Monday, March 26, 2012

Weekend Trek - Pismo Beach

A few weeks ago I was able to slip away for a weekend trip to Pismo Beach, California. My college roommate lives in San Francisco these days, along with another mutual friend from Texas. Since my bestie and me both call these lovely San Francisco ladies friends, someone had the genius idea to meet half-way between LA and San Francisco for a weekend of fun. All four of us are event planners, so you wouldn't believe how many months it took for our schedules to align to allow for this girl's trip. But we finally did it!

The San Francisco ladies
We couldn't have asked for better weather as we happily drove the three hours or so each to meet in Pismo around noon on a sunny Saturday. If you're thinking that Pismo Beach sounds familiar, it's most likely because of the Pismo Beach disaster relief referred to in the movie Clueless. Actually, no such disaster occurred in Pismo Beach, it was completely made up for the film. I know, I Googled.

Upon arrival in Pismo Beach we checked in at the Pismo Lighthouse Suites before grabbing a leisurely lunch at Zorro's Cafe and Cantina. From there, it was off to the wineries in Edna Valley. I can't remember the name of the first winery we visited (this is why I shouldn't wait so long to blog!) but we tasted a variety of wines there, even a tasty dessert wine.

By the time we reached the second winery, Saucelito Canyon Vineyard, it was hopping with picnickers, children frolicking in the grass, cute puppies running around, and of course, plenty of wine being poured. Every seat in the outdoor picnic area was filled, and it was so beautiful out that standing inside would have been a crime. So like the problem-solving event planners we are, we pulled a blanket from the car and made our own picnic spot. Best seats in the house!

We had a blast at Saucelito Canyon, where the staff was kind enough to find us outside and refill our glasses for each new wine on the tasting menu. Had we had the foresight to pack a picnic, we could have stayed there basking in the sun and sipping wine all day. It was truly one of those moments where you realize it's early March and you're relaxing outside, being kissed by the sun ever so slightly enough to get pink in the cheeks and drink chilled white wine, and you thank your lucky stars that you live in California, if just for that moment. I never wanted to leave, but come closing time we packed our blanket, purchased some wine, and hit the road to find something sweet.

We ended up at Doc Burnstein's Ice Cream Lab, an old fashioned ice cream parlour, per recommendation by our hotel. From the second we walked in we were instantly kids again, sampling countless flavors, ordering waffle cones and sundaes and drooling over huge ice cream servings. I got a mini sundae with caramel swirl ice cream and marshmallow topping. Yum!

Later that night, after a dip in the hotel's hot tub, we headed to Rosa's Ristorante Italiano for dinner and then slept soundly on full bellies back in our room. The all-day wine drinking may have contributed to the early night as well, but that's just a theory. Waking up to our ocean-view and continental breakfast (including made to order waffles!) was the icing on the cake. 

Things are picking up at work and with the wedding planning lately so this weekend getaway was just what I needed to relax and dish with my girls. Let's see how many times a year four event planners can get their schedules to sync up for this to happen again!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Hello friends and happy Friday to you! My parents are in town visiting from Texas right now, but I thought I'd pop in and share an easy peasy chicken recipe I discovered this week while browsing Pinterest. Oh Pinterest, how you've expanded my internet browsing horizons...

I love recipes like this easy garlic chicken because there are less than five ingredients total. I never would have guessed that such a small list of ingredients could create such beautiful flavor. I highly recommend whipping this up when you have a few chicken breasts in the fridge but not a lot of time on your hands to get a meal cranked out.

First simply saute minced garlic in olive oil, then remove from heat and stir in the brown sugar.

Spread the mixture on your chicken breasts and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Before placing the chicken in a 500 degree oven for 15 to 30 minutes, you must first take an oath with me. Hold up your right hand and repeat after me - "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." Teehee, ok that was just for some Harry Potter fun :) The real oath that you must must must make before you put that chicken in the oven is to swear to learn from my mistakes and line your baking dish with foil first. I prepared no such protective lining and spent the night scraping and scrubbing hardened sugar from my glass casserole dish. Humph! Despite the blackened dishes, I really enjoyed my deliciously sweet and savory chicken dinner that came together in no time at all. Still a win in my book.

I'm telling you, this chicken is so easy Justin could make it! And it sure beats the egg sandwich he would make if he had to cook dinner ;) Who's the cook in your house? 

Switching gears, my household has been through an emotional roller coaster these past few days. Our Chula baby had to have foot surgery, complete with the cone of shame.

Last Wednesday I noticed Chula's paw was a little red and swollen. I took a closer look and found a bump on the pad of her paw, which I thought could be a swollen spider bite that would go down on its own. The next day I got home from work, changed into workout clothes and took Chula out for a walk before I left for the gym. During our walk I could tell Chula didn't want to use her back right foot. She was lifting it and walking hesitantly, stopping to lick her paw often. I took another look and saw that it was now bleeding so I decided to skip the gym and take her to the vet. At this point I still didn't think the irritation was more than a bite.

The vet took one look at the placement of the "growth" (that's what he called it) and declared that it would need to be surgically removed immediately. He was right that the growth was in the worst possible spot, because Chula was forced to walk on it no matter how painful. I wasn't denying that it should be removed, but he started throwing the word "tumor" around and really freaking me out. I was thinking this bump was something that could be numbed and sliced, slap a bandaid on it and call it a day. When he explained that he would need to put Chula under anesthesia, dig the tumor out, stitch her up and bandage her foot for two weeks, I got really nervous about the possibility of anything going wrong. She hasn't been put under since she was spayed as a puppy, and I worried about how she would handle it now that she's seven years old. She's still my baby!

To make matters worse, while I sat in the waiting room during the surgery someone came in with a dog that had just had its leg amputated. The German Shepherd was walking on three legs and the area where his fourth would be was completely shaven and covered in stitches. I immediately started crying, sitting there by myself, thinking the worst. Having just had a coworker spend tens of thousands of dollars treating her dog for cancer, only to have it pass away a few months later, I wasn't sure I even wanted to know if Chula's tumor was cancerous. I went from thinking she had a painful bite to thinking she had cancer in the course of a day and it was completely overwhelming. I spoke with the owner of the German Shepherd, who persuaded me to have Chula's tumor sent to pathology to find out if it was cancerous. Her pup had been diagnosed with bone cancer but seemed to be doing well after the amputation so I approved the biopsy and hoped for the best. Chula came out of surgery acting like her old goofy self, just sleepier. She was weary of the bandaged foot at first and would sleep with her leg outside of her bed and hobble on three legs so her bandaged foot wouldn't touch the ground.

After a few days she was getting used to the bandage, but I still hadn't heard from the vet regarding the pathology results. I spent all week worrying and scaring myself by looking up "tumors in dogs" online. I had an appointment this Tuesday to have her bandages changed and while I was there they confirmed that they received the lab results - benign tumor. BENIGN! Justin and I were so relieved that our baby was going to be ok. I could finally relax and sleep well knowing that Chula isn't going to be hurting in the long run. It's so hard seeing your dog in pain, since they're always so happy and carefree. You can easily take your dog's health for granted until something like this makes you stop and cherish the moments you have with your pet. I've been spoiling her a bit while she's bandaged up, letting her climb in bed with me when Justin leaves for work even though she snores quite loudly on her pain medication. How can you resist these sleepy faces?

They really love each other when no one is watching :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Las Vegas Trip Recap

It only took until March, but I'm finally going to tell you about my trip to Vegas last month. With the exception of meals and activities in Las Vegas, this trip was FREE! Like my wise aunt Anna once said, "If it's free, it's for me." Justin's company was crazy generous enough to arrange this weekend in Vegas for all of their employees (plus a guest), which included transportation via party bus to/from Las Vegas, two nights at The Cosmopolitan Hotel, one hosted cocktail reception, one hosted dinner and a $100 casino chip to gamble with.

Justin works in the entertainment industry, where it's not unusual for company events to be "over the top" in my standards. They work hard and play hard in Hollywood, and I reap the benefits when they're offered. I work for a nonprofit where our holiday party is a catered lunch during which we exchange the gifts we got for Christmas and don't want. (Yes, the holiday party is after the holiday and involves re-gifting.) This is the way it should be, afterall. You don't go into non-profit for the freebies. But it sure is nice to live with someone who gets them from his line of work :)

We arrived in Vegas on the Saturday afternoon before Presidents Day and headed straight to The Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay. I had heard great things and figured a Hubert Keller restaurant had to be great. It was a bust :( I didn't even take a picture of my burger because it was so average and boring. Luckily that disappointing meal was followed up by a cocktail hour at our hotel's awesome Chandelier Bar.

There I discovered my love for beverages with toasted marshmallows on top.

We ducked out just in time to make it to the Mirage for the Beatles LOVE Show. Awesome! What's not to love about Beatles music, dancing, aerials, lights and confetti? I went back and forth on whether or not to buy tickets to a show while we were in Vegas. They don't come cheap, but I definitely felt like I got my money's worth on these tickets. I'm glad we made the investment and reserved seats in advance. The performance gave me a better understanding for what it might have been like to grow up while The Beatles were exploding. The band had such an enormous influence on my parent's generation and continues to remain relevant to this day. It makes me wonder which of today's popular artists, if any, will have that kind of staying power.

The next morning we met our friends for brunch at one of our hotel's restaurants, The Wicked Spoon. We were greeted by a surprisingly long line and discovered that the restaurant was actually one of Vegas's famous buffets.

I wouldn't normally seek out a buffet, but since we were there, I tried to get my money's worth.

My first plate was loaded with a warm, fluffy biscuit topped with gravy, (a Southern staple I haven't had in forever) an egg white omelet with veggies, a pecan pancake, granola and fruit. The whole plate was amazing. I was really impressed by the quality of the food and surprised to find that the buffet items tasted fresh and wholesome. When I went back to the buffet line I found a whole section of savory items I missed the first go-round so I grabbed some mashed potatoes, a salad, mac and cheese, chicken wings and cauliflower.

Most items on my second plate continued to impress me, with the exception of mushy chicken wings and undercooked cauliflower. I pushed those aside while I enjoyed the rest and determined that I couldn't eat another plate. There were so many items left to try but I knew if I wanted to taste dessert, there was no way I could continue eating. When I got to the dessert bar, I wished I had saved more room. They had a gelato bar, cakes, cookies, chocolates, you name it. I grabbed a chocolate covered strawberry for myself and one for Justin, a small carrot cake and a gold dusted chocolate cake ball. I hate to admit that I only made it through one strawberry and a bite of the cake ball before I felt that I would actually burst.

Completely stuffed from our breakfast, we did a lot of walking down the strip until late afternoon when we made our way to the Stratosphere. The goal of making the trek was to ride one of the rides at the top of the tower. Upon arrival, both men in our group chickened out. My friend Kelly and I stood strong and rode the X-Scream, which dangles you over the edge of the observation tower.

It might look scary, but it was more build-up than thrill. The ride only lasted about a minute and wasn't as fun as I would have hoped. 

We had dinner with the rest of the group later that evening and played some slots before calling it a night. I think the days of night clubs in Vegas are behind me, and I didn't miss them at all. Before we hit the road the next morning we stopped at Hash House a Go Go for breakfast. 

Hash House was recommended by my cousin, and I'm glad we got to experience it. This place had the most outrageous menu and the dishes I saw landing on tables nearby were so crazy that I had to sneak a picture.

As usual, I couldn't decide between something sweet like pancakes or french toast, or an egg dish. I love both so much! I ended up getting an egg scramble that was really tasty but left me wanting a pancake anyway. Blergh!

Heading back to Los Angeles after breakfast, I found myself happy to be heading West. Las Vegas is unique and exciting, but I find it more excessive the older I get. Next time I get the chance to return to Las Vegas, I know I'll look forward to a new show and new cuisine, but I'll be equally as excited about going home to a place where gambling and drinking at 9am aren't completely normal things. Until next time, Vegas.