Tuesday, August 6, 2019

West Coast Road Trip - Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle
If you are traveling down Route 1 in California, you absolutely must make a stop at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  This is a town in the middle of nowhere but it is right on Route 1 so if you are on that drive anyway, this is a good place to rest.  We stayed at the Silver Surf Motel which is pretty basic but the rooms are clean, the beds are comfortable and they give you discount meal tickets for the restaurant next door.  I also didn't even bother turning on the A/C in our room and just opened a window because the temperatures drop significantly on this stretch of the West Coast, even in the summer.  I get a kick out of breathing fresh air and Northern California has that perk in spades.

Neptune Pool
I bought our tour tickets online to see the great rooms a couple weeks prior to our trip and the Silver Surf Motel was one of the few hotels I booked prior to the trip.  Since San Simeon is a small town and Hearst Castle is the really the only draw, I would highly recommend planning ahead or you might find yourself without sleeping arrangements or tour tickets in the middle of nowhere without cell service.  I made the mistake of waiting too long to book Alcatraz in San Francisco and those tickets were 100% gone when I tried to book two weeks in advance.  So, book your tickets early no matter where you are traveling.  

Flemish Tapestries and Italian Fireplace

Hearst Castle was the humble abode of William Randolph Hearst  that took him over 20 years to build between 1919 and 1947.  The castle and the surrounding land that was somewhat of a Noah's ark as he had every animal on the land from zebras to polar bears, some of which are still around today.  His home mainly served as a networking playground to the rich and famous.  Hearst would get the biggest names of the time from actors, to politicians to business tycoons up to his mansion, get them to relax, seat them at a very narrow dinner table to encourage conversation and perked his ears up to hear about their work, their connections, their projects, their affairs and whatever else would come out of their mouths when relaxed and liquored up.  The information he extracted would help feed his newspapers.  So, in case you are wondering, ethical standards in journalism was not his thing.    

Wooden Hand Carved Ceilings
In addition to his publishing empire, Hearst was also a Congressman for a period of time and once ran for President.  He was married but lived with his mistress because his wife refused to grant him a divorce.  On the money front, it wasn't just his publishing empire that provided funding, Hearst came from money.  His Father made the original riches in mining when he came out to California from Missouri during the Gold Rush.

Dining Room/Fireplace/Table
The architect of the castle was Julia Morgan who, according to our tour guide, survived on coffee and chocolate.  My kind of woman.  Hearst said he was tired of camping on the hillside which is what he had done since he was a child.  At the age of 50, he said he wanted to build "a little something" on the hill.  The plans started out relatively small and he just kept adding on until the day he died.  On his deathbed, he said he only finished about half of what he envisioned.  

Indoor Roman Pool
Whenever people see outrageous structures like this one in the United States, the question always is, why don't rich people build outrageous structures like this today?  One answer: taxes.  Back in the early 1900's, taxes for the rich could be as low as 6% for incomes over $500,000 which in today's dollars is about $12 million.  Today, if you make anything more than $500,000, you are taxed at 37%.  The good times came to a hard stop during the Great Depression.  One of the best stories from our tour was that Hearst was not a fan of Franklin Roosevelt and proceeded to pillage him in his newspapers when he was running for President.  It did not work. Roosevelt won by a landslide.

Roman Pool
Since the country was in a serious financial mess at the time, Roosevelt went on to push a 75% tax through Congress on the 1% folks of the time.  On top of that, the State of California was also in financial distress and loaded on another 15% tax on top of the 75%.  So, Hearst went down to taking home $0.10 of every $1.00 he made.  Even for the super rich, that hurts.  Hearst almost lost the castle but hung on and was able to keep it until the hard times passed.  Don't feel too bad for him.  His descendants are still living the high life off of their trust funds.  Even a huge tax won't break a guy with enough money.

Monday, July 29, 2019

West Coast Road Trip: Portland

Multnomah Falls
Day 3:  We headed out early in the morning from Seattle to get to Portland with a stop at Multnomah Falls.  I have been to this waterfall a few times and it always takes my breath away.  We did the hike up to the top of the falls which is just under 2 miles one way on somewhat steep and uneven terrain.  Absolutely worth it because the crowds thin out significantly and the view from above is breathtaking.

Top of the Falls

Midway Down from the Top
Next we headed out to Portland for a well deserved lunch and my favorite tea.  We stopped at the food trucks that dot the city and lucky for us, there were several clustered in an area that is just over the bridge when we entered the city around 5th Ave.  The enterprising owners will usually be sticking their hands out of their trucks with samples of their food.  Good luck making a choice.  I always stop at these trucks when I hit Portland and I have yet to eat anything that is not incredible.  We went with a Filipino truck and a neighboring Greek/Persian truck for Pork Adobo and a very large Gyro wrapped up like a burrito.  The Adobo was salty and sweet piled on top of sticky rice with some crunch from cabbage slaw.  The Gyro had lamb and a creamy tzatziki sauce wrapped up in a warm tortilla sort of wrap.  It was certainly not pita bread.  Delicious, whatever ever it was.

Pork Adobo

Gyro wrapped like a burrito

Smith Tea

Next we stopped at Smith Tea which was only about a mile away and over the bridge.  My son had the Chai Latte and I had the Sparkling Strawberry Honeybush cold tea.  It took about ten minutes to get the order out to us, which was fine since we were both happy to just sit and take a break.  The Chai was not sweetened which lead to my son taking a sip and leaving the rest to me.  It was delicious but if you want sticky sweet, this is not the place.  That said, my honeybush drink did have a little bit of sweet to it along with bubbles which was just what I needed to get back on the road.

Tillamook Creamery
We got back in the car for the long drive down to Tillamook Ceramery on our way to Lincoln City where we would be sleeping that night.  Tillamook was about an hour and a half from Portland.  I would not recommend a special trip just for the creamery but if you are on your way down the coast, go for it.  The tour is about the length of a hallway where you can view the cheese making and packaging process from above.  They have cheese out to taste and downstairs there are various food options all with, you guessed it, cheese somewhere in each dish.  Top that off with ice cream and that is your dinner for the night.  Ice cream and my digestive system don't have the best relationship these days so I usually let my son order.  He got the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and I did take a taste.  Delicious.

Tillamook Ice Cream

Saturday, July 27, 2019

West Coast Road Trip - Seattle

Pike Place Market

I am traveling with a teenager down the West Coast of the U.S. and learning a lot along the way.  I believe there is value in trapping my kid in the car with me so I can hear what's in his head because there is nowhere to go and nothing to do.  He does play on his phone and pops in his ear buds now and then but even that gets old and he will start just talking to me about how he views the world or his observations as he watches the world go by outside of his window.  I would not trade this time with him for anything in the world and I can honestly say this is one of the few times in my life that I am completely present.

Gum Wall
Day 1:  We started our trip in Seattle, WA and rented a car at the airport.  Renting a compact car to drive from Seattle to San Diego is the priciest part of the trip at a whopping $1,000.  This is the price after I called around and negotiated the price down and with a AAA discount.  I booked two days at an Airbnb near Seward Park, a neighborhood/park with a beautiful lake and cool little towns less than a mile away.  I got my coffee in the morning from a little place in Columbia City called Empire Espresso.  Very rich but not burnt coffee.  Just the way I like it with a splash of cream.

Prince's Motorcycle

We headed out to downtown Seattle to hit Pike Place Market that sits from a perch overlooking the Seattle waterfront.  I heard so much about this place and I was worried it wouldn't live up to the hype.  The market was everything I expected and more.  The miles of flowers, food, funky little stores along with a view of the waterfront was awesome.  I wish I had checked this website before heading there but I did not and we ate at Lowell's.  The food was good and the view out of the top floor windows was great.  They also were quick which was important since I had not had breakfast and had been up since 4am central time for our 6:40 am flight.  We had fish tacos, fried calamari and fish and chips.  My son devoured the majority of the food as is his way these days.  He then downed a waffle cone full of ice cream and a block of fudge.  Ahh, to be young with a speedy metabolism.  Enjoy it, kid.  

My Son's Idol
After we gorged ourselves we headed down into the oddest ally ever with the gum wall.   You walk in and it's walls of chewed gum stuck on walls and it smells like juicy fruit.  Overall, I liked Seattle but this, no.  Sorry, but it was gross.  My son heard about this place and begged me to go so I indulged him but not without a sigh and and a noticeable eye roll.  He thought it was cool, so we will call it even for him indulging me when I drag him to art museums.

The Terminator
Next we went to what we agreed was an awesome highlight, The Museum of Pop Culture.  If you have a teenager and you, as the parent, are a former child of the 80's and 90's, this is a must.  They have exhibits dedicated to Jimmy Hendrix, Prince and of course, Pearl Jam.  If there was ever a museum that fed my soul, this one was it.  My son loved the horror film section of the museum and I had to wait for him outside after a brief walk around the exhibit.  Horror films gave me serious nightmares as a kid and they still don't grab me.

Robin Williams's Outfit from Mork & Mindy

Freddy's Outfit

Tower of Guitars


Poster from Singles

Nixon's Ride (Air Force One)
Day 2:  We headed out to the Boeing manufacturing campus for a tour of where they make the planes that carry us all over the world.  Their assembly line is not as speedy as a car manufacturing facility but quite a bit bigger.  No photos, cell phones, bags or anything else was allowed on the tour.

Fighter Jet Seat
After Boeing, we went to the Museum of Flight where my son got to sit in the seat of fighter jets (this one just never gets old).  We flew in a flight simulator and I let my son be the pilot which made me literally almost lose my lunch.  Be warned, that simulator will flip upside down as many times as you can within the span of a couple of minutes.  We got to walk aboard Nixon's Air Force One, a Concord jet and a 787 Dreamliner.  There were places where you could see the history of flight and their role in various wars throughout U.S. history.

We ended the day by heading out to Gas Works Park where the view of the Seattle skyline is perfect and the parking is easy.  This is a great place to get out, walk around, stretch your legs and take in the gorgeous views and waterway.  

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Bagel Bombs

Bagel Bombs
A memo to the kids and newcomers to Chicago: it gets cold here.  It can get really, really cold here.  Sometimes we get lucky and have a mild winter, as has happened for the past couple of years.  Other years we get hit by a blizzard or a cold snap.  It happens.

Today is now on record as the second coldest day in Chicago because there was about an hour that it was -23F.  If you followed the news or social media, you would think it was -23 the entire day but no, it was an hour.  That's it.  I am old enough to have been around in 1985 when the other really cold day happened.  I was 9 years old at the time so I don't remember much but here is the Chicago Sun-Times front page.  See that?  The headline says, "Brave" and that most folks bundled up and kept moving.  Really, the only person who should worry about a blizzard or cold snap is the Mayor.  God help the person in office who doesn't handle it well.

I know I am being nostalgic and sounding as old as dirt when I say this but I miss the days when Chicagoans took pride in their thick skin and ability to put on long underwear and power through a cold day.  I know that in 1985 the deep freeze (-27F) was on a Sunday but I guarantee my Mother had me in church.  I also never, ever remember having school cancelled because it was cold.  The fact that school was cancelled today and tomorrow, when it it supposed to be a balmy 0 degrees, is nuts to me.  Last I checked, I am the Mother of my kid.  If I determine if it's too cold for him to go to school (see never, ever), then I will keep him at home.  Thank you Oak Park School District for parenting for me.  Can you also cook dinner and help with homework?  That would be lovely!

Sunday, January 20, 2019


I would like to say that I dropped off the face of the blogging earth because I was doing something like hiking the Himalayas or that I had finally shoved off everything and lived out my dream of moving to Bali to take a deep dive into Hinduism while practicing yoga and meditation, Eat, Pray, Love style.

I didn't go the travel route but I did get unexpectedly downsized in the corporate job I had been at for the past eight years.  This lead me down a path of self-discovery that lead to a Pilates teacher training program and a job at a non-profit.  I am also making bagels with a group of women a few mornings a week that are sold to locals who enjoy a bagel that is not bread in a bagel shape.

Perhaps this new direction speaks to an undiagnosed case of ADD or a mid-life crises.  I don't know but I can say this, I no longer think about everything I am going to do when I retire.  I had to give up the manicures, frequent hair appointments, clothes shopping, magazine/apps/news/music subscriptions, the overflow of flowers I used to have in the garden, eating out and a lot of travel.  I don't have those things anymore but I don't feel like I am missing anything.  We'll see if this hippy live in the moment shtick lasts.  At this rate, who knows, I could be blogging from Bali next month.

This new lifestyle has me extremely busy and my baking/cooking obsession has taken a back seat to following my bliss.  I had a few minutes and it is Mallomar season seeing as it is way too cold to go out and roast marshmallows for a proper S'more.  These are S'mores with the volume turned way up from Melissa Clark's, "Cook This Now".  It's a bit of an undertaking but if you can get to the finish line, it's worth it.  A pile of marshmallow on a homemade graham cracker crust with a shock of dark chocolate on top.  PSA: Support your local library and check this book out.

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Peppermint Macarons

Macarons are a finicky little treat.  One of the top questions on Google on macarons is why they are so expensive.  Anyone who has attempted or made these delicate meringue treats knows the answer to that question.  One wrong move and and you have a big pile of goop.

I might have had a few five fails before I was able to bring this together.  I actually checked out books from the library on macrons and I have to say, those books, which shall remain nameless here, make it way more difficult than necessary.

Last week I happened to have a couple of leftover egg whites that I let sit on the counter overnight.  I completely forgot about them and came down the next morning to find them looking sad and taunting me to give the macrons another try, after swearing them off after my last fail.  I looked up a recipe on pinterest that did not require weighing and was very simple.  Guess what?  They actually worked.  The recipe is here.

I used a basic buttercream filling, threw in some peppermint oil and rolled the sides in crushed candy canes.  The end result was delicious, although I do need to work on smoothing out the tops of the macaron shell.  Taking pictures of my work keeps me honest and those little bumps in the picture above are bothering me as I write.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Spiced Biscotti

There I was last night, swearing I would not turn on the TV.  I told myself, "Don't do this to yourself.  You can't take the heartbreak."

I cleaned half the house, did some laundry, worked on this blog...and then I couldn't take it any longer.  I had to see what was up in Alabama.  I turned on MSNBC and saw Roy Moore leading.  "Son of a B----!!!!!!  Mother of God, WHY, WHY?????"  My son came down the stairs to ask if I was ok.  "Yes, love...just mourning the end of decency, that's all."  

I flipped on Netflix to the only show that could calm my nerves, The Great British Baking Show.  I watched a group of people being helpful to one another and competing for none other than the honor of doing well.  I watched two episodes and it calmed me.  At this point, my significant other, let's just call him, Manny, because he looks like Manny Pacquiao , was home and checking his phone while I ever so dramatically mourned the end of our Republic.  

All of a sudden he said, "Doug Jones won!"  I thought he was kidding.  I checked my own phone and saw the news outlets calling the race for Jones.  Christmas came early.

Thank you to the good people of Alabama for sending an honorable person to represent them in the Senate.