Monday, January 17, 2011

Family Vacation- Safari West

Day three of our SF Bay Area summer "staycation"- We headed out to Safari West, about an hour north of San Francisco. I had been wanting to go for the longest time, but had difficulty justifying the expense (considerable more than a day at the zoo). A family vacation was the perfect opportunity for a visit!
We met up with the family in time to enjoy a delicious BBQ ranch lunch at Safari West's Savannah Cafe. Reservations are required for the cafe, but there is also a small snack stand available. Afterwards, we loaded ourselves into one of Safari West's large jeeps, which seat about a dozen people- just right for our big group!
As it was midday and quite hot, no one else wanted to ride on the roof, so Munch, AudioDad, and I gladly climbed up for a better view for the first part of the tour. At first, our tour guide drove us along several large fenced in areas containing goat-like animals. AudioDad told me later that he worried this would be the extent of our tour around the property.
We also passed the cabins, where people could spend the night on property. I would definitely enjoy an overnight stay!
Eventually, we came to what was the first in a series of gates. As it turned out, the Safari West property was quite large and we ended up enjoying a fun, bumpy ride through the hills INSIDE the animals' enclosures.
It was such a treat having our driver stop our jeep alongside a couple of giraffes, zebras, and ostriches
although the cape buffalo concerned me a little- I had heard they could be quite mean.
After the driving portion of the tour, our driver stopped for a break before beginning the walking tour. She was thoughtful enough to turn the sprinklers on for the kids to play in.
Heading out on the walking tour-

A group pic-

Family Vacation- Napa Wine Country

Our next day in the Napa Valley was spent exploring the wineries. AudioDad's sister had been telling us about a castle winery that the family might enjoy so that was to be our main destination. Wanting to also to do a little tasting, I had searched online ahead of time to see which wineries were "family-friendly" as we'd have Munch and possibly her older cousins with us. Just in case, I made sure Munch had her own diversion, in the form of her digital camera.
Our first mid-morning stop was Domaine Chandon, where my sister-in-law and I tasted sparkling wine.The grounds are beautiful and Munch found plenty to explore, from the bridge to the gardens, and especially the mushroom rock garden!
We met up with my other sister-in-law at Peju,and after a brief tasting, everyone was getting hungry so we headed to Gott's (formerly Taylor's Refresher) for lunch where the kids fanned out to their own picnic tables
Once everyone's bellies were full of Gott's awesome shakes, we head to Castello di Amorosa.
It was a fun picture-taking location, although I wasn't particularly impressed with the hard-sell tasting room experience.

Family Vacation- Dinner at Cole's Chop House, Napa

Finally getting to the backlog of posts I've been meaning to write! Being a teacher, the fall is such a busy time for me and then comes the craziness of the holidays. It's not unusual that January and February are when I can catch my breath! After Munch and I successfully traveled to Texas last spring without AudioDad, I decided that she and I would spend most of summer 2010 on an extended "field trip".
June is usually when AudioDad's family gets together. In the past, we've visited them in Colorado, but this year AudioDad's sister and her husband came to us in California. It was fun playing tourist at home, as there is so much to see and do in the San Francisco Bay Area. We spent a couple of days exploring the Napa Valley, starting off with dinner at Cole's Chop House. We were seated at a large table on their outdoor patio, a perfect location for AudioDad's four siblings and their families to meet up at the beginning of the week.
AudioDad's three sisters-
Munch and her cousin D. chat up their uncle-
Munch with her cousins-
My niece and nephew-
A rare family picture (because I'm usually taking them!)-

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Button, Button, Who's Got a Button?

So today, we're doing a little more blog remodeling. I figured it would be fun to have a blog button to share, but I didn't want to fidget too much with creating one from scratch. Thank goodness for all the online button generators! I used Cool Text Graphics Generator for this one. And there was ready to go code over at A Heart for Home. It was quick and easy and now I can take my time creating something even cuter!

Make your own button at Cool Text: Logo and Graphics Generator

Thursday, January 13, 2011

More Painting With Kids

In addition to the word art Munch and I created, we also reworked another painting from a couple of summers ago-
While her cousin A. was visiting, I had the kids work on a joint self portrait. First, they planned their drawings on paper. A. decided he'd draw a mohawk on his head. Next, they decided what colors they'd use for themselves and the background. Once colors were decided, they got to work painting. It was interesting watching the way they collaborated, shared, and compromised while painting the canvas simultaneously.
Once the background was dry, the kids did a rough sketch of their pictures on the canvas. From working with Munch in the past, I learned to do the painting in stages and let each new addition dry before continuing so it wouldn't get muddy. I had Munch and A. begin by painting all the skin- the face, arms, and legs. After letting that dry, we moved on to painting the clothing and hair.
In between painting, the kids chased "the bad guys" (A. with his imaginary sword and Munch with a magic fairy wand) and decorated a gingerbread house.
Last came the details- facial features, shoes, and additional last-minute embellishments. I liked seeing the subtle differences in the way a 4 and 5 year old conceptualized and represented themselves.
On Christmas day, the painting was unwrapped by the grandparents-
Posing with the final product-

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Word Art

As crazy as the holidays get, one thing I really enjoy doing over the winter break is collaborating with Munch to make art for the family. This year I was inspired by the "subway art" I've seen in many DIY blogs.

I began with this- one of several paintings Munch did a couple of summers ago when she was just beginning to explore with paint. I never cared for the muddiness that came from the brown and was just waiting to paint over it.
We started out by layering a mixture of black, brown, and red paint onto the canvas with a palette knife. I really liked how the brightness and texture of the previous painting enhanced the darker paint, making it richer and more interesting.
While it dried, I asked Munch for words and phrases that she associated with her grandparents. I sketched out a rough plan before typing them into the computer as word art, using a variety of fonts and sizes, in block letters. After printing them, I (very) carefully cut them out- the exacto knife (love those!) came in handy. Since I didn't have any modge-podge in the house, I thinned some Elmer's glue with water (about 3 parts glue to one part water), painted it onto sections of the canvas, and attached the word art. I found that the letters tended to wrinkle up a bit when wet, so I patted them down to better adhere to the canvas- the wrinkles themselves I didn't mind as they added more interesting texture.
Once the letters were fairly dry and ready for another coat of sealer, I thought they seemed a little "bright" so I mixed a few drops of brown paint into my next batch of thinned-out glue. Munch painted over the entire canvas with this mixture- the layer of paint started to bleed into our glue mixture, but I liked the effect.

The last things we added were collage materials that we rummaged around for in Munch's art area:
one of Munch's drawings of herself
an ice cream cone made from some a scrap of cereal box cardboard, tissue paper, and iridescent confetti
a shopping bag made from a bit of string and a Target logo cut from one of their mailers
a bit of ribbon
a few buttons
a foam heart sticker
a bowl of mac & cheese (our favorite addition) made from a bit of blue tagboard and some dry macaroni pasta that we painted orange

We painted on a final coat of glue to the entire project after attaching the materials above.
Time spent- much, but certainly not all, of a day
Money spent- nothing- I was still in my jammies and had no intention of leaving the house for supplies. We got creative with the materials we had on hand.
End result-

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Eve Interview 2010

Saw this idea last year on a few other blogs and was looking forward to revisiting it with Munch. On my printed copy, I add a picture box for her to draw a self-portrait.

Age: 4 years, 11 months
Grade: Pre-K

Color: Pink and purple
Animal: Dolphins and kitties
Restaurant: Pasta Pomodoro
Number: 131
Vegetable: Carrots
Book: Penguins to the Rescue
Game: Tic Tac Toe
Food: Macaroni and cheese
Place: Wisconsin
Candy: Peanut butter balls
Best friend: Lucy

What makes you happy?
My mom.

What do you love best about your family?
How they love me.

What is the smartest thing you know how to do?
Twirls and tap dancing.

What is hard for you to do?
Stand on my head.

What is your favorite thing to do?
Play with little cat, Annie.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A Disney person or a toy seller.

What will you get to do once you turn five?
Have cake and open presents. Also do handstands.

If you could be in charge for the day, what would you do?
Do the computer like a teacher.

What is your wish for this year?
That Tinkerbell and her fairy friends are real.

*A side note: Munch's original answer to "Favorite restaurant?" was originally McDonalds. Separately, both AudioDad and I were puzzled by that response. Munch explained, "They have a really neat playground. But, it IS pretty dirty. So I guess it's really not a good one after all." When I asked if she ever ate there too, Munch was confused, so I asked again, "Okay, McDonalds has the playground, but what's your favorite restaurant to actually EAT in?" "Oh, that's easy- Pasta Pomodoro!" she replied.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dinner at Rotisserie and Wine, Napa

My sister gave us a gift certificate to the new Tyler Florence restaurant in Napa, Rotisserie and Wine. We got to the Napa Riverfront early enough to walk around.
Munch loves the pathways that go around the park and under the bridge.
And when we discovered this little path to the entrance to Celadon restaurant (still been meaning to go there!), Munch couldn't resist the decorated archways with their twinkling lights-
After a good amount of meandering, Rotisserie and Wine was opening its doors, so we scooted our chilled selves inside.
The restaurant was "Wine Country casual" with its wine bottle and barrel lighting and the jeans and plaid-shirted waitstaff (a fun touch at first, but once you saw the variety of shirts, it just felt a little like a mish mash). I loved the mix of dark blue-grey walls hung with platters and the white subway tile along the front wall- it felt like I was dining in someone's home- can I be a houseguest? And, while I really liked the clusters of huge glass jug/pendant lamps on one side of the dining room, Munch thought these chandeliers would look better "without the wood on it".
Having been among the first to dine that evening, we were seated at a great table in the center of the restaurant, along the back wall. It was terrific to watch all the activity in the restaurant and I was also glad to have the lighting here so that Munch could doodle during dinner even though it wasn't as cozy as a square table. I loved the green water glasses, especially after realizing that they were made from the bottoms of wine bottles!
I had checked the menu online and also read the chowhound and yelp reviews earlier in the afternoon. I was pleased to see that Jeremy Fox, previously of Ubuntu, was in Rotisserie and Wine's kitchen and that Tyler Florence was also on hand that evening. I decided we'd order several plates to share so we could taste as much as possible! While we were perusing the menu, the kitchen sent out a plate of cornbread sticks- yum! I noted that our waiter made of point of mentioning that mac and cheese WAS on the menu (referring to Munch), but listed as "cavatelli" (thanks, buddy- I NEVER would have guessed!) I responded that Munch would be sharing everything that we ordered, thank you very much. Meanwhile, Munch set to work nibbling half of her cornbread stick, ignoring the honey butter I had set on her plate. When AudioDad and I both asked if she didn't want butter, she replied matter-of-factly, "I'm tasting half with, and half without" pointing to the piece remaining on her plate. Okaaay, then...
From the "Snacks" section of the menu, we ordered the deviled Jidori egg (2 halves per order) and a cheese puff (think gougere) oozing with jack cheese and topped with bacon. The puffs come individually, but sharing worked for us as it was fairly large (although next time I think AudioDad will want his own!) Munch was fairly fixated on deconstructing her deviled egg (she loves those, but prefers to taste each component separately), but agreed to taste a bite of the cheese puff and ended up eating much of that too. She was thrilled to discover that we could easily make them at home, so expect a gougeres post in the hear future...
Here's the cheese puff- sorry for the poor photo quality; I had two hungry eaters waiting!
Next up, a winter salad and biscuits and ham from the "To Share" menu. The salad was gorgeous and delicious, with a nice, peppery bite.
The buttermilk biscuit was my favorite dish of the night- a huge biscuit, split and stuffed with prosciutto and topped with a dollop of pepper jam, surrounded by sausage gravy with brussel sprouts. From looking back at the yelp reviews, it seems that the month-old restaurant is still tweaking their presentation (and serving sizes), as several dishes, including this one, are described quite differently by other reviewers. Munch made quick work of the prosciutto ("Ham!" she exclaimed, as it was set on the table), and I LOVED that pepper jam- we will definitely be coming back for this dish.
Our next dish was the Meat and Bones, from the Rotisserie menu- two slices of medium-rare prime rib topped with horseradish cream, a breadcrumb-crusted marrow bone, and a popover. Munch proclaimed her meat "just right pink". By this point, having watched Munch finish the bits of radish and micro-greens on her deviled egg, gobble up the cheese puff and request more biscuit and brussel-sprouted sausage gravy, and even clean her plate of the winter salad, all while maintaining a perfectly appropriate little-lady demeanor and volume level since being seated, both our waiter and the neighboring table decided that compliments were in order. "She's a sweetheart!" the table next to us whispered. Our waiter asked her name and remembered it for the remainder of the meal. When that cast-iron casserole of fancy pasta and cheese arrived, Munch had certainly earned it.
Dessert was up next. We went with the cheese plate, as it would be Audiodad's favorite, and the "cookies and milk"- Munch's pick. Dessert took a strangely long time to arrive, and when it did, it was just the cookies and milk. The cheese would be coming, we were assured, but we might as well begin with this-
The cookies: an assortment of bacon(!), ginger, chocolate sea salt, and one I can't remember. The little piggie cookie was adorable and really smelled of bacon, but tasted just like a sugar/butter cookie. Munch was again excited to hear that we could definitely make the ginger and the chocolate sea salt cookie (her favorite of the selection) at home, and she loved the vanilla panna cotta drizzled with the most syrupy balsamic vinegar- it was delicious!
More time passed, and eventually the cheese plate arrived, with apologies and compliments of the house.
It was yummy and I was glad to try the Pt. Reyes cheddar (never knew they didn't just make blue!)- we all liked it best and will have to hunt it down in the future. I heard later from my sister that she also had a delay with the cheese plate, and sitting at the bar, had watched the kitchen painstakingly assemble it. Must be the swirled apple slices- looks just like those wood shop whirly do-dad projects, doesn't it?
While we waited for the check, Munch and I had fun with the camera-
On the way out, we made sure the thank the chef-