Napa Trip this Christmas

I haven’t visited Napa for years despite being in the Bay Area.  Napa not only has experienced serious flooding but also roaring fire in recent years – it has not been easy. But Napa is still Napa; it attracts all sorts of tourists to visit. Just this year, it has been named by USA Today amongst the most expensive tourist destinations in the U.S.

A search for the various vineyards tasting fee showed that many require a tasting fee of at least $30 (without tours, not counted towards purchase) while it is not uncommon to see a $70 tasting fee with a tour.  Certainly, the place is even more commercialized than what I remember.

Therefore I decided to look for ways to enjoy Napa on a 2-day trip that did not set us back too much.

Here are our itineraries:

Day 1:

  • Drive from the Bay Area to Napa for an early lunch at Heritage Eats which offers really fresh locally-sourced ethnic (Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican) wrap or bowl.  So delicious and convenient.
  • Head to Calistoga’s famous Castello di Amorosa (Tuscany-style castle) for the sceneries and wine tasting, paired with chocolates. Their La Fantasia (Rose style) is their most popular wine and is very pleasant. A private tour is recommended because the history of the place is very interesting and 2/3 of the estate is underground. Tour is around 2 hours.  In fact, Calistoga and its hot springs and mud bath, as well as the Sterling Vineyards, are worthwhile places to visit if one has more time.
  • On the way back to Napa, stop by Yao Family Wines to learn about this celebrity’s wines, which have received critical acclaims ever since their first release in 2011. The lady there was friendly and could allow you to sip their wines (e.g. Cab) for a little bit for free!
  • Then, head to The Hess Collection Winery especially for their modern art museum which is open to the public.  Tips: do go during the daytime as you will be driving through narrow mountainous roads. Their garden, visitor center, and art museum are very nice. Worth a visit.
  • Dine at Kitchen Door at the Oxbow Public Market – a unique experience dining in the middle of a public market – good food and reasonable prices!
  • Buy some groceries at the nearby Safeway for next morning’s breakfast.
  • Stay at the beautiful one bedroom suite at Vino Bello Resort via my timeshare. This resort is part of the Meritage Group and rests at the southern end of Napa in a very peaceful area, about 10 minutes from Napa downtown. The good thing is that The Meritage has built a new resort called Vista Collina opposite to Vino Bello. The new resort contains The Village which has 9 wine tasting rooms, and you can easily get 2 for 1 tasting coupons.

Day 2:

  • After cooking own breakfast, take a morning stroll to the Fivetown Grocery at The Village and zip tea or coffee and pick up any favourite eateries.
  • Then head to the Howell Mountain at the Carneros Region to taste red wines and champagne. The 2 stops can be Cade Winery, which has one of the best Napa wines and great views and right opposite to Cade, the magnificent Domaine Carneros, which has recently opened its restaurant. Brunching at the restaurant is a great way to taste its wines and delicious food and enjoy the fantastic views of the rolling vineyards.

So here are the 1.5 days of itinerary without breaking the bank.  On the way back to San Francisco, we took Highway 101 and stopped by Sausalito for a cup of hot tea and tea cake and take in the beautiful San Francisco skyline.  Then head to San Francisco’s Cafe Bastille at the Belden Place for a lovely French dinner. A pleasant way to complete a short but wonderful get-away.

Castello di Amorosa at Calistoga
The dining hall at Castello di Amorosa
Rolling vineyards at Cade Winery
Beautiful Domaine Carneros
Yao Family Wines tasting room
Modern art at The Hess Collection
Barrels at Hess Collection
Sausalito pier
Golden Gate Bridge

Hiking – learning a few tips

My hiking with a friend last Friday to Mount Tamalpais (locally known as Mt. Tam), the highest point in the Marin County in the Bay Area, was a memorable one.

The hike was from the Pantoll Station to the East Peak (check here) via the Matt Davis Trail, the West Inn, and we came back via the Railroad Grade Fire Road – my Apple Watch registered 13 miles for the entire trip for 5.5 hours of hiking (1 hour was a detour as we went on a wrong track and back and we did not exactly reach the East Peak).

Many have commented on the views of the Bay, the redwood trees, the water bridges, the serpentine rocks, and how shady and gradual most of the trail is. We did not disappoint. The West Inn provides a much-needed resting point for bathroom breaks and water refill, plus we felt wonderful and serene looking at the views.


My friend, being a more experienced hiker, taught me several things about hiking.

1. Bring only what you need. I almost brought my jacket but it was probably over 75 degrees F up there and I also left my wallet at the car.

2. Need for a hiking stick and hat.  Never underestimate how far one has to walk. The stick will definitely help when one is walking up and down a gradient and to prevent slipping. The hat is an absolute must with the summer sun.

3. Hydrate! This is obvious and one needs to check on water refilling points during the route or else one has to bring at least 2 big bottles of water.

4. Food. Carbohydrate/fruit/dried fruit will give you that glucose kick you need. Nuts and peanut butter filled pretzels (traders joe) are very good.  Some people carry bread with them and eat them on the way. Beware of taking protein/chocolate bars as they could melt or become mushy along the way. Also, eat something before the long hike to prevent low sugar especially when one has to walk fast uphill after a detour.

5. Walk at a gradual pace to keep your stamina. Hiking is one of the best exercises for your health. It is considered a form of meditation and so walk at a nice, steady pace.

6. Map.  It is crucial especially the path is new to you. We thought that we would never get lost at Mt. Tam as it is pretty close to the urban area. We thought we were on the right path back but we actually went further east from the East Peak instead of heading back to the West. Glad we checked the map.

7. Cellphone. It is not only important for an emergency but also for lighting when it gets dark.

8. Ask for guidance. There are many experienced hikers along the way and so always ask for suggested routes to make your hike even better.

9.  Decide whether you want to hike alone.  This is not my preference as it is always so much more fun to connect with or catch up with a friend/family member via hiking. However, we did see many lone hikers.

When we left Marin, we received a gift – seeing the big blood (red) moon hanging low at the horizon as July 27th was the century’s longest lunar eclipse. We also brought back some beautiful serpentine rocks as a memoir for the hike!

The Beauty of Ikebana lies in its Philosophy

I spent a wonderful afternoon learning about Ikebana (the Japanese art of arranging flowers) at the Asian Arts Museum last Saturday with the President of the Wafu School of Ikebana in the California chapter, Fusako Hoyrup Sensei.

The word Ikebana means “live flowers in a container”; it allows us to enjoy indoors the charm and beauty of landscapes, the seashore, or lakeside.  The practice dates back to the 6th or 7th century in Japan as simple offerings on Buddhist altars but has now become an art form in everyday’s life.  There are now about 3,000+ schools of Ikebana in Japan.

The Wafu School, founded in the early 20th century, emphasizes complete harmony among the flowers, vases, and the environment.  Wafu style brings out the “natural beauty”, respecting the flowers and plants in their natural state.

The fundamental way of arranging the flowers is to create a trigonal pyramid (or more accurately an inverted, oblique trigonal pyramid.)  The lengths of the 3 main stems are different and can be simplified as long, medium (2/3 of long), and short (1/3 of long).  The length of the long can be determined by the height of the container + the width (at its widest) of the container.  Then, you can add complementary or supplementary stems as necessary.

Ikebana principles
Courtesy of the Wafu School of Ikebana

I love learning that these flowers and plants harmonize each other as well as with the artist and the environment.  You would know which flowers to buy or use because flowers talk to you.  Arrange the flowers and plants facing toward the sunlight because this is the natural way how plants grow!  This way gives the arrangement more depth and natural beauty.

So here is the result of my very first Ikebana lesson – ta da!

Ikebana - first
This is a Moribana (flat) arrangement of the upright pattern, using 7 major steps in a basin

Could you guess that the focal point of this arrangement is the 2 lowest-placed tiger lilies? Can you sense that the flowers are coming toward you?

Thanks to Sensei Fusako Hoyrup, I have learned some simple but very important lessons of life as well – bond with nature and appreciate it anywhere.  Here is a lovely arrangement by the master, herself.

Fusako_Hoyrup_Seiga_
Magnificent arrangement by Fusako Hoyrup. She also used some of the smaller stems to create the second arrangement, isn’t it cute and lovely?

 

Important news about emotions

This is another great writing by one of my favourite writers, Eric Barker.

Essentially, the 3 essence to improve your emotional intelligence are:

1. Learn to recognize emotional granuality.  

It is not just this makes me “feel good” or “not feel good.”

2. Learn new words that describe emotions – the Japanese has a word to describe the emotion you feel after you have a bad haircut!  

I think talking to more cultures and understand their special vocabulary would really help. 

3. Create new emotions – give a name to it.

All of these help your brain to figure out better what situations you are really in and to provide you with more resources or flexibility to cope with them.

Instead of being all panicky about the problem, you might feel cool about it – like the Hong Kong Chinese say: “when the sky falls, treat it like a blanket is covering you” (not always, but sometimes this works!)

Courtesy to Blazek

A Secret Ingredient for Health

Bone Broth reasons
Courtesy of revivalistkitchen.com

One has probably heard about bone broth (made from beef, pork, chicken, fish) and veggie broth, but Heather Dane really explained well why we need bone broth, especially after age 40!  The star in bone broth – collagen – supports, strengthens, cushions, provides structure, and holds the body together like glue, according to Heather.  If your body starts to lose collagen, no wonder you can feel more aches and pains, have wrinkles, thinner hair, and eye problems, experience loss of muscle tone, have digestive issues, etc.  Bone broth is also the key ingredient to many tasty Chinese soups such as this wonton soup (Hong Kong-style) and this 5-minute veggie soup (add animal protein if you like).  I have personally experienced really really tasty Shanghainese wonton soup in the streets of Shanghai – the secret is no doubt their long and well-simmered bone broth!