San Francisco: tourist for the day

golden-gate-bridge

“Hey, dude!” When I think of San Francisco, I think of Michelle Tanner on Full House, hilly roads and cable cars.  I spent two nights in San Francisco as the start of a (now annual) girls trip! The final destination was Napa, CA for the Zooma Women’s Half Marathon and lots of wine tasting <– let’s be honest, we really just went for the wine…
San Fran is probably one of my favorite cities. (Chicago summers being at the top of the list right now) If you want the beach, head south a little. Redwoods/nature/hiking, drive north. City tourist-for-a-day and wine connoisseur are fun roles to play.  The food is pretty spectacular and the sights are one of a kind.
This trip was a girl’s trip.  Translation – tons of chatting, wine and laughter.  I had far too much fun and took far too many pictures to post everything so I’ve listed my “top 10” San Fran moments…

1 – Running the Golden Gate Bridge (FOR FREE!)

golden-gate-bridge-morning

It’s not everyday that I get to wake up and go for a jog over one of the most popular bridges in the world ( <— my opinion).  The run/jog/picture-taking-session was amazing!  The San Fran side was very foggy and we couldn’t even see the top of the bridge, the water or the other side!   Parking, running and taking a ton of pictures were all free!

golden-gate-run-cassie

Once we ran the 1.7 miles across the bridge, the sky cleared and the views were amazing!  The run was a little loud from the traffic, boats and horns and the air was definitely polluted with car emissions, but this is one run I will never forget!  So cool!

golden-gate-run

 

2 – Air BNB

We stayed in the city two nights and most of the hotels we found were super expensive, sold out or yucky.  One of our friends mentioned Air BNB and this proved to be the BEST thing ever!  I didn’t take any pictures of our cute little abode, but it was perfect! The Sunny Apt City View, Qn Bed, Parking from Ms. Rita was wonderful!   Ms. Rita was so responsive and her rental was in a great location. Not too far from the city but far enough to get out of the chaos.  Parking was free and the bathroom was renovated and had a bidet… (google it if you need to… I did!)  I would definitely recommend this rental to others and will use AirBNB for the next trip!

3 – El Techo de Lolinda

El Techo de Lolinda is the a lively, fun, delicious rooftop bar in Mission district with a cool view of San Fran.  It’s mainly tapas and the best La Paloma I’ve ever had!  The atmosphere was so great!  The music was awesome (those great 80s and 90s hits!) and the food so incredible.

4 – Clam Chowder in a Sourdough Bread Bowl from Boudin

I love the piers in San Fran. Actually, I think everyone loves the piers, specifically Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf because I felt like every tourist in San Fran was there.  We tried to visit Alcatraz but the next available tickets weren’t until the middle of July!  It sort of felt like the chaos of Disney World but with the famous clam chowder bread bowl in the middle, it’s definitely worth it!  Boudin Bakery is a must visit while in San Fran.  The bread bowls are like Philly Pretzels in PA… need I say more?!

pier39-san-fran san-fran-warf

5 – Chocolate!

ghirardelli-squareSan Fran tourist won’t want to miss a stroll through Ghirardelli Square, where loving  chocolate is a prerequisite.  Although there’s no formal tour to see, the gift shops have a few old machines (this one in the picture had real chocolate processing in it!).  Of course, the Ghirardelli employees with their hats and aprons are in every shop giving out a sample as you walk in.  There were 3 separate shops in the square.  I found all 3.  <— and yes, had 3 samples of the mini squares!

6 – Cable Car Rides at Powell and Hyde

I wasn’t the only tourist who wanted to ride the cable cars… just look at all these people!  Actually, this line was over an hour wait, and yes, I waited!  The cable cars are so San Fran, they are a must do, but a must-do-early-thing if you’re smart.

cable-cars

Once we got on a car, we were off to explore the city!  The cable cars went up and up and up (San Fran is very hilly!).  I was standing out back of the car by the driver so I took a few shots of the city… have I mentioned how much fun being a tourist is?!  The cable cars are $15 for a city pass which is good for all day rides on city transportation!  cable cars > walking  🙂

What.A.View.  I was mesmerized!  A few blocks later we got to Lombard Street!

san-fran-view

 7 – Lombard Street – The Crookedest Street in the World

Another “touristy” thing in San Fran is definitely taking a walk (or drive) down Lombard Street.  The sharp turns in this road are said to make this the crookedest street in the world!  Besides being full of tourist, Lombard Street is a great place to view the city and beautiful flowers grow everywhere!

san-fran-lombard-street

8 – little corner shops & wine breaks

After Lombard Street, we took a walk to find #1 a bathroom and #2 the next cable car stop so we could continue the trip around town.  Bathrooms were a little hard to find and most the of shops were just small storefronts “without bathrooms”  (<– no customer = no bathroom for you in San Fran)  Luckily, we came across Nook Café!  This wasn’t only a bathroom break, but it was such a cute café and just so happened to be serving happy hour drink specials so… hello my-five-oclock-somewhere-drink!

nook-cafe-san-fran

9 – Italians

Yes, Italians.  That’s another one of my favorites of San Fran.  Specifically the Italians at the restaurant, E Tutto Qua.  We had dinner here because of the location and the good reviews on yelp.  Those reviews were spot on!  The staff were incredible… so friendly and had (sexy) Italian accents.  The pizza was delicious with a special pepper oil on top.  Oh, the dessert… panna cotta.  Need I say more?!

panna-cotta

10 – The Pacific Ocean

I live on the east coast. In Florida.  The highest thing I encounter are office buildings and bridges (Jacksonville has great running bridges!)  One of the things I really wanted to do in San Fran was take a trip to the ocean.  Breathtaking.  Although a little foggy, the views were still amazing and even though I didn’t get to touch the ocean, I got to smell it and even saw dolphins playing in the waves!

pacific-coast

If you haven’t made the trip to this foggy city, I highly recommend it!  I can’t want for my next trip!

pacific-coast-cassie

 

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Chicago: One Foodie’s Journey through the Windy City

deliciousIf I had to describe Chicago in one word, I would have to say Chicago is delicious! But since I have a blog, I can describe it in as many words as I want! 🙂

Chicago really is delicious though…

  • The food. <— don’t have to say anything else about that.
  • The weather.  Sunrises over Lake Michigan were captivating.
  • The art.  Every walk and run was full of new amazing artwork.
  • The sightseeing.   Views on top of the buildings were incredible.
  • The people.  Surprisingly delightful, helpful and welcoming.

Before I go any further, I did go to Chicago June 22 – 25.  I’ve been told this is one of the best times of the year to go.  If it’s really like this more than one weekend of the year, I’m packing my bags!!  (Ok, I’m a Sunshine State girl and the thought of Chicago winters freak me out!)

Now that’s out of the way, back to my second favorite city I’ve ever been to!  From the start of my trip, I knew I had a mission to taste, see and smell all that Chicago had to offer.  All its deliciousness!

Chicago trainI started my trip Saturday morning where I learned how to use the Orange Line, buy a train ticket and witness true Chicago art in action.  Note: I was really confused about this guy on the train who pulled out a paint pen (second smell of Chicago – first was the airport food!) and made art.  My sister and I who are so-not-city-slickers just looked at each other, started laughing and wondering where the hidden cameras were.  Was this an episode of What Would You Do?  What would you do if you were in a strange place and a strange guy started drawing on a window in a moving train with about 30 other people??  The answer – just laugh and say ‘sister we’re not in Kansas anymore!’

I still don’t know if this was legal, or normal for that matter.  Any city people have an opinion?!

Chicago LouAfter the train, we took a cab to our hotel and then started the adventure for food!  I smelled something delicious and literally followed the smell.  I stopped once I lost it, turned to my sister and said “did I really just follow my nose to nowhere?!?” — at this point I thought – Chicago food – you have high expectations in my book!  We made our way to Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria for some authentic Chicago pizza.  We were so hungry we got a giant cheesestick stuffed spinach thing and it was so good (could have been the hunger at this point though).  Then the pizza came…

The pizza.  THE PIZZA.  Delicious.  Simply Delicious.  Crunchy yet soft, thick crust, hot melty cheese and flavorful sauce and sausage.  Yes. The pizza is was amazing! We devoured it.

I had 2 thoughts when I was done with this… when can I workout and where can I get MORE PIZZA??  The latter thought was clearly a higher priority than the first.

Chicago mapWhile at lunch, the planning began!  The road trip to my food adventure was mapped (literally! Check out my map pic).  Marked by numbers and dots, the must see and do Chicago places were spotted.  Yes – I went old school and used a paper map.  Yes – the accountant in me numbered everything.  Yes – I calculated the quickest and cheapest way from point to point.

After a delicious lunch and productive planning session, the trip was well under way!

Chicago Palmer House

After overestimated my hunger, dinner was out of the question.  Dessert was not.  I can never pass on dessert.  Especially when a friend specifically says “go to The Palmer House and eat the brownie in the lobby.” Need I explain more?!  My friend had me at ‘eat’…  The Lockwood Restaurant at The Palmer House Hilton IS all that it’s cracked up to be!  I treated myself with an expensive glass of wine and an overpriced dessert but it was so worth it!  Now where’s my prince charming to take me away in the horse drawn carriage?  I felt like I was in a fairy tale.  Ever rich bite of the chocolate mousse, warm brownie and soft ice cream was deliciousssss.  Yes – the portions were as small as they appear in the picture and we split it 3 ways but it was yet another successful Chicago food adventure!

Feelings after day 1: Full. Happy. In awe by the beauty and deliciousness of everything! Oh yeah – and really tired!  Thank you super comfy hotel bed!

Chicago 5kDay 2: Run Baby Run!  The reason I came to Chicago was to complete my very first half marathon at the Chicago Women’s Half and 5k.  Since my hip flexor injury about 3/4 weeks ago, I have been completely out of commission.  Walking even hurts.  Physical Therapy was helping but definitely wasn’t a miracle fix.  I decided that the half was completely out of the question but the 5k seemed attainable.

So I got up at 5:00AM (yes – they rise early in Chicago – another reason this is MY city!) and headed to the starting line which was 2 blocks from my hotel!  I LOVE runs.  Everything about them.  The runners, the spectators, the adrenaline, the music, the connection between you and the road, the testing of endurance, strength and stamina!! Gosh! It’s, well, delicious!  I was nervous, really nervous for this run because I hadn’t even tried to run for a few weeks.

The gun went off and the 5k began!  The first half mile was miserable!  I felt every step shooting pain in my hip.  I was battling pain and determination.  Adrenaline and reality.  Luckily, the pain lessened and I ran the next mile and a half strong.  Then mile 2 started and pain returned.  Not as bad as before and I was over halfway done.  The last half mile I gave it my all (which wasn’t much) and finished as strong as I could.  I wanted to cry (our of happiness for running 3 miles and pain because my hip was throbbing).  But the crowd got to me.  They cheered for everyone and I felt like I’ve accomplished something.

Chicago The Webber Grill

My run wasn’t great.  In fact, it was actually really bad for my normal pace.  But I’m so glad I finished.  So many steps I felt like walking, so many turns I felt like turning the other way.  But it was the city that kept me moving.  Every turn was a new sight.  Something Beautiful!  Skyscrapers, running under overpasses, by the lake, through Grant Park, by large artwork.  I wish I had my camera! Thank you Chicago!  You kept me running!

After a run of any sorts, I think it’s a great excuse to eat something delicious (like I need an excuse!)… The Weber Grill Restaurant was calling me!

Another recommended restaurant, The Weber Grill is known for its BBQ.  It lives up to this!  I got BBQ sliders (pulled pork, BBQ meatloaf, slow-smoked brisket) and mac-n-cheese!  YUMMM.   The BBQ sliders were amazing!  First time having brisket and it passes every test! I wasn’t a huge fan of the cheese in the mac-n-cheese but that’s a personal preference.  I like plain ol’ cheddar!

I feel like I lived the life of a tourist!

Chicago siteseeing

Feeling like a kid in a candy store or at Disney World is probably the feeling I had this day.  After lunch, we ventured to the Hancock Tower, up what felt like 100s of floors and overlooked the city!  The Navy Pier was so busy but a fun touristy stop too!  I couldn’t believe we were on a lake.  I’m used to the salt life.  Fresh water of the lake seemed weird.  I thought, would I sink without the buoyancy of salt water? Answer – after The Weber Grill- the magic 8 ball says: It is decidedly so.

Chicago nightBy day we were tourist.  By night we were, well, still tourists!  Again, this city is beautiful!  You have the peaceful water and parks then you have the busy city hype and buzz with lights, cabs and people.  All within a 5 mile area!  Best of both worlds perhaps?

The Roof bar on the top of The Wit is apparently the “it” roof bar in Chicago.  It’s a top 10 roof bar in Chicago and definitely had great ambiance!  It was a Sunday night when we went so it wasn’t super busy but it was pretty cool.  Plus roof bar?  I’m thinking that makes it cool in itself!

Chicago The BeanSo I can’t forget the Bean!  Yes, THE BEAN.  Very cool, amazing art.  At one point we realized/remembered The Bean depicts the entire city sky line… SO COOL.

There were so many people at the Bean taking pictures, I felt like I fit right in!!  Just look at these pictures!  AMAZING, right?

You know by now that I like LOVE cupcakes, right?  Well it was my mission to find a cupcake shop and try at least one.  Sprinkles was the only one within walking distance (needed to walk off all the other food previously mentioned!).  This is also not a local cupcakery but in many cities around the U.S.  (Mom and pop bakeries have my heart!).  So if I ever win the lottery, I will move to Chicago (during the “good weather” months) and sell homemade cupcakes!

Chicago cupcakes

Back to Sprinkles– The storefront was so cute!  I decided to get a carrot cake cupcake and it was VERY GOOD!  First cupcake in Chicago and I wanted another one!  Plus – check out the Dog Treats… what!?! Ok, Sprinkles might not be local, but they sold me with the dog treats.  Too bad I don’t have a dog with me. Cute. Delicious. Sprinkles.

Chicago GiordanosThe last two meals of the trip was another trip to a NEW pizza place (YESSSSS) and  to a cafe.  I watched the Blackhawk’s take home the Stanley Cup at Giordano’s Famous Chicago Pizza.  The pizza was even better than Lou Malnati’s!  (was that possible?!) and the wine delicious!  Something about pizza and wine.  What a great combo!

The pizza.  So good!  I wanted to take it home.  Well I wanted to take more home, we finished all the pizza!  I liked pizza before Chicago.  Now I love it!  I love Chicago pizza!  Carbs don’t matter in Chicago —> because you can walk to everything!

The last lunch was at Artists Cafe right down the street from our hotel.  I decided to go with homemade pretzels and a caprese salad.  Delicious.  Great choices and I felt a little healthy because I ate a tomato.  Even tomatoes taste good in Chicago!!

Finally, Tuesday evening my trip ended with a direct flight (thank goodness I was exhausted!) back to Jax.  Sad to be home but so happy to have gotten to see so much in such a short trip.  Truly a foodie’s paradise city.  Could I live there? Honestly – maybe!  I fell in love with the city.  No complaints at all.  The cold weather may just give me an excuse to travel more and appreciate Florida in a different way?!

This whole finding what makes you happy, what you love, is wonderful. And DELICIOUS!  Finding love is going to be fun!!

Next city – who knows?  Any recommendations out there?

Chicago: I came. I saw. I ate. I conquered!

Bringing Chicago Home

chicago pizza cupLast weekend in Chicago, I was having authentic Chicago pizza for the first time ever (where have I been the past 24 years!).  I was gearing up for my run and taking in the city.  Before I go any further, I have to say, I LOVE Chicago.  Hands down.  LOVE IT.  The weather was amazing.  The food delicious.  The sights beautiful.  The  public transportation efficient.

As I am writing this, I am thinking about my early mornings in Chicago… a brisk walk and light jog around Grant Park, looking out at Lake Michigan as the sun rises and drinking an iced coffee.  Thinking the whole time… is this real life?  Do people really get to do this everyday?  How cool it is that I get to do this now?  The song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” should be renamed “I Left My Heart in Chicago.”  I fell in love with the city last weekend. (Note: I am not a snow bunny and probably could NEVER handle the winters there!)

Enough with my trip.  I owe you an update later BUT that’s not what this post is about!  This post is about PIZZA.  Chicago Pizza!  I can’t stop thinking about the deliciousness of Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s pizza.  I did a ton of research and came up with a great recipe for Chicago Pizza Mini Pies!  Seriously yummy.  Seriously Chicago.  Seriously cupcake-like! 🙂

chicago dough mixThe CRUST:  Chicago Pizza wouldn’t be Chicago if the crust isn’t crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and super thick.  Here’s what I used:

  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup warm water
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup corn oil
  • 2 tsp kosher salt

Dissolve yeast and sugar into the warm water and let stand for 10 minutes.  In a bread maker, combine yeast mixture and remaining ingredients.  Turn on dough setting and let run for 10 minutes.  (I read one of the keys to Chicago pizza is less kneading so 10 minutes was the time it took to fully combine ingredients)  Put dough into a large buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a towel.  Let rise for 6 hours. (Some people used less time.  Mine turned out great with 6 hours.)

chicago sauceThe SAUCE: Chicago Pizza wouldn’t be Chicago if the sauce wasn’t super think, tomato-e and delicious.  Here’s what I used:

  • 2 – 28 oz cans while peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tsp oregano
  • 3 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Drain tomatoes of all liquids and then crush to release the juices in the tomatoes.  Combine remaining ingredients with tomatoes. (Easy- right!?)

chicago pizza stepsThe MINI PIES: Spray jumbo cupcake tins with cooking spray,  sprinkle with cornmeal.  (The cornmeal thing seems to be up for debate in the Chicago style pizza discussions.  I tasted cornmeal, or something crunchy in the Chicago crust, so I decided to incorporate this into the crust in a small way – this was a good decision!) 🙂

Put a thick (just under 1 cm) layer of crust in the bottom.  Press against the sides to from the cups.  Add a layer of mozzarella cheese.  Put your toppings of choice on next.  I went with pepperoni only.  Top with a thick layer of sauce!

Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.

chicago pies cooked

So the big question… does this taste like the real deal?  YES!!!  It really does!!  The cupcake addition is my little twist but I’d say this recipe is a success! So when I can’t go to Chicago, I can bring a little Chicago home with this yummy Chicago Pizza Mini Pies!! 

chicago pie single