Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fancy Brunch at San Ysidro Ranch

"There's this really nice ranch hotel in the mountains with an amazing restaurant and beautiful gardens," remarked a friend when Will and I mentioned that we were planning a weekend trip to Santa Barbara for a wedding this past June. Of course my ears perked up at the sound of the words "restaurant" and "gardens". "Oh and make sure you bring your camera," he added, "you'll probably want to take lots of pictures." Will probably saw the way my face lit up and mentally noted that San Ysidro Ranch would be added to our itinerary.

If there was a place that exemplified "idyllic" it would probably be San Ysidro Ranch. Hidden away in the Montecito foothills, San Ysidro Ranch is composed of forty one charming little cottages and the rustic Stonehouse restaurant, all surround by a dreamy landscape of flower gardens, fruit trees, vine-covered trellises, lily ponds, and running creeks. Have you ever seen a romantic field of lavender in a Jose Villa wedding shoot or a garden colored in gorgeous soft pastels featured on Style Me Pretty and wonder where in the world all of these incredible places are? San Ysidro Ranch is undoubtedly one of those incredible places.

We drove up a winding country road and arrived at the ranch well before our reservation so we could have some time to stroll around the lovely grounds. We took a leisurely walk through the enchanting gardens, explored the restaurant's organic vegetable garden, said hello to a large stone turtle sunbathing by a fountain filled with lilies, and finally circled back around to catch our brunch reservation at the Stonehouse.

We were seated in the dining room, next to a cozy fireplace, side-by-side so we could both enjoy the view from the open window and patio doors that overlooked the beautiful gardens. What followed was all a wonderful blur (perhaps due in part to the bottomless orange mimosas and pear bellinis, yum). Salty Scottish smoked salmon and Idaho trout topped with quail egg and caviar, oysters on the half shell with watermelon mignonette, juicy lobster omelet, and a rich duck confit hash....but my favorite was dessert: the perfectly sweet, perfectly tart creamy plum sorbet. Afterwards we walked off the wooziness from the luxurious fare by making another round through the gardens.

It certainly was a splurge, probably the most we have ever spent on brunch, but thank you to my sweet husband for indulging me so.

San Ysidro Ranch
900 San Ysidro Lane
Montecito, CA 93108
Website: http://www.sanysidroranch.com/

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Travel Planning: Guided Tours

It's less than T minus one month before our trip to Europe! Planning is now in the phase of working out all the nitty-gritty little details of our daily itineraries. When I first started planning our trip, guided tours were the last thing on my mind; Will's first trip to Europe can be characterized by constant herding on and off tour buses, flash photography, and eating exclusively in Chinese restaurants all over Europe (though the tour group did manage to visit more countries in 3 weeks than I've ever stepped foot in my entire life, so mission accomplished I guess).

I made it my goal to plan a very different experience for our trip to Europe together (and my very first!), steering clear of the impersonal and cursory itinerary of tour groups. I envisioned self-guided leisurely strolls through the beautiful and historic neighborhoods of Paris, exploring the markets and local life, wandering the lush garden and parks of Copenhagen, and getting lost in the winding canals of Venice.

But then I began to realize that in a foreign, unfamiliar city where we don't speak the language, "getting lost" was a real possibility and probably not as romantic as it seems (especially in the summer heat). So I began researching guided tours and as I delved deeper, I found that there are actually many unique tours that are far from the depthless and formulaic experience I had deemed them to be. In fact, the best local guides often have insider tips, local secrets, and entertaining stories to tell along the tour, making even the most crowded and popular attractions feel less touristy and more charming.

Guided tours come in many different flavors: "free" tips-only local tour guides, photography tours, bike tours (if we have the time, I would love to try this in either Paris or Copenhagen; both are fantastic cities to see by bike from what I hear), boat tours, food tours, wine tours, etc. I think the key to booking a fun and memorable tour is to keep in mind the characteristic virtues of a particular city and as well as your personal interests. Don't take a bike tour if you hate biking or a boat tour if you get sea sick; if you aren't intensely interested in art history, an 8-hour guided tour of the Louvre may bore you to tears.

So far, we plan to take a "free" walking tour of Montmartre with a local guide in Paris, a guided castle tour (so we can explore the scenic countryside areas that are unreached by the city metro) and boat canal tour in Copenhagen, and a walking tour with gondola ride in Venice (also considering the "Secret Itineraries Tour" for Doge's Palace; we probably won't be able to truly appreciate all of the history behind  this landmark without a guide).

I also found that tours can actually save us both time (of getting lost and some tour groups have front-of-the-line privileges at popular attractions) and money (in Venice a gondola ride booked in advance with a tour is much cheaper than negotiating the price on-the-spot). At the very least, you will always have someone to ask where the bathrooms are (super important, to me at least!)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sunset Cliffs: A Fleeting Beauty

Will and I took a trip down to San Diego this past July 4th holiday weekend to spend some time with family. In my humble opinion, San Diego probably has some of the most beautiful and unique coastlines in the world (of course I am completely biased and not an expert in beaches and coastlines by any means...). "Beautiful beaches" usually inspires imagery of white sand, swaying palm trees, and clear turquoise waters, but San Diego beaches are picturesque in a very different way-- dramatic sea cliffs, coastal chaparral and wildflowers, graceful arches, and mysterious caves.

We took a family excursion to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, about ten miles south of some of my usual beach favorites (La Jolla Cove and Torrey Pines State Reserve), to explore a lesser known side of the San Diego shoreline. We studied a very faded park map near the entrance and found that we were close to two scenic points, the "Badlands" and "Garbage Beach". Hm, no thank you. I'm sure they are probably quite lovely sights but whoever named them sure was a real grouch. Luckily, we found that the park was actually divided into two areas, the larger "hillside section" on the south side where we had parked (featuring the badlands and garbage beach), and a long and narrow "linear section" that extends 1.5 miles to the north adjacent to the ocean. The linear section of the park is covered with stunning geological formations waiting to be explored!

The weather was perfect, cloudy but warm with a constant breeze. We followed the cliff side "trail" that can be considered run-down at best-- the makeshift trail has no railings, one is literally strolling along the edge of the cliff along the narrowest region of the park while other portions of the trail abruptly end, directing walkers onto the roadside bike lane of sunset cliffs blvd. for a few hundred feet before reverting back onto the unpaved park path.

Haphazard as it may be, the panoramic ocean view as we meandered along the cliffs was unobstructed and spectacular. Along the way we observed sea bluffs, caves, arches, and tide pools all intricately sculpted from the sandstone by erosion. In fact, some areas of the park were so eroded that they were fenced off for safety (in particular we found a large doughnut-like hole formation in the ground that had a tiny hidden beach tucked underneath it); yet, we noticed even the fence itself was rusting and eroding from the relentless wind and waves.

In addition to the derelict condition of the trail, along our walk we also spotted quite a few curious remnants of what appeared to be the eroded foundations of some sort of structure. Later, I found this fascinating article on the rather hapless history of Sunset Cliffs. In 1915, Albert Spaulding spent 2 million dollars to landscape Sunset Cliffs which included rustic railings, pebbled stairways, arched bridges, and even a saltwater swimming pool carved into the natural rock. Sounds pretty amazing, especially considering the delicate landscape!

The article follows the ill-fated cycle of construction and refurbishment of the park by a series of generous individuals, gifting of the park to the city, subsequent neglect and decline of the park before being retaken by another private patron, further neglect by the city and so forth until finally the park had deteriorated so much, most features were considered unsafe and removed. A series of unfortunate events indeed.

Sunset cliffs was on this list of the top 5 disappearing natural formations in the U.S. (along with the Everglades and Glacier National Park) as urban runoff and pollution has greatly exacerbated the erosion of this fragile environment. A dramatic arch called Ye 'ol Needle's Eye pictured above in an old photograph of Sunset Cliffs, is just one example of a beautiful formation that has since collapsed due to erosion, wind, and surf.

It was a wonderful afternoon enjoying the majestic scenery of Sunset Cliffs with pelicans gliding overhead, exploring all the secret crevices of the park, and finally finding our way to Sandstone Arch, a popular scenic point where we spotted a group of adventurous locals cliff jumping (reminded me of Waimea Bay in Hawaii!). After learning about the long and intriguing history of Sunset Cliffs, I have an even deeper appreciation for the fleeting beauty and uniqueness of this remarkable scenic treasure.

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
1253 Sunset Cliffs Blvd
(between Adair St & Osprey St)
San Diego, CA 92107
Website: http://www.sunsetcliffs.info/

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Touch of Paint

Clay that is heated, shaped, cooled, painted, and glazed become lovely ceramics that add a touch of artistry to even the most ordinary household objects. Lately, I've spotted quite a few household items that have incorporated pretty painted ceramic designs and it's super cute! Amazing what a splash of colors and patterns can do to transform everyday pieces into something eye catching!

Painted Ceramics

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Soba Noodle Salad

Summer weather has been slowly settling in-- I've started wearing sunglasses everyday and no longer have to put on a jacket when going out at night. Some days, cooking hot food in a stuffy kitchen is the last thing I feel like doing... plopping on the couch in t-shirt and shorts with a pint of ice cream (Haagen-Dazs dulce de leche please) seems ever so tempting. But, according to the wise words of my mother when I was five, ice cream is not a proper meal. So instead, I've been making a cool bowl of soba noodle salad as a simple, tasty summer meal. Salty with a citrus tang, a touch of sweetness, fragrant sesame oil, crisp fresh vegetables, and juicy shrimp makes for a refreshing reprieve from the summer heat (and I do believe my mother would approve).

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes


  • 6-8 ounces soba noodles 
  • 2 teaspoon dashi
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon rice vinegar 
  • 3 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup ponzu soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined 

1. Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan and stir in the dashi. Add the soba noodles and cook for about 6 minutes stirring occasionally. Drain the noodles, rinse under cold water, and set aside.
2. Bring water to a boil in a separate pot and salt generously. Add shrimp to the boiling water, remove from heat and stir. Leave the pot covered until all the shrimp have change color and are just cooked through. Drain, remove cooked shrimp and set aside to cool.
3. Wash the bell pepper, cucumber, and green onion. Peel the cucumber and slice thinly into 2 inch long strips. Remove the core and seeds from the bell pepper and slice thinly into 2 inch long strips. Finely chop the green onion and set aside.
4. For the dressing, whisk together the ponzu soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, lemon juice, and honey. Stir in the chicken stock and taste to check for seasoning. Add vinegar for more tang, ponzu if you like it saltier, or honey it you like it sweeter.
5. In a large bowl, toss together the bell pepper, cucumber, half of the green onion, shrimp, and soba noodles. Pour the dressing on top and toss several times to evenly coat. Garnish with a sprinkling of remaining green onions on top.
6. Serve at room temperature or after chilling in the fridge.

Of course, following up this summery dish with plopping on the couch with a pint of ice cream is not such a bad idea either... Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Love in Santa Barbara

We took a short but sweet trip to Santa Barbara a few weekends ago to attend the lovely wedding of our dear friends Carol and Jezreel. Carol is the talented wedding photographer behind the lens of our Santa Monica engagement photos, so with her artistic sensibility and passion for weddings, we knew their wedding was bound to be a fabulous, picture-perfect affair!

Santa Barbara is such a lovely city, with distinctive Spanish style architecture and a wonderfully rustic flair.
We stayed in a small but quaint room nestled in a quiet hillside neighborhood just half a dozen blocks or so from downtown State Street. It was our first booking with airbnb and a very pleasant experience. 

After enduring a long traffic-congested drive, we enjoyed a scrumptious seafood dinner at Hungry Cat. Fresh crab claws, fennel stuffed snapper, and halibut with crispy garlic... delicious! 

The next morning we had brunch at the adorable Crushcakes & Cafe. Crushcakes has competed on Food Network's Cupcake Wars so I ordered the breakfast version of their signature red velvet cupcake, the red velvet pancake! With fresh strawberries, syrup, and a big dollop of cream cheese frosting, the pancakes were a perfect rendition of "dessert for breakfast", yum!

We worked off our morning indulgence by climbing to the top of Santa Barbara county courthouse clock tower for a great view of the city... ok, so we actually cheated and took an elevator up to the top, but we did take a nice long stroll around the courthouse grounds and nearby downtown streets.

Then it was off to the wedding~

The wedding festivities were held at the beautiful Santa Barbara Historic Museum and the entire affair was filled to the brim with sweet and charming details (some literally SWEET, aka the amazing dessert bar!). Think hand-painted floral invitation and program designs, adorable animal place card holders (Rhinos!), gold chevron, rustic terrariums, stacks of vintage novels, and soft pastel florals. We sipped refreshing blood orange spritzers from mason jars alongside lovely table settings embellished with a palette of warm peachy coral, soft minty green, and elegant gold. After sunset the magical string lights twinkling overhead was the perfect canopy for dancing the night away beneath the stars. Of course the beaming bride and groom were shining all the brighter!

Marriage is often described as an earthly shadow of what our relationship will be like with Christ in heaven, so in moments like these, I can't help but marvel at God's great love for us and what kind of celebration and pure joy will abound when we are united with Him in eternity.

Much love Santa Barbara, we had a fantastic time!

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