Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My last blog post!

Yes, it's true. After four years and 844 other posts, this is going to be my very last post on this blog. Since marieljohn.blogspot is not quite as accurate as it once was, and since I'm going to continue to try and get Jeff to write occasionally, I thought I'd better say goodbye to this trusty old blog. But not to worry, I'm just migrating things over to a new address (you can even get all of the older blog posts there). So from now on, you can read about our adventures through everyday life here:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Honeymoon Video

Jeff and I took about an hour's worth of short video clips during our honeymoon, and I put a few of them together to make this short (about 2.5 minutes) video! Hope you like it!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Before and After

Jeff's First Day of Work

So business-y!

I made him a special dinner to celebrate. (Stuffed portobello mushroom caps.)

And now he's got a blackberry!

The Last Space Shuttle Launch

The very last Space Shuttle Launch was on July 8th, and Jeff and I decided (kind of at the last minute) that we'd get a car and make the drive down to the launch.

We left Wednesday evening, spent the night in Florence, South Carolina, and got to Cocoa Beach in time for the official launch parties on Thursday night. We ran into friends at the parties and had a really good time. We were going to stay with our friend, Pete, in Melbourne Beach, but Stephanie offered to let us crash on her couch in Cocoa Beach. Since we were planning to be up by 5:15 the next morning to beat traffic to the 11:26am launch, that was much better.

The traffic in the morning was not too bad. Our friend had given us his tickets to the NASA Kennedy Visitor's Center (he'd gotten tickets to an even better viewing spot), and we didn't hit any traffic until the line of cars actually entering the visitors' center.

The weather had been really bad all week, and was forecast to be bad over the weekend, so most people (including us) were kind of expecting the launch to be scrubbed. But we parked and found a spot anyway.

At the visitor's center, there was a big clearing where most people had set up chairs and things. This made it possible to see the shuttle come up above the trees. The countdown just kept going smoothly and the sun kept peaking out until finally the countdown got so low that everyone started to get really excited that it really would go. Then there was a hold at 31 seconds, which definitely made everyone nervous, but they got the glitch cleared up, and the final countdown began!

We saw the shuttle come up above the trees - it really just looks like a very bright point of light - and then heard the rumble of the sound wave. It seemed like everyone there was teary-eyed. I was just holding my camera at my side (not looking through the view-finder), but I did manage to catch a bit of it.

It was pretty amazing to witness such a historic event in person. The last shuttle launch. I can't believe it.

Fourth of July

Jeff and I spent most of the Fourth of July weekend moving things back into our apartment, doing laundry, and generally getting settled.

But on the evening of the Fourth of July, we did manage to make it out to the National Mall to catch the fireworks. Our friend, Rocco, was in town for a conference, so he joined us.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How was the Honeymoon?

Jeff and I have only been back from the honeymoon a couple days, so we haven’t had the chance to talk to many people, but when we do, the main question people ask is, “How was the honeymoon?”

Well, it was amazing. And it’s really hard to describe beyond that without going into so many details! It was an adventure, it was relaxing, it was romantic. There were cities and beaches and historic tours and rooftop drinks and movies and weddings. There were breakfasts in bed, roadside snacks, gourmet meals, unrecognizable treats, and lots of champagne.

Looking back, I can’t think of anything I would change (except to make the whole thing longer!) – there is no location or activity that I would take out, but there weren’t any places I wouldn’t have lingered longer if we had the time. It was an amazing honeymoon.

Honeymoon Day 30 – June 30, 2011 – Napa, CA and San Francisco, CA

Thursday was the last day of our honeymoon. We slept in, enjoyed our last gourmet breakfast in bed – by the fourth day, we were both convinced that the quiche of the day was the best option. Drank coffee and chatted, and then finally got around to doing the packing.

When we were finished packing, we left the hotel to go to a tour we’d booked at Schramsberg. It’s a Napa valley winery that specializes in sparkling wine made in the French style. Their label actually used to read “California Champagne,” until they decided to remove “champagne” from the label in deference to the French, where it’s against the law for French sparkling wine-makers to use the term if they aren’t actually located in the Champagne region.

The tour was a bit expensive (about $45), but it had been recommended by some of Jeff’s relatives that live in the area, and we thought that a champagne tour and tasting on the last day of our honeymoon might be really nice. The tour took about 45 minutes, and it was really interesting. Schramsberg was one of the first wineries in Napa, founded in 1863, by Jacob Schram. It stopped producing wine shortly after he died (in 1912), and eventually became abandoned and overgrown. In the mid-1960’s, the Davies family purchased the winery, fixed it up, and started making wine again. They decided to focus on French-style champagne, which wasn’t being done at all in the U.S. yet.

In 1972, the White House called and asked Jack Davies to deliver a few cases of the Blanc de Blanc to a nearby Air Force base. They were later informed that the wine was served during Nixon’s visit to China, and used for the “Toast to Peace” between President Richard Nixon and Permier Chou En-lai. They had a really cool picture of the toast up on the wall.

They took us on a tour through the caves – they’d been dug into the mountain by hand (using chisels) when it had first opened. It always stays about 55 degrees inside, which is perfect for keeping the wine. All of the wine is still kept there while it’s being made and aging. They showed us the process, including the hand turning-process they still use to get the sediment out of the wine.

At the end of the tour, they brought us to a tasting room, and we tried five different sparkling wines. All of them were really great – some of the nicest sparkling wine I’ve ever had. And looking at the price list, I could see that a couple of the ones we tried sell for $100 per bottle at the winery, which would probably be twice that at a restaurant – definitely above my usual level.

Also on our tour was a couple from Missouri and a couple of women from Texas whose kids were just going off to college. They were all really nice – especially the two women from Texas – they were really friendly. Everybody was congratulating us on our marriage, and we were telling them about our honeymoon trip. It was a really cute group. Jeff and I ended up buying a couple of bottles of the sparkling wines we really liked – maybe we’ll keep them to celebrate our anniversary!

Just down the road from Schramsberg was Beringer winery. Jeff and I served Beringer wine at our wedding, so we thought it would be cute to stop there. It turns out Beringer is the oldest continuously-operated winery in Napa Valley. It was founded in 1875, and apparently survived prohibition by producing sacramental wine and “medicinal” products. Jeff and I had a good time at our tasting – they gave really big pours, though, and after just visiting Schramsberg, we decided that Jeff would just take a sip and I’d do the heavy lifting here. I’m very helpful in that way.

After our tastings, we were ready for a late lunch, so we stopped at Gott’s Roadside Diner just off Highway 29. It looked like a really cute place with a window to order and an old-timey outdoor metal counter. Jeff and I ordered cheeseburgers and garlic fries, and enjoyed them on our long drive back into town. The burgers were great, and the garlic fries were awesome – they had some kind of green herb on them, too – almost like pesto fries.

We had hoped to stop by Dave and Taylor’s new apartment in San Francisco to visit for a while, but the traffic was worse than we’d expected (maybe people leaving early for the Fourth of July weekend?), so we only ended up having a couple of minutes to say hi. Luckily, we did get to see their new place. It’s a really cool apartment in the Mission area of San Francisco. Their windows look out over city streets that really make you feel like you’re in the middle of everything, which is a really cool feeling. And they’ve got an awesome neighborhood to explore.

Our dinner was only a couple blocks away, at Foreign Cinema. This is actually the restaurant where Dan proposed to Janet a couple years ago. It’s a nice place with all out-door seating. In some ways, it feels like its indoors – it has a front door and four walls, but there is no ceiling on the building. They play a movie every night on the back wall of the restaurant, though there is no sound (but there are sub-titles, because it’s foreign!). The food is really great, too. Jeff and I were not too hungry since it hadn’t been all that long since the burgers, so we decided to just get one full meal and share it. We had fresh oysters and then baked brie as appetizers, shared sliced zucchini, and then had duck for our main course. We finished with a crème brule and sparkling wine. It was a very romantic last dinner for the honeymoon.

Honeymoon Day 29 – June 29, 2011 – Napa, CA

It was a bright and sunny day on Wednesday, and we did manage to get up and get going pretty quickly. We spent our morning on a long bike ride – the hotel provides free bike rentals. When we originally started planning, we talked about biking all 22 miles to Saint Helena, but when we saw that the bikes were a little slow and our time was a bit limited, we revised that to 5.5 miles to a couple wineries outside the city.

We visited Hagafen, which was small, but really cute and friendly. They had nice wines, which have been served at the White House many times. Their wine has also been given as a gift to the Prime Minister in Isreal (their wine is Kosher). The person pouring gave Jeff and I each a free tasting glass of one of their sparkling wines since we were on our honeymoon.

We also stopped at Black Stallion, which is a winery that was built on the site of a historic equestrian center. We enjoyed our tasting there, too.

We got back into the city in time to grab a quick pizza lunch (at Filipi’s – very good!), and then go to our 3pm spa appointment. We had booked a couple’s massage – our first ever! It was going to be a 90 minute hot stone massage, but the stones were overbooked, so we did a hot towel massage, which is the same idea. We both really enjoyed the massage – the hot towels are nice, and they do make you feel relaxed and your muscles feel lose. I’m not sure I’d do it again, though, because you do sacrifice some massaging time. The couple’s massage aspect was nice – though we didn’t talk or anything, it’s just kind of fun to have the person there, and you kind of get the sense that you’re doing something together. It can also be a bit distracting – I think Jeff fell asleep, and I spent a good while trying to listen carefully to his breathing and deciding whether to say something to him. (I ended up not saying anything, and he woke up when his masseuse moved something.) We both felt very relaxed when it was over.

Michelin Guide San Francisco 2011: Restaurants & Hotels (Michelin Guide/Michelin)After the massage, we headed up to Yountville (in the car this time) for our fanciest meal of the trip. We went to Redd, which is another Michelin star restaurant. It has great reviews on chow hound and Gayot. We both ordered the five-course tasting menu with wine pairings. They don’t actually tell you what’s on the tasting menu – they just bring it out, which is kind of fun. Also, when two people at the table order it, they bring something different to each person, so you really get to try two things at each course (the wine pairings are different too – one wine to go with each plate). Everything they brought out was wonderful. The food looked beautiful on the plate, the combination of tastes and textures was always creative and very well done, and the wines were great with each dish. Also, all of the portions were very generous, which is great for sharing. Some of the dishes we really liked – sashimi of hamachi and carmalized diver scallops with cauliflower puree and golden raisins. We also really liked the duck breast and the prime New York steak and short ribs. The other impressive thing about the restaurant was the service. The greeters and the servers were all really friendly. Each course was described to you, as were each of the wines poured, all in a very friendly and accessible way. Our server made a point of asking us if we wanted a break between courses to chat and enjoy the wine. (The answer was definitely yes between the main course and dessert – it was really nice to be able to let our food settle and to relax for a while before the last course.) Overall, we had a great experience – a great place for the last big meal of our honeymoon!

Honeymoon Day 28 – June 28, 2011 – Napa, CA

On Tuesday, we knew it was forecast to rain, and we had planned to drive around to a couple different wineries during the day. But somehow, when we woke up in the morning and actually saw the rain coming down, and then saw the cozy fireplace in our room, we changed our minds. We had a wonderful rainy day in, sitting by the fire, chatting, and watching movies (more Bond!). This also turned out to be the perfect time to open up the wine that the hotel had given us for our honeymoon.

We did finally venture out for dinner, but by then, the rain had actually stopped. We went to Ubuntu, a vegetarian restaurant in downtown Napa. The restaurant has one Michelin star, which I think makes it the first Michelin star restaurant I’ve ever been to. They have a yoga studio attached, and a lot of the food they cook comes from their own organic garden. Jeff and I had the tasting menu, and ordered a few different tasting-size wines along with the different courses. They had two options for each course on the tasting menu, so Jeff and I just always ordered different things, and got to try it all. All of the food was great. The ‘roast and raw asparagus’ was really good – the asparagus itself was really fresh and tasty, but also the sauces along with it were great. Jeff had a really interesting melon gazpacho, too.

After that, we stopped at Bounty Hunter again for a quick flight of white wines, and then it was back to the hotel!