Our first two days in wine country

For the past few months, Jake and I have been planning a trip out to California wine country with his parents (my in-laws) for spring break. Though we were only in town for a total of 7 days, it felt like far longer, and frankly I’m impressed at how much we were able to do while still taking time to unwind and relax. That, of course, means there’s no way I can fit everything into a single blog post, so I’m breaking this out into probably three chapters. Starting with our first two days primarily in Sonoma:

  • From when we flew in on Sunday to Thursday morning, we stayed at Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen (in Sonoma Valley). It’s a breathtaking property with architecture that somehow felt Southern and a distinctly rural-luxurious vibe. Every morning, we woke up to peaceful vineyard views and were then served a full country breakfast. In the afternoons, there would be fresh-baked cookies up for grabs in the kitchen. I know that my father-in-law particularly enjoyed reading on the balcony while the rest of us were still asleep. I was extremely sad to leave and would definitely return, especially in the warmer months and ideally when they were hosting one of their signature Sunday dinners.
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Fresh chocolate chip cookies with sea salt!

  • Dinner at Glen Ellen Star, a Michelin-recommended (though not starred) restaurant only five minutes away from Beltane Ranch, was honestly fucking outstanding. We made this reservation for the first night of our trip, and I think it tied for first as one of the best meals of the whole vacation. Also maybe one of the top 10 meals of my life. It gets rave reviews from media outlets everywhere and I am 100% still dreaming about the roasted carrots we got as an appetizer and the strawberry shortcake dessert — not to mention the wine recommendations from our waitress (Three Sticks and Father’s Watch). If you’re planning a trip to wine country, Glen Ellen Star is a must. Must must must.
  • As far as actual vineyards go, we had an educational and beautiful tour at Kendall Jackson on Monday afternoon. I’ll admit, I was skeptical; it felt like we would be better off sticking to smaller businesses instead of industry giants. But, Jake and his parents encouraged me to keep the reservation I had booked for us, and I am so glad we did. The property was stunning, our tour guide was excellent, and I even spotted the Instagram-famous Farmer Tucker.
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Kendall-Jackson

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Shopping in downtown Healdsburg

  • After Kendall Jackson and some shopping in downtown Healdsburg, we drove over to Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. This was basically the only thing Jake had really wanted to cross off the list so we made sure to make it a priority. He ordered a flight of 19 two-oz(?)beers that we didn’t finish, alongside their Nu Deal pizza, and it was a fun experience / pit stop for lunch / opportunity for Jake to purchase some to beer with him to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, WA, where he’s currently doing an internal med rotation.
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Count ’em

  • We spent most of Tuesday in Sonoma at a close friend’s country house. I cannot possibly overstate how beautiful it was, and their property was extensive enough for a long walk followed by clay-pigeon shooting. Unfortunately, this is not open to the public, but I couldn’t not share.
  • Finally, we (and the aforementioned friends) ate dinner at El Molino Central in Sonoma. The San Francisco Chronicle called it “The Bay Area’s best Mexican food,” and it one-hundred percent delivered. Enjoy any of the red mole dishes and order some guac and chips to share. Important side note: consider bringing a blanket or at least a light jacket because the almost-exclusively-outdoor seating can get a little chilly, even with the space heaters. And basically everything there is at least a tiny bit spicy, but in a really delicious way.

Some other honorable mentions I’d like to note but not give their own bullet point: Ad Hoc (Thomas Keller’s “more affordable” restaurant in the area) and Flying Goat Coffee (which was recommended by The Everygirl). Both were, in my opinion, fine, but I probably wouldn’t intentionally go back to either. Ad Hoc’s menu changes daily, which means that you don’t necessarily know that you’re going to love the menu if you make a reservation. And when we went, it was BBQ, which meant I didn’t love anything except the salad and wine pairings. But if you’ve got an adventurous palette and enjoy most Southern food (like my husband father-in-law), you might disagree. Flying Goat was, similarly, good…but definitely nothing to write home about.

And that’s a wrap on (Jesus Christ I’m gonna have to write a lot of posts) days one and two! Let me know if you have questions as I’m happy to help answer. Now off to draft posts for the rest of the trip…

Love, me.

PS: I love organizing these kinds of things, and I’m really pleased at how the itinerary turned out. I think in another life I’d be a travel agent or event planner. If I were to do a post on how to successfully plan a vacation, would anyone read it? Let me know.

Getting engaged in the Adirondacks

Now that it’s Valentine’s Day, I realized that I never said much about how Jake and I got engaged. It’s just that, when it happened, I told the story so many times out loud that I got lazy about putting it into writing. But, it’s also one of my favorite memories of all time, and I’m feeling nostalgic. So here goes.

Jake and I started looking at rings in late 2015 / early 2016. I remember it being winter, and we were home in Connecticut, so it was probably around the holidays. We went one time to Dunstan Jewelers in Avon, CT (now permanently closed), tried on a few different shapes and sizes, and then left. And then Jake never said another word about it.

A few months came and went, and in May we planned a tenth anniversary, long-weekend trip to the Adirondacks. We had just taken a 9-day trip to Europe, which I had planned and book almost completely on my own, so allegedly “as a thank you” Jake insisted on doing all of the planning for the anniversary — down to researching different restaurants, hikes, and Airbnb options.

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This is me, before I knew what was coming.

I had hoped this meant a ring was coming — it was our tenth anniversary, after all. And, we would have seclusion and privacy, which was something I had expressed a preference towards if there would ever be a proposal. Not to mention the fact that we share a mutual love of being outside, and everything about the trip felt perfect. Until, within literally minutes of arriving at our Airbnb, we lost the keys.

Luckily, the owners had a spare set, but we spent a while searching the front walk and digging through our bags. At one point, I asked, “Hey babe, do you mind if I check your duffel one more time?” And Jake said, “No prob, go ahead.” Which meant there was not a ring in there. And that kind of freaked me out.

This freakout spiraled a bit, and by the end of the evening I was crying in a grocery store parking lot because Jake had so thoroughly convinced me that I had been terribly mistaken, and there was no ring coming after all. In fact, I believed this so thoroughly that I didn’t think twice when Jake gently nudged me to go on a hike the next morning even though I didn’t feel well. And I didn’t think twice when he wheezed his way up the mountain, lagging behind me and constantly stopping to pee even though he has much longer legs and is in much better shape. Nor did I think twice when he started waxing poetic at the peak, talking about “the last 10 years” and having a future together. Until he got down on one knee.

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I was absolutely stunned. Turns out, Jake had intentionally hidden the ring elsewhere and was thrilled when I asked to look through his bag. He knew that I’d be obsessing over where it was and that I’d think the worst when I didn’t see it, just like he knew I’d feel better after getting some fresh air and going on the hike regardless of my upset stomach. And it turns out that he was lagging so far behind because his heart was pounding so hard he could barely walk. I don’t know about you, but all of that that is extremely endearing to me.

Maybe the cutest part, though, was that he arranged for our parents to meet us at dinner that night. On the walk back down the mountain, after the proposal, I was raving about how I couldn’t wait to get home to Connecticut to tell everyone. He insisted we stay for dinner because “the restaurant had promised champagne.” Which, like…fine, you’ve convinced me. We’ll stay for the champagne.

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Of course, the champagne was just a very successful ruse and our families were in on the surprise. I walked into the restaurant thinking we’d be heading for a table for two and literally looked past where everyone was sitting. By the time I realized what was going on, my legs had given out from shock and I burst into tears. Then Jake’s dad started crying, my dad started crying, and we all sort of stood around hugging and wiping our faces for a few minutes. It was, quite frankly, the best. (And yes, you read that right; the men cried first).

Now here we are almost two years later, and I sort of can’t believe he knew me so well. He knew the kind of place I’d want to stay, my thought process on where the ring would be — the lost key was not part of the plan, by the way. It’s gone forever and we still don’t know what happened to it — and the fact that once it was official I would want us to be with our in-laws-to-be. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

So anyway, that’s my mushy Valentine’s Day post. I feel incredibly lucky to be married to someone so thoughtful and creative and kind, and I am so excited for him to come home this weekend after 5 weeks away.

Some more practical takeaways for those of you who are here for the recommendations rather than the romance: the two particular items of clothing I was wearing during the hike which made the whole thing much more enjoyable since it was quite chilly.

  1. My EMS puffer jacket, which I bought at Jake’s mother’s urging shortly before our trip (because she knows I hate being cold and that Jake was planning on proposing). I still wear it all the time and I think about that weekend every time I pull it out of the closet. Thanks, Cathleen!
  2. My hiking boots. I wear these much less frequently than the jacket, but I’ve been grateful that I have them every time I need them. This particular pair is comfortable, durable, and — maybe most importantly — waterproof. I love wading through streams and mud in them becuase I feel untouchable.

Also, please stay at that Airbnb if you’re in the area; it’s absolute perfection. And I’d recommend the restaurant, too, but apparently it closed a few months after our dinner there.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope all of you are doing something really special.

Love, me.

 

The road to Da Adolfo

Da Adolfo is a beloved hidden gem on the Amalfi Coast — a favorite among locals and travel bloggers who seek fresh ingredients, exclusive beaches, and a story to tell. By some fluke in the universe, though, we got a table during our honeymoon. And this is how you can, too:

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First of all, the place basically never answers their phone, and rumor has it that they only pick up for local numbers, nor do they take online reservations. So your hotel has to call to book your table during a particular window of hours when they do answer the phone, as far in advance as possible, and it’s very competitive. Then, on the morning of your reservation, you take a boat from the main beach in Positano to the beach where Da Adolfo is located, which the restaurant shares only with Le Sirene hotel. Oh, and though the boat ride is free with restaurant reservations, the skippers on board the boat will make sure your name is on the list before letting you board. If — even by a fluke — it isn’t there, they will turn you away. Then, after an admittedly beautiful ride to the Da Adolfo beach, you rent lounge chairs (and umbrellas, if you don’t want to fry in the sun), and wait for your table to come available around lunchtime. That’s…three hoops just to make the call, a literal boat ride and the hope that they remembered to write your name down, money to rent space on the beach, and a few hours waiting.

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But none of that is necessary if you stay at Hotel Pellegrino. If you stay at Hotel Pellegrino, owners Luiggi and Sandra will refuse to call and book you a table because it’s “too hard” (something I initially doubted but now understand to be extremely true). They will, instead, cryptically drive you to a stretch of cliffside highway as early in the day as you’ll let them, point you to an incredibly inconspicuous set of stairs, and wave goodbye. And then down the cliff stairs you go.

When you finally reach the bottom, you are standing on a beach and staring at the back of the Da Adolfo building. Walk around the front, add your name to the list, et voilá. You’ve skipped the entire reservation circus and get to spend your morning on a private beach with an Aperol spritz, followed by lunch at an iconic restaurant (likely surrounded by influencers, celebs, and more). And you can take the boat back to Positano at the end of the day — if only so you don’t miss out on that part of the experience.

So, basically, you have two options: go the insane phone call route and cross your fingers it works, or stay at Hotel Pellegrino and be dropped off at a secret cliffside staricase early enough in the day that it doesn’t matter you don’t have a formal reservation.

Some extra tips: maybe don’t try to do the latter with a big group, since it’s easier for restaurants to accommodate two surprise guests rather than, say, four or five. Also, ask nicely since you’re asking for a spot on the waiting list, get comfortable with a good book, bring sunscreen sunscreen, and relax. Tip generously. If you’re lucky, you’ll get seated at a table next to a celebrity chef (hi, Thomas Carter and Danny Meyer) or just your average, run of the mill A-lister like Gwyneth Paltrow.

No matter what route you take to get there, it’s worth the trip. You can read about what (and how) we ordered here.

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I hope this helps at least some of you! Feel free to comment or ping me with any additional questions.

Love, me.