Friday, March 25

A side note on grapes and wine

General Okanagan wine tasting info. They rate everything on a 0-3+ Dryness Scale 0 - very dry, 1 - dry, 2 - semi-sweet, 3+ very sweet

Like artichokes and asparagus, grapes take several years of growing before they start producing fruit. Then as the years go on the fruit continues to improve but eventually begins to decline in quantity. So at some point, for cost reasons, the growers will tear old vines out.

Pinot Noirs have no shelf life. Once you open a bottle, you'd best finish it that night. Never a problem for Martin and I.

Most of your light, white wines, Ehrenfelser, Gewürztraminer and Reisling are released the year or winter after they're picked. The vast majority of the ones we tasted were 2004s.

Syrah/Shiraz. These are the same grape. The French tend to call the grape syrah, shiraz is generally used in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Syrah can also be used to indicate an old world style, use of French or European oaks. Shiraz is in the new world style.

Meritage - a contest was held in 1988 US to name wines created from the blending of grapes from the Bordeaux varietals. "Merit" and "heritage" led to meritage, rhymes with heritage. There are white and red mertiages and no single variety of grape can make up more then 90% of the blend.


I feel this need to be close to the earth. To have my hands in the dirt. I don't necessarily want the life of the farmer, but to some how work with farmers. To bring their food back to the city, to have people eating healthy. If anyone knows of a job like this, please let me know :)

On our tour of the Okanagan, Martin and I visited 4 organic farms. Each with similar, yet unique ways of farming. We came during the winter, when the farmers were just begining to plant, but had lots of time to talk with us and introduce us to their farms. Each of them were so welcoming and hospitable and each quite the characters.

Stoney Paradise is run by Milan, a manic depressive man in his 40s and his parents, who own the farm and the land. They predominately grow table grapes and tomatoes, but like all the farmers have a diverse crop for a secure income. The permaculture training in me will also tell you that a diverse crop helps with pest control, as there are then a variety of smells to confuse the bugs. Having plants that encourage good, predator bugs to eat the bad, crop-destructive bugs is vital as well. Right, back to Milan. He uses compost as well as fish fertilizers. He grows only hybrid tomatoes (a practice I disagree with). And is probably best known for his coronation grapes, which I got to sample in the form of sauce for a blue cheese course. However, the fact that he gets such a crop and such variety out of his incredibly rocky, or shall I say stony, soil is amazing.

Next up were the Klippersteins who run Klippers Organic Acres. Kevin, Anna-Marie and their 4 children live on and work 10 or so acres in a gorgeous valley outside of Cawston. They have fruit trees, grow ground crops and have about 100 chickens which they use as pest control, for fertilizer and the organic eggs that they sell. Anna-Marie seed saves (yeah!) and they both seem to love having their hands in the dirt. The sprout their seeds on a bed of sand that covers heat coils. Interesting method, but they get about 100% germenation. They are beginning to experiment with bio-dynamics, which is using enzyme compositions to help enrich your soil, something I'd just begun to learn about in Thailand and while parts of it seem a bit hippy too me (burying a cowhorn on the full moon), I think it merits further exploration.

The next farm we visited, Snowy Mountain, also is employing the use of biodynamics. Snowy Mountain, run by Lauren Sellars and Walter Harvey, is a money maker of a farm. Loads of fruit trees, ground crops, chickens and horses. They use the horses for the plowing and sell the colts and being that the horses are Norwegian Fjords, they sell them at quite a profit. They seem to be quite happy and doing very well. Building has been going on for a few years now on a huge and beautiful strawbale house where they'll easily be able to feed all the workers and WWOOFers in the summer, when it's eventually finished.

Last, but not least, Sapo Bravo Organics, run by Katie and Gabriel up in the mountains outside of Lytton. This is the definition of over the river and through the woods. You have to take a ferry across the Fraser River then drive 18 kilometers on a gravel road on native lands to get to their hilltop farm. Beautiful views, more great fruit trees, garlic popping up through a mulch of hay and Katie in the green house starting the seeds she has saved or gotten from Canada's seed savers. They plant only heirlooms, use only compost which they're making from organic goat manure and are beginning to harvest their own rabbit manure. They have gorgeous worker residences for the people that come help them on the farm. Gabriel is very open to the ideas of permaculture. This is the one farm that I would like to come spend more time on working and learning and sharing. Maybe a few weeks in September will find me there...

Tuesday, March 22

Tinhorn, Inniskillin, Gerhinger and Hester Creek

From Osoyoos, we headed back north to Oliver for a brief tasting tour. Inniskillin was our first stop, before breakfast even (though in our defense, we did share an orange). Inniskillin is primarily an Ontario winery, but their small production and tasting room in the Okanagan is still worth a visit, in my opinion. Inniskillin is an Irish name, but at the Oliver winery, they have Native symbols on their Dark Horse label. Dark Horse is their 23 acre Oliver vineyard.

Pinot Blanc - Dark Horse Vineyard '03 - Strong apple flavor. Light. Nice. The grapes for this Pinot Blanc were grown on our Dark Horse Estate Vineyard. Cold fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve the wine's intense fresh fruit aromas. Fresh green apple flavours and a crisp acidity that lasts through the finish.

Gewürztraminer - Dark Horse Vineyard '03 - Delicate, like water. Strong fruity nose, though. Nice finish. Cold fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve the wines fresh, crisp fruit. Medium bodied, with a nice acidity that last through the finish.

Chardonnay Reserve '02 - Not like a chard. 60% stainless steel fermentation - 40% in French Oak with full malolactic fermentation. Medium weight with mild citrus and vanilla aromas and honey & apple flavours.

Cabernet Sauvignon - Dark Horse Vineyard '02 - enjoyable nose. Strong tannins which lead to a strong finish. Aged 50% American and 50% French oak barrels for 12 months. Intense vanilla, blackberry spicy nose. Rich jammy black pepper and currant flavours.

Meritage Dark Horse Vineyard '02 - Immediate nice fruit flavor. Soft nose, mild finish. Meritage marries the best characteristics of the three noble Bordeaux varietals. 50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged for 18 months in a combination of American and French Oak barrels. Black cherry aromas, soft tannins and a toasty long smooth finish.

Vidal Icewine - Plut Vineyard '03 - Sigh. So wonderful. Fruit and honey. Ripe sweet honey apricot aromas, concentrated peach and apricot flavours and a long finish.

Riesling Icewine - Dark Horse Vineyard '03 - Oh, so good. Light straw colour with very sweet honey, apricot aromas.

I wish I could afford $52 - 60 bucks for 375 mL of those...

Tinhorn, Gerhinger and Hester Creek to follow later

Monday, March 21

Sumac Ridge

On our way south towards Osoyoos, we stopped in Summerland to visit Sumac Ridge, a winery I knew from living in Vancouver and often buying their wines. This tasting occurred just after I'd been diagnosed with strep throat, so feel free to disregard any tasting notes. For those interested, Sumac Ridge has 115 acres of their own grapes which they call Black Sage Vineyards.

Stellar's Jay Brut - dry, quite light, nice.

Pinot Blanc '03 - 6 months in oak. Buttery, dry. Really good.

Black Sage Vineyard Cabernet-Franc '02 - Olive nose, rich flavor. Smooth finish.

Meritage '01 - Very mild. Short finish. Sumac Ridge was the first winery in Canada to make a meritage.

Vintage Pipe '99 - Port style. Not too sweet, good cabernet flavor.

Saturday, March 19

Mt. Boucherie, Quail's Gate and Mission Hill Tastings

The good, the bad and the ugly...

Mt. Boucherie - The Ugly

A sterile, square ugly tasting room welcomes (or discourages) visitors to Mt. Boucherie winery. Thankfully, I know not to judge a book by its cover. They have 175 acres of grapes, growing 100% of their grapes, one of the few wineries to do this. The owners have been growing and selling grapes since the 60s, but only opened their own winery in 2001. Italic notes are from their tasting phamplet.

Semillon '03 - very light, quite nice. This white wine displays aromas & flavours of dried apricot, guava, rose, tangerine and a slight herbal note with rich oily mouth feel & crisp finish. Pair with seafood such as grilled oysters or steamed clams, and is also a great match with sushi.

Chardonnay '03 - almost banana taste. lovely. This unoaked white wine has aromas & flavours of pears, citrus & green apple, with a rich well-balanced finish. Enjoy now or cellar for 1-3 years to further develop complexity and bottle bouquet. Pairs well with grilled seafood & seasonal salad.

Pinot Gris '03 - complex flavor. This wine has aromas & flavors of pears, apples, honey and tangerines with a crisp off-dry finish. Cellaring for 1-3 years will allow the wine to develop additional complexity. Pairs well with sushi, tapas & grilled salmon.

Gewürztraminer '03 - very nice. strong start. light. Hints of citrus, sandalwood and passionfruit are followed by a clean refreshing finish. This wine was tank fermented at a cool temperature to maximize varital characteristics and aromatics. A classic match with spicier cuisine or enjoyable on its own.

Chardonnay '03 Summit Reserve - very creamy, but not buttery. so nice - mom and Aunt Chris would enjoy this wine. This dry rich wine was partially barrel fermented in premium French oak cooperage and aged 8 months sur lie for added complexity. Aromas of apple, butterscotch & pear are followed by lush flavours. Try with grilled poultry, seafoods and creamy pasta.

Gamay Noir '03 Estate Collection - light & lovely. complex nose, mild flavor. Dinner table red. This medium bodied wine has aromas & flavours of candied cherries and plum, with a hint of toasted oak. Pairs with pork tenderloin & plum sauce, pastas, pizza, barbecued salmon or assorted appetizers.

Pinot Noir '02 Summit Reserve - Vanilla. Mild tannic finish. Rich aromas of cherries, raspberries and spice. 16 months of barrel aging has softened the finish and integrated fruit flavours. Cellaring potential estimated 4-6 years. Excellent with lamb entrees, grilled salmon & vegetarian dishes.

Syrah '02 Summit Reserve - robust flavor. very mild finish. This dry, barrel aged Rhone - style Syrah has aromas & flavours of berry fruit, black pepper & cedar. The palate is complex with a velvet lingering finish. Try with ratatouille, lamb & cassoulet.

Summit '02 Summit Reserve - Mild nose; strong wine with mild tannins. Produced from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this barrel aged red is highlighted by fresh berry aromas, soft silky tannins & an extended finish. Pair with heartier foods such as roasts, tomato-based pastas and stews.

Quail's Gate - The Good
Housed in a lovely wood house, the Quail's Gate tasting room is dark and inviting. The incredibly knowledgable woman behind the counter led us on quite a tasting tour.

At Quails gate, they've had the vineyard in production since 1961. They grow 70% of their grapes, the other 30% is by growers who grow only for QG and they have growing practice "control." The pinots are grown on-site in 15-18% acid soil. On the north side of their vineyard is volcanic soil and they grown their bordeaux reds. On the south side they have a silt and clay loam from the lake. The grow the white grapes here as the land is the closest to the lake and therefore the coolest.

Reisling '04 - Bright citrus, very acidic, but not bad.

Gewürztaminer '04 - Sweet at front; acid at back.

Pinot Noir '02 - Oaky nose, cherry, hint of vanilla. Quite complex on the tongue.

Merlot '02 - Almost pine nose. Quite mild with a strong finish.

Old Vine Foch '01 - 29 year old vines (their oldest are 40 years old). Tobacco nose. Quite different, complex flavor. Short finish.

Late Harvest Rieslling '02 - Honey, pear nose. Light honey flavor.

Port Style Foch - 20% alcohol. Keeps about a month once open.

Mission Hill - The Bad

Walking up to the multi-million (20-40, we can't remember) dollar, fortress that is the Mission Hill all I could think was "money, money, money." Everything screams fancy schmancy. Then we discover that they charge for tastings even in the off season. $4 for a meager 3 wines, extra for ice wines. Bastards. Everything feels corporate. The woman behind the sales counter was friendly, but the man behind the tasting counter seemed reluctant to spend any time with us.

Pinot Blanc '03 - Light. Nice fruit finish.

Cabernet-Merlot '02 - 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Pinot . Very mild, rich strong finish.

I'm sure the third wine I tried was their Shiraz, but it must not have induced me writing any tasting notes about it.

Friday, March 18

Pyramid, Huburtus, Cedar Creek Tasting

Summerhill Pyramid:

Let the wining begin. Our first stop was down Lakeshore Rd at Summerhill Pyramid Wineries. The new age hippy owner (my own words) believes in the power of "sacred geometry" and has thus built a 8% replica of the largest Egyptian pyramid where he stores the bottles of wine (on your typical flat pallets, bottled and boxed in their cases) for a minimum of two months. Blind taste tests over pyramid aged versus warehouse aged wines "proved" that the pyramid aged wines were better. I'm still skeptical as none of the wines we tasted were particularly outstanding, especially for their price tags. However, the pyramid made for a great photograph back drop.

Kissed Gewürztraminer (1) - dry, but not much flavor. Apparently 1 USD from the sale of every bottle goes towards the World Peace Vision foundation continuing the work of Princess Diana.

Platinum Pinot Gris (0) - quite light.

Ehrenfelser (2) - perfect for a hot day, a bit sweet, nice light flavor.

Cipes Brut (0) - this is their flagship sparkling wine. One word - blech!

'02 Pinot Meunier - this is a red, that is usually used as a blend for making sparkling wines. This particular one is made from vines that had been growing since 1934. This had a distinct smokey flavor and is very light in body, similar to a pinot noir. Lacking complexity.

Just a bit further down Lakeshore Rd. is St. Hubertus Winery. I should have thought to ask about the name.

I really enjoyed their tasting room. Off white walls with a black ceiling and Ikea-esque spot lights. In the fires of 2003 they lost one of the winery buildings, a personal residents and quite a few of their grapes. They have pictures, post cards and t-shirts with an image of their winery's sign with the fires blazing in the background that read "And you think you're having a bad day?" Thankfully, their wines are survivors.

Chasselas - pair with a fruit and cheese plate in the summer or cheese fondue in the winter. Acid, lemon zest finish. Very light. Quite enjoyable for a white.

Gewürztraminer - (1) but sweeter than a 1 to me. Nice.

Pinot Meunier '03 - Vanilla nose. Quite light. Smokey finish. Duck, salmon, possibly lamb. I bought a bottle of this one.

Northern Summer '03 - mild, good house red. not much body.

Pinot Blanc Ice '02 - WOW. Honey nectar. Liquid gold. Why, oh, why didn't I buy a bottle of this?

Cedar Creek

This is a fancy schmany winery. Beautiful white stucco with dark wood. During the off season the tasting room closes at 5 and we arrived at 10 of, but the lovely woman behind the counter greeted us warmly telling us that it was never too late for wine. How true.

Chardonnay '02 - Not the worst. Not incredibly butter, good fruit.

Ehrenfelser '04 (1) - a bit sweet. Easy drinking for spicy food.

Platinum Pinot Noir '02 - dark cherry. just a bit tannic on the end.

Platinum Cabernet Sauvignon '02 - Cellar for a year. Light start, strong finish. Hard alcohol nose.

Platinum Merlot '02 - only a bit tannic. Not oaky. Quite mild, almost like a pinot.

Platinum Meritage '02 - wonderful, light.

Will travel for food (and wine)

Days 1 and 2 of a 7 day tour from Vancouver through one of British Columbia's wine region, the Okanagan Valley

Two friends reunite for a journey through British Columbia's farming, winery valley of the Oakanogen. The purpose of our journey is three fold. Martin is expanding his skill set and turning towards documentaries. One of his many ideas is to create a film focused on his favorite farmers' market. To follow the journey our fresh organic foods must make before they appear on our plates. To show the general public what a small farmer goes through. I have an interest in organic farming, sustainable living and an insatiable desire to travel, so here I am to assist Martin as I can. Then there is the wine and the food. Martin and I are partners in crime in loving well done food, be it high brow or hole in the wall and the perfect bottle, or two, of wine to accompany the meal.

The adventure begins immediately from Vancouver's airport. Martino picks me up around 11:30 am and of course we're both ready to eat. Vancouver's airport is in Richmond, which has the highest concnetration of Chinese immigrants the city. We head to a new shopping mall, yes, we both hate malls, but the architecture at Aberdeen Mall is spectacular. Curved walls that at some places come to points that are made up of mostly light blue glass panels, though some of them are orange and green. Inside, due to all the glass and huge circular sky lights, the space is full of bright, natural light. On the third floor one finds the food court. Yes, we ate in the food court. Yes, I actually enjoyed it. One can choose from Cantonese, Sezschuan, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, fresh fruit juices and smoothies. We had green onion pancakes, that were actually the worst I've had, some pork dumplings that were full of water, again, not the best I've had and then takoyaki from the Japanese places. These were balls filled with a soft, gooey shrimp, octopus and scallop filling. Sounds awful I know, but they were heavenly. Made the whole experience worthwhile.

After a day of errands, we pause to have salads and fresh juice at The Naam. The Naam is one of Vancouver's only vegetarian restaurants; it gets tons of hype, is open 24 hours and the majority of evenings has lines out the door. After having dined here 3 times, I feel secure in saying, in no way is it worth the hype. The food, while good, is neither interesting nor spectacular. More along the lines of your mainstream 70s vegetarian craze, the menu includes several rice bowls, a few veggie burgers, some salads and a handful of juices. The service is known for being slow and negligent; in fact, it's something that they're almost proud of trying to play it off as they won't disturb you. However, our salad was light and tasty, the juice while not cold, did appear to be freshly squeezed.

Martin drops me off at the Granville Island Public Market, clearly this is a market, it's full of vegetable vendors, meat shops and then another food court. But two places that are worth mentioning and are right next to each other are the Grandville Island Tea Company and the Stock Market. At the former, you can have a cup of tea made fresh for you - their chai is the citiy's best, freshly made, very spicy, and creamy - and you can buy your tea in bulk and choose from over 200 varieties. They'll ship anywhere in the world for 5 Canadian dollars regardless of the size of your order. Then next door is the Stock Market where you can purchase freshly made stocks - chicken, beef, veal - or sauces as well as have a tasty lunch of one of their three daily soups, always a seafood option, meat option or veggie. Your bowl of soup is served with either foccacia, or if they run out, garlic bread, and is guaranteed to warm you up on a crisp Vancouver afternoon.

I return to another friends' house for dinner with some spicy buffalo and beef sausages (purchased at the market) to be made into a sauce with some marinara that I'd canned this summer. We eat this with a 2003 Gehringer Pinot Noir that I was not very impressed with. The wine was lacking in flavor and body. I know pinots are light, but this was akin to drinking red water.

Late afternoon the following day finds me back with Martin and in the car heading northeast towards the Okanagan. While I spent six months living in Vancouver, this is my first trip east into British Columbia. The Okanagan has been shaped in recent years by a large fire in August 2003 which destroyed much of the forests and vineyards. Looking up into the mountains you are startled by the number of bare patches, some of which fell during the fire and a number of which have been logged out since then as they have been easier prey to disease and bug infestation. A majority of the trees still standing are charred black.

We stop for coffee (tea for me, please) and a snack and end up with fries from White Spot. White Spot is a Vancouver based fast food place, burgers, fries, some locations have pasta dinners. We just got some fries which to my delight were thick squares with the skin on some. Salty, crispy on the outside and firm on the inside, just the way I like my fries. I'm glad I didn't discover this while I actually lived in this town.

It's a rough drive north east into the Okanagan and it's biggest city, Kelowna (pronounced ca' loh na). The rain in Vancouver means snow in the mountains. While beautiful it makes for rougher driving conditions. We drive through some beautiful blowing snow, to me, it's reminicent of ghosts or fairies waltzing and spinning in big billowing white dresses. The dark black shadows are eery as they dance across our lanes.

We finally hit Kelowna around 10 p.m. and drive around for 30 minutes before we find a restaurant that's not a chain and is open at this hour on a Wednesday night. We settle into a booth at Kelly O'Bryans where they have 2 for 1 appetizers. Never ones to miss out on trying as many things as we can, we order two appetizers and a salad to share. I wish I could say they were good. Even for as hungry as I was, the cream cheese and crab stuffed mushroom caps were white trash fancy as it gets. Bland, mushy and boring. Our order of chicken wings, half with honey garlic sauce, half with Thai, were insipid. The sauces actually had places where they were cold. The "Thai" was a mildly spicy terriaki. Like nothing I had in Thailand, but yes, we were in an Irish bar. The Caesar salad with whiskey butter shrimp was thick with dressing topped with a handful of small shrimp, which were fine, but I don't need to return to this bar, even if today is St. Patrick's Day.

Anticipation for the next day of wine tasting and better fooding was high and we have yet to be disappointed. After a morning swim in our "resorts" heated pool, we were off in search of lunch. We ended up at The Marmalade Cat Café, a delightful spot off Pandosy heading towards Lakeshore Rd. Free-trade coffees, a large loose leaf tea selection and a limited, but tasty, lunch menu which includes mostly vegetarian sandwhiches and soups along with a chicken salad option. In the display case was a large assortment of desserts and on top freshly baked scones and muffins. I'm hoping to return for breakfast. This place was too lovely to only go to once.

We started with the best, dinner at Rod Butter's Fresco. Probably the one restaurant in the Okanagan that gets talked about the most. Seasonal changing menu, inventive flavors, strong BC heavy wine list. From the amuse bouche, this is a restaurant not to be reccond with. The amuse bouche, the first taste to get the appetite flowing, a lemon smoked salmon with a lotus chip, tomato essence painted on the plate, a beet powder and some pea shoots. Yep, my appetit was flowing. We chose two of the seafood appetizers next. The stuffed calamari and the scallop carpacchio. The first a contrast of hot and cold, grilled calamari tubes stuffed with a tapanade, served on a chilled tentical, pea and cauliflower salad. I loved every bite. Then the scallop carpacchio - the slices of scallop weren't as thin as I'd expected, but that just meant there was more to savor. There were many different flavors going on with a shitake salad and more pea shoots. Too many flavors in my opinion, but it was Martin's favorite. Entrées - perfect pan seared snapper with housemade lobster ravioli that were full of lobster meat, all plated on a tomato lobster sauce. Dear lord. Martin had the cinnamon rubbed duck breast which was a perfect accompniament to our Quail's Gate Pinot Noir. The apple tart dessert was the most dissapointing part of the meal to the critic in me. The crust was far too thick and uneven. I'd be embarassed to serve it. However, the sauces were delightful.

Thursday, March 17

The Great White North

Oh, Canada! After 10 hours at home, I'm back in Vancouver; I have such a love for this city. It's like San Francisco light. Yesterday the sun was shining on all the blooming (ornamental) cherry trees, daffodils are popping up. I went to my favorite tea shop and stocked up on teas to bring home. At some point today Martino and I will leave for the Oakanogen a valley full of lakes, wineries, and farmers. Martino is a photographer turning towards documentary making. One of his many ideas is to interview the farmers of his favorite farmers' market here, Trout Lake. Since I know more about farming than he does (which granted isn't as much as I would like to) and a clear passion for food, sustainability and organic sources, well, here I am to go on this road trip with him and be his assistant.

Monday, March 14

Vegas, baby, Vegas

I hate this city. It's a city that has no right to exist, given that they have no water source of their own. They certainly should not have golf courses that require being watered daily. Then you have all the people dressed up, lots of makeup (am I in Dallas?) and everything is so bloody expensive. Clearly, I'm on the strip. I'm in Vegas to spend time with my parents and sister, 5 nights is far too many to be in Vegas, but the company and time spent together was great.

However, the whole trip was a constant reminder of how different I am from my family. The first night ate in Caeser's Palace at a restaurant called Nero's. It was alright, though I never need to return there. They have Chilean Sea Bass on the menu. When I asked, with an edge of horror in my voice, if it was really Chilaen Sea Bass (which is excedeingly endangered) the waiter assured me that yes it was and their restaurant was one of the few lucky enough to be still serving it. My sister, I think just to irritate me even more, ordered it not caring the least bit about her effect on the world around her. She doesn't even turn off the water when she brushes her teeth. All my comments are met with scorn towards my "hippy" life style. I just don't understand. Sigh. I'm really so different from my family. However, my parents saw my latest full back tattoo and they didn't completely freak out, so maybe they're slowly mellowing.

Sarita and I both got massages today which are being payed for by either her or my dad's comp points. That's right, my dad and my sister gamble enough that our hotel rooms, massages and meals are all free. Scary. I have no desire to gamble, ever. If I'm going to lay down $50 or $100 on a table, you can better believe there will be dirty plates sitting there as well. How did I become so completely different? you may ask. Yes, I ask that as well.

At Caesar's, with any spa treatment over $95 one is also allowed free use of the fitness center that day as well. Funny, I thought staying at the hotel would be enough to get you into the gym. But, nothing is free in Vegas, in fact everything is incredibly expensive. Even in our fancy pants room, with down comforters and feather pillows, one had to pay for internet access.

Vegas Tips
(If you can afford it) Stay in a suite at the Venetian
(Tip - look for midweek deals, when you can find rooms at "reasonable" prices)

Floors 18 and higher in the Palace Tower at Caesar's also offers a wonderful oasis from the loud, smokiness of the rest of the city. Beds have down comforters and feather pillows. The bathroom has Aveda products and a jacuzzi tub big enough for two.

For great eats Cafe Chloe on Buffalo near Flamingo - yes it's off the strip, yes, it's worth it. Incredible Italian - ask for a side of sauteed artichoke hearts in garlic. It's not on the menu, but they'll usually do it. My only disappointment is that they don't have any dessert wines. But they do have reasonably priced bottled of the Neibaum-Coppala Diamond Label Zin, one of my favorite reds.

The breakfast buffet at the Mirage is only $12 and the food is fabulous, espeically their lox.

Bradley Ogden is a new place in Caesar's. A Bay Area chef. I only had appetizers, but the flavors were creative and presentation was innovative. Go with a full wallet.

There's a Bouchon in the Venetian. One of Thomas Keller's (French Laundry) places, this one nearly identical to the Bouchon in Napa. The food at both places is heavenly. Each bite makes one moan. Great wine by the glass selection and they also have Belgian lambics (a fruity beer). Our meal was a continual misfire from the kitchen with appetizers taking far longer than they should have and arriving seperately, 3 first then mine after the others were 3/4 done. Dinner was the same with my sister waiting. And astoundingly, my mother's pork was awful. A little hockey puck. They took it away and gave us free dessert. The special banana financier that my father choose was shocking in it's strong banana flavor. I went with the cheese plate, taking a cow, sheep and goat. The cow was a very creamy mild blue, the goat a creamy, sharp delight and the sheep was firmer, very mild cheese. The cow and sheep were a tad boring, I thought, but then again, I'm a stinkier the better girl when it comes to cheese.

Sunday, March 13

Valley of the Death

Driving through the desert rarely provides visual stimulation. It's interesting at first because it is very different from what most people (definitely me) are used to. Tumble weeds, cacti, rocks, barren ground. When you drive through the desert after an unseasonably wet winter, the desert is green! The Joshua trees have bright leaves. The ground is covered in green growth. And then there are the flowers. Yellow, purple, white, red, orange. You have to look closely, they are still sitting close to the ground - except for the white which grow tall and proud, there flowers hovering over the ground like butterflies. Fields of yellow, similar to the poppy scene in the Wizard of Oz, except that these flowers don't cause one to pass out. Instead, you are invigorated with the possibility of hope and life and growth. "They" are saying this is the bloom of a century. If you can get there, do it now. Go. Don't hesitate.

Wednesday, March 9

Time keeps on Slipping

Hrm, seems like even when it's easy for me to blog I'm still slack about it. I think it's because I know I have so much to put up from my time in Thailand. When will it ever happen you ask? I say, patience, grasshopper. I'm actually heading to Las Vegas, baby, Vegas, tomorrow will be spending my time updating this thing while enjoying the company of my family (mom, dad, sister, aunt, cousins) and hopefully good food which I know I'll get at Cafe Chloe and is questionable at Bobby Flay's restaurant. I've been to Chloe once before and it's one of the only restaurants I have active fantasies about - their sauteed artichoke hearts, dear lord.