -- tutti-frutti flavors, too much wood, no finish.)

Overall, this tasting was tough. Seemed like there was a lot of flawed wine. Here are my rankings and notes:

1. Château Falfas 2004: To me, the most complex of the group. Pretty nose of berry, vanilla and clove with a hint of green pepper. Voluptuous mouthfeel, good tannin. Slightly young, but to me, definitely drinkable. I would order this in a restaurant.

2. Château Loudenne 2001: At first, I thought this wine was a little too barnyardy, even for my taste (and I tend to like poopy wines). But I ended up liking it better than the other wines we tasted. I wouldn't say it was very Bordeaux-like, though -- more like a Pinotage.

3. Château Lestrille-Capmartin 2003: A light-bodied wine, but balanced with bright cherry and spice flavors. This was the group's favorite wine. I liked it, too, but I thought the Falfas was more interesting and I have a soft spot for the flavor profile of the Loudenne, so I ranked those two higher.

4. Château Faure-Beauséjour 2003: An OK wine (and a lot of people voted it first in the tasting), but for me, too much wood and too much vanilla. Not enough complexity.

5. Château Peyraud 2005: At first, I really liked this wine and thought it was going to be one of my favorites. But when I tasted it a second time, I found something really off-putting in the finish -- something slightly bitter.

6. Château Les Ancres 2000: See my notes above.

7. Château de Brandey 2006: Like jungle juice.

fire up the stove, get fat

Also known as How I Keep Warm When It's Ridiculously Cold Out.

Today was chilly, overcast and all-around ugly, so I stayed indoors and made a ridiculous amount of food. Sautéed chard (so pretty, so colorful!). Pot roast. Gingery cauliflower soup. Fried rice with sausage.

I couldn't stop.


I don't know what it is. Maybe the wrestling with the electric hand mixer. Or the way the batter looks when it's reached ideal consistency. Or the sight of those little cakes in the oven -- like soft, happy pillows peeking out over the edge of the pan.

Whatever it is, I can't stop baking cupcakes. I fantasize about it during the week. What flavor am I going to make this weekend? I wonder if there's a recipe for [insert random ingredient here] cupcakes. I am thinking about putting the cupcake courier on my Christmas wish list, second only to the pink Kitchen Aid stand mixer. (This mixer makes me drool. I like to go to cooking supply stores and touch it. I have done this several times.)

Today, the marriage of two things I am completely obsessed with at the moment: Cupcakes and egg nog.

Hence Egg Nog Cupcakes with Bourbon Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting.

This recipe presented several things I have never done before in the kitchen: Cooking with bourbon (and rum -- the recipe actually calls for both), making caramel and adding filling to cupcakes.

Everything turned out pretty damn well, though. The cupcakes have this gorgeous, extremely fluffy texture -- almost like a sponge cake, which makes it really easy to eat too many of them. They're so light that you don't even notice you're stuffing your face. (I'm wondering if the texture is the result of the egg nog since egg nog already has a lot of egg in it initially.) And the bourbon and rum in the actual cupcakes isn't overwhelming. (I was worried about this, since just smelling the rum brought back bad memories and kind of made me want to barf.)

However, the caramel sauce turned out to be a different story. The bourbon was almost overpowering. This was toned down quite a bit when I combined the caramel with the cream cheese and butter to make the frosting, but I wouldn't recommend eating the caramel on its own. (Too bad, since the recipe suggested drizzling any leftover caramel over the frosted cupcakes. That probably would've made them look very pretty, but there was no way I was going to do that; the bourbon was way too strong.) I think if I make these again, I might take the bourbon down to 1.5 tablespoons or even just 1 tablespoon.

Stuffing the cupcakes was fine, too, although I did mangle the first cupcake pretty badly. (Thank goodness for frosting to cover it up!) Making the custard was really similar to the way you make custard for ice cream. The only tricky thing was that this custard cooked really, really quickly (again, I suspect this is because of the egg nog). I had to move fast and use a strainer to get any lumps out.

One final note: I dusted my cupcakes with nutmeg after I frosted them. I think it added a little sumthin'-sumthin', plus everyone knows egg nog and nutmeg are a match made in heaven.

Here's to the first day of December -- and Christmas just around the corner!

early present?

The Chron's Top 100 wine list leaked out this morning. It was posted online before the print version hit newsstands. As a result, Wine Business Daily News picked up the link and sent it to hundreds (maybe thousands?) of subscribers.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to see the list before someone at the Chronicle caught the error and pulled it off the site. But from what I hear from the folks who did sneak a peek, our flagship wine made the cut!

So excited!

the downside of food

Spent Thanksgiving in a cabin near Bass Lake. Dinner included 37 people, two turkeys, 10 pies, nine salads, three kinds of stuffing, one bowl of fluorescent green pickles, an entire table full of wine, seven dips for crackers, chips or bread, one gigantic piece of cheese with a green rind, many tiny strips of bear jerky and plenty of coffee to fight off the tryptophan.

And one bathroom connected to a septic system that doesn't work very well.

So the the Big Oak was invited to join the festivities.


My mother took a cake decorating class when we lived in Georgia. I was 4 or 5 years old. She had a set of frosting tips -- so many of them, all different, in a plastic box that snapped shut. I took them out one by one and studied the shapes. Star. Circle. Daisy.

She leveled measuring cups with a butter knife. She let me sift the flour. I still enjoy the sound of tiny granules scraping against steel. Once, for my birthday, she made a cake shaped like Mickey Mouse.

Strange, the things that come back when you are in the kitchen. I baked again today, made my Thanksgiving batch of red velvet cupcakes. We are leaving tonight.

... and try again.

Spent the past week rethinking my cupcake strategy and pinpointing where I went wrong with my previous red velvet attempt.

I tried the recipe again today. This time, I used food coloring paste instead of liquid food coloring. And instead of doubling the amount of cocoa like I did last time, I kept it at 1/4 cup. And I added vanilla bean to the cream cheese frosting, which gave it a more complex flavor and also resulted in prettier cupcakes. (In my previous attempt, I was so frustrated by the fact that my cupcakes weren't red that I forgot about the vanilla bean.) And I bought a real pastry bag and a large decorating tip.

The end result: Gorgeous, gorgeous cupcakes. And they taste good, too. Not too sweet, but not as spicy as last time, probably because I used less cocoa. And I love the addition of the vanilla bean.

I'm now planning to make a batch for Thanksgiving dessert.

in the raw

I can’t believe I ate this.

I know steak tartare is considered a delicacy. I also know that the friend who prepared it at last night’s dinner party went out of his way to get extremely fresh, super high-end grass-fed beef. And I know he ground it himself in his kitchen just minutes before putting it on the plate.

And it was damn good.

But I still can’t believe I ate a big patty of raw beef drenched in a whole lot of raw egg.

And that I am still alive right now.

(not) seeing red

Given that this blog is called "petit gâteau," you would think I was a hardcore baker.

Ha! And double ha!

Right now, I am in my kitchen, attempting to make chocolate red velvet cupcakes for the very first time. After doing some research, much of which was disappointing (I almost cried when I saw that the red velvet cake recipe in the mid-October issue of Southern Living magazine calls for boxed cake mix -- so much for authenticity), I decided to go with this blogger's recipe.

I followed it word for word, even going to two grocery stores in search of cake flour. (How is it that Whole Foods carries every single kind of flour there is -- even masa harina, pastry flour and the gluten-free stuff -- but no cake flour?) I also took note of Mz. Chockylit's comment that if she made these cupcakes again, she would add more cocoa. And I added more cocoa.

The only thing I didn't do was the red food coloring paste. Instead, I went with the liquid stuff.

Big mistake.

Even though I used the entire 2 oz. bottle of food coloring, my cupcakes are not even the remotest shade of red. There's not even a hint of scarlet to them whatsoever.

If pressed, I would describe the color as poo brown.

jack and co.

I hope we get trick-or-treaters.

night out in napa

Went out with some co-workers tonight. Started with bubbles at the lounge at Domaine Chandon. This place is pretty cool -- from 6 to 7 p.m., all bubbly is half off, which means I got a glass of the étoile rosé for $9 instead of $18. Other bonus points: Chandon is one of the few places that actually stays open late (10 p.m. is late for the Napa Valley). And one of the few places in the Valley where you can actually dance.

Because apparently Napa has a "no dancing" rule. There's some kind of city ordinance forbidding nightclubs. And by nightclub, they mean any place within city limits that has a dance floor. (Chandon is not in Napa proper -- it's actually in Yountville, just north of Napa.)

So no dancing at the Trancas Steakhouse, which is where we went after Domaine Chandon (and where the awesome sign in the photo can be found). Instead, there were salads (it was girls' night out) and a round of cocktails bought by the owner of the restaurant (who also took our pictures so now there's a good chance our faces may end up on the wall of the restaurant) and -- you guessed it -- karaoke.

Luckily, we left before anyone fed me enough drinks to convince me to get up there and sing "I Touch Myself."

breakfast for dinner

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I love the egg-based dishes and the toast and the bubbly.

So I was thrilled last night when he made breakfast for dinner. Perfectly poached eggs over fried green tomatoes. Fresh, homemade hollandaise on top. A side of potatoes with Pimientos de Padrón mixed in. Crispy bacon. A glass of Clautiere Vineyard 2005 Estate Roussanne.

I heart food.


Our Australian sister brand is on Wine & Spirits' Top 100 list this year, so we poured at the Top 100 tasting Wednesday.

It was my first time at this tasting. I knew going in that I would be surrounded by greatness: The wineries selected for the Top 100 list consistently received high scores from the W&S tasting panel during the past year. But I had no idea how amazing this tasting would be.

First off, everyone was there: The entire W&S staff (Peter Liem -- who is one of the best-dressed men I have ever met, by the way -- actually showed me to my table), the Chronicle wine editor and his girlfriend (who is also a journalist and knows quite a bit about wine), the most widely read wine blogger, tons of wine buyers from all over the Bay Area, etc. And of course, many fellow winery folks. Even Roman Bratasiuk, famed winemaker for Clarendon Hills (I've seen him described as one of the world's best winemakers in several publications), came all the way from Australia.

And then there were the wines. Let me give you an example of how amazing this tasting was: I began with the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin 1985 Champagne Brut Rare Vintage Rosé. It was tarter than expected, but I still enjoyed it.

I tasted numerous wines -- E. Guigal, Shafer, Penfolds, practically everything in the Pinot room (Flowers, Raptor Ridge, Williams Seylem, Domaine Serene, etc.), a few Italian wines (Ceretto and Schiopetto), even some sherry. My favorites from the tasting:

Peay Vineyards: I tried these wines at the insistence of my boss. "If you don't try anything else here, you need to taste those wines," she said. So I did. And wow. They were pouring four wines, and my favorite was the 2004 Chardonnay. Hands-down superb -- it had this wonderful toasty note (like really good pie crust maybe?), but still had excellent acidity and crisp, clean fruit. And all of these flavors were melded together in a way that was delicate but not fragile. And the finish went on and on. Man. I signed up for their mailing list the next day. (Side note: Another thing that makes Peay awesome is the fact that the winemaker is a woman. An Asian woman.)

Ridge Vineyards: I have always loved Ridge. They make Cabs in the style that I enjoy: Elegant, balanced wines that don't leave your mouth burning with a hot alcohol feeling after you swallow, making it impossible for you to taste anything else afterwards. (This style is actually getting harder and harder to come by with California Cabs. Everyone seems to think bigger is better, but for me, that's not always the case. I like wine that tastes like wine; if I wanted a cocktail, I'd order one.) Anyway, the Ridge 2003 Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon was exactly what I think a good Cab should taste like. It was a rich wine, but I didn't feel like someone had punched me in the face. Also, the Ridge 2004 Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello Chardonnay was beautiful, too. Basically, you can't go wrong with Ridge.

Aveleda: So this might seem a weird choice -- from California to Portugal, right? From $135 Cabernet to $6 Vinho Verde? But yes, I liked this wine. (And apparently, I'm not alone since it was part of this tasting.) The 2006 Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde was like summer in a bottle -- crisp, refreshing, slightly citrusy. And its big sister, the 2006 Vinho Verde Alvarinho was also tasty.

Telmo Rodriguez: And now to Spain. And also to dessert. (This is about where I discovered the "dessert lounge" at the tasting, where they were making cream puffs dipped in chocolate right before your very eyes. I immediately abandoned everything else. Luckily, next to the cream puffs, they were pouring several dessert wines, so my tasting quest was not totally forsaken.) The 2005 Malaga Molino Real Mountain Wine was a sweet white wine, different from anything I've had. The texture was totally new to me -- lighter-bodied, but sort of silky at the same time. It wasn't like a late-harvest wine, nor was it similar to a botrytis wine. I did some research, and it looks like this wine was made in the passito, or dried grape, method. Grapes are spread out on straw mats or trays and left in special rooms to dry, which results in concentration of sugar and flavors. Yum.

The Royal Tokaji Wine Company: And since we are on dessert, no dessert is complete without Tokaj. They were pouring the 1995 Tokaj Aszu 6 Puttonyos Mezes Maly and the 1996 Tokaj Aszu 6 Puttonyos Nyulaszo. Such a huge difference bewteen the two wines, but both were excellent. The 95 was so spicy -- definitely the more masculine of the two. Meanwhile, the 96 was softer, had more crème brûlée characteristics.

the fall

Spent the morning running around. Started with a 9 a.m. tasting for some Canadian writers, who were so friendly. I had met one of them before about a year ago when he tasted at Clos Du Val, and he actually remembered me and went out of his way to ask how things were going and catch up with me. This almost never happens. I feel like most writers are so focused on the wines and the work that there's little time for personal conversation. Also, most writers really don't care very much about the PR person. And rightly so, since the PR person really should be behind-the-scenes, not the center of attention when it comes to these tastings. After all, the PR person is not the winemaker. Well, at least, not usually.

Anyway, then it was off to Solage for a Napa Valley Vintners meeting. What a drive -- I took the Silverado Trail the whole way and it was grey and rainy and cold. Yet so unbelievably beautiful. For me, October and November are the best months in Napa. All the leaves on the vines are changing colors -- and there really is so much color! Reds and golds and oranges. And the way the mist looks when it comes up over the hills -- it's like scenery for a movie. (I wish I were a better photographer.)

Sometimes, I forget how beautiful the valley really is. But fall always reminds me. And then I remember the day I interviewed for this job: Driving through the gate to the winery and seeing the vines and the ivy-covered building and the hills rising up behind it and thinking, Yes. Here.

creature comfort

First, there was the Terrible Fast Food Breakfast Sandwich, which resulted in an eight-hour stomachache. Then, there was the Surprise Visit from the Chronicle photographer, who informed me that our tasting room will be reviewed in the Oct. 26 wine section. Naturally, this news made the already existing stomachache that much more fun, especially since I’ve heard horror stories about what happens internally at a winery that doesn’t get a good review. The photo session was followed shortly by the Sad News, which I not only had to write but also had to post. (Why is the Best Boss Ever leaving me? It feels like a break-up. I need a glass of something.)

How to deal? Watch videos of your Cat Doing Absolutely Nothing.

elevation, elation

You know a wine is really good when it makes your dinner taste better than it really is.

Case in point: We opened a bottle of 2001 C.H. Berres Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese with some China Dragon delivery Friday night. The food from this place is okay -- it's not bad -- but it's not knock-your-socks-off-you-no-longer-have-to-miss-San-Francisco good. (In fact, every time we've ordered something from the specials menu, we've ended up with a really bizarre dish that is hard to eat. The salt and pepper prawns are actually whole prawns -- shell, head, legs, eyes and all -- that look they've been slightly battered and then fried. Why would you batter the outside of the shrimp when it's still in its shell? Then there's the pork tenderloin, which is also battered and fried -- even though some of the meat is still on the bone but you can't tell until you bite into it. Anyway, you get the picture.)

Still, the pairing was absolutely perfect, with the slight sweetness of the Riesling nicely complementing the heat of the food.

Now I didn't research this Riesling before we chose it for dinner. This wine was something that had been in the wine refrigerator for awhile, and we also have another bottle downstairs in the garage (I hope). So we thought, Why not? After all, Rieslings typically go well with Asian food. And we were right, and the wine was beautiful. I tasted lots of peach and stone fruit, a teeny-tiny hint of petrol (not too much -- just a suggestion of it) and even some cardamom, believe it or not.

But as I was preparing to blog about the wine today and started to do a little background work, I discovered this was a really special bottle. Really special.

Here's a description from Garagiste (I bought the wine from them in 2005 for $19.99):

It would be one thing to find a new winery of significance -- it's another to find a non-interventionist, boutique producer like Berres that has managed to fashion a cache of the most pristinely stored and desireable bottles of crystalline German Riesling vintage after vintage -- all in near silence. This is a bastion of artisanal wine -- the clearest expression of the grape in each portion of soil. Only indigenous and native yeasts are used with a natural vinification process and the purest low-predikat results from each site. As a generalization, the wines are fresh as a breeze and light on their feet without the cloying, heavy sugar of their more famous neighbors such as Dr. Loosen.

Much of the quality stems from the vineyards around Ürzig, one of the only places in the Mosel without Phylloxera. As a result, the Berres vineyards are planted on their own rootstock without grafting to a disease resistant stock. This is extremely special as it is prohibited by law in other regions. There is much debate regarding natural "whole" vines vs. grafted examples of the same varietal but one cannot argue that the results of decades of vine age are in the bottle (Berres has 50+ year old vineyards – all on their own rootstock and they will not bottle wine from any vine younger than 15 years of age).

Indigenous yeasts? No Phylloxera? Old vines? Did I do something terribly sinful by drinking this wine with mediocre Chinese food while sitting in my pajamas and watching college football on TV?

Nah. I think it would've been worse if I hadn't opened the bottle!

old school

Seven years and you can barely remember east and west, up and down. So you drive around, slowly, until things begin to come back: First, that feeling in your stomach when you see the ocean on the horizon. Next, your old street, where you spent one Fourth of July lighting fireworks and trying not to wake the neighbors. Then, into the elevator -- which still smells like the catering company on the second floor -- and up to the office with its blue carpet and pale walls.

No one is there, but you remember a time when everyone was.

You spend all weekend driving, walking, making sure things are still in the old places.

There is the hill you hiked up and down so many times to get to the beach. The street where you crashed your car into a parked El Camino. The store with the salt water taffy. The Burger King you went to at least five times in two days because they were giving away free fries. The tattoo parlor where you paid the apprentice $30 to ink a bird that matched your boyfriend's. (Note to self: Apprentice + matching tattoo + only $30 = Not smart, on so many levels.)

There is the humanities building, the ferry, Del Taco. Tippecanoe's, Alta, Ring Road. The lifeguard tower, the Goat Hill Tavern, the wig shop.

Everything the same, everything different.

god bless the crock pot

Part of the reason we eat mostly vegetables and fish is because, well, we don't really know how to cook meat.

True, occasionally, we've had success with pork. Meatballs are always fun and not too difficult. And we spent a good portion of this past summer grilling up sausage in the backyard.

But we've never bought a steak or anything like that. I'm actually kind of terrified of cooking steak because I'm worried I'll spend lots of money on a nice cut and then totally screw it up and turn it into a piece of leather.

Still, I want to improve my cooking repertoire, so yesterday (my random day off), I attempted pot roast for the very first time. I figured I wouldn't be able to turn meat into leather if I used the slow cooker. So I went to the store and bought 3.49 pounds of bottom round (who names these cuts?) and plopped the entire thing in the crock pot. I covered it with Pinot, tomato sauce, Worcestershire, onions, garlic, tons of herbs and tapioca pearls (which apparently dissolve and thicken the gravy).

And then I left. Visited Todd at work. Helped out at the Kosta Browne sorting table. Tried to beg for my wine allocation (that's a story for another time). Went to the gym. Bought tickets to a bluegrass show.

And when I came home, the whole house smelled fantastic. I just stood in the kitchen and inhaled deeply.

And by 8 p.m., when we were ready for dinner, that meat just melted. I didn't even need a knife to pull it apart.

what the hell?

Sometimes, that is the question. Like when you turn around and realize: Hey, that's not a crock pot!

Or when you find yourself at the Halloween store looking for a crown and sceptre because Someone High Up at work wants to wear a costume for the annual grape stomp, which is Saturday.

And which is not a costume party.

"real tokyo style" in l.a.

In L.A. again and absolutely thrilled by last night's dining discovery: Sake House Miro. Susan and I went there for dinner -- it's a teeny-tiny restaurant on La Brea that's modeled after a Tokyo pub. (I wouldn't know if this is true since I was only 2 years old when I was in Tokyo and obviously not going to sake bars, but from what other people have said online, this place is pretty much dead-on.) The vibe is more neighborhoody than the usual L.A. see-and-be-seen. There are Japanese street signs on the walls, a pink vintage Japanese payphone and lots of Japanese magazines to read while you're waiting. The sake selection is awesome, you can get a huge (huge!) can of Asahi for only $4.50 and the food rocks.

We had some sushi (well, kind of -- I had tamago and she had a spicy tuna handroll, so we weren't that adventurous), the albacore sashimi carpaccio (you can see it in the photo above -- it came in a soy-garlic-sesame sauce of some kind -- delish), a plate of sizzling beef short ribs served over onions and a side of asparagus. And of course, a very nice, floral-ish sake to help it all go down.

I told Susan all she had to do was say the word and I would fly down from the Bay Area for this place any time.

last rosé of the season?

Gosh, I hope not. But the days are getting shorter and the bounty from our garden has slowed down and there's a 60 percent chance of rain tomorrow.


This wine is responsible for the nastiest hangover I've had in awhile. I should've known; it was a Cab that didn't taste even remotely like a Cab (no tannins whatsoever). Something must've been wrong -- especially since I shared the bottle with three other people and still got extremely drunk and woke up feeling queasy and like my head was going to explode.

there are names for people like me

Today at work I got a phonecall from a telemarketer who was trying to sell me some sort of long-distance plan specifically for calling the Philippines.

She had heard I was Filipino, which I guess made me a prime target for her sales pitch.

The conversation went something like this:

Telemarketer: Mee-ka-ella [this is basically how my mom pronounces my name when she's pissed off at me], are you at work right now?

Me: Yes. You're calling me on my work line.

Telemarketer: This is not your cell phone, Mee-ka-ella?

Me: No. This is a land line.

Telemarketer: blah blah something I couldn't understand about a calling plan and then ... Are you Filipino?

Me: Yes.

Telemarketer: Are you full Filipino? Your mom and your dad are both Filipino?

Me: Yes.

Telemarketer: Mee-ka-ella, do you understand Tagalog?

Me: Yes.

Telemarketer: I'm going to explain the plan to you in Tagalog.

Me: OK ... but I won't be able to talk back to you since I don't speak Tagalog.

Telemarketer: But you understand Tagalog?

Me: Yes, but I don't speak it. My parents talk to me in Tagalog, and I talk back in English.

Awkward pause. Telemarketer kind of laughs at me.

Telemarketer: Mee-ka-ella, have you been to the Philippines?

Me: No. Not since I was born. We moved when I was 2.

Another awkward pause.

Telemarketer: Mee-ka-ella, I have a calling plan so you can call your relatives in the Philippines. How often do you call the Philippines, Mee-ka-ella?

Me: Never. All of my relatives live here. All of my aunts and uncles [this is kind of a lie but I hate telemarketers] and even my grandmothers.

Telemarketer: Do you have any Filipino friends, Mee-ka-ella?

Another pause as I mentally review my friends' cultural backgrounds.

Telemarketer: Any Filipino friends up there in Napa, Mee-ka-ella?

Me: Actually, no. I don't really have any Filipino friends.

Which makes the telemarketer start laughing. She tells me I'm very nice, wishes me a good day and hangs up.

And I'm left sitting there, at my desk: The only Asian person in my entire company (unless you count the Japanese sommelier that is working in the cellar right now, just for a few weeks).

nudity always wins

I spent all day today sending out information about the new sales and marketing alliance between Clos Du Val and all of its sister brands. I've been working on launching this "entity" (is that business jargon or what?) for months now -- writing and re-writing press materials, putting the staff through media training, scheduling interviews for our spokespeople, freaking out, etc. Seriously, this project took over my life.

Unfortunately, all anyone is interested in is our naked vineyard manager. He posed in nothing but a cowboy hat, boots and a strategically placed apron for the Napa Uncovered calendar.

And now everyone wants to talk to him. Today, he got phonecalls from everyone, from Spectator to local papers to even someone from the British press.

Meanwhile, I'm practically begging people to write about the global alliance.

(By the way, the fabulous artwork you see today is Todd's pen-and-ink drawing entitled "Naked Man Pen." See if you can find the one truly naked man in the picture.)

I am psychic

Last week I dreamt my friend Leah from work got engaged. When I told her about my dream, she laughed and said there was absolutely no chance her boyfriend would be proposing any time soon. They had just bought a house together, she said. There was no money.

He proposed this weekend.

harvest widow needs holiday. bad.

Suspicious cloud formations this morning: Pretty, but not what you want to see when you are bringing grapes in and the last thing you need is rain. We started harvest Aug. 16. He starts his tomorrow, which means I probably won't see him very much for the next few weeks.

Also, on another note, I just realized I have 120 hours of vacation time. Someone please remind me why I am sitting in this chair right now instead of on a beach somewhere. (Damn all those people who took time off! I spent this past week pitching stories, only to continually discover that one journalist after another is "out of the office and not checking voicemail or e-mail" until Tuesday. Argh!)

at the end of the day

Home. Shoes off. Feet up on the coffee table. Tall glass of something cold.


Today was one of those days: You wake up. You never quite get dressed "presentably." You spend the day wearing a sports bra and doing little projects around the house.

Like figuring out what to do with all the tomatoes, zucchinis and peppers from your garden. You start off by making chilaquiles for breakfast, which uses up a few of those tomatoes and peppers (pimientos de padron -- yum) and turns that stale bag of tortilla chips into something fabulous. (And you're proud of yourself because your chilaquiles taste better than the ones you ordered two weeks ago at brunch and spent $13 on, and which later totally upset your stomach for about 48 hours afterwards. So far, your stomach is not upset.)

And then you make the custard for green tea ice cream, which doesn't use any tomatoes, zucchinis or peppers, but which does use up the milk in your refrigerator before it goes bad.

And then you devote yourself to shredding numerous zucchinis in the Cuisinart, measuring the pieces into plastic bags and then freezing it all. You now have enough frozen zucchini to bake many, many loaves of zucchini bread in the next six months.

Ah, Sunday.

on spitting and south africa

Went to a South African wine tasting Thursday night.

I love South African wines. I know they can be inconsistent and dirty and not always very friendly. But when you find a really good one, you never forget it. So there was no way I was going to miss this tasting. And I wanted to make sure I made it all the way around the room, trying everything I possibly could.

Which meant I had to spit. I know this sounds wasteful. But let me tell you, there is no way you can get through some 60 wines, adequately evaluate all of them and then make the 40-minute drive home afterwards unless you spit. (This is the industry secret. It's how we taste so many wines without getting drunk.)

So there I was, in the beautiful, historic Officer's Club at Fort Mason, surrounded by the after-work crew (lots of young and youngish people, all dressed to the nines, all likely from the Marina or hoping to one day live there). And I spat and spat and spat. Every single wine. You wouldn't believe the disgusted looks I got from those Marina girls with their Louis Vuitton purses and perfectly groomed eyebrows. I think I was the only person spitting at the entire tasting. (All the folks who were pouring the wines understood, but everyone else thought I was on crack.)

Anyway, I did achieve my goal and made it around the entire room. I didn't try all 60 wines, but I did taste all of the Sauvignon Blancs, Chenin Blancs, Pinotages and rosé wines that were being poured.

My absolute favorite wine of the evening was the Golden Kaan 2006 Rosé, which is made from Pinotage and costs just $9.29. It was super-dry and more on the lean side, had good acidity and nice crisp berry flavors -- I loved it and will probably be calling the winery (they have an office in Sonoma) to order some.

I also liked the Kanu 2005 Chenin Blanc and the Glen Carlou 2003 Grand Classique, a blend of Cab, Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot that was fairly elegant and not extremely complex, but wasn't a huge oak/tannin bomb, which so many wines are.

As for Pinotage, I found that a lot of people (at least at this tasting) seem to be trying to make this wine more appealing to consumers, so they are blending it with Merlot and other varieties to soften it up and round it out a bit. The resulting wines are voluptuous and easy-to-drink, but they all taste the same.

Of the Pinotages I tasted Thursday night, my two favorites were the Warwick 2005 Pinotage Old Bush Vines and the Bellevue Tumara 2005 Pinotage. The Warwick to me tasted most like Pinotage -- there was lots of chocolate and roasted coffee, and not a whole lot of fruit. The Bellevue Tumara was friendlier -- definitely more black fruit, but still had a hint of earthiness.

remember it

It was 2005. The midst of the Sideways craze. And we were in Shell Beach for the World of Pinot Noir. Back then, I was still writing. And we were going on year one together.

We went to the Saturday tasting. We were probably -- not surprisingly -- two of the youngest people there. We laughed at the strange glass holders some people had around their necks. And the spitting techniques -- lots of dribblers. And the terrible, terrible fashion.

Somehow, we wove our way through the chaos and found ourselves at the Kosta Browne booth. This was before they were all over the pages of Spectator.

They were pouring out of decanters. Three of their vineyard-designated wines and three from the appellation series. I was blown away, especially by the Kanzler Vineyard wine.

And they were the nicest, nicest people at the tasting.

And now he works for them.

one thing I have always loved

Watching him chop veggies.

ad hoc

Went to Thomas Keller's ad hoc for dinner tonight. This is the restaurant that was only supposed to be open for a few months -- sort of an interim place while Keller was working on a "burgers and half bottles" concept. But everyone loved ad hoc so much that now the restaurant is permanent. (The burgers and half bottles thing is still going to happen, but in another location in Yountville.)

Our marketing team went tonight after work to celebrate (surviving) the last few weeks, which have been absolutely nuts. The menu at ad hoc changes daily, and you don't get to choose what you're going to eat. Everyone comes in, pays $45 per person (or $75 if you're part of a group of 10 or more) and eats four courses family style. Fried chicken night is supposed to be mind-blowing, but unfortunately, no chicken on the menu this time around -- tonight was all about the Texas-style barbecue. So we started with a string bean salad, then had the barbecue (ribs, brisket, sausage) with crème fraîche-topped baked potatoes and corn on the cob, then a cheese plate (with figs and honey) and a dessert of vanilla bean ice cream with peaches and blackberries.

Portions were gigantic. There were five of us, and we had so much food leftover that we'll probably all be eating Texas-style barbecue for lunch tomorrow at the winery. My stomach feels like it has been stretched to the limit. I want to lie down. And not wear pants.

So what does all of this have to do with the cat in the egg box?

Absolutely nothing. My camera just somehow automatically deleted the photos I took of my ad hoc cheese plate (and I had drizzled the honey so beautifully!), so now all you get is a picture of Meep in his new favorite spot.

fill 'er up

I often hear about wines smelling of petrol, and I thought I knew what this meant.

Until I opened the 1991 Bert Simon Kaseler Kehrnagel Riesling Spatlese from the Saar valley in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany. This is the only old Riesling I have ever tasted in my life, and when I stuck my nose in that glass, I felt like I was at a gas station and someone had ignored the "Do not top off" sign and gas was flowing everywhere.

Apparently, this is normal for older Rieslings. (Jancis Robinson mentions it as a wine descriptor many times in her autobiography, and she has a soft spot for Riesling.) It took me awhile to get used to the scent, and I still don't know if that smell will ever be something I absolutely crave in a wine, the way I do with bright cherries and warm spices like nutmeg in Pinot, for example. But maybe it just takes time. Like I said, this was my first experience with an aged Riesling.

The wine itself was wonderful. (From what I've heard, this is a good choice from the 91 vintage, which wasn't the greatest.) It had this deep golden, honeyed color. In the mouth, I got petrol up front, followed by the crispest taste of pear -- it was like biting into a piece of fruit. And the mouthfeel -- I'd say medium, with none of the syrupy-ness that I've found in other Rieslings, which is definitely a plus for me. Even at 16 years old, this wine was refreshing and very much alive.

Also good to note: The alcohol was only 7 percent. Seven percent!! Seriously, I think I drank most of the bottle by myself and didn't feel a thing. Love it. Another plus: This wine was only $17.83, ordered in November 2005 from my favorite retailer.

And I have one more bottle left!

dumb pérignon

Everyone says that the whole experience -- where you are, who you're with, etc. -- really influences whether or not you'll enjoy a wine. (Which is why when you're wine-tasting, you end up buying things that don't seem to taste as good when you open them at home vs. in a fancy tasting room with all of your friends and a winery employee who's doting on you and telling you all about every flavor and nuance in the wine.)

So let's take a look at last night, The Night of My First Dom Pérignon. I was hanging out at a typical Marina bar with the girls and our teacher from our pole-dancing class. We had just completed Level 5 and received our graduation G-strings. We were by far the most underdressed people at the bar -- we were in sweats/jeans and sweatshirts/hoodies, faces sans makeup. Meanwhile, all the other girls there looked like they had just gone shopping in L.A. and had gotten their hair professionally blown out an hour earlier. (Side note: Marina people boggle my mind. How do people look like this all the time?)

And in addition to this clothing disparity, I pulled my hamstring doing the splits in class last night, so I had an ice pack strapped to my leg with -- you guessed it -- the graduation G-string.


So there we were: Seven ladies, not caring what we looked like, just happy to have some time to hang out and celebrate our ability to climb a pole, flip upside down and slide down it head-first. (Trust me, there is something truly empowering about knowing you have the upper-body strength to do this.) We were chattering away, when suddenly, a random guy from the table next to us announced that he thought we were intimidating but he wanted to buy us a bottle of Dom Pérignon.

How can you turn down a $400 bottle of wine? I don't think I've even been in the same room with this stuff before.

So he ordered it -- a 1995 Dom Rosé, which reminded me of French toast covered in berries. It was perfectly balanced and delicious.

But then we started talking to the guy, only to discover that he was from La Cañada, which is where I went to high school. And he actually went to the Catholic boys school that was our brother school -- I was on their homecoming court way back in the day in 1996. (And remember: I hated high school largely because of the people I went to school with. All rich and annoying, kind of like the Marina.)

And upon further discussion, we discovered he was the oldest son from "Home Improvement." And he made sure to tell us he now works in production for Ashton Kutcher's show "Punk'd." (The guy also kept flashing his credit cards and dropping names. Did I mention the word "annoying"?)

And then we found out that he and his friends thought we were some kind of lesbian feminist book club/discussion group.

(Side note: Are straight women not allowed to be smart and have heated discussions? Are we also not allowed out of the house unless we look like we are going to a photoshoot?)

So now, alas, I will forever associate the Dom Pérignon 1995 Rosé with stupid, stupid boys.

cat lady

I spent last night and Tuesday night in Calistoga for our national sales and marketing meeting.

The location was beautiful. The meeting was good. I ate nice meals and drank Sauternes.

But 90 percent of my photos are of the white cat I found meowing outside the screen door of my hotel room. I named him Mr. Meatball. He spent the night. He sat on my lap while I worked on Powerpoint presentations. He purred non-stop.

The one thing I'm regretting right now: Not bringing Mr. Meatball home with me.

friday nights

I am not good at them.

two of my favorite things

The local Chickenland wine shop held the most ingenius tasting last Saturday: various sparkling wines paired with French fries.

Of course, I went.

For $10, I got a flight of four sparkling wines (Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, J and a Spanish cava with a name I can't quite recall), with pours so generous these were pretty much like four glasses instead of just tastes, plus two kinds of fries specially prepared for the tasting by the folks over at Pazzo. One kind had extra salt, and the other was seasoned with truffle oil and parmesan.

I was in heaven.

And I learned some things, too. For example, you are probably used to hearing about bubbly being paired with sweet stuff. (I remember once going to a Champagne and chocolate tasting when I lived in SLO so long ago.) But the truth is, sparklers go extraordinarily well with salt. Hence the fries.

I also learned it takes exactly five-and-a-half twists to get the cage loose on a Champagne bottle. (But don't take the cage off completely, and keep a finger on the cork at all times, just in case that bottle decides to open on its own. Which actually happened to us once when we were pouring at an event. Oh, the dirty look we got from the oldish woman who was walking by and thought we were a bunch of irresponsible kids out to break every bone in her body with our out-of-control Champagne corks.)

Anyway, if you are ever in Chickenland on a Saturday afternoon when the Vine & Barrel boys hold their events, go.

Finally, on another wine-related note: I just finished reading wine writer extraordinaire Jancis Robinson's autobiography, Tasting Pleasure. What's funny to me is that this book came out in 1997, which was my sophomore year of college and which also happens to be the first time I ever really attempted to drink wine (outside of church, that is).

And alas, I was violently, violently ill after that first wine experience.

But I kind of suspect that was because I made the mistake of following those few glasses of Pinot Grigio with the high-class drink known as Zima.

in la-la land

I have a weird relationship with L.A. It's where I grew up, but I don't really like coming "home" because (a) my parents moved so the house I come "home" to isn't really "home," (b) I don't have a big network of high school friends to visit when I'm in town since I hated my high school and 95 percent of the people in it, (c) the traffic sucks and (d) the place just feels bizarre.

And by bizarre, I mean it feels like I've been magically whisked back to high school again, which as you read above, I hated. And yet I somehow allow myself to get sucked in. Listening to the same radio station and getting excited when they play Nirvana. Calling my mom to tell her where I am and when she can expect me back at the house. Driving past and around the old places. (Did I really hang out at the Burbank mall? And why do I suddenly have a near-violent craving for a hot dog from Pink's? And let's not forget Higley's for coffee, which sadly, no longer exists. I think the amount of mochas I consumed there stunted my growth.)

Despite the time warp, there are some things about this place that are strangely fascinating. Like the people watching. (People in L.A. actually wear shorts outside of their homes. I haven't seen this much public bare leg in ages. And these people have tans! Real tans! That definitely doesn't happen in the Bay Area!)

Also cool: The ethnic food. Susan (one of my two L.A. friends) took me to Little Armenia to buy some coffee today. (Can't wait to get home and try out the ibrik I got him for his birthday.) Little Armenia? Not exactly something you'd find in Chickenland.

Then there's the shopping. The selection of stripper shoes here is fabulous. Stuff you wouldn't see in San Francisco, not even at Foot Worship! I couldn't resist -- picked up two pairs for class.

And I'm also finding myself wishing I had packed my bikini. Because I haven't been to a beach where you can actually go in the water without wearing a full-body wetsuit in a very long time.

already homesick

It's hard to pack your suitcase when certain furry orange creatures don't want you to leave.

the beast

So you may have heard about the mega-mushroom that was picked in a forest in Mexico. I sent the article to our mushroom expert friend, the guy we went foraging with last December. I wanted to know if the story was real: Can a mushroom really grow to 27 inches?

The answer: Apparently, yes. He said this particular mushroom looks like it's from the Tricholoma family, and it's likely edible.

And he also said the guy in the picture is probably 4 feet tall.


As the clock ticks its way toward The Weekend (finally!), I find myself asking a very important question: What are we going to have for dinner?

We usually cook during the week. (The fabulous meal above is something he conjured up Wednesday night.) And cooking usually involves zucchini from our garden. (Our zucchini plants just won't stop.)

But by the time the week is over, the last thing I want to do is cook. Right now, I'm craving pizza. Bricks is my new favorite -- they describe themselves as Chicago-style pizza, but with a thin crust. And they make a killer Caesar salad, too -- housemade dressing, plus real anchovies if you ask for them. And if we're feeling too lazy to go out (and want a huge fatty pizza), Old Chicago Pizza delivers. One slice of that big, thick pie is all I need.

Then of course, there's Mexican. Cotija is delicious and dirt cheap. The restaurant looks kind of like an old gas station, but so far, it's the best Mexican food I've been able to find in Chickenland. (You know you've hit authentic when there's a mariachi band eating there. Yes, eating. On their own personal time and not hired by the restaurant.) I've had the tamale and enchilada combo and a veggie burrito there, and both were excellent.

Seriously ... is it time to go home yet?


That's me.

The truth became clear last week, when I was making plans to meet a friend who was in town from Cleveland. (And this friend isn't really someone you'd take to your favorite hole-in-the wall taqueria or vegetarian Chinese restaurant. When we were discussing dinner, she was shopping for Marc Jacobs.) We were trying to choose a restaurant in the city, and I realized I had no idea what the new place to eat was anymore. When I lived in the city, I had a long list of places I wanted to check out, but this time, I really couldn't come up with anything -- drew a total blank. We ended up going to Park Chow, a good neighborhood standby, but not exactly the best place to show off your It bag.

My bridge-and-tunneler status was further confirmed when I met another friend in Nopa (the neighborhood) on Saturday, only to ask her where Nopa (the restaurant) was. She looked at me like I was nuts. (Especially since we were maybe two blocks away from the restaurant when this conversation happened.)

But it hit hardest when I found myself driving past my old apartment on my way to a birthday party at Trad'r Sam's. The parking spot right in front of the building was open. This used to be my favorite (and the most coveted) spot. And it was free, the way it hardly ever was when I lived there. And I drove by because this wasn't my home anymore -- this wasn't my destination.