Swimming, The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever

I love swimming.  I started competing at 6 years old, swam in college, and transitioned to open water marathon swims in the years before starting medical school.  As a resident I don’t get to swim as often as I would like, but I take every opportunity available to get a dose of chlorinated endorphins.

Initially going to swim practice was a drag.  I wanted to play with my friends after school, not go to swim practice.  I used to try to get out of it, but my dad was firm and I dutifully, though a little resentfully, went to practice every day.  When I started to get a taste of success by the age of 8, Dad didn’t need to push me anymore.  I started double workouts (2 sessions in one day) when I was ten years old.  People told me I would burn out, but here I am in my 30s, still at it.  In the water I feel strong, powerful, and beautiful.  The rest of the world melts away, narrowing to the sound of my breath, the water flowing past, and making the next interval.  A lot of creativity and problem solving blossoms during a swimming workout – in fact, it was during a swim session that I had the idea for starting this blog.  No matter what else is going on in my life, swimming brings me joy and perspective.  My mother once commented that, “You never look as happy as you do when you are in the water.”

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Smiley Swimmer!

With that introduction, I am going to share why I think swimming is The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever.  Hopefully I’ll make a convert out of you…or at least talk you into getting your kids involved in this amazing sport!

Reason #10:  It’s not a popularity contest. 

Swimming is an egalitarian sport.  Beyond the clock, there are no judges in swimming.  There isn’t a points system or subjective evaluation criteria.  There is no “selection committee” for the US Olympic Swim Team.  There is no situation where two athletes compete dazzlingly well and someone else decides the winner.  It doesn’t matter how pretty you are, how popular you are, where you train, who your coach is, or how smart you are.  All that matters is who gets their hand on the wall first.

Reason #9:  Swimmers are nice. 

Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time in our own heads, and therefore crave human interaction.  Maybe it’s because we’ve been beaten into submission so often by killer workouts and the only thing that got us through was camaraderie.  Or maybe it’s because the nature of the sport involves sharing space and getting over the occasional foot tap or arm whack with a “sorry dude!” and an “it’s cool!”  Whatever the reason, swimmers are a really friendly lot.  We will strike up conversations with pretty much anyone.  Complete strangers end up doing workouts together.  When we join a new team or training group, we are immediately part of the family.  And we love sharing the joy of swimming and getting new people to try this awesome sport.

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Denver Dawn Patrol! My training group in medical school.

Reason #8:  Swimmers are fun!

Work hard, play hard.  When you don’t get much time off, you tend to make the most of the opportunities that arise.  Moreover, you have to have a playful disposition to get through the hours of training.  Swimming tends to breed outgoing people who aren’t afraid to be a little silly.

Reason #7: Swimming teaches valuable life lessons.

Success in swimming is all about what you put into it.  Again, there are no judges or selection committees.  Popularity, socioeconomic status, and appearances can’t help you in this sport.  If you want success, you have to work hard.  You have to overcome obstacles, push through setbacks, and pick yourself up after failures.  There’s no one who can do it for you.  Swimming teaches you how to set goals and go after them.  Swimming teaches mental tenacity, determination, and perseverance.  It fosters ambition and competitiveness, the audacity to dream big and the patience to take the multitude of small steps required to get there.  It teaches camaraderie and teamwork, trust and faith.  Swimming, especially while growing up, is a practice run at life.  By the time you arrive on the threshold of adulthood, you have experience setting goals, working hard, balancing commitments, shouldering discomfort, dealing with failure, and refusing to give up.  You have grit.

Reason #6: Swimming prepares you to be a Resident.

Honestly, after 15 years of getting up at 4am to dive into a cold pool and workout for 2 hours, waking up at 5am to round is relatively cushy.  What, all I have to do is go to work?  And I get to keep my warm clothes?  Sweet!  My husband, also a resident, frequently grumbles about how alert and oriented I am at 5am just moments after my alarm goes off.  If you want your kid to be a doc, swimming isn’t a bad way to prepare her for #residencylife.

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OB/GYN Residents: we work a lot, but still have time to smile!

Reason #5.  The pool isn’t a bad place to meet people.

I will refer you back to #9 and #8 as a way of explaining that I have been asked on more dates on the pool deck than any other venue.  Swimmers honestly are interesting, nice people.  Moreover, when you meet a fellow swimmer, you know you are meeting someone who shares your values and understands your lifestyle.  It’s much, much better than meeting someone at a bar.

Reason #4: Swimming lets you travel.

Whether for national competitions, international meets, training trips, or open water swimming events, swimming is definitely a way to see the world.  Because of swimming I had visited the following places by the age of 25: Alaska, England, Wales, Scotland, Australia, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Aruba, Maui, and France.  Some of my friends who achieved even greater success in competitive swimming had traveled even more than I by the time they hit their mid-20s.

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Hiking in Maui after the Maui Channel Swim.

If you get into open water swimming, you also get to see things most people don’t see.  One of the neatest experiences I had was swimming around Treasure Island and under the Bay Bridge in the San Francisco Bay while training to swim the English Channel.  Looking up at the underside of the bridge I thought to myself, how many people really get to appreciate this view?  One of my 10 year vacation goals is to do a swimming tour of the Greek islands.  You can check out an example of these aquatic vacation opportunities here.

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Swimming by Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay.

Reason #3: Swimming just feels good. 

There’s something special about being in the water that is truly restorative.  Maybe it’s because our lives begin in the salt water of our mother’s womb.  Maybe it’s the fact that swimming is a total body workout that gets the blood pumping and the endorphins flowing.  Maybe it’s just the peace that comes from shutting out the rest of the world.   Whatever the reason, finishing a swim leaves you feeling wonderful and refreshed, whether you are pushing yourself hard or just doing a few leisurely laps.  I enjoy all sorts of exercise and activity – running, high intensity interval training, hiking, yoga, lifting – but nothing leaves me with the same feeling of simultaneous vibrance and languor as swimming.

Reason #2:  Swimming is a family sport.

My grandfather was a swimming legend (more on him below).  My father swam in college and went on to become a triathlete, and my uncle was also a triathlete, completing IRONMAN Kona despite being worn down by chemotherapy.  My mother learned to swim while she was pregnant with yours truly.  My sister swam until she transformed into a rowing prodigy in high school.  When I was a kid we would show up at open water events and all of us – my grandfather, my dad, my uncle, my sister, and me – would sign up for the races.  My childhood revolved around weekends at swim meets, which were basically big social events interspersed with bursts of competition. The younger siblings of my friends were all friends, and the parents of my friends were my parents’ friends.

My husband does triathlons and sometimes comes to the pool with me.  My parents still swim, and I often meet up with them at their sports club on weekends.  My mom and I grab lanes next to each other – we are ridiculously adorable – and swim next to each other.  I am destined to become a swim mom who takes her kids to swim practice and then works out with the master’s team a few lanes over.  It’s all in the family 🙂

Reason #1: You can, literally, keep swimming until you die.  

As swimming is a low-impact activity, you can continue to swim and even compete well after most other athletes need to give up their sport (how many 90 year old gymnasts do you see?)  My grandfather, Gary Weisenthal, was nationally ranked in his prime, and would have competed in the 1940 Olympics as part of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay, were the Olympic Games not cancelled in that year.  He competed in Masters Swimming well into his 90s, and was still participating in distance open water races into his 80s.  I remember that the first year I competed in the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim 3 mile event at age 13, he completed the 10 mile race at age 81.  He was a Masters Swimming All American 20 times.  He still holds world records in Masters Swimming for the 100 meter and 200 meter backstroke for age group 95-99, and he was still swimming the week he died at 101 years old.  He was an amazing man, beloved by all who knew him, and a true inspiration for me.  I always wanted to be like him, and I, too, intend to keep swimming for the rest of my life.

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My Old Grand Dad circa 2013, age 99.  He was the brightest light in any room.

In conclusion, swimming is The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever.  It does wonders for the mind, body, and soul, and it is something you can keep doing forever.  If you aren’t a swimmer yet, I hope you give it a try sometime – maybe I’ll see you in the water!

 

 

Stoic & Genuine

The Denver restaurant scene has always been impressively good.  Most of my favorite dining experiences have been in Denver, and it’s hard to fight the urge to go to the same favorites whenever we visit.  Still, Denver seems to have been stepping up its culinary game ever since we left, and there are a number of delicious-looking new places cropping up.  As such, we have been making ourselves branch out more often.  While it is almost painful to skip over classic favorites such as EDGE, Il Posto, Root Down, and Shanahan’s, we have for the most part been rewarded in these endeavors.

We keep wanting to check out Beatrice and Woodsley, but this popular joint was fully booked on Thursday when we got around to looking at reservations for Saturday night.  Perusing the various offerings on Open Table, I chose Stoic and Genuine, a seafood restaurant that opened in the newly renovated Union Station.  I was attracted by their offering of caviar and an extensive oyster list, but further examining the menu I discovered I would gladly sample virtually everything on it (which, being someone who doesn’t eat any red meat or pork, is saying something).

Saturday night was the night of a Rockie’s game, so we opted to take the light rail into Denver instead of slogging through traffic and circling aimlessly for parking.  It was a pleasant experience and made for excellent people watching.  Our train deposited us at Union Station, and it was a pleasant stroll through the warm Denver night to arrive at Stoic and Genuine.

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On the light rail to Stoic and Genuine.

So how do I say this nicely…Union Station used to be a little bit of a…dump.  The last time I was there was maybe 3-4 years ago, when other than some construction there wasn’t much happening.  Needless to say I was utterly shocked when we rounded a corner and the facade of Union Station came into view.  The place is now utterly gorgeous!  The main building soars majestically overhead, with several restaurants complete with outdoor dining areas dotting the walkway.  A pretty and fun series of jumping fountains graces the sidewalk, and kids were chasing each other around the jets of water laughing merrily.  People bustled about or simply lounged, taking in the surroundings.  Apparently, Union Station was now a happening place to be.  Well done, Denver!

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The new Union Station at night.

Stoic and Genuine was one of those restaurants with a patio seating area looking out at the bustling walks and jumping fountains.  We entered to find the kitchen area and raw bar ahead with a relatively intimate dining area to the left and a nautical-themed driftwood bar to the right.  Dark wood tables lined a wall with a blue couch and pleasant, soft, blue-tinged lighting.  The decor accents included old timey diving attire, metal chandeliers, and rusted mirrors that looked as though they could have been pulled out of the sea.  It was casual and yet elegant.

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Stoic and Genuine interior.

We were seated promptly and selected a Patz and Hall Chardonnay from their wine list.  I wanted to start with the caviar, which we ordered first and then continued to peruse the delectable menu.  I should at this point present my one criticism of Stoic and Genuine:  the service was unimpressive.  The caviar took forever to plate (what, did they have to go harvest it fresh from the sea?); I had to ask for a wine chiller for our bottle of Chardonnay (I mean, isn’t that Wine Service 101?); they couldn’t seem to get straight which oysters they had and which they were out of (I had to change my order 3 different times because they kept making mistakes); and empty plates were left to sit in front of us for far too long (we had to finally flag someone down to please clear them).  So that aspect was annoying.  The food though…

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Black River Oscietra caviar served with lemon crème frâiche.

The caviar, while it did take literally 30 minutes to serve, was beautifully prepared.  Unfortunately by the time it arrived we were borderline desperate with hunger, and the delicate morsels didn’t last very long.  A more polished me would have savored them with less haste.  I can comment, at least, that they were tasty.  I loved the twist on the crème frâiche – I think lemon just makes everything better – and admittedly I was scraping it off the plate with the mother-of-pearl spoon.  And I don’t apologize 🙂

We next sampled the Spanish Octopus appetizer.  I love octopus – raw, grilled, fancied up, it’s hard not to like.  This particular dish was grilled and flavored with molé, cilantro, and lime, and while not my favorite octopus dish ever, it was definitely in the top 5.  We moved on to salads next; I had the Panzanella, bursting with flavor from the heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and smoked Ricotta, while Brian selected the S&G House.  Both were artfully plated and delicious.

For his main course, Brian chose the Alaskan Halibut with English peas and black truffle crème fraiche.  They did a fantastic job with this dish.  The fish was golden and flakey, and paired beautifully with the black truffle and peas.

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Alaskan Halibut. Brian was actually jealous of me – note his two oysters on the side.

Brian’s dish was attractively plated and I was almost jealous.  Almost.  Until our server brought me my main course: a dozen oysters that I didn’t have to share with anyone!   While I will admit, I have seen more attractive presentations, these were some of the best oysters I have ever tasted.  They were fresh and sweet, and the champagne mignonette was perfectly balanced.

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Sometimes, you just gotta have a dozen oysters.

Brian, envious of my oysters (which I staunchly refused to share), ultimately ordered a few of his own.  We finished the meal by sharing an angel food cake dessert with fresh berries and basil meringues.  It was light and delicious, and the basil meringues were surprising and delightful.

I loved the ambiance of the restaurant space, and I thought the food was excellent.  All in all, it was a pleasant dining experience.  I would definitely recommend checking out Stoic & Genuine, with a few tips:

  1. Don’t arrive starving.  Maybe their service will improve, but in case it doesn’t, be prepared to be patient.  A glass of wine (or a bottle) definitely helps with this.
  2. The portions are very small (which is how we were able to sample so many things comfortably).  As such, most of the dishes at Stoic and Genuine are not very share-worthy.
  3. Get the oysters.  If you do nothing else…get the oysters!
  4. It is a popular restaurant, and reservations are a good idea.  However, there appeared to be space at the bar, so even without reservations a couple would probably not have a problem.

 

An Unexpected Colorado Mountain Escape

Soo….August, not such a good month in my little blogging world.  The balance of my life tilted more toward work and less toward, well, anything else.  September promises to be better, so I’ll kick things off with my discovery of a lovely little retreat in a little corner of the Colorado mountains.

I grew up in Southern California, and while I’ve lived a lot of interesting places – Bath (England), Boston, and San Francisco – I’ve never felt at home away from the sunny beaches and majestic palm trees of my youth.  That is, until I moved to Denver, Colorado for medical school.  I fell in love with the beautiful mountains and ubiquitous parks, the outdoorsy spirit of Coloradans, and the relentless sunshine that lightens the heart even in the middle of winters mild enough for my frail Southern California constitution.  It was also in Colorado where I fell in love with the man who became my husband and his wonderful, welcoming family.  Colorado now feels as much my home as SoCal, and while I’m happy to be back in Southern California for residency, I look forward to every opportunity to return to my second home.

The most recent opportunity came in the form of the best of celebrations, a wedding!  Brian’s cousin was getting married in Granby, Colorado, and we looked forward to the trip with alacrity.  We merrily made our travel plans for the last flight out on a Thursday night, thinking, what could possibly go wrong?  This is how we came to find ourselves at 3am the morning of the wedding at the Advantage Rental Car agency at Denver International Airport- after a full day of work, a 3 hour trek to LAX in rush hour traffic, a 2 hour flight delay (because LAX, alas, is the antithesis of “efficient”), and a 2 hour flight to Denver through turbulence – facing our vehicle for the next 2 days:

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The Tank. (Photo taken hours later – the full scale was difficult to appreciate in the dark).

 I raised an eyebrow at Brian.  He gaped back at me in exhausted consternation.  “I swear, I ordered a Camry!” he exclaimed.  Well, obnoxiously large as it was for the two of us and our 2 carry-on bags, The Tank was at least spacious – and we came to appreciate it.  Regardless, it was 4am before we finally crawled wearily into bed, waking up 4 hours later to drive the 85 miles from Denver to Granby.  Needless to say, not the most graceful way to start the weekend.

Anyway.  Granby is a tiny rural mountain town just past the ski resort Winter Park on US-40.  It’s a beautiful drive through the Arapahoe National Forest along the windy roads over Berthoud Pass.  It would likely be a great place to flee in order to wait out the Apocalypse, but at first glance Granby doesn’t exactly scream “vacation destination.” In terms of lodging options, there aren’t many.  Most places are vacation rentals primarily utilized during ski season, requiring a 2 night stay in order to book.  Unwilling to pay for a night we wouldn’t be present to inhabit, I went on my trusty Airbnb account and booked a room at a bed and breakfast called Aspen Hollow.  The reviews on Airbnb were very good, and Marilyn and Tommy looked to be a jolly couple from their photo.  However, as we drove off the paved road and onto a gravel path with signs stating “caution, cattle may be on road,” I started to get a little nervous.  We seemed to be driving off into the wilderness along a lonely road away from civilization…which was confirmed for me when my cell and internet connections abruptly died.  Undaunted, we drove on, and I was suddenly grateful for the perceived security of The Tank.

We stumbled upon Aspen Hollow almost by accident.  There is a gate barring the road onto the property in order to keep cows off of their land.  We opened and closed the gate and drove up the driveway, which opened onto a beautiful house overlooking Frasier Valley. The door opened and Marilyn, a perky little white-haired woman with the sweetest smile you ever saw, greeted us in a strong Southern accent, welcoming us into their home.

We entered into the Great Room and my jaw dropped.  It was gorgeous.  The high ceiling soared gracefully overhead, adding drama to the first impression of the room.  One wall was floor to ceiling windows looking out over the valley.  Deep, rich wood gleamed everywhere.  Plush sofas faced a striking fireplace and the most beautiful table I have ever seen.  Made of an inverted stump of a 4000 year old pine, tiers of glass floated on the polished roots with 2 eagle heads carved into them.

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Furniture as Art.

Clever, tasteful details of décor added to the luxury of the surroundings.  It was the sort of room begging for a roaring fire and a bottle of wine with lively conversation while lounging on the couches with friends.

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Aspen Hollow great room. The picture really doesn’t do it justice.

We were shown into our room on the main floor which opened with a numerical punch code – no keys to keep track of here!  The room was large, luxurious, and beautifully decorated in turquoise and copper accents.  A king bed stood in the center with a huge closet and an en suite bathroom tiled in stone.  Downstairs was a common room with a big screen TV, more plush, comfy couches, a small workout area, a Jacuzzi, a pool table, and a kitchenette with a refrigerator stocked with soda and beer.  Going back upstairs, we walked out onto the deck with that spectacular view.  It would be a lovely place to sip coffee on a crisp morning or a glass of wine on a warm evening.

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The deck overlooking Frasier Valley.

Marilyn and Tommy built the place themselves, and it is obvious to see that a lot of love and pride have gone into their home.  The place boasts 6 guest rooms and an attached 3 bed, 2 bath condo with a full kitchen and a separate entrance.  It’s just spectacular!  Marilyn was beyond attentive to our every need.  Anything we asked for she produced instantly.  The hospitality was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

We hurried to get ready for the wedding, which was a lovely event.  The ceremony took place at the top of a mountain on Granby Ranch – we took the chairlift to the top!  The backdrop for Drew and Tyler’s ceremony was breath-taking, and we managed to get a few photos of our own taken prior to the start.  It was easy to see why they chose to hold their wedding in Granby!  We rode the chairlift back down to the event center at the bottom for the reception, which included drinks and delicious food and dancing – and the painful realization that I am terrible at the game of Corn Hole.

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The summit, and the backdrop for the ceremony – just gorgeous.

Tired from our travels, we retired early and made our way back to Aspen Hollow.  Marilyn and Tommy were waiting up for us, and we spent some time chatting in that beautiful great room before turning in.  We awoke in the morning to the aroma of fresh coffee and a gentle stream of peaceful, quiet music beyond our door.  We went out to breakfast with the other guests of the B&B.  I swear, Marilyn and Tommy brewed the best coffee I have ever had.  Marilyn thinks it’s the quality of the water, as she assured me the coffee itself is nothing fancy.  She served dainty fruit cups with a side of a caramel yogurt sauce that was delicious drizzled over the fruit.  This was followed by berry muffins, southwestern frittatas with homemade salsa, and melon.  And of course, fresh orange juice and more coffee!  Marilyn’s cooking was delicious, the food plentiful.  I enjoyed getting to know the other guests, as well as our hosts, who chatted with us as they passed around more food and filled our juice and water glasses.  I was actually a little sad when breakfast ended and it was time to pack up our things and head back to Denver.

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View from the deck in the morning sun.

Aspen Hollow is the perfect mountain retreat for those who want to unplug and unwind while still being surrounded by comfort and beauty.  Initially, I thought Granby would not be my choice for a vacation destination; however, I can see myself returning to Aspen Hollow in the future for a longer stay.  There looks to be excellent hiking right outside their door, and I would love to spend some time on their deck, reading or writing or just taking in the view.  Of course, there are also other things to do in Granby – there’s a golf course down the road and some pretty intense-looking mountain biking trails on Granby ranch.  And then, of course, there is winter time.  In addition to downhill skiing, Granby would be a great place for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding.  It’s worth a trip, and I highly recommend staying at Aspen Hollow.  Just be sure to tell Marilyn and Tommy I say hello!

 

Napa 2017 – Day 4

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson 

Day 3 had been a big day for us in Napa, so we took it a bit easier on Day 4.  We slept in and spent some time exercising, finally making it out of the hotel around noon.  We headed first to the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, a wonderful mecca of shops and cafes.  You can sample olive oils and balsamic vinegars, explore cheese shops and fresh produce from nearby farms, sip an espresso or indulge in some pretty amazing ice cream.  They have chocolate and brewery offerings, as well as some tasty restaurants.  No trip to Napa is complete without a stroll through Oxbow.

We hit up the Hog Island Oyster Company for some deliciously fresh oysters paired with a bright Sauvignon Blanc.  We then strolled around and sampled oil and vinegar at The Olive Press and purchased a beautiful, light dipping EVOO and some excellent aged balsamic.  I perused the cheese selections and we relaxed over a positively velvety cappuccino at Ritual Coffee Roasters.  We then drove up the beautiful Silverado Trail to St. Helena, where we met Steven and Yevgeniya at Hall Wines.

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The silver bunny greets you as you drive onto the Hall Wines estate.

Hall probably ranks in the top 3 of my favorite Napa Valley wineries for two reasons.  The first is, of course, the wine.  They specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, though I have to say their Sauvignon Blanc is really, really good as well.  The second reason is that Hall is just a super cool place to hang out.  The elegantly modern estate is basically an art gallery interspersed with clever witticisms.  Kathryn and Craig Hall, the founders of Hall Wines, select each piece of art themselves, and many of the pieces are reproduced on their wine labels.  There is one piece made entirely of index cards, a light installation in which you can see birds fluttering past, and multiple sculptures and installation pieces scattered across the grounds.

Hall does not require a reservation for tasting, and it’s one of the best tasting experiences to be had in Napa.  You can get your taste, then meander about their grounds as you sip.  You can play corn hole or lawn bowling.  You can walk through their vegetable and flower garden.  You can lounge on the Ocean View Terrace (lifeguard off duty!) or on the deck outside the tasting room, overlooking the vineyards.

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Looking out from the tasting room deck.

 

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The boys taking a stroll.

When you are ready, you stroll back up to the tasting bar and get your next pour, then you can head back out again.  Most of the walls in the tasting room are floor to ceiling windows, and at certain times of the day hanging panels catch the sunlight and project a myriad of colors onto the main tasting room wall.  I realize I’ve said this already, but the whole experience at Hall is just fabulous!  What more could you ask for than excellent wine paired with acclaimed art and lawn games on a beautiful sunny afternoon in wine country?

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Relaxing outside at Hall.

We enjoyed our wines thoroughly, comparing the different Cabernets as we drank in the wonders of the Hall estate.  My only wish is that they could do wines by the glass.  The only way the Hall experience could be even better would be if you could finish your tasting, purchase a glass of your favorite, and continue to enjoy the grounds.  Alas, they legally are barred from offering such a thing, which is probably a good thing; otherwise people like me would most likely hang out here all day and never leave!

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Brian and me, all smiles at Hall Wines.

Wrapping up our afternoon at Hall, we realized we were hungry again – the oysters, while delectable, were not particularly filling, and several hours had passed.  We made our way to Goose and Gander for an early dinner.

Goose and Gander is located in St. Helena a short drive from Hall Wines.  It is a rustic public house with a seasonal menu and a casual vibe.  They have a hip basement bar and a beautiful patio shaded by trees, umbrellas, and vine-woven trellises.  They also have a menu with something for everyone, and making our selections was a tough process as everything looked so good!  Our server was attentive and personable, and he made some good recommendations when it came to our selections.  We started with some delicious cheeses and the lamb tartar – again, I don’t personally eat mammals but everyone else ensured me it was tasty.  I had the grilled Spanish octopus, which was divine, and I found Brian’s duck breast perfectly prepared and delicious.  We paired this with a Cabernet Sauvignon recommended by our waiter, and were very content.

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Patio dining at Goose and Gander.

Our main courses concluded, we headed down the street to PRESS for dessert.  The cozy dining room at PRESS opens onto a patio with vineyard views, and their menu looks yummy.  I vowed we would have a meal here the next time we come to Napa!

From here we returned to the Marriott.  The sun was now setting on our Napa 2017 vacation, and we decided to relax by one of the fire pits in the twilight, recounting our experiences.  The next day we would all get up early for the long drive home to Southern California, but for now we were content to smile and laugh together over one more glass of wine.  It really was a wonderful and memorable trip to Napa, and I can’t wait for our next one!

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Best friends together on our last night in Napa!

 

Napa 2017 – Day 3 – Sonoma Continued

“And wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.” — Alexander Pope

Our morning at Jordan complete, we traveled south to our next Sonoma stop, J Vineyards. I was intrigued by J Vineyards due to its history.  It was established in 1986 by Judy Jordan, the daughter of Jordan Winery founder Tom Jordan.  It started as a project to produce sparkling wine, but has expanded to include other excellent varietals.  We pulled into the parking lot and immediately I knew I had chosen wisely – the tasting estate was gorgeous.  You walk over a bridge with a series of arched vines overhead, flowers blooming and lush vegetation all around, to enter a spacious modern main room with branching salons to either side.

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The walk up to J Vineyards.

There are multiple tasting options at J Vineyards.  You can walk in without a reservation and do a tasting in this main room, or take a tour, or do an elaborate food paring in their Bubble Room.  When planning our trip, I elected to make an appointment for the J Legacy Tasting in the Legacy Reserve Lounge.  For one, I am somewhat obsessed with pairing wine with cheese, and this afforded the opportunity to order what turned out to be a gorgeous cheese board.  More importantly, however, the J Legacy Tasting actually includes 3 different options: a Pinot flight, a bubbles flight, or the Legacy flight with the opportunity to try the J Pinot Gris and J Chardonnay in addition to three J Pinot Noirs.  I figured with four people, it might be nice to allow for some individual options.

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The J Vineyards Legacy Reserve Lounge.

We were led into the Legacy Reserve Lounge, a beautifully appointed room with an entire wall of windows looking out over the lush property.  Like the main room, the windows and the light and the high ceilings made for a modern, airy, and relaxed ambiance that I found completely enchanting.

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Yevgeniya, a vision at J Vineyards.

We settled in and made our selections.  I opted for the Legacy Tasting – I do enjoy my white wines – while my three companions opted for the Pinot Noir flight.  Something I should mention at this point – the glassware in Napa is always immaculate.  Most wineries serve your wine in Riedel stemware – always with true wine glasses and never in those accursed stemless vessels.  J Vineyards was no different, and I admired the graceful stemware our waiter, Izzy, lined up in front of me.  I usually scorn Pinot Gris but I was pleasantly surprised by the J Vineyards version, and I found the Chardonnay lovely.  The Pinot Noirs, though, stole the show.  Given J Vineyards started as a sparkling wine concept, I wasn’t expecting high quality Pinots here (and I am very, very picky when it comes to Pinot Noir).  However, all three of the Pinots in my flight (and the two others in Brian’s Pinot flight, which by spousal privilege I did, of course, sample) were excellent!  Our cheese board was something of a work of art, each of the unique cheeses topped with some sort of pretty garnish.  Izzy was attentive and informative, rounding out the perfection of our visit.  I would definitely recommend stopping at J Vineyards if you find yourself in Sonoma, as the entire experience was fabulous.

Our two Jordan family experiences completed and satisfying, we started heading back towards Napa.  Lest anyone consider us irresponsible, my husband, ever the sophisticated pragmatist, carries with him a breathalyzer.  Not because he has ever been convicted of driving under the influence – quite the contrary, Brian has a sense of duty and honor that cannot be questioned, which is one of the reasons I admire and adore him so greatly.  He simply never wants to get behind the wheel when he would be unsafe to drive, not trusting the self-assessment of anyone who has imbibed.  We confirmed that both he and Steven were still well below the legal limit (we females in the group were borderline, so goes the losing battle of the BMI) and proceeded to our final destination of the day, Bouchaine Vineyards.  It was rather perfectly situated for our day, being located in the Carneros region on the way back to the Marriott.  It’s one of the wineries you can walk into without an appointment, which was nice given that, with the afternoon Sonoma traffic, it was impossible to predict exactly when we would arrive.

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The grounds at Bouchaine.

We turned off the main highway onto a pastoral side road, past sun-soaked vineyards, leading to Bouchaine.  We entered their quaint tasting room, where we received some of the best of the already excellent service to be had in Napa.  Their hours are only until 4:30pm, but though we showed up at 4 o’clock there was no rushing us.  The two personable and cheerful women pouring at the tasting room bar chatted with us as though we were old friends as we moved through their tasting menu.  The Bouchaine rosé was the only rosé wine we purchased on the entire Napa 2017 trip.  Moreover, their Pinot Noirs are wonderful, the Carneros region with its cooler climes well suited to growing this varietal.  I definitely want to go back sometime and relax on their patio, which overlooks the idyllic grounds at Bouchaine.  This was another of Marcia’s recommendations, and per usual it did not disappoint.

It didn’t take long to wind our way through the Carneros countryside back to the Marriott Napa Valley.  Our day was not yet complete – we still had dinner to look forward to!

When we came to Napa last year we were blown away by a food and wine paring experience at Chateau Potelle (also a Marcia recommendation – have you noticed a trend?)  The wine at Potelle was so fabulous, it was the only wine my parents deemed worthy of purchase during that trip.  The food part of the pairing was prepared by the chef from La Toque, a Michelin star restaurant located within the Westin Hotel in Napa.  The food was so lovely I vowed to to have dinner there during our next Napa trip.  As such, it was to La Toque that we headed for dinner this night.

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Dining room at La Toque.

There is one word to describe dining at La Toque, and that is “fabulous”.  The entire experience, from being greeted by the hostess, to our intimate table by the fireplace, to the immaculate service, to the exceptional food, was just amazing.  La Toque is the essence of fine dining, and is very much deserving of its Michelin star.

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Seated and excited for dinner at La Toque!

We elected to do the 5 course tasting menu, which included desert.  We both ordered a glass of Chardonnay while the sommelier decanted our recently procured Jordan 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  To start we were offered an amuse bouche, a lovely little bite to “entertain the mouth.”  We followed this with a roasted baby beet salad, served on a slate board and looking more like a piece of art than something you would eat – though it was delicious, the morsels of roasted beet melding with the tendrils of mascarpone.  From here we moved to a grilled Pacific sablefish floating on a lush mouse studded with gems of sunchoke.  At this point our Jordan Cabernet was poured, just in time for our next course, a Spanish octopus served with olive puree and Romesco.  I love grilled octopus, and this was mouthwateringly delicious.  For our final course, I elected for a tortellini stuffed with mint and Mascarpone served in a broth with English peas.  The little pasta purses burst with flavor, the mint and the peas a smashing combination.  I really must try pairing mint and peas in future culinary endeavors.  Brian had some sort of steak, which he assured me was exquisitely done.  For dessert, Brian elected for some sort of chocolate concoction that, of course, was a work of art.  I wasn’t really in the mood for anything sweet, so I went with their cheese selection which I found a decadent end to my fabulous meal.

La Toque was probably the second-best dining experience of my life, to be surpassed only by the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, another Michelin star restaurant in Napa Valley.  Please, friends, make a point to dine at La Toque on your next Napa excursion – you won’t regret it!  They even have an all-vegetarian tasting menu, which I am sure is outstanding.

Sated and merry, we headed home to the Marriott.  It was a wonderful day.

 

Napa 2017 – Day 3 – Sonoma – Jordan Winery

“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.” — Alexander Fleming

I think of all the days I had planned for this Napa 2017 trip, I was most excited by Day 3.  I had never really been to Sonoma before (we will ignore my inglorious attempt at horseback riding, which admittedly took place in Sonoma during our honeymoon.  I endeavor to forget the experience on a somewhat regular basis, as I lack any semblance of grace when it comes to activities requiring any gear superfluous to that which God granted my person.)  People have often told me that Sonoma is fabulous, and it was my day to discover Sonoma for myself.

The four of us set off around 10am for the hour-long trip up Highway 29 through Napa Vally and west to Jordan Winery.  I was first introduced to Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon in medical school.  Marcia is the mother of one of my two best medical school friends, Maria, and over the years I have managed to finagle Marcia into becoming a friend of mine in her own right.  Maria is a fabulous human being – honestly, she’s one in a million – and it’s easy to see why is is the way she is when you meet Marcia and her jolly husband, Jose.  All three of them are brilliant, witty, thoughtful, and surpassingly kind.  No visit back to Denver is complete without dropping in on Marcia and Jose; they have become family, and I don’t think I can ever repay the kindness and generosity they have shown me.  I guess I’ll have to pay it forward, which is likely their intent.  Anyway, I digress.  In medical school Marcia learned that I was a fledgling wine aficionado and has been very influential in helping me develop my taste in wine.  Jordan was one of the first truly excellent wines I had ever had, sitting in her kitchen, chatting about everything and nothing.  Since that time I have taken every recommendation from Marcia seriously, and I have never once been disappointed.

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Marcia, who is the essence of living life fabulously.

Driving through Napa is very beautiful, and it’s just amazing to appreciate the sheer number of wineries here.  Despite a slight and inevitable traffic jam through St. Helena, we arrived right on time for our 11 o’clock tour and tasting.  Jordan, located in the northern part of Sonoma in the Alexander Valley, is absolutely breath-taking, and photos really don’t do the place justice.  You notice the grandure  of the place immediately as you enter and then wind your way through the outer grounds of the estate, over several bridges, grateful to see signage confirming you haven’t gotten lost.  Then you come upon this gorgeous chateau, ivy growing along the sides, with a grand driveway overlooking the grounds you just traversed.  It makes for a pretty spectacular first impression.  We stood in the morning sun wondering over the place, and I could hear little else besides birds chirping and a light breeze rustling through the trees.

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One side of the Jordan chateau. Beautiful.

I had to go back and read about it, but I learned that the majority of the estate grounds have been preserved as natural habitat (which explains a little of the meandering drive to the chateau itself).  The property includes 112 acres of grapevines, 18 acres of olive trees, a one-acre garden, two lakes, and grazing pastures.  That’s pretty unique for a winery, especially one situated on such valuable real estate.  Props, Jordan.

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Exited to be at Jordan!

Already impressed, we checked in and were soon led along a path dappled with shade to the start of our tasting experience.  As we strolled we learned some of the history of Jordan from our guide.  Yevgeniya and I were delighted to find that we knew two members of our tour group – Angela and Jordan, both nurses from Loma Linda!  They were there to celebrate Jordan’s birthday at, appropriately, Jordan Winery.  Smiles and greetings exchanged, we stopped at an overlook shaded by majestic trees where we could gaze out across the rolling hills below us.  Here a taste of Jordan Chardonnay was poured, paired with a delectable savory ricotta topped with black caviar, furikake, and edible flowers.  It was so lovely I almost didn’t eat it, but was glad when I did as it was a perfect complement to the Chardonnay.

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A delicious and beautiful morsel that paired perfectly with our delicious and beautiful Jordan Chardonnay.

Chardonnay still in hand, we were led along a gravel path to a second overlook, where we could gaze down over the farm.  There were cows grazing, goats milling about, and even a few donkeys resting in the shade.  Looking out to the horizon we could see some of the vineyards, as well as an olive grove.  Jordan also makes wonderful olive oil from the olives harvested on the estate.  The scene was pastoral and peaceful.

We were then led back to the chateau, into an immaculate dining room with a wall of windows looking over the wooden fermenting tanks.  Jordan has numerable on site events, many of which take place in this dining room.  They have a rather unique “membership” system; by simply providing an email address, you earn points based on purchases from the winery.  As you earn points you are invited to these various events.  You don’t necessarily have to sign up for a wine club, and I find this approach refreshing and rather democratic.  More props to Jordan!  We soon had the opportunity to walk through the fermenting tanks, where we learned more about the winemaking process at Jordan.  Something I found interesting is that they use a layer of egg whites distributed over the top of the tank to help filter the wine of debris.  Also, they do their blending in these massive oak tanks, and only after the final blend is approved is the wine moved into the smaller oak tanks for an additional year of aging.

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Jordan Winery oak fermenting tanks, very attractive and unique!

From here we made our way into the library and (exciting!) through a secret passage into a hidden, intimate room where a beautiful spread awaited us.  We were each seated at a gorgeous dining table where an immaculate, individual cheese board awaited.  To go along with our delectable cheeses, which were seriously tasty, we were treated to a vertical tasting of the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from 2009, 2011, and 2013.

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One of the best cheese boards ever, complete with a delicate Jordan olive oil.

Needless to say, each of the Jordan Cabs were outstanding, and each was a little different.  I was a fan of the 2009, while Brian preferred the 2011.  We ended up purchasing both!  It was quite the experience to relax in this elegant secret room, lazily enjoying our wine and cheese, chatting over the merits of this one versus that one.  I didn’t want to leave!

Per usual, Marcia’s recommendation was a home run all around – all four of us, and our two Loma Linda friends, agreed it was a fantastic experience.  They even made it possible for our friend Jordan to have her picture taken beside a bottled vintage from her birth year!  How fun is that?  We were sad when our time at Jordan came to its inevitable conclusion, but you can bet I will be back on future Napa visits!

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Yevgeniya, Jordan, Me, and Angela, all smiles at the conclusion of our Jordan Winery experience.

Napa 2017 – Day 1

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” — Benjamin Franklin

Well, the start of Day 1 was interesting.  What we intended to be a relaxing drive up North, complete with a collection of Audiobooks and tasty snacks, quickly devolved into a very uncomfortable experience when the air conditioning of our car suddenly ceased to exist.  How easily we take such things for granted!  Air conditioning is a luxury for which I will, from this point forward, be sincerely grateful.  Driving through the Central Valley in the 90 degree sun without air conditioning was fairly miserable, and I will admit I did not handle the situation gracefully.

Somehow Brian managed to tolerate the ensuing 6 hours of my griping and groaning, heroically patient man that he is.   When we arrived at the Napa Valley Marriott I burst free of the sweltering car and made a beeline for the air-conditioned lobby.  Heaven!  My sweating skin drank in the delicious coolness, and I was able to focus again on the joyous fact that we had arrived in Napa!  We checked in and 30 minutes later re-emerged, showered and refreshed, to head into the late Napa afternoon.  It was time for some wine!

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Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa, our home for the week!

We met my friend John and his significant other, Patrick, at the John Anthony Vineyards tasting lounge in downtown Napa.  John and I worked together first during a research elective my senior year at Harvard College, then at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute after I graduated, and then at iPierian, a start-up biotech company, in San Francisco.  He started as a mentor and quickly became one of my most valued friends.  Ours is a friendship going back 10 years with multiple stories and escapades.  I hadn’t seen John in three years, and I was glad for the opportunity to enjoy his company again.  We breezed in to the chic lounge, hugs were exchanged and introductions made, and we embarked on the first of many fabulous tasting experiences of the week.

John Anthony Vineyards is owned and operated by the husband and wife partnership of John and Michele Truchard.  Unlike most wineries, located on a single estate, John Anthony Vineyards is made up of several small vineyards scattered throughout the southern part of the valley, including the Carneros and Oak Knoll appellations.  Each vineyard location was chosen for its soil and microclimate, and the harvests are pooled to craft their wines.  I have to say, this strategy is working well for the couple – the wines we tasted in this pleasant lounge were excellent.  The tasting room is situated in a perfect location, walking distance from the plethora of downtown Napa restaurants.  The feel of the lounge is relaxed sophistication, very much my preference for social gathering places.  I loved the simple pleasure of enjoying good wine with good friends in this graceful space, and I will most certainly be back on future Napa expeditions.

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John Anthony Vineyards tasting lounge, downtown Napa.

After our tasting we headed to Angele for dinner.  Angele is a little French restaurant located on the river in downtown Napa, right next to the Napa River Inn.  The restaurant is a converted boathouse with a pleasant patio and river views.  They call themselves “French country,” and that is a good description of the atmosphere here.

We started off with oysters and escargots, served not in the usual escargot dish or in the shell, but in a puff pastry with a delectable garlic butter sauce.  Delicious!  We also sampled their fried deviled eggs, something I would normally shy away from, but that I had to admit were tasty.  I had the tuna nicoise salad, the lighter fare exactly what I wanted on this pleasant evening.  Brian had their roasted pork chop (I personally don’t eat mammals, though fish, poultry, and yes, snails are fair game) which he described as expertly done.  We paired it all with a lovely pinot noir of John’s selection.  The staff was personable and attentive, the service excellent.

The evening was a delightful way to kick off our vacation, and we went back to our hotel excited for the week to come.

 

 

Napa 2017

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” ― Martin Luther

Something you should know about me, especially as I build on this little blogging project, is that I love wine.  I one hundred percent hate beer, and while I will occasionally enjoy a Manhattan with good Kentucky bourbon, I rarely drink anything else.  Good wine is a luxury to be appreciated and shared, and it is a fascinating topic of study.  When my husband and I went on our honeymoon 3 years ago, we went to Napa…and we loved it so much that it has become one of our favorite places to visit.  Napa, and its nearby sister Sonoma, together have become a mecca for excellent wine, excellent food, and serene beauty.  There’s also horseback riding, hot air balloon rides, hiking, biking, and plenty of places to swim and workout (a necessity for yours truly!)

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At Castello di Amorosa on our honeymoon in 2014.  Aren’t we cute?

We returned to Napa for the second time last year during an epic Tour de California road trip with my parents, and we decided to go back again this year for our anniversary.  Someday, when we have finished the phase of life called “Residency” and have graduated to “Attending” status (with subsequent Attending salaries), we plan to visit France and Tuscany and other famous wine regions of the world…however, one of the major benefits of living in California is the fact that we have this incredible wine region in our own backyard.  There is so much fabulousness to be had in Napa and Sonoma that I suspect we will never tire of visiting.

Stay tuned for more on our Napa 2017 trip, complete with reviews of wineries and restaurants!