Friday, May 23, 2014

San Francisco with Little Kids

If you told me a few months ago that I could do a fun big city vacation with two little kids, I would have thought you were nuts. But San Francisco is an awesome city, even for little kids! I'm going to tell you what we enjoyed the most, so if you are planning a trip to SF with your kiddos, you should check out these spots!

Muir Woods - A beautiful forest filled with giant redwood trees. We booked a tour, and the bus picked us up outside our hotel in downtown SF, and dropped us off at the hotel after. We were ready at 8 am, and back at the hotel by 2 pm. It was narrated by the driver, so we learned about SF, Muir Woods and Sausalito, a beautiful city that we drove through the mountains to get to after. Our kids loved hiking on the wooden paths, and posing for pics near and in these giant trees.

Bonus - you drive over the Golden Gate Bridge!

Ghiradelli Square - Take the cable car down to Ghiradelli Square, and enjoy a large open park by the bay. Lots of shady trees and green space to run, and you can enjoy ice cream and chocolate from the Ghiradelli Ice Cream Shop. Also explore the chocolate store, and your kids can see big vats of chocolate being churned.
The cable cars are a fun ride, and you see so much of the city, going up and down the steep hills of SF. Beware there may be a lengthy wait for them in the sun. Make sure and wear hats to keep heads cool while you wait in the sun.

Bonus - If you pick up the cable car where it turns around (downtown and in Ghiradelli Square), it is very cool to see how they manually turn the cars around!

Aquarium of the Bay - A small, multi-level aquarium on Fisherman's Wharf, I found it a little pricey, but I did get a good discount on tickets by searching online. It has tanks filled with different sea creatures and fish, an area where you can touch some of the them (like rays and starfish), and the best part of all, a tunnel you can walk or glide through (on a moving ramp) and see all the fish around you and above you swimming around.

Bonus - It's not a huge place and will probably take you about an hour to go through. So by the time the kids start to get cranky, you've seen everything anyway!

Castello di Amorosa - We rented a car on one of the days and drove through Napa Valley and just past it to Calistoga, where this magnificent castle lives. It was built to be a replica of an Italian castle, using authentic materials shipped in from Italy. You can explore the castle, it's different levels, rooms, courtyards, dungeon! and more.
Did I mention it is also a winery? Yes, fun for everyone! :) Their wines are amazing, and the general admission price gets you a tasting of five of their wines. Note - there is also a Family Room where you can taste, it is a larger room with a table with crayons and paper so your kids can sit and color while you taste. When we were there, it wasn't very crowded, as the adults without kids were in other tasting rooms.

Bonus - there is also a ton of farm animals outside in a pasture that your kids will love to see - chickens, sheep, even an emu!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dining with the Chef

While staying at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco, we spent a morning with Chef Kevin Villalovos, the Executive Chef of the hotel. He took us to the Ferry Building, a huge old building that is a dream for real foodies. Here you can find farm fresh markets and cheese shops, amid gourmet ice cream shops and restaurants. I had a wonderful time strolling through the building, learning from the Chef and checking out all the fresh meats, seafood and produce. We shopped for fresh ingredients to incorporate into a special dinner at the hotel's One Up Restaurant that evening.

That evening, we were treated to an incredible 8 course meal, made just for us! The One Up restaurant has an open kitchen, and we got to watch Chef Villalovos prepare the dishes right in front of us. I couldn't believe we made it through eight courses, but the food was so delicious, we just kept eating!

Here's a run through of each course...

Duck Confit with Apricots, Plums and Pears

Fried Brussels Sprouts, Grilled White Asparagus, Confit of Tomatoes and a Fried Egg

Scallion-wrapped Seared Scallops, Sea Beans and Purple Cauliflower - my favorite dish of the evening, and so pretty to look at!

Potato Croquette, Fresh Artichokes and Roasted Tomato Puree

Goat Cheese, Peppadews, Castelvetrano Olives and Fig Jam

Halibut and Dungeness Crab, San Marzano Tomatoes and Melted Leeks

Rib Eye Steak, Mushrooms, Fresh Peas and Carrot Puree - hubby's favorite dish!

Creme Brulee and Chocolate Bomb with Local Honey

Thank you Chef Villalovos for a wonderful time!

Monday, May 19, 2014

I Heart San Francisco!

View from our room

So we just returned from a vacation to San Francisco! Why was this trip so special? Because I won it! Yes, my entry into Hyatt's For Kids by Kids Family Cook-off was the grand prize winner of a 5-night stay at any Hyatt hotel of my choice in the USA, Mexico or Caribbean. After much deliberation, the hubby and I decided on San Francisco. Neither of us had even been to the West Coast, and I have wanted to visit California for as long as I could remember.

On Tuesday, we arrived in style at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco. This hotel is simply amazing! First off, their location is excellent, in downtown SF, super close to Union Square, Chinatown, and the cable cars. If you like walking, you can trek it to the Embarcadero waterfront (Ferry Building!), as well as to Fisherman's Wharf. The views from our suite were spectacular! We could see so much of the city and the bay with floor-to-ceiling windows. On our last night, we even saw a fireworks show out over the bay. There are cool techie touches in the rooms. Automatic window shades that open and close with the touch of a button near your bedside. Smart TVs. There's even a tv built into the mirror of the bathroom. Very cool stuff.

The team at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco showered us with warm hospitality. So many of them took the time to chat with us and engage our young kids. Sometimes as a parent you worry that your little kids will be seen as a bother, but here they embraced our kids and their energy.

I had planned to eat my way through the city. Of course, with two little kids and some jet lag, that didn't happen quite as well as I hoped. I did make it to a few spots though. Here are a few of our favorites!

Boudin's Clam Chowder in a Sourdough bowl. One of the best clam chowders we've ever tasted.

The shrimp dumplings and pork & shrimp dumplings from Good Mong Kok Bakery in Chinatown. I planned to get a better picture, but the dumplings disappeared too fast. Sorry.

Delicious dumplings pictured on right.

Codmother Fish & Chips on Fisherman's Wharf. Super-friendly folks, great service. Huge pieces of fried cod and finger-lickin chips. The fish tacos are also good, with their creamy baja sauce and slaw. For dessert, feast on deep-fried Oreos. Yes, I did say deep-fried Oreos. Yum.

We drove to Napa and Calistoga on one of the days. You must try the Calamari Fritto from Pizzeria Tra Vigne in St. Helena. Make sure and add the fried lemons!

Here's a shot of my Blueberry Cinnamon Pancakes with Honey-Herb Fruit Salad. Look out for it this summer on the For Kids by Kids menu at Hyatt hotels nationwide!

San Francisco has the most beautiful dusk sky I have ever seen. These pictures do not do it justice, but you can get an idea. As it got darker, it was the clearest cerulean blue. Simply breathtaking.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

When I think of lettuce wraps, I usually think of Asian flavors. Here's my recipe for chicken lettuce wraps, but with a Mexican twist. Lime, cumin, cilantro and fresh tropical fruits of avocado and mango star in these deliciously healthy wraps. They make a wonderful appetizer or lunch! If you can handle the heat, add a few slices of fresh jalapeno on top. 


2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red sweet bell pepper, chopped
2 lbs ground chicken
1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 ears of corn, kernels sliced off
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 head butter lettuce
2 medium avocados
1 large ripe mango, diced

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and stir for 3 minutes. Add garlic and red bell pepper, stir for one minute. Add chicken and let cook until browned, stirring occasionally. Add lime juice, corn kernels, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in cilantro and remove from heat. Gently wash the lettuce leaves. Let drain on paper towels or pat dry. Dice avocados.

To assemble: Spoon the chicken onto the lettuce leaves. Top with diced avocado and mango. Serve immediately.

Makes about 16 wraps.