Category Archives: Honeymoon
For my friend, Pat Coakley, of Singleforareason
For those of you who haven’t yet come across Pat or her photography and philosophy blog, Singleforareason, you should visit it right NOW. If I ever finish writing my foodie memoir, I’d love Pat to illustrate it – her photos of plants and fruit and vegetables and other fridge contents really get me going. She also takes the most eerie photos whilst driving, and this inspired me to attempt the same while Monsieur and I were in Maui earlier this year. The only difference was that Monsieur was driving whilst I was photographing. Pat manages to do both at the same time.
Some of my novice drive-by-shooting results are here:
Those clouds above the mountains stay above the mountains. Down on the West coast, where most of the main resorts are, it hardly ever rains.
All the palm trees in Maui are bent in the direction of the dominant wind. The first bent palms we saw were just outside the airport. This one was a bit lonely, stood by the side of the road in the middle of sugar cane country.
Sugar cane and ominous clouds that threaten but never quite reach us.
The Maui skies are huge and the landscape dramatically craggy from its volcanic heritage.
The sun sets early here. It’s already hiding behind the mountains but hasn’t quite gone.
Just south of Lahaina the hills are terracotta and ancient-looking. The sky begins to blush as the sun drops closer to the horizon.
Its glow bounces off our shiny red Mustang as we head back up to Ka’anapali Beach and our hotel. It will be another postcard perfect evening for us as we watch the colours change around the neighbouring islands.
Monsieur thinks I’m nuts to sit in the car taking photos as we whizz around the island – nothing new there. I think it’s fun and will definitely do this again. It gives a whole new perspective on our surroundings. Thank you, Pat, for the inspiration.
Went to see Gordon Gecko’s latest incarnation in Wall Street 2 recently and just about spat out my water in giggles at this ad in the cinema. Don’t worry – Monsieur didn’t get too wet, he’d brought his brolly. In particular I really dig the pole dancers. It’s even funnier because it’s total fiction – Monsieur and I couldn’t begin to describe how frustrating our Virgin flight back from honeymoon was – crashed online check-in so Monsieur could get a seat but not me (computer said I didn’t exist)… had to forego bag drop because of that. Stood in line FOREVER thanks to understaffing only to be told that we couldn’t sit together (on our way back from honeymoon???) thanks to a cruise liner that had deposited its UK passengers on this flight, which was now overbooked. Try to swap your seats at the gate? Not blooming likely. The flight’s full to bursting with cruise ship lovers. That means that most of them are COUPLES. Even the nicest person in the world wouldn’t want to swap away from their partner so I could be with My New Hubby on a 10 hour flight. We tried regardless. All the couples around us said sorry but no. Big Fat FAIL.
Monsieur and I weren’t the only ones with seat allocation troubles. People behind me (Monsieur was on the other side of the plane in a completely different cabin) bickered all ten hours of the way home. They hadn’t been seated next to their bridge partners from the cruise, one woman had issue with the man in front of her reclining his seat, and because we were in the back of the plane and one of the meal options had run out by the time the dinner trolley reaches us, there was a near revolt. Little wonder why the crew were grumpy and not the perfectly coiffed divas and gods of this ad.
NB Don’t you think that if Virgin Atlantic crews really looked like they do in this ad, they wouldn’t be trolley dollies? Like, maybe Calvin Klein models or XXX movie stars? Hmm. Moi aussi.
Last point: having a vague idea of how much per-second TV or cinema ads cost to make and show, this one replete with special effects must have cost a blinding amount, possibly even the GDP of a tiny third world country. And whatever my recent issues with Virgin Atlantic, I’ve also enjoyed fantastic flights with them, love their in-flight ice-cream and red-hot (or should I say ‘hot red’?) sleeping socks and this ad certainly makes me giggle.
San Francisco buzzes with life, the clang of cable cars and the revving of vehicles making some of the most difficult hill starts in the world. Down at the port, sailboats and ferries and tugs and ships all come and go, depositing passengers and collecting new ones whilst barking seals bask on floating platforms at Fisherman’s Wharf and the City’s renowned wind whips its way around corners, flapping awnings and flags on its way.
Yet just 12 miles north of the busy Bay Area metropolis lies an area of complete tranquillity called Muir Woods. I first visited this natural monument many years ago as a teenager, and now was about to return, newly married with husband in tow.
Monsieur had been to the Bay Area before this, but hadn’t yet visited Muir Woods, which understandably boasts the title of ‘National Monument’. Muir Woods was declared as such by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, by which time this area of towering Coastal Redwood trees contained but a fraction of California’s original number, which once spread across a staggering 2 million acres of old growth forest. That was before the logging industry came and cleared most of trees away and before the cities were founded and populations grew and wood was needed for building and paper and fuel and furniture.
Thankfully, the area in which Muir Woods stands was considered inaccessible, thus saving it from the slaughter of trees taking place elsewhere in the state. Then a certain US Congressman by the name of William Kent and his wife purchased the area that contains Muir Woods, in the interest of keeping the sky-scraping trees safe from the dreaded axe.
On naming Muir Woods, Kent’s name was initially considered as appropriate, but after a time Kent himself tossed it out in favour of that of John Muir, a naturalist whose work had helped create the National Park System. And so the Woods were renamed in appreciation of Muir.
Monsieur and I purchase our tickets at a little hut manned by a bearded man resembling your archetypal log cabin-dweller. I start humming Daniel Boone, then off down the path we wander. There’s no rush apart from that of the breeze stirring the branches above.
Before long we can barely see the sky for the amount of foliage above us, the girth of the tree trunks on either side of the path growing ever larger. Chip and Dale’s cousins play in the undergrowth to either side and a Woody Woodpecker can be heard in the distance, his beak pecking away madly with its sound echoing through the trees, but something larger is rustling the ferns a couple of metres away. We follow the movement of shaking green leaves until we spot the source: a young doe foraging for lunch, oblivious to our gawping from the track below.
“Remind me why we live in London?” asks Monsieur,
“Quite.” I reply, struggling to remember the reasons myself.
A little later we stop to check history’s famous dates against the rings of a slice of ancient tree trunk, then listen for a while to one of the woodland rangers as she rattles off facts and figures about the trees themselves:
For instance, how much your average redwood needs to drink in a day (up to 500 gallons, a lot of which is drawn from fog), how tall redwoods can grow (115 metres) and the height of the tallest tree in Muir Woods (79 metres and climbing). We also learn that the Coast Redwood or Sequoia sempervirens variety to be found at Muir Woods only grows in a specific coastal climate. In winter, this area will have plenty of rainfall to sustain such giants, but the summers here are dry, so the trees rely on fogs from the nearby sea to provide necessary moisture.
Watching the enthusiasm of the young woman in ranger’s uniform I envy her this job because it matters. Preserving such a beautiful, natural environment is a true vocation. There’s no rat race here. This work counts for something and even on the wettest days of the year, to be tasked with guarding a monument such as Muir Woods, its soaring trees which have breathed and grown as wars were fought and countries formed, its happy fauna frolicking undisturbed about the place, must make getting up each morning a joy. It’s positively Snow White (without the Seven Dwarfs).
Ambling along the pathways we find several redwoods with burn marks on their trunks. We know from the ranger that redwoods don’t burn easily, thanks to fire-resistant tannins in their composition, which is why these scorched trees are still standing tall today.
Next, we pass through the aptly-named Cathedral Grove, where some of the tallest trees in the Woods are gathered, soaring skyward as might the columns of a Gothic cathedral with a leafy canopy for its ceiling. Then we cross the burbling Redwood Creek to climb up to a higher path. I feel my heart rate slow, such is the peace all about us, and inhale deeply. The aroma of redwood trees is all at once fresh and spicy and warm and I want to sear the scent into my memory.
Monsieur and I eventually finish our walk and marvel at what a wonderful place Muir Woods is. In the haze of tranquillity we float back to the Smurfmobile, whispering a thank you to the ghosts of the Kents for saving the Woods for future generations, and ponder how lucky we are to have spent our first day of honeymoon amongst the towering redwoods. A calmer start to our holiday we could not have wished for. As John Muir once remarked:
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Only the blind could possibly miss the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge on a visit to San Francisco. It’s everywhere. Even when you’re on the wrong side of a hill or behind a building, it’s omnipresent – on postcards and tee shirts and coffee mugs and posters.
Rather than content ourselves with the varying 2-D views of this stunning landmark on calendars in gift shops, Monsieur and I decided that our honeymoon would not be complete without a couple of Golden Gate Bridge crossings. And so we traversed this world-famous suspension bridge in our giant white Smurfmobile; first to visit Muir Woods and Sausalito, and on another occasion to visit the vineyards of Napa Valley.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather while we were in San Francisco; the sky was Halcyon blue, a striking backdrop for the deep terracotta span of the Golden Gate. As the Smurfmobile neared the bridge my heart skipped a little with excitement. Then, at last, we were right there on the 2737 metre-long structure, the choppy waters of the Bay beneath us and eerie little Alcatraz a small dot to our right.
Once on the Marin County side, we pulled into a viewing area to take photos of the city skyline, The Rock and the Oakland Bridge. Then we went for a little walk part way back across the Golden Gate. Cyclists share the walkway so we had to be careful not to be squished by keen people in lycra pedalling in their lycra best. The concept of slowing down for pedestrians did not seem to feature in the mindset of this speedy bunch.
As we moved towards the centre of the bridge Monsieur and I noted with interest an emergency helpline phone. Statistics on how many people jump from the Golden Gate each year vary greatly, depending on who’s counting (local government statistics tend to be significantly lower than independent groups), but at least there are phones there if a potential jumper has a change of heart up there and decides to ask for help.
Analysis shows that the Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular place (if you can call it ‘popular’) for suicides on the planet. Jumpers rarely survive (although there is the tale of one survivor who swam to shore and drove himself to hospital) thanks to a 75 metre drop which takes 4 seconds for the average body to achieve, by which time it has gathered enough velocity to render its impact on the water like that of a mass of concrete. In the rare cases that a jumper does survive the fall, they will be injured by it or may freeze to death in the chill water. In the cases where a jumper achieves their objective, their body may never be found, thanks to the strength of the currents which may wash a body straight out to sea.
Pondering this, Monsieur and I wandered back to the car, managing (just) to survive NOT a 75 metre fall into icy water but the very real danger of the cyclists who were all riding their bikes as if they were after the yellow jersey. Fortunately, we made it back to the car park in one piece, but not thanks to them. Cyclists of the Golden Gate Bridge: may all your tyres go flat.
Now safely ensconced in our fat, white car on a particularly sunshiny day we had plans that did not involve rushing about or running people over. Following a hectic eight months our aim was to relax and take time to smell the metaphorical roses. That in mind, we were off to experience the cycle-free tranquillity of Muir Woods. Chipmunks and redwoods, AHOY!
Something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Monsieur and I were sitting in a beautiful dining room that I’d been dying to visit, surrounded by people who, like us, fully appreciate their food. We had a romantic table in a quiet corner and we’d just started the second of four tasting plates. A marshmallowy foie gras with rhubarb chutney had been our first and now I was onto fresh asparagus of THE perfect texture –not too crunchy yet far from steamed into submission. I should have been humming at the culinary expertise, yet every mouthful was a mission to complete.
My body felt all wrong, but there were no specific symptoms to indicate why. My stomach felt fine and my head didn’t hurt, although I definitely didn’t feel all there. It was sort of like being a hologram fading in and out of vision without disappearing completely. The sensation was strange, indeed, but I was determined for this evening to be memorable as it was our first proper honeymoon dinner. Then the third tasting plate arrived – seared tuna, just the way I like it; this baby had been seared to perfection and was stylishly presented in sashimi-sized slices. My eyes said “yes!” but my body said “no!”. What on earth was going on here? I just couldn’t work it out.
Across from me Monsieur was making the satisfied sounds of a very happy carnivore, proclaiming his beef “the best I’ve ever had,”. Meanwhile, each bite that entered my mouth ended up completely masticated as I struggled to get it down. No, this was not right. For the Epicurienne swallow function to fail in the midst of such gastronomic paradise? How could this be? Gastro-bliss was fast turning into a gastro-nightmare.
At first Monsieur was so engrossed in his beef that he didn’t notice that his new wife was experiencing serious trouble with the simple act of eating. Then, as he polished off a final bite of former livestock he saw my plate. In spite of near constant chewing I’d barely consumed four small bites of tuna. That’s when he knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t give him any explanation of what. Suffice to say that we wouldn’t have to wait long to find out.
Next to us sat a young professional couple celebrating a birthday. They were a beautifully-dressed, attractive pair, chatting away happily as they enjoyed their special night out. Across from us, a gay couple enjoyed the flirtatious attention of their waiter, the three of them un-self-consciously displaying mating rituals that could have won them medals at the Flirt-Olympics. These people matched their surrounds. We were all lucky to be in such an environment and everyone seemed to know it. No one was loud (not even the flirt-olympists), the waiters glided about the place, and any request was taken care of in a fraction of a jiffy. But then Epic went and did something that no one in that restaurant is going to forget in a hurry: she burped.
As everyone knows, there are different levels of burp on the Richter Scale and this one was a bridge-shaking, chimney-toppling, wall-cracking and earth-splitting nine with consequences. It was sudden, loud and fruity. Ah yes, people. If you hadn’t yet guessed, Epic’s dinner was about to make a comeback appearance.
In the split second that it took me to realise what was happening, I caught flashes of horrified faces before me, but none so horrified as my dear husband’s. His face said it all. He was wondering what the hell he’d just married and who could blame him? But there was no time to sit and analyse. I dropped my napkin and ran from the room, slamming the door to the splendidly spacious loo behind me. There I did an Oscar-winning impersonation of the Exorcist child with full-on projectile vomiting as torrents and rivers of stomach content (can one stomach really hold that much?) filled the bowl of an otherwise very smart loo. The Epic swallow function may have broken down, but the vomit function was alive and well.
Strangely enough, once the torrents had ceased to flow, I started to feel better immediately, but Monsieur was not impressed. He was cringing in his chair when I returned to the table, and quite rightly so, for who in their right mind would want to be married to a woman of earth-shaking burp ability? Especially if she practises her art in public? I felt terrible. Not just because of the burp and subsequent bodily functions but for Monsieur. This was a honeymoon dinner we’ll always remember for all the wrong reasons.
Feeling better didn’t last long. Back at the hotel I crawled into bed, feeling shaky and feverish, and then made a series of urgent night-time dashes to the bathroom until eventually there was nothing else to throw up, not even a morsel of random vomit ‘carrot’. At least now I could sleep and my recently-acquired husband could have some peace instead of listening to the echoing sounds of a puking hag in the bathroom next door. The next morning I was really surprised he didn’t send me back and get a new one.
Please find enclosed the My Wife 3.0 version which I find to be faulty. I would like to exchange it for the new My Wife 4.0 edition, with the non-burping non-vomiting functions permanently enabled. I would also like to purchase the Don’t Talk Back add-on as the 3.0 Wife talks back all the time and although I appreciate this to be realistic behaviour, I really do find it quite tiring.
Monsieur de Stepford.
Well, sadly I’m not 3.0 or 4.0 anything. I don’t come with add-ons or the possibility to disable my various bodily functions. Apparently I am capable of clearing a restaurant with a single burp (who KNEW?!) and my stomach contents can miraculously reproduce like the never-ending flow of porridge in that fairy tale about the little porridge pot. Thanks to my burpscapade I am now also aware that I can projectile vomit just like the Exorcist kid (although I’ll have to work a bit harder at her head-turning trick).
But seriously, folks, I’m curious: am I the only person to have embarrassed herself in such a way? We often talk about the pleasant ingestion of food here at Epicurienne, but today let’s look at the other side of the coin – what makes us run from the table and why. Thankfully, Monsieur and I can now laugh about the whole experience we had in San Francisco, The Burp-y City, but at the time it was most unpleasant, I have to admit. So, come on Epic Friends – dish the dish. Tell me about your painful eating episodes and don’t leave anything out.
Warning: the reading of the following post may cause excessive salivation. Prepare to dribble. Might be an idea to grab a cuppa, too, cos it’s longish… But you know what I’m like when we talk food, right?
The lobby at The Fairmont.
At long last Monsieur and I could begin our much-needed honeymoon in earnest. In the course of a few short days we’d said our I Dos, celebrated in style, travelled across the globe in spite of that inconsiderate Icelandic volcano and were now safely in San Francisco. At the airport they’d run out of moderate-sized cars so upgraded us to a mammoth of a bright white SUV that had so much interior space that Monsieur and I felt like a pair of Smurfs driving along the freeway. Ah yes, we had definitely arrived in The Land of Super-Size Everything.
Following a sleep so deep that we could have been mistaken for a pair of new stone effigies in neighbouring Grace Cathedral, we were now in dire need of breakfast, so followed our noses down to the lobby in search of much black coffee and eggs with everything. It would be quite factual to say that we were quite empty and desperate to refuel.
Breakfast at The Fairmont is served in a circular room located just off the main lobby. Called The Laurel Court it boasts a triple-domed ceiling and walls painted with wistful Italianate landscapes. As we found, this is a low-lit haven where food for the famished may be found at most times of the day. What’s more, the menu reads like a gastro-geek’s dream AND even better, the ingredients are ‘locally sourced, organic, or sustainable items wherever possible.’ Not to mention that ‘all cuisine is prepared without artificial trans fat’.( I hasten to add that at this point in time trans fats were the last thing on our hungry minds but it was nice to know that we could chow down with a clear conscience. Ish.)
Barely skimming the menu in our starved state, Monsieur and I decided to go for the Deluxe Hot Buffet which, quite frankly, was a bargain for $28.00 (at least, it was the way we did it). We enjoyed bottomless freshly-squeezed orange juice, ice water and coffee, and tucked right into the buffet. Our word of that particular morning was “more!” and with good reason because we hadn’t eaten properly for almost a day. That’s right, people, a full 24 hours without food and we didn’t do it for charity. FYI: I do not classify the plastic wrapped oozy object that the airline called ‘a light meal’ as food.
Laurel Court at The Fairmont.
On the bakery island we found pastries so soft and fragrant that they must have just been lifted out of The Fairmont’s own ovens. The varieties of bread catered for all palates, including the densest, darkest pumpernickel and multiple multi-grained breads alongside classic rye, sourdough, sweet brioches and slices of downright ordinary white. There were baskets of bagels, piles of fat scones from both sweet and savoury recipes, granola and porridge for cereal-lovers, a selection of cheeses from nearby Sonoma and a veritable charcuterie of cured meats. The low-fat raspberry yoghurt was the fullest tasting low-fat variety I’ve ever had the joy to slurp and the platter of fresh fruit sat so heavy with sliced melons, bulbous berries, Californian oranges and squeaky shiny apples that it reminded me somehow of The Garden of Eden.
Beneath stainless steel covers in the hot foods buffet we found bacon and sausages and morning-fried potatoes. Then a smile spread across my husband’s face: he’d found the eggs Benedict.
It always makes me nervous when Monsieur eats eggs Benedict that have been made by non-Epicurienne chefs, just in case he finds some that are better than mine. I sat and watched his face carefully as he took a bite and ruminated over his Benedictine cud. “They’re very good,” he said, “but not as good as yours.” Thank the Epicurean Lord of all things edible. I could now resume breathing. You see, Monsieur is a highly critical eater and my eggs Benedict are in the top three things I make that so far no one else has been able to beat, but I live in (slight) fear of the day when he finds a preferable alternative to my version. Silly, I know, but I’m a bit competitive about my eggs ben…
Anyway, in our time at The Fairmont, Monsieur and I enjoyed two Laurel Court breakfasts and were intensely gratified by both. On one occasion I joined Monsieur in trying the eggs Benedict, to find that he was indeed correct in his appraisal that they were very good (but I also prefer mine). On the other occasion, I asked the egg chef to make me an omelette with tomatoes, scallions, wild mushrooms and mozzarella. Once again, it was very good, but The Epicurean Brother makes them better. I gave Monsieur my omelette appraisal, to which he replied: “what is it about your family that you’re all so good at making eggs?” To that, I have absolutely no answer, apart from: “just wait until you try my brother’s TORTILLA!” I guess we just enjoy the fruits of happy hens.
Apart from trying the eggs at The Laurel Court, I also enjoyed constructing my own bagel one morning. Lightly toasting an onion bagel I spread it with a blend of smoked salmon and regular cream cheese then layered it with soft folds of Atlantic smoked salmon and slices of a perfect tomato. With a squeeze of fresh lemon, a few crisp rings of red onion and a sprinkling of miniature capers I was good to go. And that, my foodie friends, is one bagel I won’t soon forget. It has something to do with the tomato that tasted exactly as a tomato should – tart with juice, unlike the bland red fruit we too often find served up at home which, to my mind, are tomatoes in name only. The salmon was also a revelation compared to the over-farmed slices to be found on London’s supermarket shelves. It practically dissolved on the tongue with the full flavour of a fish that had enjoyed a life free of pent-up farm pond misery. The key to the success of this bagel was all down to the ingredients.
My perfect bagel with the Happy Salmon.
Returning to the breakfast menu for a moment, I must share a few of the a la carte options. There’s Fig-Stuffed French Toast, comprising local black mission figs, brioche, organic eggs, cream and maple syrup. It’s served with roasted red and gold new potatoes and a traditional breakfast sausage. For the health-conscious there are Flaxseed Pancakes, made with dried cranberries and blueberry syrup. These are presented with sides of Asian pears that have been poached in syrup, Riesling and vanilla, and a chicken apple sausage. The classic poached eggs come with Yukon gold potato latke and corned beef hash and even the oatmeal turns up at table with roast potatoes and Applewood smoked bacon. Having said that, these combinations are mere suggestions. On ordering you can select whichever sides you like to accompany the main plate. The Laurel Court calls this ‘couture cuisine’ and positively encourages their patrons to play havoc with their menu. And no, in case you’re wondering, Monsieur and I were not born with bottomless stomachs so we did not try any of the above, not that we weren’t tempted. The buffet provided plenty of everything for both our appetites and believe it or not, we’re not that gluttonous. Yet.
Had Monsieur and I been intent on growing our girths at the Fairmont we could feasibly have noshed there all day. In addition to breakfast, The Laurel Court provides light lunches of classic dishes like grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, flatiron steaks and insalata Caprese. Then there are dishes with a twist, like the Bloody Caesar Salad which uses both red and green romaine lettuce, or the simple sliders made with top-notch Kobe beef. Some guests prefer to enjoy this elegant dining room over a sedate afternoon tea including six sandwich varieties, two of those previously-mentioned fat scones and five desserts. You can even add on bubbly and caviar or chocolate truffles. (Goshdarnit. I’m making myself hungry.) If you have a taste for some end-of day relaxation with a glass of something stronger in hand, then The Laurel Court has a pianist to tinkle you into reverie with soothing classical music.
Get a load of this cheesy geezer! That grin is oh-so-very wrong.
Sadly, Monsieur and I didn’t have enough time to try The Laurel Court’s offerings apart from their superb breakfasts for we were only stopping over in San Francisco but we were impressed with our experience there. As we left on the next leg of our honeymoon, Monsieur remarked “that was one of the best breakfasts of my life.” Now, that’s a true compliment coming from a genuinely fussy customer.