Monday, August 30, 2010

Bring your parents to work day

Sacramento Capitol Building. Arnold, where are you?
Believe it or not, my parents have not been to see me in five or six years. Don’t get me wrong. We’re a close family. It’s that usually I go home to see them and not the other way around.

But last week I got a call. They were on the road…and they would be here in about a week.

You know what that means. Yup, that’s right. It was time to do some serious cleaning that involved more than a quick vacuum and turning on the dishwasher. It was time to actually get out the duster and tidy up the closets.

Ironically, my cleaning frenzy was a waste as the whole time my parents were in Sacramento, we spent very little time at home. Instead, we spent most of it driving around. I took them to the Capitol building to see Arnold (but it was furlough Friday so no one was there), the rose garden, old Sacramento, around Midtown, and of course, Jamie’s. They had seen the “Diners and Dives” segment and it was the #1 thing to do on their list.

So what was #2 on their list? Come to the station and watch a newscast live.

Jamie's from Diners and Dives
It was then that it hit me that in all the years I’ve worked for TV, they have never been to any of the stations I have been at.

So I did what every news person does when their parents come to town: I gave them a tour of the station.

Then we plopped down on the sofa on the set and watched the News10 anchors Dale and Cristina get ready for the 5 p.m. show.

Within minutes, my parents realized the way they do the news is not like you see in TV movies. For one thing, there are no camera people or directors on the set. Instead, our News10 cameras are robotic and the director sits in another room (not behind a window, but down the hall) and talks to the anchors through their head sets.

My parents were also surprised at how quiet it was—but I guess it would be if there are only two people in the room.

Then during the break, I took them to the control room where they got to chance to watch the producer and director in action. I'm sure they thought this would be the boring part, but they were about to be enlightened because this is where the action is.

Just seeing these two people busy pushing buttons on the computer screen, as they gave the reporters, photographers in the field directions while cueing music, graphics and camera angles really opened my parents eyes to the fast pace of the industry.

Michelle and her dad doing the news at the anchor desk.
Of course, their tour of the station wasn’t done yet.

After the show, I brought them back into the studio to have a little fun with our Meteorologist Ken Barlow. It turns out my dad has a secret weatherman fantasy and couldn’t get enough of the green screen…or the anchor desk.

Needless to say, my little "bring your parents to work day" was a blast!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Surviving the Tour of Napa Valley Cycling Ride

Hundreds of cyclists spent Sunday pedaling in the 2010 Tour of Napa Valley Ride. I happened to be one of them and I must say it was a little more challenging than I thought it would be. Of course, being a little bit crazy when it comes to fitness and believing I am invincible doesn’t help.

If you love cycling and haven’t done the Tour of Napa Valley, you need to check it out. It’s gorgeous. You cycle through wine country along rural roads, along the shoulders of a couple highways and then through a few places that are off the beaten path. Because it’s a “ride” and not a race, you also don’t have to go fast as you won’t be timed and can leave anytime between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. depending on how many miles you do.

They do have one rule though: You have to be done the ride by 4 p.m.

You also have the choice of three routes:

1) A 30 mile relatively flat course that winds along rural roads through the beautiful Napa Valley wine country

2) A 65 mile course that involves approximately 3,000 ft. of climbing (really it was 69 miles).

3) Or you can do the classic 100 mile route which has about 5,000 ft. of climbing

Being relatively new to cycling, I choose the 65 mile route because frankly I thought 30 miles wouldn’t be worth getting out of bed early and driving all the way to Napa. Don't ask me about my logic. In my mind it made sense at the time.


So off I went on my little 65 mile route, and at first it was all that I imagined it would be. The first 30 miles were relatively painless. We cycled past cute little vineyards, lots of grapes and horses relaxing in the sun. It was perfect.

But then the elevation started.

When they said 3,000 feet of climbing they weren’t joking. It was hard. Really hard. Especially as I have not invested in the special clip-in cycling shoes yet and only have the standard pedals.

Apparently, this is a big deal as everyone who passed me on the hills mentioned that the ride would be so much easier if I had the right shoes. Lesson learned. Shoes are now on the "to-buy" list.

Anyway, back to the race.

The 3,000 feet elevation basically takes place over two hills. I know this doesn’t sound bad, but it was.

I made it up the first hill okay – using the lowest gear on my bike. The hill was called the Ink Grade and consisted of 1,110 feet of climbing over 4.5 miles. My legs were a little shaky when I reached the top, but I did it. I was even happier when someone told me this was the steepest hill and the rest would be a breeze.

Ha! It turns out that person was dead wrong. The second hill was not easier. It was harder.

In fact, the hill was known as Howell Mountain, and is ranked as the fifth toughest hill to climb in Napa (The first hill was only ranked number 15). Howell Mountain is 2.2 miles of straight climbing…and my legs were killing me the whole way.

Already exhausted from the first hill, I couldn’t make it to the top without cheating. Yes, I admit it. I actually got off my bike and pushed in the really steep part, but at least I wasn’t the only one. Even the people who were still on their bikes weren’t going much faster than I was pushing. It was one of those misery loves company things...and believe me, we were all miserable even if we did smile encouragingly at each other.


I did get on my bike again eventually and joined the slow pedallars as we crept up the hill. And as the road leveled off, it was all worth it.

Reaching the top of Howell Mountain never felt so good. It didn’t matter that I still had 25 more miles to go before the ride was done or that I still had a couple more short hills to climb. The hard part was over…and I made it.

Besides, once you’ve done all the climbing the real fun begins. You get to go down!!!

While my slowest speed going up the mountain was a pathetic 3.6 mph when pushing, going down my fastest speed was 46.2 mph. Yes, that’s right. It wasn’t a bird…or a plane…that streak was ME! Whoohoo!!

So will I do the 100 mile route next year? No way. However, I will definitely try the 65 mile route again…and next year I vow not to push my bike up the hill.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Romancing the souffle at The Firehouse Restaurant

While the cobblestone streets and boardwalk sidewalks in Old Sacramento are killer to walk on when wearing stilettos, it does have some good restaurants. So far I’ve been to Ten22 and some Italian-style restaurant by the water, but the one place I’ve been dying to try is the Firehouse.

I’ve heard from so many of my girlfriends about the wonderful food and how the place is one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. So naturally, I had to take myself there last Saturday night and I wasn’t disappointed.

First of all they have flights of wine. Now, I love wine, but because I’m a lightweight, I hate having to narrow down my choice to one glass. So when I see wine flights on the menu, I know I'm at restaurant that will soon become dear to my heart. If you don’t know what a wine flight is then you are in for a treat. It’s basically three glasses of three different wines—but instead of being big glasses, they are smaller pours. Basically you get to try three different wines for the price of one.

At the Firehouse, you could choose between three merlots, three pinot noirs, three chardonnays, etc. Because I knew I would be getting the duck (I love duck), I got the Cabernet flight. Yum.

I’m going to skip over my Shrimp bisque as it wasn’t out of this world and move right onto my main course –which was fabulous. The duck came with a dark cherry sauce and a Guinness forth. Whoever thought of adding Guinness to duck is brilliant and deserves to win a prize. The flavors are perfect together and I totally recommend it.

But I wasn't done yet.

After consuming my duck, I went onto dessert. Let me just say, the reason I only got the soup to start instead of something like their Dungeness crab cakes or the herb encrusted brie is because I cheated and took a peak at the dessert menu before I ordered. Yes, I am a girl and sometimes dessert comes first.

And here’s why. They have soufflé!!!

I have a thing for soufflé. Not only is it rare to find in restaurants, but it always comes with some sort of amazing sauce that you get to pour on like decadent syrup. So far my favorite one has been from Chez Phillip in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis where they had this chocolate orange soufflé with a rich anglaise sauce. So good.

At the Firehouse they serve a Grand Marnier soufflé. They bring it to your table hot out of the oven, then they open the top and pour raspberry coulis and a grand marnier/anglaise sauce into it. It takes 20 minutes for them to prepare, but it’s worth the wait…and every calorie.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed my night. I'm not sure if was all the romance in the air, but I definitely had a mini love affair with my food and savored every bite.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

A taste of the French Riviera in…Malibu?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love the ocean. So while in California, I’ve been checking out the coast in different areas – starting in the north and slowly working my way down to the southern beaches where you can actually wear a bikini and not a fleece-lined jacket like you do in San Francisco.

I swear I get fooled every time. I mean, who would have thought you could be sweating buckets at 104 degrees in Sacramento and then drive 90 minutes to the coast to discover it is only 70 degrees there? It’s completely deceiving -- not to mention freezing!

Anyway, this time I wanted to go to “real” beach so I headed to Malibu.

I had never been to Malibu, but I have always wanted to go. Not just because it’s the supposedly where the mega-rich Los Angeles people live, but because of that sitcom “Two and a Half Men” and of course, the Malibu Barbie commercials from the 80s. Yeah…not exactly the best reasons to go, but whatever, I was going.

The drive to Malibu from Sacramento isn’t that bad. It takes about 5 and a half hours, but it goes by quickly. But that could just be me as I have no problem driving the 9 hours to Vegas from here. I’m sure there are some of you who are thinking that’s a little too long to drive just to check out where Charlie and Barbie live.


So was the beach worth it? Not really. It was nice and much warmer than Half Moon Bay and San Francisco, but it’s not like the beaches in Clearwater or Hawaii. The sand wasn’t as soft and you had to kick the seaweed away to make room for your towel. Still, the waves were nice to watch and you could wear shorts without shivering.

While the beach was just okay, what was worth the trip was the lunch.

If you’ve been to any beach then you know what kind of food you can usually find in the nearby places. It’s usually burgers, deep fried fish sandwiches, maybe some cheesy tropical hut place that serves breaded shrimp, beer and watered down margueritas.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with those places and have eaten at them a number of times. There were even a few by the beach in Malibu where I was.

But…when given a choice between a deep fried fish sandwich and a cute little French Bistro, you know which one I’m going to choose. Yup…that’s right. The one that has clean restrooms.


You’ll find Beau Rivage off the Pacific Coast Highway and it’s totally unexpected – or at least I didn’t expect it.

You’re walking, feeling hungry, passing the fried joints, when suddenly you see it.  The European style building surrounded by flowers.

Just one look at the little bistro tables and real linen table cloths and I knew this place would have a 4-star wine list.  Suddenly the sand in my flip flops and in my hair didn't matter anymore and neither did my wet shorts.  I was going to eat...and I was going to eat well.

Eating at Beau Rivage is like eating in Provence. The food is fresh and enhanced with fresh herbs and olives. This is because the owners are the real deal. 

Owner Daniel Forge is from France and owned a hotel in Nice with his brother before moving to California 25 years ago and opening the restaurant.  His wife Luciana is from Italy and was a professional opera singer from Rome. And there is no mistaking that they know food and have brought back some of the good stuff from the Riviera.

There is also a Sunday brunch where they have a classical guitarist, but because I was having lunch at 3 p.m. I didn't get to see that.

Still, my late lunch was incredible.  Even though I was not dressed for eating in a fancy restaurant and had absolutely no make up on (I did just come off the beach), Daniel was a gracious host and treated me like I was a millionaire. 

He recommended a pan-seared sea bass with a light sauce -- which was incredible.  It melted in my mouth and was the perfect way to end my Malibu beach trip.

Sadly, I didn't get any wine as I still had a 5 hour drive ahead of me. But next time, I'm going here first and will just watch the waves from their big bay windows.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

The cutest little wedding in the heart of wine country

Sometimes the best events are those where you don’t know anyone at all – at least that was the case this weekend when I attended a wedding in the heart of wine country.

As the emergency back-up date for my friend, I got the chance to attend Gloria and Jack’s wedding. Did I know Gloria or Jack? Well, no…but after spending an evening with 40 of their closest friends I now feel like I do.

I swear everything about this wedding was cute. Really cute.

It started with the location. It was held in a farmer’s market in Occidental, CA. So now I know what you are thinking because I was thinking the same. A farmer’s market for a wedding? How’s that going to work?

Believe me, it worked. The ceremony really was in the middle of the farmer’s market. Their wedding helpers (the guests that had arrived early) transformed a parking lot/alleyway into this romantic spot filled with checkered table cloths, wild flowers and food.

“We had our first vacation together in Occidental and we loved the farmer’s market,” said Gloria. “We decided the perfect place for our wedding would be in a place where we had great memories.”

If you haven’t been to Occidental, let me fill in. This place is darling. It’s about 2 hours from Sacramento (on a day when there is no traffic, but it's much longer in reality as there is ALWAYS traffic) and located in Sonoma County on the Bohemian Highway which is rated as one of the most scenic highways in North America. I’m not just saying that because it’s curvy and is lined with vineyards, trees and little town. There are sites on Google that agree with me.

“The coastline is also nice,” said Jack. “You just turn at the corner and drive about 10 minutes to the water.”

I never got around to doing that as the fog rolls in around 9 p.m. and while those winding roads are fun to drive during the day, they are a little scary to drive at night. I don’t know about you, but fog, winding roads and darkness always bring back memories of “American Werewolf in London.” I’m sure at any moment some giant black wolf is going to leap onto my car, smash through my windshield and rip out my neck - which would totally not be a good thing.

So while I’ll be saving the beach trip for another weekend when the sun is out, the wedding was worth the 2-hour trip. Not only was it cute, but the food was to die for. This did not come as a surprise to any of the guests, but little did I know I know Gloria was an award winning cook and is known for her food.

So what did they have? Well, keeping in with the whole farmer’s market theme they started off with fresh loaves of mushroom bread at the table. This bread was so fresh, it was still warm when we broke it open – and remember, we were in the middle of a parking lot. There were no microwaves to warm it up No, this bread was fresh from an Occidental bakery - and again, just like the farmer's market, the bread had meaning for the couple.

"Jack loves this bread. When he says he's craving some fresh bread, I know he's not talking about going to the bakery down the street in San Francisco. He's talking about this bread," said Gloria.

Next on the menu was this Spanish cheese with quince jelly. It sounds so simple, but that was the beauty of it. Again, it was fabulous and I had to hold back from totally pigging out on it, because a) that’s a little rude and b) because there was more food to come and I needed to save some space in my tummy.

Then came the shrimp and garlic. A little messy to eat, but by now we were all family and what’s a little shrimp juice among friends?

After the shrimp, it was time for the good stuff. The stuff I had been watching simmer since I arrive. The stuff that was making my mouth water just from the smell.

The stuff known as paella.

I’m just going to say, this was the best paella I had ever had. They had a seafood and chicken one for people like me and then a chicken and sausage one for the meat eaters. My friend tried both versions.

“We loved the paella from the farmer’s market, so we had to share it with everyone,” said Gloria.

I'm glad they did. I may have to make a trip up there just to get some more.
So now that I told you about the food, let me tell you about the ceremony, which was just as amazing.

Gloria and Jack wrote everything themselves -- from the readings to the vows. They told the group how they met, how they made each other feel when they were together and their hopes and dreams for the future. Gloria even told everyone that Jack was the most amazing kisser --which I must say is a good trait in the man you will be kissing for the rest of your life.

Needless to say, there were many tears shed and the cloth handkerchiefs they handed out came in handy.

I may not have known Gloria and Jack when I drove into Occidental, but I'm now proud to be one of their friends.

To the newlyweds...wishing you all the happiness in the world - today and for always!

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