Friday, June 26, 2015

Find me now on WordPress at

Good Morning loyal subscribers.  I have switched to WordPress, and that will necessitate that you go to the new website,, and resubscribe under the new format.  It only takes a minute or the right of the page under the "About The Author" (that's me!) column, you will see the box "Subscribe to Blog Via Email".  Enter your email address and hit "Subscribe!"  You will then receive an email from WordPress asking that you verify your email address.  This is only to ensure that it is a valid email address and that you are indeed wanting to subscribe.  Click the link, and you will start receiving my posts again via email.  Please bear with me, and should you have any questions please let me know.  However, this new website should be much easier to work with (at least that is what I keep telling myself as I am trying to relearn it all).

'xo M

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sea of Cortez

As the temperatures here in AZ start climbing, all of us "Zonies" are reminded that summer is around the corner, and it gives us an excuse to start planning our escapes.  A short two hour plane flight away and we can be in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur (Southern Baja) to enjoy the beauty of the Sea of Cortez, the body of water that separates the Baja California peninsula from the mainland of Mexico.  The Sea of Cortez is thought to be one of the most diverse seas on the planet, hosting many migratory species from the Humpback Whale to the Humboldt Squid, as well as being a center for world class sport fishing activities.  Geographically speaking, Baja California is one of the longest peninsulas in the world, second only to the Malay peninsula in Southeast Asia.  

I had my introduction to "Baja" at the age of 16 on a family vacation to Cabo San Lucas, located at the southern tip of the peninsula.  We went to celebrate a milestone birthday and to engage in some of my father's favorite activities: deep sea fishing, drinking margaritas, and listening to mariachis belting out "Guadalajara".  I have vivid memories of staying at the (then) fabulous (but now defunct) Hotel Cabo San Lucas, and of the stark beauty and remoteness of Baja.  This was the exotic and quiet Cabo, not the Cabo Wabo or the present-day overpriced hotel scene.  It is those tranquil images to which I choose to return, and fortunately, you can still find vestiges of the old days if you wander up the east coast from Cabo to the fishing towns of La Paz and Loreto.  

La Paz, the capital of the state of Baja California Sur, has a population of approximately 250,000 and is a 3 hour drive from Cabo.  Here you have access to Sam's Club, a choice of 35+ hotels, restaurants serving classic Baja fish tacos, and close proximity to snorkeling with sea lions at Espíritu Santo.  I like to go even more native by basing our adventures out of Loreto, a relatively undiscovered fishing village of 15,000 inhabitants that is 200 miles up the coast from La Paz.  A couple of real estate developments have surfaced in the last few decades in and around Loreto, but it seems like the openings coincided with a recession (or two), which means you will feel you have the place to yourself.  Not to mention the fact that the only direct flight from the US is on Alaska Airlines from LA, and the schedule changes seasonally.  To make that connecting flight out of LA, we have to leave Phoenix at 5:30 am, but by 2 pm we are sipping margaritas with the waves lapping at our feet.  Viva México.

Baja off the tip of the wing


Pulling out of the marina at Loreto

Almejas chocolatas, "chocolate" clams that we harvested the same morning

Every now and then you see another boat, but not often


Calm waters off the bow

Off to hook a dorado (mahi mahi)

The cacti come right to the ocean

Gone fishin'

What to read on the Sea of Cortez if you are still waiting for the next book in the Game of Thrones series?  In the 1940's, John Steinbeck wrote a memoir of his month-long marine specimen collecting expedition in the Gulf of California with close friend, biologist Ed Ricketts.  It is a fun mix of science, adventure and philosophy to enjoy while waiting for that big dorado to bite!  xo M

Friday, April 24, 2015

An Evening With Paul Hobbs

I recently had the pleasure of attending a wine dinner at a local country club featuring winemaking trailblazer Paul Hobbs.  The Paul Hobbs wines from both the Sebastopol (California) and Viña Cobos (Mendoza, Argentina) wineries have attained cult-like status in our household.  It was a bit ironic that we were able to meet up with him in our back yard of Paradise Valley, while missing him during past visits to Sebastopol and Mendoza (see my Argentina post from May 7, 2013).  Small wonder the man is so elusive; not only does he travel thousands of miles between his own wineries, but he is also a consultant to approximately 30 wineries around the world in countries including Chile, France, Hungary and Canada.  

View of the Andes from Mendoza

On this occasion, we were treated to a discussion not only on the wines served, but also on his story and how he got into the winemaking business.  Raised near Buffalo, NY, in the Lake Ontario area, Paul is the second oldest of 11 children.  His father farmed land that had been in his family since the 1800's.  "Farm families are working families, " Paul emphasized, "there is a strong work ethic."  Being staunchly Catholic, his parents had made a pact that there would be no alcoholic beverages served at the dining table.  His experience with wines had therefore been limited to the sacramental wines served during Mass.  One day, his father, perhaps on a whim, drove to town to consult with a wine expert about serving a wine at dinner that would be undetected by all, even his wife.  He brought it home, served it in Dixie cups, and asked everyone around the table to describe the flavors.  Honey, apricot, orange marmalade, roasted nuts...there were various opinions, but all, including his wife, concurred that it was an amazing fruit juice.  What was the bottle?  A 1962 Chateau d'Yquem.  

Shortly thereafter, Paul's father decided to convert some of the apple orchards to vineyards.  During summer break from studies at the University of Notre Dame, Paul logged many hours gaining invaluable experience cultivating grapes for wine production.  However, he never thought about a life in agriculture or wine: rather, his passion was medicine.  In an unusual twist of fate, a Pre-Med professor of his, who had worked at Christian Brothers winery in Napa, suggested that he take a wine appreciation course.  The professor, with the support of his father, then urged Paul take a deviation in his career path, and convinced him to enroll in a Masters in Viticulture and Oenology at UC Davis. 

With his firsthand experience in farming and love of science, Paul impressed all with his knowledge on the chemistry of wine.  This led to his first winemaking gig in 1978 when he met Robert Mondavi and worked with the Opus One team.  In 1985, he moved to Simi Winery in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley as assistant winemaker focusing on the Cabernet Sauvignon program.  It was during his stint at Simi in '88, that he ventured south of the equator in search of a challenge, which came in the form of a (then) little known grape variety called Malbec.  Through his good friend from UC Davis, Jorge Catena, Paul was introduced to Nicolás Catena and the Catena family wineries that operate under the Catena and Alamos labels in Mendoza.  During the period from '89-97, he worked diligently with the Catena family to build a Malbec program.  His belief was that the variety was the future of Argentine wine exportation.  His intuition paid off and the partnership with the Catenas led to his formation of his own winery, Viña Cobos, in Luján de Cuyo just outside Mendoza.  He shared with us that his life-long goal has been to produce the 1st Malbec to win 100 points from a wine critic.  And congratulations are certainly in order, for the fall of 2014, James Suckling published the following:

Viña Cobos Malbec Perdriel Luján de Cuyo Cobos 2011James says: The nose is phenomenal in this wine. It makes my head spin, with so many beautiful perfumes of violets, lavender, sandalwood, minerals, dried fruits and figs. Full body and phenomenal depth of fruit that gives layers of structure and richness. I am amazed. This is a wine to try in 2020 but so impressive now. This is the Harlan of Argentina but from malbec instead of cabernet sauvignon. 500 cases made. This is a good as it gets for malbec. 100 points.

A bottle of Cobos Volturno from our visit to Viña Cobos

Paul praises the benefits of sustainable farming in revealing terroir, the unique flavor and aroma of the grapes.  He emphasized the importance of composting the grape pressings to fertilize the vines, of not using filters or yeast from a factory, but rather indigenous bacteria for the fermentation process.  Paul concluded by saying there are three integral components to making a great wine, each one adding an important element in the wine making process: soil, climate and the interaction of man.  The latter, the interaction of man, in his opinion, is the most important.  "The greatest wines are made with the least intervention," reiterates Paul, "let the wine do the talking."  Sounds great to me...I plan on doing the drinking.  Cheers!

A group of buddies at Paul Hobbs in Sebastopol in 2009

All photos by Marci Symington for

Friday, April 17, 2015

Volcán Villarrica

Just a few week ago, on March 3rd of 2015, I turned on the television to news of the Villarrica volcano erupting in the Chilean town of Pucón, with a resulting evacuation of 3,500 of the 22,000 residents.  A popular tourist destination located some 500 miles south of the capital of Santiago, Pucón is an outdoor enthusiast's paradise, where sports revolve around skiing, snow boarding, hiking, horseback riding, white water rafting, kayaking, fishing, fly fishing, and llama trekking (I have to admit I have never heard that one before).  The incident on the news brought back some wonderful memories that I have of visiting lovely Pucón and our adventures on the Villarrica volcano.   

In 1999 (sounds and feels like eons ago), Hubby and I took a 10 week sabbatical from our jobs and backpacked around South America.  We had some good friends living in Santiago, which was a great home base for exploring Chile.  From the Atacama desert in the north, to the western coastal towns of Valparaiso and Viña Del Mar, to the southern lake district town of Pucón, the idea was to cover a good cross section of the country.  As it was early July and therefore their winter time, we planned our five day itinerary in Pucón to include hiking in Huerquehue National Park, a visit to the thermal baths of Huife, skiing the volcano, and, weather permitting, a hike to the summit of Villarrica .

We flew from Santiago to the town of Temuco, a city known for having the largest percentage of Mapuche (local Indian) inhabitants in Chile, as well as a large number of German descendants who immigrated to the country between the two World Wars.  We stopped for a quick lunch of beer, sausage and artisan cheese, before driving the sixty-six miles to Pucón.  

Hubby in Pucón with Villarrica volcano in the background

As these were pre-Google days, I did much of my research on South America through travel books such as the Lonely Planet and Fodor's series.  I read about a great spot in Pucón called the Hotel Antumalal.  Antumalal, whose name means “Corral of the Sun" in the native Mapuche language, opened in 1950 on the side of a hill overlooking Villarrica Lake.  The Bauhaus design, conceived by hotel architect Jorge Elton, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, is retro-chic in design and décor, with wraparound glass windows, goatskin rugs, tree trunk furniture and walls made with thick slabs of monkey puzzle wood. The hotel has been host to many famous names, including Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy Stewart, Neil Armstrong and, interesting for the AZ crowd, Barry Goldwater, whose portrait hangs alongside the other luminaries in the lobby.  Memories of our stay include the stunning views of Lake Villarrica, cozy fireplaces in each room with breakfast in bed, hours spent exploring the 12 acres of gardens, and (not to be missed) the nightly cocktails of Pisco Sours.  

View from our room at the Antumalal

On the fourth of July, we had high hopes of summiting the volcano, but because of deep snow, we opted instead for a sunny day of skiing.  The views of the surrounding valleys and volcanoes were breathtaking from the slopes.  I must have been in Lala Land, because after lunch, on a groomed slope (!!) I took a nasty spill and dislocated my shoulder.  An ice-pick, crampon-wielding climb up the volcano was therefore out of the question for me, and I had to "settle" for snuggling up next to the fire back at Antumalal with copious amounts of Pisco Sours to ease my pain.  Hubby, on the other hand, woke up at the crack of dawn to tackle the ascent to the rim of the volcano at 9,317 feet with his guide, Claudio.  Starting at the top of the chairlift, the ascent took them 4-5 hours.  And the way down?  Forty-five minutes, using their slickers as sleds and ice picks as brakes.  Yippee!!!
Ski terrain at Ski Pucón found on

Moi just prior to my spill

Villarrica Lake from the ski slopes

View of another volcano as seen from Hubby's ascent

Hubby at the rim

Que tengan un buen fin de semana!

Hotel Antumalal
Km 2 Camino Pucón
Villarrica Pucón
Región de la Araucaniá, Chile 

All photos by Marci Symington and Hubby for, unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Saison San Francisco

Hubby and I felt that a milestone birthday was excuse enough for a star-studded event, and in our case the stars referred to the culinary ne plus ultra known as Michelin stars.  But don't misunderstand me: I don't wait with bated breath for the yearly release of the Michelin Guide; I just happen to have some culinary savvy friends who are well-versed in the art of fine dining and drinking.  So when we mentioned we would be in the SF area for my bday, there were two recommendations they gave us: Benu and Saison.  In the fall of 2014, Benu and Saison, both two-starred restaurants, were upgraded to the highly coveted status of three Michelin stars.  I called both, understanding that it may require an act of God to get a reservation.  Benu was out of the question, even with help from the fine folks at American Express Platinum Travel.  However, someone may have been smiling down on me from heaven when I called Saison, as there was one small table in the bar available for us at 8:45 pm.  

The whole experience was near perfection, from the moment we walked in and were seated at our cozy table à deux, to our parting gift of tea leaves from the Saison garden.  In between, there was a parade of darling waiters who catered to our every whim, 18 beautifully executed courses (see below) with paired wines, and lastly, a tour of the kitchen and upstairs pantry.  It was one of those times I pray I remember every succulent detail created by the uber talented Chef Joshua Skenes.   

There is some critique about the music, of all things, which happens to be mainly 80's hits, plus a little Captain and Tennille thrown into the mix.  I happen to enjoy that kind of thing, as it definitely transports me to a happy place.  I mean, when was the last time you heard "Love Will Keep Us Together"?  I personally felt it was a good omen.  Oh, and price is another critique you may read about on Yelp and other such websites.  Certainly, there was an audible gasp that could be heard clear across the Golden Gate Bridge when the check arrived, but by that time we were so liquored up that we thought it was funny...YOLO, right?  Yikes.  I even found myself hugging the wait staff goodbye like we were long lost college buddies.  Those of you who know me can totally picture that scene.  I like to think it is one of the many endearing qualities I inherited from my sweet mother. 

On the to tasting menu.  Saison, from the French word for "season", highlights the freshest ingredients in season, some of which is grown in their garden.  The menu therefore changes periodically.  Email the restaurant for the daily menu and price (see restaurant information at the end of post).  Even though our menu contained numerous courses, many centered around vegetables and seafood which made for a lighter experience than one would expect.  In other words, you won't feel like the large diner from the Monty Python skit (you know the one with the bucket).  I should add that, with the exception of the duck dish, wooden spoons and chop sticks were the utensils of choice.  Very Japanese, which you know I love.  Bon apétit!

Le Menu
January 29, 2015
Infusion of some herbs from the Saison garden
Peppers, preserved in the wood burning oven, buttermilk
Black Cod, grilled mushrooms, pine boullion
Lobster, warmed over the coals
Battle Creek Trout, its skin & roe
Abalone, grilled over the embers, sauce of the liver and capers, grilled pork jowl
Sea Urchin, liquid toast
Dungeness Crab, the whole thing
Seaweeds, in seaweed vinegar
Brussels & Cabbages, blistered in the fire
Naples Long Pumpkin, hung over the fire for 3 days
Fire in the Sky Beet
Whole Duck, grilled near the fire, a bouillon of the grilled duck bones
Red Hawk Mousseline, yali pears
Ice Cream & Caramel, cooked in the fire (plus a little birthday cake, which they called coffee and chocolate fois gras...see above)
Tea & Persimmon 

Infusion of some herbs from the garden

Battle Creek Trout, its skin & roe

Brussels & Cabbages, blistered in the fire

Fermented pumpkin is one of the three ways the Naples pumpkin is served

Fire in the Sky Beet

Whole Duck, grilled near the fire, a bouillon of the grilled duck bones

 Buckwheat Tea

Views of the kitchen

I dream about a kitchen so orderly

I have to buy a label maker, and some jars

Swarnadwipa?  Trout Cure?  Thank goodness for Google...

Quack quack

This is Naples Long Pumpkin, in case you were wondering

178 Townsend Street
San Francisco, CA  94017
Tuesday - Saturday 5:30 - 9:30

xo M

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur

The next stop on our California road trip was the bucolic Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur.  The name "Big Sur" originated with the fact that it was known as the big country of the "south", specifically south of the Monterey area.  Prior to the establishment of a two-lane paved road in 1937 linking Monterey to San Simeon, Big Sur was virtually uninhabited.  Hubby and I drove this stretch of road with two toddlers about 10 years ago on our way to San Francisco to attend the christening of a godchild.  The scenery was so incredibly striking, and we were dying to stop.  But due to the carsickness that left our 3-year-old practically listless in the backseat (word of warning: the roads are super windy), we had to save it for another day.  From that point, it became a mission of ours to return sans enfants

Post Ranch Inn, in fact, does not allow children under the age of 18 (and no pets), so we were in luck.  With 39 guest rooms offering views of the redwood forests and the Pacific Ocean, Post Ranch Inn offers guests the ultimate in seclusion and relaxation in an unparalleled setting.  Indulge in a massage, sip champagne while whale watching in a hot tub, stroll through the nearly 3 miles of trails, or treat yourself to a nine-course meal in the Sierra Mar was everything I could have asked for in a getaway.  Add in the fact that it was designed by local architect, Mickey Muenning, and you have a winning combination.

Mickey Muenning is one of the original masters of organic architecture.  He designs buildings that blend in with their surroundings, utilizing natural materials such as stone, redwood and earth in original ways (i.e. see below his sod-roof designs).  I suppose you could say he was "living green" before "living green" was cool.  He began his university studies at Georgia Tech in the aeronautical engineering field, but transferred to the University of Oklahoma to study architecture under Bruce Goff.  Goff, a good friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, was an eccentric personality on campus who amused students by lecturing in a black cape.  After graduating, a gesalt awareness study at the Esalen Institure took Muenning on a fortuitous vacation to Big Sur in 1971 where he has been living and designing homes ever since.

Enjoy the post, and put a trip to Big Sur on your bucket list!

On our drive near Point Piedras Blancas along Highway 1, we happened upon an Elephant Seal Rookery that was too good to pass up.  These massive pinnipeds (females weigh up to 1,200 pounds and males up to 5,000 pounds) completely covered the beach as far as the eye could see.   

Come to think of it, after a few days of stuffing my face non-stop I was starting to feel like one of these seals

Views of the Big Sur coastline

Views from our Ocean House room at the Post Ranch Inn

Ocean House bedroom...

...and bath
Sod-roof of the Ocean House

Heated infinity spa

The lavender was in bloom during our visit

Sierra Mar restaurant

Breakfast is included and I couldn't get enough of these breakfast tostadas

At Sierra Mar, the best seat in the house

Majestic redwood forests

Hugging a redwood puts the size of these trees into I mentioned, at this point, I was quite large myself

I found this coffee table book in the gift shop, but it can also be purchased on

Enjoy your weekend!
xo M

Post Ranch Inn
47900 North Highway 1
Big Sur, CA

All photos and opinions are of my own.  This was not a paid post.