San Francisco

IMG_1807To celebrate our anniversary this year, we decided to take a weekend trip to San Francisco. We’ve made the drive up many times over the past few years. In fact, it was the first weekend getaway that we had together a few months into our relationship. Each time, we visit old favorites, and enjoy discovering something new as well. We realize that it will probably be a while before we take another trip without children, so we especially cherished these moments as a couple. Here are some of our favorite spots around the city from over the years.

IMG_1806The first time that we visited the Golden Gate Bridge, it was completely consumed by fog. We could only hear the sounds of traffic while looking up into a blanket of white. Fortunately, we have now been able to see it on a clear day, and it is certainly a beautiful sight.

IMG_1711Eating some tasty treats at the Ferry Building is a must during a pleasant stroll along the Embarcadero.

IMG_1714In a city full of hills, Coit Tower makes Telegraph Hill outshine them all.

IMG_1237We have not yet visited the California State Capitol in Sacramento, but it’s hard to imagine that it would live up to the grandeur of San Francisco City Hall.

IMG_1750IMG_1757The architecture of San Francisco is definitely not afraid to embrace color. The painted ladies around Alamo Square are the quintessential examples of this. It’s fun to think about what color schemes we would use if we were painting some of them.

IMG_9048IMG_0033The 49ers have been James’ favorite team since he was a baby. A few years ago we were able to make it to Candlestick Park during the 49ers’ final season there. It was not a very good stadium, but we were glad to see it before demolition.

IMG_1813IMG_0021Of all the beautiful sites in the city, the Palace of Fine Arts is our favorite. The landscaping around the lagoon frames the monumental architecture quite nicely.

IMG_1728The striking shape of the iconic Transamerica Pyramid makes the San Francisco skyline instantly recognizable.

IMG_1782IMG_1776IMG_1781It’s wonderful that the cultural identity of Chinatown has been maintained for more than a century. The pagoda roofs, lanterns, and neon signs give this neighborhood such a dynamic energy.

IMG_1765We enjoy visiting San Francisco often, but of course, we will be taking a hiatus for the next couple of years. Once our baby is old enough to roam the hills with us, we hope to bring it back as a frequent destination.

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Mocktails

Over the past few months of pregnancy, I have begun to embrace mocktails: delicious non-alcoholic beverages made with a variety of ingredients, much like a regular cocktail. This way, I can still have a drink with nuanced flavor, while feeling like I’m part of the festivities during social gatherings.

IMG_1707Blackberry and green plum spritz: For this drink I used a Korean green plum extract to give the drink some sweetness and extra flavor. Paired with muddled blackberries for tartness and just a splash of sparkling water, it makes a refreshing drink that isn’t too sweet.

Instructions: Muddle 4 blackberries with 1 oz of green plum extract in a glass. Add ice and top with sparkling water.

IMG_1709Mocktail Moscow Mule: This drink follows a basic Moscow mule recipe, but without the vodka. I like to add lots of lime juice, which is not only tasty but has also been a great aid with morning sickness the last few months.

Instructions: Juice a small lime and add to a copper mug along with a few sprigs of fresh mint. Add ice and fill mug with ginger beer of choice.

IMG_1710Coconut and pineapple daiquiri: I love tropical fruits, and tiki cocktails are some of my favorites. Most tiki drinks are made up of fruit juices and syrups with the addition of rums.

Instructions: 1/2 cup frozen pineapple pieces, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 1.5 oz orange juice, 1 oz grenadine, 1 oz almond syrup (can be made by making a 1/4 cup of simple syrup with 1tsp of almond extract). Add all of the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.

 


Pregnancy Announcement

puffy

We are thrilled to announce that a new Baby Dastoli will be arriving in March!


Coconut Rice

IMG_1695I remember going through a phase as a child when I didn’t like coconut at all. I don’t quite remember when that changed, but it’s safe to say that I now love all things coconut flavored, sweet and savory. Though savory coconut is not as common, this coconut rice with red beans and a little bit of jalapeño spice is one of my favorite rice side dishes.

IMG_1696Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups white rice, 1 jalapeño, 5 sprigs of thyme, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 can coconut milk, 1 can red kidney beans, salt and pepper to taste.

IMG_1684Instructions: Add olive oil to a pot with lid or dutch oven over medium heat. Remove seeds from jalapeño and slice, add to pot along with thyme and lightly sauté. Add rice and mix until rice is lightly coated with olive oil. Sauté rice until just starting to get toasty and aromatic.

Add can of coconut milk, about half the can worth of water, beans, salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine ingredients, cover, and lower heat. Cook for about 35 minutes, until liquid is gone and rice is cooked through.

IMG_1691You can serve it as a side to any meal, but I especially love pairing it with a hearty meat dish and relaxing on the patio on a summer evening.

 

 


Mushroom Ravioli

IMG_1683Ever since getting the pasta attachment for my stand mixer, I have been dabbling in making homemade pasta. I especially love preparing fresh pasta for guests, or for a romantic date night in. Ravioli in particular can be a perfect special dinner for two without spending the money on going out to a restaurant. This mushroom ravioli, stuffed with a creamy mushroom filling and covered with an herby mushroom sauce, is one of our absolute favorites.

IMG_1670IMG_1673For the pasta: 5oz flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 whole egg, 2 egg yolks (reserve one egg white for later).

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook and mix for about 10 minutes. All of the ingredients will come together to form a ball and hook will knead the dough until it is smooth and shiny. Wrap dough in plastic, and let sit for at least one hour. When dough has rested, cut in half and roughly shape each piece into rectangles, flattening with the palm of your hand, and lightly dust with flour. Run each piece of dough through the pasta attachment, starting on setting 1 and gradually making your way to 5. I like to run the dough through each number about 3 times. Once each piece has gone through setting 5 at least twice, cut each strip in half and rest on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour until ready to use.

IMG_1675For the filling: 1 tsp olive oil, 2 1/2 cups roughly diced mushrooms (any kind and combination you’d like), 1 small diced shallot, 2 diced garlic cloves, 4 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 tbsp butter, 3/4 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

While the dough is resting you can start making the ravioli filling. Heat olive oil in skillet and add shallots and garlic. Sauté shallots and garlic until starting to lightly brown, then add mushrooms and thyme. Lower heat to low and let simmer gently until mushrooms are cooked through. Add butter and salt and pepper to taste. Remove the thyme sprigs and let the mushrooms cool, then add to a bowl with ricotta and parmesan cheeses. Mix until thoroughly combined.

IMG_1676IMG_1677To make the ravioli, lay out the sheets of pasta and place about a tablespoon for each ravioli of mushroom filling along the sheet. Brush with egg whites along the edges of the filling. Cover with the second half of the pasta, then gently press around the edges of the filling to seal each ravioli and remove air.

IMG_1678Using a ravioli stamp press each ravioli along the edges to give them their proper shape. Gently pull each ravioli apart and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook ravioli for about 3 minutes, until they all float to top. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on plates.

IMG_1681For the sauce: 1 tsp olive oil, 1 garlic clove, 1 cup sliced mushrooms, 1 cup chicken broth, 2 tbsp minced parsley, 1 tbsp butter

Heat olive oil in skillet and add garlic. Add mushrooms and sauté for a couple of minutes, until mushrooms start to lightly brown. Add chicken broth and parsley and let simmer until broth has reduced by about half. Add butter and salt and pepper to taste, mix well.

IMG_1682Drizzle mushroom sauce over freshly made ravioli, and garnish with fresh parsley to complete the dish.

 

 


Coastal New England

IMG_5349On our visits to New England, we have taken many scenic drives along the rocky coastline, admiring the maritime character of the region. Growing up on Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay, the water was always near, and although neither James nor I ever really sailed, the imagery of the sea was ever present. Here is a small collection of images we’ve taken over the past few trips that highlight the views of coastal New England.

IMG_6070IMG_0823The Conimicut Light in Rhode Island and the Spring Point Ledge Light in Maine are just some of the many lighthouses that dot the New England coast.

IMG_7530The rugged shoreline has claimed many vessels over the past few hundred years. What child in the area hasn’t thought of the treasures that they would find if they were able to explore one of these shipwrecks?

IMG_5302IMG_4760The most famous ship that made it safely to shore has got to be the Mayflower, and on Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, you can visit the gravesites of the Pilgrims.

IMG_0726There are many beautiful historic cities in New England that have relied on the sea for their development, such as Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

IMG_0779IMG_0848Another city that prospered due to maritime commerce is Portland, Maine. The historical structures of the Old Port have been preserved and and now form a lively district of boutiques and restaurants.

IMG_9621All over the region are relics from the Industrial Revolution such as this rusting pipeline in Stamford, Connecticut.

IMG_5378The Mystic River Bascule Bridge in Connecticut is a drawbridge that is still operational. It’s fascinating to sit nearby and watch as the flow of vehicle and pedestrian traffic is periodically stopped for boats to pass through.

IMG_5336IMG_4795Anyone who really wants to experience what life on the New England coast was like over a century ago, needs to visit Mystic Seaport. There they can board the Charles W. Morgan, the only surviving wooden whaling ship in America.

IMG_9612When I see the rocky beaches of New England, I feel so much at home. It reminds me of the countless hours spent in my youth watching sailboats bobbing up and down while collecting sea shells from tide pools. I’m so glad that this is something that James experienced as a child as well, and that now we can rediscover it together.


Apéritif and Digestif

Along with planning the meal itself, planning the drinks for a dinner party can be fun and creative. I love to serve an apéritif as guests arrive, preparing them for a hearty dinner, and to end the evening with a relaxing digestif. Here is one apéritif and one digestif that have become some of our favorites, and would be great for either a dinner party or a date night in.

img_0881Negroni Sbagliato: using classic aperitif ingredients like Campari and Prosecco, this cocktail is just the right amount of bitter while also being very punchy and refreshing.

img_08831 oz Campari, 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, 4 oz Prosecco

Add ice to glass and layer each ingredient. Serve with a citrus garnish.

img_0889Coffee Spritz: On cold nights an Irish coffee is a great way to end a meal, but if you’re looking for something cooler as the weather warms, or simply looking for an alternative without losing the coffee flavor, this is the perfect cocktail. The Averna digestif liquor in this cocktail gives it a delicate herby taste, while the coffee and vanilla syrup give it body and sweetness. The foamy texture comes from an egg white, which makes this a great brunch cocktail as well.

img_08921 oz Averna, 1/2 oz dark rum, 1/2 oz vanilla syrup, 2 oz cold brew coffee, 1 egg white, 1 1/2 oz Prosecco

Add all ingredients except for Prosecco to shaker and shake for at least 15 seconds. Add ice and shake until chilled. Pour into glass and let sit for a few seconds before topping with Prosecco.


Japanese Cuisine

IMG_1406One could easily visit Japan, do nothing but eat, and still have an amazing trip. During our stay we managed to not only see some incredible places, but also experience some of the most unique and flavorful cuisine that we have ever had. Trying out all of the food, both familiar and new, was truly an adventure in itself.

IMG_9888The first thing any visitor will notice when searching for food options in Japan is the consistent use of realistic plastic food samples at just about every establishment. We had heard of the concept before, but did not realize how universal it was until we were there. It was not only fascinating to see the attention to detail in each plate, but also very helpful when it came time to order food, since we could point to our exact desired dish when making selections.

IMG_9541IMG_1407Perhaps our favorite meal of the trip was at Manzaratei Pontochoten, where we enjoyed a traditional Kyōto style meal at a small restaurant with prime seating at the counter. From our seats we could see the chefs putting together lovely little dishes, often ladling in broths and sauces from the various large bowls resting on the counter in front of us. Already one of his favorite foods in general, James proclaimed this was the best unagi he has ever had after his very first bite.

IMG_9315IMG_1042We had several bentō boxes while on the trip. They were pretty and convenient to grab while on the go, and also fun to explore what each one had inside.

IMG_9970Rāmen in Tōkyō is of course an absolute must, and we tried out a few different ones while on the trip. Ichiran was our favorite one of all, since not only do they have fantastic rāmen, but the experience of dining at one of the their restaurants was completely new to us. The first step is buying a ticket at a machine at the entrance. Then, each patron is seated in their own individual booth and given a sheet to fill out denoting their preferences on things like noodle firmness, spice level, aromatics, and richness. A small curtain separates the booths from the kitchen, and only the hands of the servers are visible as they place your order in front of you once it’s ready.

sushiNaturally, we were very much looking forward to eating plenty of raw seafood on the trip, and a simple conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Kyōto Station was one of the most satisfying experiences. For around one hundred yen per plate, guests simply pick up what they’d like from the belt, and stack up their dishes for a tally at the end. The fish was incredibly fresh, and we tried a few that we had never eaten before.

IMG_9694IMG_9688Another must for the trip was trying out all of the street food. For this we headed to Nishiki Market in Kyōto – a long strip of vendors selling goods such as fresh seafood, pickled vegetables, and just about any ingredients that a local resident may need for cooking. Among the produce shops there are also several vendors selling hot food ready for eating on the spot. We walked through the entire market starting at one end, and made sure to get a wide variety as we made our way through. The tako tamago (candied baby octopus stuffed with quail egg) was James’ favorite, while the cup of fried chicken was some of the best I’ve ever had.

IMG_9919IMG_1510One of our most memorable meals was at what is locally referred to as Piss Alley in Shinjuku. Contrary to what the name suggests, Piss Alley is a fun narrow street where you can sit in a tiny restaurant and enjoy delicious yakitori under the glow of hanging lanterns. After cramming into one of the restaurants, we ordered a great variety of meats and vegetables that were all lightly seasoned before being grilled to perfection over binchotan (Japanese white coals) right in front of us. We had friends who had just arrived in Japan, and we met up with them to share the experience.

IMG_9820Tonkatsu is a traditional Japanese comfort food. Panko crusted pork cutlets and cabbage salad are served with a small bowl of sesame seeds on the side. We ground up the sesame seeds ourselves, and added our choice of sauce from little pots placed in front of us. The experience was fun and unique, and I brought home a little grinding bowl and sauce pot from a local market to recreate the meal someday.

IMG_7138IMG_6524The variety of snacks found all throughout our trip was insanely impressive. From cat shaped chocolate popsicles, to obscure flavors of Pocky, and the best gummy candies I’ve ever had – there was no shortage of opportunity to try new things.

IMG_7348Overall it’s safe to say that the cuisine in Japan is an adventurous experience. Almost every time we saw something interesting to try, we went for it, and were never disappointed. We were consistently intrigued with how most of the foods used the same types of ingredients that we are accustomed to eating in North America, but used in ways that transformed their flavor profiles.


Kyōto

IMG_1269There are many beautiful sights in the city of Kyōto, which is just a few hours ride on the Shinkansen from Tōkyō. When planning, we aimed for our trip to coincide with the blooming of sakura. Luckily, we arrived right on time, and Kyōto offered a myriad of places to view them.

IMG_1412The wooden lattices and paper dividers in our room at Hotel Kanra create an atmosphere of elegant simplicity reminiscent of the ancient capital. There was even a wooden bathtub made of Japanese cypress that we soaked in each evening we were there.

IMG_1289IMG_1317IMG_1288A great place for hanami (the viewing of sakura) is the Shirakawa Canal in the geisha district of Gion.

IMG_1349IMG_1358The path to Kiyomizu-dera through Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka is absolutely breathtaking. Traditional machiya line the narrow stone lane as it slopes up the hill from one pagoda to another.

IMG_1340Ishibei-koji is a beautifully preserved quiet lane in the Higashiyama district that feels like something out of a painting.

IMG_1249IMG_1263There are said to be over 10,000 torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha.

IMG_1429IMG_1437Nijō-jō is a castle that was built as a residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns when they took trips to see the Imperial Court. We were able to go inside the castle and view the gorgeous wall and ceiling paintings found throughout. The castle is also famous for its nightingale corridors that make gentle chirping sounds as you walk on the wooden floors.

IMG_1443Around the castle are gardens with meticulously composed stones.

IMG_1459IMG_1462The Philosopher’s Walk is a serene path lined with sakura that travels past many temples and shrines.

IMG_1370We were so fortunate to catch the sakura bloom at just the right time, but regardless of the season, Kyōto is wonderful. The city gave us a tranquil experience that was an interesting contrast to the high energy of Tōkyō.