Onto Chinois + Bonus Rewind

Some of the best nights we have had are nights that start out with minimal to no direction. Home after work on our Friday, last week, we knew we had a very important appointment to watch our niece in a preschool concert. It was the only solidified plan for the night and even it lacked a lot of direction. (Thank heavens for Google and my aunt like intuition or we would still be looking for the gymnasium.) Once inside, it took a second to realize that we were being seated for a delayed Christmas concert consisting of 8 songs, sung by about 40 children, all around the age of 4. It was as adorable as you would imagine. The lack of synchronization in choreography (which was mostly clapping and hand gestures), the upside down or backwards props, the kid on the end that refused to do anything but stand silently through the entire performance in protest, all of them innocently oblivious, made the half hour long program one of the best live performances I have ever seen. Her bravery in standing for eight songs in front of a room of strange faces made us proud. Her dramatic rendition of each song, sung on her tippy toes straight into the ceiling mic, while solo bowing as she saw fit, blowing kisses to her fans (us) and even adding some of her own choreography, made us extra proud. Comfortable on stage much?

Her face when she saw Ryan and I was priceless.


It’s amazing how hungry and in need of a cocktail you can be after sitting through a preschool choir Christmas concert, three weeks after Christmas. Finding ourselves in the middle of the extremely quaint Windsor Town Green, Ryan’s gut instinct drove us to Kin, a relatively new edition to the area (established in 2011). Seeing a line waiting outside the door prompted a call to check the wait time, which, only being fifteen minutes, was probably doable, but our stomachs had lost their patience. Some other time when we are less starved, for sure. Swiftly, Ryan headed one street over onto Windsor River Road and pulled right up to the front of Chinois Asian Bistro. This proved to be one of the best decisions we have ever made, at least in Windsor. It had been awhile since Ryan had been there and it was my first. I was immediately calmed by the ambiance. The dark woods, red drum shades hanging from the ceiling and friendly faces greeting us at the door, had me at “hello”. Seated and served by one of the best waitresses I have ever experienced in Sonoma County, so much so it was refreshing, I jumped at the chance to order a Red Door, a soju and sake cocktail. It was the first thing on the menu and I just went with it.Chinoisop1

You can imagine my appeasement when I discovered that it was not only fruity and refreshing, without being too sweet, but served with no ice, no need to waste the space if you ask me. We started with the Ahi Tuna Tar Tar, perfection, and an order of the Coconut Prawns served with a pineapple dipping sauce that I would eat with a spoon. In classic Noodle fashion, for our main event, we both ordered Chicken Pad Thai. I have been unable to find anywhere that will make Pad Thai without peanuts and to a spice level of my specification (I’m about a 7 on a 1 to 10 scale of spiciness) since I lived in Orange County years ago. Already feeling spoiled with my iceless Red Door, pineapple sauce liquid gold and Tar Tar filled belly, when the waitress told me the Pad Thai could be made peanut free, I almost hugged her. It had been a long day. I am usually not so emotional about my noodles. Taking most of our main course home, I can attest that it is just as good reheated about four hours later as it is fresh from the kitchen. Next time, dessert.


The day after Thanksgiving, our Christmas was up. Likewise in reverse, exactly one day after New Years, our Christmas came down. In those 35 days, my mother requested a Christmas decoration post 35 times. With December being the busiest time of the year, I found little to no time to do anything that wasn’t wrapping, shopping, planning, partying or eating. However, as I slowly took down all my holiday cheer I realized that my mother’s request was well deserved. Christmas is my favorite time of the year, always has been and most likely always will be. So, in honor of Mom’s request and my own selfish desire to stretch the Christmas season out as long as possible, I ask you all to rewind with me just a few weeks back as I give you the post that should have been. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. xoLA

The transition between December and January is always bittersweet. Waiting all year for Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season and take us into December can be agonizing. It’s confusing to even myself why I love December so much. A lot of things that occur in December happen during the rest of the year, good food, parties, family, overall merriment, all can be found spread throughout the prior eleven months. Further more, some of the things that are holiday specific and December sensitive are down right undesirable . The non-stop on-the-go going, crowded shopping, endless schmoozing, parking lot road rage, pulling all the decorations out, putting them all back, it’s simply a lot of work. Like many people, I have found myself standing twenty people deep in line at Target holding a talking doll from a cast of characters I am too old to recognize, asking myself, why do I do this?  As soon as I see something themed in red and green with a hint of tinsel or white fur, or see someone dropping off gifts at the toy drive for others less fortunate,  or smell something laced in cinnamon and spice and stuff that’s nice, the answer is so simple. The feeling. I crave the feeling of Christmas. It’s the feeling that makes all the motions worth it.

My first Christmas memory is the year Santa brought me a child size, white, wooden table and chair set. Leave it to me to be a four year old over joyed to get furniture. My dad in his horribly 80s, navy blue, velour robe and my mom sitting camera ready by the fireplace is a Christmas memory that is most likely reminiscent of thousands others but uniquely special being self specific. That moment felt like pure magic. Now, as a thirty something year old, I make my own Christmas magic. As soon as Thanksgiving clears, the cheer spreading starts. I knock out the bulk of the madness in a single day and spend the rest of the month adding “finishing touches”. Over twenty-five years of Nutcracker collecting, ornaments dating as far back as Baby’s First Christmas, garland and gold, plaid and bows, I even have a complete action figure set of the cast of A Christmas Story. I’ve got a serious problem. I blame my mother.


It’s undeniable that my top favorite component of Christmas is seeing my family. The prospect of having my entire family in one room at the same time has led to extreme loss of sleep, every single Christmas Eve, my whole entire life. My Grandma and I would lay awake for hours the night before Christmas, both of us too excited to sleep. This year, having to be the first to leave our family affair, I became overly emotional as soon as the hype of good-byes settled and I was sitting calmly in the car. A day ran on an endorphin fueled high had crashed. The crash brought an overwhelming sense of missing. I miss the days when life wasn’t pulled in so many directions, when we were all young and we had no choice but to spend weekends together, when we didn’t have to spend the only holiday we have together catching up like strangers at a reunion. I miss my family and there is no way we are leaving early next year.


Noodle Note: Entering a new year gives way for us to renew our optimism, restore our motivation and reevaluate our direction. It can feel like the rebirth of hope, even during a time when hope seems to have been sucked out of the world and replaced with anger and fear. Our hope is for everyone to experience a positive 2015, engulfed in humanity and resolutions for a better tomorrow. In our house we have deemed this the year of action. Last year was the year of mapping, as we sculpted out the road we know we need to take to become better, stronger and healthier version of ourselves. This year, we make moves.

Cheers 2015, we are ready for you.

The O’Meara Bros. : A Brewpub Preview

It’s extremely rare for me to have a personal connection with somewhere I share on LA-normal. Beyond a scarce nostalgic memory, most places that I feature hold little sentiment and are staffed with complete strangers. Sure, I have had those random run-ins where you walk into a place and find out you had a class with the bartender ten years ago or vaguely remember meeting the waitress at a party sometime way back when but in general the servers, owners, even patrons are all unknown, nameless faces that I run a high probability of never seeing again. This, however, is not one of those cases.

I was privileged with the opportunity to preview the much anticipated O’Meara Bros. Brewing Company, a soon to be hotspot in my hometown. O’Meara Bros. Brewing Company is a brewpub developed from the collaboration of two brothers, Alexander and Tim O’Meara, who I have known since birth. Interesting side note, our mothers happen to be besties. I do not know any friendship that has lasted as long as our moms has. Their mom knew my mom before my mom even knew my dad so you know, hundreds of years. Not to go too much off track from the point of this post, I feel it only appropriate to share a visual at this time that illustrates how far back Alexander and I go. Just for fun and because I can, I give you Alex hanging out in my living room back when corduroy was the fabric of choice and he still required assistance to stand up. I’m sorry and you’re welcome.


When I first heard that the brewery was developing I was ecstatic. I love my little Northern California hometown of Lakeport, but it has been in dire need of something fresh with substantial quality for quite some time. After a long haul of anticipation, with the grand opening around the corner, my parents, Ryan and I were extended an invitation to a sneak preview and we jumped on it. Ordering as much of the menu that we could consume and taking time to tour all the details in the decor, I came to what I can honestly say is an unbiased conclusion that the O’Meara brothers have created an ambitious and promising enterprise.

The menu covers pub classics and unique sort of “novelty” items including Fried PB&J and an ice cream stout float. We started with the Irish Egg Rolls, an item I foresee becoming their signature beer bite. Corn beef and cabbage rolled and ready to dip in a variety of sauces, including a surprisingly well paired Thai Chili Sauce, these were an unanimous table favorite. Moving onto appetizer number two, we tried the deep fried Mac and Cheese balls. You can’t really go wrong with fried Mac and Cheese, although I did not love them as much as I loved the egg rolls. For our entrees we all went in different directions in an attempt to cover all the basics. My father had the Bangers and Mash, which looked delicious and he completely cleaned his plate so there’s that endorsement. My mother went with the Baked Marymac mostly because it’s named after their mom but also because it’s macaroni and cheese served in the plate they bake it in with optional BACON. So good. Ryan had the burger which he described as “classic” and was huge enough for left overs, which were also tasty. I had the Fish and Chips, something I for some reason always feel obligated to try when visiting somewhere for the first time. A lot can be said of a place from their Fish and Chips. I can say that it will be hard for me to want to order anything different next time, after the egg rolls.


The obvious shining star of the whole establishment is the beer, it is the purpose behind the company. To attempt a home brewed keg of beer from a kit you assembled in your bathroom takes great interest. To succeed in the art of beer making at a level that people will pay to drink your creation takes passion and dedication. Not only am I happy to pay for this beer I would probably pay more than what they are charging, to be honest. Ryan and my dad both ordered the flight sampler which allowed them to taste every beer on tap. Although each brew was a great presentation of whatever spectrum it represented on the beer-o-meter, for the gentlemen, the darker beers seemed to weigh favor over the lighter. Although I did really like the Bevins Street Brown Ale, I am a light beer girl and seriously loved the hefeweizen. It is always my beer of choice and their “First Light Weizen”, a special release, is as my dad put it, “one of the most interesting beers I have ever tasted.” Even my mother loved it and she is far from a beer fan. She is more likely to go with one of the options off the wine menu. Did I mention they also have a local wine menu?



Beyond the great food and drink, I really have to give them serious credit on every detail they put into the entire structure and design. Showcased beer tanks greet you as you walk in, with nothing but a half wall separating you and your pint of beer from hundreds more being made. A handmade solid walnut bar top made from a tree cut down on their own property glistens under the gently dimmed lighting. My personal favorite detail is the walnut flight trays, also handmade, each one different from the other like little wooden snowflakes that you drink beer off of. So awesome. The stage at one end of the restaurant is ready to host many a local band, including the Gnarly Pints and The Kentucky Jugglers performing for their grand opening this Saturday, December 6th. And best of all, the fireplace surrounded with over stuffed leather furniture, where you will most likely find me the next time I visit home.



Major props to you guys. I raise my glass to you both, cheers to your future success and to one hell of a hefeweizen.



Ottem No. 5

Five years ago things were very different. I lived in Hollywood and identified myself as a career centered, single gal. On occasion, I had ice cream for dinner, my best friend was my cat and my social life was, at most times, “lacking.” There was little to no thought of changing my arrangement.
Five years ago things for Ryan were very different. He too was single and career centered. He lived in a bachelor pad with two of his best friends where beer pong was an olympic sport and the social life could be, at times, “overwhelming.” It was common for nights to end well into the morning, burritos were a dietary staple and the last thing on his mind was climbing into a long distance relationship.
Life for both parties was good. Then one night, after a series of unfortunate events and poor assumptions that lead to two former acquaintances to become Facebook friends, Ryan boldly commented on LA’s status. Quite a few email exchanges, hundreds of thousands of text messages, hours and hours of phone calls, thousands of dollars in air fare, a moving van, cat carrier and Jetta full of shoes later, we were a year and a half in and the distance portion was over. The following year we were engaged, seven months later married and now here we are side by side, laying in our bed, watching Jimmy Fallon on our TV, separated by what he now affectionately calls our cat.
Life five years ago is barely recognizable, it’s so much better.

Annually celebrating the day that we instantly became involved in each others life for what would turn into eternity is extremely crucial to me. It marks the most positive, pivotal shift in my personal life that I had ever and will ever experience. It was a move so minute, Ryan innocently engaging in online sports banter, no clue what door he was about to open. You just never know what tiny move you are making that could grow into something enormous. In Noodle’s case, his small gesture of jaunt landed him squarely in the path of his future wife. A moment that will forever call for celebration. Our most important anniversary.

After kicking off our fifth with champagne and butternut squash soup, followed with a shared bottle of wine and bed before midnight on a Friday, we started Saturday off fresh and bright, almost too bright. Taking our sweet time through our morning routine, we found ourselves in search of brunch. Flow, a recently renewed upstairs Mendocino eatery, offers patio seating with a view of Main St. meeting the uneven coastline of Northern California, a view people travel from far and wide to witness. Taking our chance against the windless coastal sun beating down, with shades adorned, we took an outdoor table and toasted over Huckleberry Blintzes to ourselves and our accomplishment of completing five years of togetherness. I with my beet crepe full of smoked salmon, spinach and mushrooms and Babe with his Hazelnut Butter French Toast and bacon, ignored the blistering sun and enjoyed every bite of our meal.


We frequent Mendocino’s shops faster than they can refresh their merchandise so we opted on window shopping some of the breakfast potatoes off and headed out.mendowalk

Our destination was a location that until now had been a mythical land of good and plenty. Todd Farmhouse Antiques is over 10 rooms of purchasable treasures complete with library and museum.  The 1898 farmhouse is wall to wall of incredible finds, more than I could absorb in a single trip. Just visiting the museum room so the inner child in me could spaz out over the completed three story dollhouse with every miniature detail in place would have been enough. Unfortunately, the dollhouse, like the rest of the museum items, was not for sale. Luckily, pretty much everything else in the entire house was. We immediately took major advantage of the $1 book bins that were sprinkled throughout the rooms. Anything that looked overly loved and fell into our gold, black and sometimes red color pallet went in the bag. A pair of brass and crystal candle holders caught our eyes within seconds of walking through the front door and now sit proudly on our dining table. The true find of the day, and what became our anniversary gift to each other, was a pair of hobnail glass and brass table lamps, randomly sitting up in a closet full of vintage Hawaiian shirts. We locked eyes, fell in love and rushed them to the counter. Then rushed ourselves out before we did serious damage.

Noodle Note: The part that makes my new happiest place on earth so elusive is that it is only open Thursday-Saturday noon-4:00. They close for the winter around end of November and reopen sometime in April.  



The weekend away was short and sweet. We spent a lot of time around the house and for once ate all but one meal in. Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Pepperidge Farms Apple Pie Cookies, a lot of Jaegermeister, hours of Hozier and chorizo and eggs for breakfast all made my favorite moments list for the weekend.


We spent some serious time experimenting with our camera gear. We attempted to chase the sun through Saturday’s sunset but the sky was drastically uncooperative. So, we decided to stage our own lighting on the patio. After repurposing a pair of desk lamps, propping up our white back drop on stacked patio furniture and hours of editing, we collectively created our vintage school portraits. I’ve always been envious of the era that lived in sepia tone. Who knew imitating the classic look of a floating head shot done in greyscale would be so challengingly rewarding.


I know that in the grand timeline of life a mere five years is but a spec, but when the spec currently marks the longest time you have had your number one companion in your life, the spec is monumental. Cheers, to us and to what is really still just the beginning.



Falling Back

Doesn’t feel right jumping into November with all it’s autumn glory without at least acknowledging October, which is historically one of my favorite months. The weather usually shifts right about now, despite our California sunshine refusing to take a break this season, and leaves start their journey from lush green to lifeless brown. Best of all, boots and scarves are back in season. This October reined in no less important than it’s predecessors as it hosted one of Ryan’s greatest accomplishments. October 2014 will forever be known as the month that Ryan passed his Business Research and Statistics MBA course, sans tutor. I make a point to note that the accomplishment was completed solo because at one point we actually hired a tutor who backed out of the job after just one study session due to it’s level of difficulty. The best part of October was the light at the end of the tunnel for both Ryan’s sanity and our normality. We have a shred of our life back. Yay!
I think my love for the fall to winter transition is partially credited to the holiday line up that takes us right into the birth of a new year. Halloween, as a child, was a yearly highlight. My mother always handmade my costume and whatever my request was she delivered. (Editor ‘s Note: No matter what anyone says, the year that I was Christine at the Masquerade Ball from Phantom of the Opera and everyone thought I was a fancy owl had nothing to do with my mother’s capability to deliver. As a 6th grader I should have selected a costume more relatable to my peers. I have always had an underlying shadow of weirdness which I would later recognize as “being cultured”.) 

In the midst of surviving statistics, we managed to squeeze in some of our traditional October obligations. Sister Steph’s birthday getaway to the coast house, this year with an appropriate masquerade theme, the family trip to Punky’s Pumpkin Patch for the niece to hand select the perfect pumpkin and trick-or-treating with the most fashionable little witch I have ever seen rounded out or festivities this year.



On our only free weekend, we slipped in a quick trip to Chico to visit Grandma. The adjustment of having her so far away, in a town that still feels unknown, is taking just as much time as I expected. However, anytime spent is worth the drive. This trip included a photo walk around downtown, discovering a group of people standing on crates with pumpkins on their heads and a Giants World Series game 4 win. Chico is growing on me.

A personal pick for “best moment of the month”, other than the Giants winning yet another World Series, would easily be our evening spent at J Vineyards & Winery for the Fall Chef Cooking Series. As we dined in the Bubble Room, we took in a live cooking lesson from Erik Johnson, J’s Executive Chef, while he prepared, poached, braised and, at times, even sipped with us. Being two of a couple dozen guests, the relaxed and intimate atmosphere allowed for open q&a during the demonstration, a ton of cooking tips taught and swapped and, naturally, a ton of food and drink. From the moment we arrived we were handed a glass that we were sworn would never go empty, it didn’t, and bite sized appetizers to keep us happy until dinner, they did. Dinner, in contrast to the normal pairings we are used to, was served in generous portions. The menu included turkey leg confit salad with poached egg, paired with a 2012 STRATA Chardonnay, slow roasted lamb rack with mashed seasonal root vegetables, pairs with a 2012 Freestone Hill Pinot Noir, followed with chocolate cremeux for dessert, paired with a 2008 Vintage Brut. We left full and extremely grateful for our ride home.

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In a classic totally me moment, I ended the evening unexpectedly picking up a pair of gorgeous gold drop earrings. Leave it to us to be members of a winery that sells jewelry just as well as they sell sparkling wine. I’ll shop anywhere. I was already stoked to be able to finally wear my Altuzarra lace up booties, compliments of his recent partnership with Target, and my zipper lipped clutch from Aldo, found online on major clearance of course. The earrings were simply icing on the houndstooth.



November is already a week and a half deep and retailers have already begun their Christmas displays. I can’t keep up with how fast October passed and I am not ready to already wonder where November has gone. Someone once told me that once you pass the age of twenty-five time will begin to feel like it is going by faster and faster every day. They were right. This month we celebrate our five year of togetherness mark and prepare for the busiest time of the year, even more of a reminder of time ripping away. On top of everything on our holiday to do list, I will be desperately trying to drain every second and milk every moment. I don’t want to miss a memory.


Life has been so busy lately it has been easy to forget things. Leaving for work without grabbing breakfast, throwing in the laundry without starting the dryer, running to the store and leaving half of the important things, putting meatloaf in the oven and forgetting to set the timer resulting in a meat brick covered in smoking ketchup, all uh-oh moments that have found themselves condensed within the past week or four. A month long schedule that included babe getting used to longer work days (yay for his new promotion!), watching him spend hours upon hours on school work to complete his masters, family coming and going, a couple of unexpected medical procedures (all are doing great), adjusting to early morning work outs squeezed into our normal cooking, cleaning and making sure the cat is still alive routine. Most weeknights we are lucky if we make it through a solid rerun of Big Bang Theory before passing out by ten. It’s been one of those sink or swim, test to our home-life sort of adjustments.

Fortunately, for our own sanity, we have had the smarts about us to stop and take breaks as needed. What good is all the work if you can’t reap some benefits? And we have reaped.

Besides some mild shopping, to prepare for fall, of course, and our monthly trip to the coast house, we have done some pretty descent eating out. Sadly, cooking has been one of the responsibilities that has taken a back seat during all of our new adjustments. Happily though, my husband has amazing taste in menus and knows my favorite spots to substitute home cooked meals from. It is extremely rare for us to eat out on a week night, it is even rarer when we do it twice. This past month we have leaned on the excuse of celebration to eat at two of our top fave local restaurants.

On what I call the back side of Railroad Square, in sort of a borderline undesirable location, sits Stark’s Steakhouse with it’s undeniable vintage hollywood appeal. From the exterior neon lights to the tiled roof, black trim and awnings, the outside makes me feel like I am walking into a night lounge from the 1950s to watch a woman sing sultry break up songs by a piano. The interior immediately feels dark and moody, thanks in part to the dim lighting and heavy leather club chairs that great you in the waiting area. Opening into what my husband calls, “the inspiration for his future man den,” the dark slate and brick walls, fireplace, deer sculptures and leather bound books are all enough to make a modern day Ron Burgandy weak in the knees. As if they didn’t have you at hello, wait until you eat. Food that has created it’s own local caliber, we have yet to find one thing on the menu we don’t boast over. I can’t go there and not have the calamari. Mashed potatoes, multiple macaroni and cheese options from the “Oodles of Noodles” section (you can imagine how well that goes over with us), truffled french fries and steaks upon steaks upon toppings for your steaks. Although I usually go for the classic New York with Peppercorn sauce, I have ordered one of their aged specials and literally had to call my parents to tell them how good it was. My only complaint, other than the wait staff being rather hit or miss, is we have never made it to dessert. We are always so full when we leave there that we end up with doggy bags. No shame in our game.


For somewhere we don’t go to that often, the prices are not exactly your common Tuesday night meal out, I felt it only fitting I pick something out of the back of the closet that also doesn’t go anywhere often. Enter, the all black jumpsuit, or as I call it, the onsie. There is something about a good jump suit that makes me feel like no matter where the night may go, I will be ready. Me and my onsie, unstoppable. My personal highlight of the evening was wearing a recent surprise, for no good reason at all, gift from Ryan. Taking into consideration my pride of being a born and raised Californian, and my obsession of all things gold, Mr. O found an amazing jewelry artist named Julie Godsey creator of theFolk, on Etsy, that creates handmade to order pieces of art. Big on personalization, her states, initials and even customized name necklaces are officially on my good find list. I love it.


Not but a week later we made a visit to somewhere close to my heart (stomach) and close to home, subsequently it is also a location featured not too long back in one of my previous posts, and happens to be a part of the same restaurant group as Stark’s, Willi’s Wine Bar. Not much left to say that I haven’t already touched upon other than the fact that is flawless and I got much better photos of our favorite menu selections this go around due to us being seated on their adorably quaint outdoor patio. Other than the crab tacos, mac and cheese and bbq pulled duck (the best thing in the world), this time we added something new for us to the mix of small plates and tried the crab and artichoke flatbread. I am not sure why it’s not just called pizza, but am so happy that we stepped out of our shell and tried it. We will absolutely be ordering that again.


Willi’s came at the end of a very long day, in the middle of what had felt like a hundred long weeks. Although I don’t brandish myself a complete materialist, sometimes a tangible object can add just the right level of sentiment to an evening. My tangible sentiment was a vintage multi chained necklace that I decided to add to my otherwise somewhat dull maxi dress. It was given to me by one of my mother’s very best friends as a hand me down from an older woman who passed away some years back. The woman lived a few houses over in my childhood neighborhood and although I have no way of knowing what the necklace meant to her, to me it means a reminder of the village I came from and the people in it. A reminder we all need every once in a while.


Rounding out the month of September with a trip to the coast house for the annual Little River Golf Tournament allowed us to endure our last week of such heavy transitions with food for our soul. The weekend always consists of the same cast of characters, story swapping that often becomes legendary (partly to my Uncle Al’s unique ability to BS), lunch with the ladies, Grandma time and lots of wine. This trip even presented some unexpected photo ops when I  suddenly found myself falling in love with an abandoned train compartment.


As we enter into October some the stress and new adjustments have settled, the rest at least have a light ended tunnel ahead. We made it, as expected, and as much of a whirlwind it all seemed to be it was well worth it. I am so proud of where Ryan has gotten himself and proud of myself for not completely falling apart while cheering him on. They say that behind every great man there stands a great woman. I am not sure if I completely believe that in it’s entirety, but for now, I’ll take it.


Birthday Month Too

There is nothing in the world that I love to be as much as I love being a wife. Just so we have an understanding from the get go, I am comfortably aware that somewhere someone is gagging in preparation for how mushy this could become. Sometimes, I look at my relationship with my husband and want to gag myself. We are my favorite couple, as it should be. We naturally, without effort, have one of the healthiest relationships I know.  We have an instinctual reaction to give and take as much as needed to keep ourselves balanced, to be equals. I love him and I want his life to be as easy and enjoyable as possible no matter what obstacles I need to help him move or sacrifices I need to make and he 100% dittos. In respect to that maintained equality, it is only right that, just like his wife, Ryan gets a birthday month too. August happens to be said month and I relish at the opportunity to play pay back. Kicking off with a plaid themed, family game night, complete with prizes and a martini bar, birthday month went into full effect August 1st and has yet to slow down. To celebrate the actual day of, we took an extended weekend away to the coast house.

We headed out Friday the 15th, ocean bound, with a stop in Boonville for a late lunch at The Boonville General Store. We were starving and the food was amazing, therefor, there are no pictures to reflect the goodness that was organic chicken salad sandwiches and BBQ kettle chips. Unexpected bonus, Babe had his first Izze. It was peach. He liked it.
For the entire four day affair the weather was classic grey, too foggy for any chance of sunsets worth watching. An early Friday arrival on top of staying through until Monday left plenty of time to hit every check mark on Mr. Birthday Month’s list. Champagne, new socks, waterfalls, pizza, beer, hiking, tacos, check check checkity check check. The biggest check mark off his list also doubled as our greatest achievement. From the moment we arrived to the minute we left, we were completely relaxed. Implementing a “no work talk” rule and sticking to an “eat, drink and be merry” attitude really helped.

Two major highlights occurred back to back on Saturday. After spending a solid 4 hours hiking around Russian Gulch State Park we hit up one of our top 3 favorite pizza joints ever. Being out in the open on foreign trails, taking a break by a waterfall and feeling the upper thighs burn while hauling camera gear at an incline gave us miles of photo ops and huge appetites. As for the photography, it was a little weak that day. Neither of us were finding much inspiration and most of the shots we did get felt sort of “eh”. I actually caught more artistic moments on my camera phone than I did on either one of our Canons. Go figure.


After the trail we took our new angry appetites to Piaci Pub & Pizzeria. Right off of Main St., Fort Bragg, in a spot small enough to fit in a single frame, Piaci’s is always packed. Dependably delicious, they serve pizza so good it should be it’s own food group and offer a micro brew beer selection like nowhere else we have yet to find. To get us through a foreseeable long night ahead, we order with the pure intention of having left overs. For our in house meal, we shared the Mac and Cheese served in the dish they bake it in. The Gustovo pizza with pesto, prosciutto and pear and The Farmer’s with homemade sausage and classic tomato sauce were to go. The Mac and Cheese never saw the light of day, it was devoured before it was sat down. The pizza saved our lives around 1:00am. Ryan chased his late lunch down with an Arogaunt Bastard and I took a chance on Trumer Pils.  Delightful.

Sunday, after a 49er preseason loss, despite our inspirational red and gold themed outfits, we rang out the weekend with carne asada tacos, more beer and carrot cake (nut less eclairs for me). Grilling on the old Weber, while I prepared all the fixin’s, Babe air guitared his way into the meat hall of fame, producing some of the best tacos I have ever co-hosted. Okay, not hall of fame worthy but close.


Thanks to my mother for being who she is, we had a “Party in a Bag” with us full of all the essentials required to properly celebrate an adult birthday weekend. Among quite the healthy list of party favorites she included champagne, chips and salsa, Reese’s peanut butter cups, festive table decor, stunner shades and bubbles. The consumables were delicious, the paper products fashionably served their purpose, as did the shades, but the best item turned out to be the bubbles. Playing with long exposure and continuous shooting created my favorite photos from the whole weekend. Who knew bubbles could be so photogenic?


When every single moment of the weekend is practically flawless, you set yourself up for a bitter sweet trip home. I’m pretty sure if it wasn’t for our nontravel-friendly feline and our closets we would still be there. As the month comes to a close, Ryan is left with almost all his birthday hopes and wishes fulfilled while I am left with brand new ones. I hope that he has had one of the best months ever. I hope he has one of the most significant years of his life ahead. I hope he continues to grow and develop because I have front row seats for that and it’s my favorite thing to watch.  Most of all, and this goes for every year, I hope he knows how deeply I love him.

Happy birthday my beloved, I absolutely adore you.


LC Wine Me

It’s hard to remember that there is wine country beyond the borders of Napa and Sonoma County, even for someone who grew up in exactly just that.  Most of the world associates vineyard growing and wine producing with the iconic Napa Valley and, for those who really know, Sonoma County.  The latter is where we currently reside.  To live here is to feel as if you are privilege to an elite pocket of the universe, full of merlot manufacturing, self titled, wine connoisseurs.  Truth is, most of the top wines do come from Napa and Sonoma however, plenty of great wines also come from further north, in the neighboring counties of Mendocino and Lake.  Coastal, Mendocino County houses quite a few recognizable labels including one of the more commercially known, Fetzer Vineyards.  Inland, Lake County is home to over 30 wineries, including the birthplace of the national supermarket staple, Kendall-Jackson.  Vineyards grow under geological conditions unlike anywhere else in the industry and grow quite well.  Most are found around the base of volcanically active Mt. Konocti and miles from the shore of California’s largest natural lake, Clear Lake.  To help celebrate and support the county beyond, Ryan and I try to attend Lake County’s Wine Adventure annually.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, at 11:00am on a Saturday morning, our designated driver, Mom, and fellow enthusiasts, Babe and Dad, headed to the beginning destination, Steel Wines.  In standard wine adventure fashion, we received our glass for the day and “passport”.  We kicked off the morning with Steel’s red sparkling wine, which was different, and swedish meatballs, which were delicious.  After our meatball brunch, we headed down the road to Robledo where we said hello to Larry, plucked pinot off the vine and tasted 2 whites and 1 homemade empanada.

With temperatures reaching high 90s and the clock barely past noon, Chacewater’s covered patio was desperately needed by stop 3.  From winemaker Mark Burch, whom I have known since I was in the 6th grade, Chacewater Winery & Olive Mill  is consistently one of the best spots to visit in the entire tour.  Between the live band playing Lynyrd Skynrd, the carnitas taco buffet and running into over a dozen members of my childhood, it was hard to move on.  Prior to parting ways, we made our first wine purchase of the day.  On to the next one.


Location four, Wildhurst, is pretty special to our family.  Being the employer of my mother, it’s guaranteed to be full of friendly faces.  The huge spread of small bites and our favorite local Zinfandel are the cherries on top.  I had my first pickled green bean, loved it.  Spent some time in the sun listening to “The Hip Replacements”, that’s really their band name.  Perused the gift section of the tasting room, always full of a handful of “I wants”.  Most importantly, I had my super random bonus moment of the day, discovering vintage forgot-me-nots while using the upstairs ladies room.  It was like the playground of a high fashion centerfold begging to happen.  I could totally see head to toe Marc Jacobs climbing out of the abandoned refrigerator, reaching for the shovel, or something.

The fifth stamp in our passports was worth visiting for the view alone. Vigilance Winery, with tasting room built above authentic, rock-lined wine cellar, sits hillside over looking the historic Anderson Marsh.  Unfortunately, this year, the cellar apparently was an invite only affair which we did not have a ticket to and we found ourselves shown out just as fast as we had seen ourselves in.  It’s not a party until you get kicked out of somewhere, I guess.  Due to a nut allergy, I was unable to enjoy the lead pairing, home-grown lamb pitas, but the adorable nut warning made up for the strictly liquid menu. NEXT.


Running out of steam we fit in just 2 more stops, wrapping up the end of a 6 hour day.  Gregory Graham is always a must.  Great, great wine and this years menu selections topped any of it’s predecessors that day.  Carried along a garden path, we flowed from whites to reds accompanied with bacon macaroni and cheese, tacos, cheeseburger sliders and an indoor dessert round involving caramel and sea salt.  It was like a fancy Super Bowl party minus the football parts.

Lastly, for encore sake, we called it good at Laujor Estate.  The minute you enter their quaint tasting room you are hit with one of the best views in the entire county.  The newest winery on the map, Laujor gifted some of my most memorable moments of the whole day.  Soul comforting, mushroom marinara polenta, my mothers reaction to end the day patrons that had too much to taste, Ryan jumping into a stranger’s group photo, capturing one of the my new favorite pics of my dad, all within the last fifteen minutes of our grand adventure.



With two thirds of our Saturday over, after lounging for a little over an hour and remodeling my parents living room fireplace for free (you’re welcome), we stepped out for dinner to one of the longest lasting local restaurants in Lakeport, Park Place.  Babe finally got to have the infamous “Gorganzola Bread” I constantly talk about and I got to have the only grilled chicken caesar salad I religiously order.


The day shut down around 1:00am for the 4 of us, with beer, wine and stories of my dad’s days in college bringing it to an official close.  Taking in one last look at the overwhelming country night sky, the smiles, laughter, drinks and excitement settled down, and so did we.  Here’s to next time Lake County.  Until then, cheers!



Free to Roam

As far back as I can remember there has always been a part of me that consistently remains restless. Memories of sitting in a theater during a broadway show, movie or pageant (yeah, I had a unique childhood), reaching the hour and a half mark, knowing I was approaching my limit. My legs would feel like they were going to burst open if I didn’t shift them, the urge to move would become overwhelming.  Intermission was my savior.
As I got older and the freedom of a vehicle came into play, my restlessness started to gain territory. Weekends became road trips and my addiction to discover new ground was born. My fascination knows no boundaries, from one road towns that sit quietly in the middle of nowhere with their local diners and single gas stations, to huge urban landscapes adorned with traffic lights, congested crosswalks and sky scraping towers.  I am easily amused and can find something that strikes me in all of it.

I moved out of my parents house within a month or so of turning eighteen, and have yet to go back.  In the past 12 years, I have lived in 4 different zip codes, changed apartments 5 times and held jobs in 7 different cities.  Now, as a happily married grown-up with a great job and solid sense of stability, the restlessness has not necessarily lessened but more trained itself to holdout for the weekends.  Ryan, with his undiagnosed ADD, pairs perfectly with my habit to roam. We both get the bug to go and love being out of town, open roads, hotel stays, new places, old spots, all with camera in hand.  Realistically, we just can’t always make it lavish adventures.  Our favorite way to medicate the urge to get up and get out is to book a weekend at the coast house.  As mentioned in “MacKerricher and the 85mm”, we frequent Fort Bragg and the Mendocino coast often and always manage to find something we haven’t seen.

This past weekend, with the ever present anxiety to hit the road and find fresh visual stimulation, we decided to take the gear on a hike.  Using our favorite research tool, Google, we selected the Fern Trail in Van Damme State Park.  Up until now, my experience in Little River has been brunch at the Little River Inn every September during a golf tournament that my Dad and his oldest and dearest annualy play in.  Last Saturday we witnessed an entirely different side of Little River.  First, I learned it’s actually a real river and not just an adorable name for a fancy inn.  Second, I learned how over powering a trail embedded in a valley of ferns and forestry can be.  Third, I learned the importance of a map.


My current favorite thing to shoot on our nature days is water current and although the river is more of a creek right now, the water was running.  For me, the best position to be in while shooting water is the middle of the stream.  These were all shot from balancing on river rock with tripod and the husband encouraging me to not fall in.  Being the clumsiest person Ryan and I know, slipping in ankle deep only twice was pure success


I’ve also grown a fascination with using our 85mm to capture plant life from an unconventional angle.  The ferns were totally new for me and I was obsessed with the perfect symmetry in each leaf or stem or palm? Leaf I think.


Covering a little over 3 miles in a little over 3 hours (we stop a lot), by the time we had made it back to the car my lower back, legs and soul were ready to kick up with a cocktail and start sorting through the hundreds of shots we had captured through out the day.  Of course, my back, legs and spirit are never too tired to take full advantage of a random, empty, outdoor amphitheater in the middle of the woods.  I’ve always been a sucker for a lonely stage.


There is something about the Northern California coastline that effortlesly consumes me.  It sits there, unapologetically beautiful, waiting for you to come play.  Grey sand beaches that seem to create themselves before your eyes, botanical pockets that are constantly being reborn, all resting on top of historical ground that somehow still feels untouched by man.  Nothing makes me feel more humbled, more centered and more delightfully insignificant than the ocean.


Noodle note:

It was a great trip for both Babe and I.  His eye has developed and continues to develop every time we go out.  I often find myself swallowing jealousy over his productions.  I can’t help but share some of my top faves from this last go around.  Yeah, I married that.


St. Helena Saturday

Before I lead in with a “sorry this is so late”, I feel the need for a slight disclaimer.  When Ryan and I decided to head out to St. Helena on Saturday after the 4th of July it seemed as if the forces of the universe were acting against us.  On top of feeling a little less than stellar from our 48 straight hours of Independence Day festivities, it was a muggy 97 degrees in the shade complete with smoke filled air from a raging forest fire jut miles away.  As if that wasn’t enough to discourage us, after finally finding a spot to park and unloading the camera gear, Ryan discovered that our oh-so-necessary memory card had been left at home, rendering the camera useless.  We found ourselves at the crossroads of get back in the car and go home or suck it up and make the most out of whatever part of the day we had left.  Suck it up we did.

Now, a week and some odd days later, thanks to one of the busiest Julys we have had in a while, it only seems fit that after all the road blocks presented to us that fine summer day this post be a little tardy to the party.  After all, consistency is key.

St. Helena sits just 17 miles east of us, quaintly embedded in the Napa Valley.  Heading over, while we passed by geysers and forest covered hillsides, the closet woodsman in me immediately felt guilty, guilty that we hadn’t selected a more nature appreciative activity for the day.  Lord knows sweating out some salt rimmed, margarita filled demons could have done us some good.   Forests were soon replaced by vineyards and our fifty some odd minute drive came to an end in downtown St. Helena.  Skipping passed the forgotten memory card moment, we left the car to go enjoy the day we had planned.  Besides, should the moment present itself, we always have our trusty camera phones to fall back on.  Truthfully, I had given up on the idea of turning our afternoon into anything LA-normal related but it wasn’t too long before I realized the day had it’s own agenda in store, an agenda too good not to share.

Main St. downtown St. Helena is typical “wine country classic”.  Specialty food stores, home decor shops offering glazed ceramic geese and shabby chic end tables, an occasional clothing boutique with pashmina scarves and lamb skin slippers, all inter mingled amongst one of a kind restaurants with featured wine selections of the day.  Personally, I have found that the primary difference between St. Helena and places like Healdsburg or Sonoma is the absent aura of snootiness.  Unlike it’s neighboring counter parts, St. Helena is full of warm shop owners and happy faces that actually greet you when you enter their establishments with sincerity.  Not once did we feel unwanted or ignored, nor did we feel smothered or stalked as if we are going to pocket some sterling silver napkin rings in a back corner.  It was easy, comfortable and refreshing.

First stop was a pop into Olivier, one of my favorite stores Ryan has ever introduced me to, for some olive oil and mustard tasting.  After making an unavoidable purchase of Rosemary Olive Oil our natural next stop was into The Model Bakery for a warm, fresh out of the oven companion loaf to our new bottle of goodness.  Window shopping our way down the street, we stopped at the St. Helena Bistro for some much needed nourishment, and wine of course.

Feeling heavy from the nights before, we decided to split a few light appetizers. Tomato Bruschetta topped with garlic, capers, basil and olive oil, Salmon Tacos dipped in chipotle sauce and some of the best Onion Rings we have ever found (Babes a bit of an onion ring connoisseur if you will) all paired with a glass of Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc.  Suddenly, the struggles of the day all seemed worth it.  With it’s charming, simple interior, limited seating and umbrella covered patio, we felt as if we had discovered some secret gem.  A gem that is now at the top of our reoccurring location list, especially the next time we find ourselves exhausted and borderline over heated on the friendly streets of St. Helena.



To close out our stroll, we “ooohd” and “ahhhhd” or way through Ottoman Art, (I’m a sucker for bright colored, mosaic glass lanterns) and made our final purchase at my favorite chocolate shop in Napa and Sonoma Counties combined, Woodhouse Chocolate.  Standing in what feels like a grand entry of a colonial plantation, adorned with crystal chandeliers and all tied up with blue and silver ribbons, Ryan and I carefully picked out our desserts for the evening ahead.  I, with my chocolate dipped salted caramels and he with his dark chocolate english toffee, had felt the sense of afternoon completion and we called it a day.



Carrying our indulgences back to the car, we took our time to soak in the pink floral lined neighborhood.  Straight out of a travel guide magazine, each house has its own element of uniqueness.  You can’t help but want to post up on a white picket fence and even just for a moment feel like you belong there.  It seemed like the perfect opportunity to capture my hot pink, geometric summer dress (thank you Marshalls clearance rack) paired with my old trusty black patent Jessica Simpson sandals.  What better place to merge the old with the new than in a town that has found the perfect balance of maintaining its historical sense of originality with current, trendy merchants.


Noodle Note:

On the way home Babe decided to spontaneously swing into the Veteran’s Home of Yountville in hopes of finding a weekend ball game.  Just as he had done for so many years as an All-Star pitcher, there, on tour nation’s most patriotic weekend, was America’s favorite past time.  Smack dab in the middle of veteran filled bleachers, listening to a muffled announcer, with the faint smell of hotdogs bbqing in the parking lot, we sat.  We sat and we watched.  We didn’t know a single player, we didn’t know a single fellow spectator and we didn’t need to.  We were all there for the same reason, for the love of the game.

photo 4_8

4th on the 3rd: Our 1st Tradition

Since Ryan and I have been a couple our families have come together for a party known as “The 4th on the 3rd”.  The party itself has been a long withstanding reoccurrence in the Ottem household.  Four years ago was the 1st time I was privy to the Ottem way.  More importantly, it was the 1st time our families met each other and began a tradition of celebrating together.

Fourth of July has been one of my top favorite holidays as far back as I can remember.  As a kid it was the one day out of the year that my Dad’s entire family was all in the same place at the same time.  Hot summer days in Colusa spent running around the pool, grubbing down bbq, watching the grown ups play horseshoe and seeing my extended branch of cousins was the epitome of independence to the child version of myself.  The true meaning of the day was slightly misunderstood.  I always knew it was a day to express patriotism but the meaning of patriotism was too much for a little girl who just wanted to put on her inner tube attached swimsuit and eat popsicles to grasp.  It wouldn’t be until much later in life that I would begin to really understand what the day represents.

In general, my intent behind my LA-normal writings is to be a moment of light heartedness in someones day.  There is so much heart ache, disappointment in humanity and robbed freedom in the world, if I can be the breath of fresh air and a brake from the turmoil then I feel that my goal in all of this has been reached.  However, now that I am a fully aware adult, this goal becomes ever so challenging when discussing a topic highly fueled with emotion.  I know how fortunate I am to be an American.  I know how lucky we are to freely come together and celebrate our independence with family and friends, with little to no real fear of having it taken away.  May we all remember what others have sacrificed to bring us this day.  Like most, our freedom has been supplied by the fight of our ancestors.  In our blended family alone we have the efforts of three grandfathers to thank and what better way to thank them than by consuming large amounts of margaritas and mastering the works of Monkey’s glow in the dark worley-gig?


Personally, now more than ever,  I can’t help but be flooded with emotion when I sit back and look at what the meaning of family and freedom has developed into.  I look at the way that our niece interacts with my parents, no blood line needed, the love is there.  I watch the way that our moms hang out in the kitchen, a pattern that seems to be just as traditional as fireworks themselves.  I smile at the mischief my husband and our fathers inevitably find themselves in when the three of them are together.  I see all of this and I say thank you.  Thank you to those who have fought in the past, those fighting today and those that will undoubtly be fighting in the future.  Our freedom will never be free and it is our responsibility to never forget that.

From our first conjoined party to our present, Happy Independence America, every day of the year.