Friday, February 25, 2011

Thanks Red Tricycle for selecting Frog Mom in the Bay Area Mom Blogs list!
Thanks to The Red Tricycle team! Yesterday they published a list of top mom and dad blogs for the San Francisco Bay Area and Frog Mom is listed at the number 21. Yoohoo! If you don't know The Red Tricycle, they're an awesome parenting websites with daily features on fun outings with the kids, recipes, upcoming events and celebrity parents interviews. Big disclaimer: I've been writing for them since last year but I get the Red Tricycle newsletter for personal use as a mom and love to peruse their list of weekend events - and read about local hangouts described by other moms. Last week I wrote about Bay Area Children's Theaters, a pet peeve of mine that leads me to take my girls to tons of plays and musicals in all parts of the Bay Area.

I'm very honored to be included in the Red Tricycle list and it's motivating me to start thinking about improving this blog. Hopefully soon it'll be more user-friendly and you'll be able to scan local adventures by topic or season. I'm also thinking about inserting a calendar of upcoming events so that my readers know about the fun before - not after the facts. I am also planning to start interviewing local personalities behind the scenes of so many cool things I love. And because I Iove to cook and my kids enjoy eating, cookbook reviews are in the plans too. So little time, so many ideas!

On this note, have a great beautiful day and get the sleds out. Snow is on the way and I don't intend to miss it!

Visit the USS Hornet, the Grey Ghost

The USS Hornet at historic Alameda Point. Photo by C.G.
Though Alameda is only 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco, it feels a world away from the bustling city. It's an island after all and it has that peculiar island charm. You get out of the Victorian downtown, drive through dilapidated 1950s projects, and after a left turn, discover a former navy air station where the MARAD's Ready Reserve ships are berthed and ready to supply equipment and vehicles for US military operations worldwide. Docks with restricted perimeters. Guys in uniforms driving big grey vehicles around. An aircraft carrier open to the public. Wait, what?

Navy ships moored at Alameda Point. Photo by C.G.
One Sunday morning we stumbled upon the signs for the USS Hornet from I-880 towards Alameda, en route to the Bay Area International Children's Film Festival. We were early for our movie so I suggested we go check out the docks. That's how we found out about the USS Hornet. Pure chance. Boy scouts were pouring out of the ship carrying sleeping bags and rucksacks. I checked the sign: "Open daily 10am to 5pm." That's all the info we needed.

We  returned after our morning screening, having no clue what to expect. A navy ship turned into a museum, a nice two-hour let-me-go affair? Maybe a fun industrial kitchen or navigation room? Heck, a gift shop with model airplanes like my brothers used to assemble? Certainly not a 3+-hour stunt across three decks of a ship as big as a small village, with incursions in the world of giant pipes, torpedoes, ghost haunts and space shuttles landed at sea. I mean, look at the size of this thing! I'll say, it was a tad surrealistic on a Sunday morning.

Entering the ship. Photo by Frog Mom
On the docks at Alameda Point, I was dwarfed right away - esp when I saw the plane on the flight deck and estimated how high it was. Then I heard my girls: "Mom, can we go inside now?!!" Sure you can, baby, it's a museum. Come on and mind the ropes and steep stairs - we're not on a  Disney cruise liner. This floating museum will keep you on your toes with a fascinating history that covers dark times of war, an  Apollo 11 recovery mission, and more machinery than an aspiring engineer can handle.

Planes on the hangar deck. Photo by C.G.
We stepped onto the gangplank that connects the docks and the USS Hornet and entered the hangar deck. Again, we felt rather tiny - the ship is 893 feet long - sort of like we were standing on an airport runway, except now there was a gift shop, a flight simulator, a dozen aircraft and ladders everywhere. Where could we start? First we bought our tickets. They're not cheap (see details at end of post) but think of them as tickets to a 3-hour long movie with period music and director commentary.

A docent whisked us right away to a TV presentation of the ship by the orientation area. My girls looked in awe at the docent in his uniform. Not his docent uniform. His real navy uniform. Docents on the USS Hornet are army veterans, many served on the USS Hornet. Their jacket may be too tight and their hair on the grey side, but their history is an open book into the past 60 years of US Navy warcraft overseas. How incredibly valuable, I loved it.
Battle of Midway 1942 (CV8). Photo USS Hornet website

Next to the orientation area hung a giant panel with hundreds of miniature planes and ships. "That's the combat record of the USS Hornet," he said. In 18 months of combat, the USS Hornet shot down 668 Japanese planes, destroyed 742 Japanese planes on the ground, sunk or heavily damaged 1,269,710 tons of enemy ships (73 ships sunk, 37 probable, 413 damaged). "It's like that battleship game I like to play!" exclaimed my 7-year old. Yes kiddo, except these were for real. She looked at the docent but I could tell. It was way beyond her imagination.

The docent then asked us what we wanted to see. Blank. Technically you can visit the ship on a self-guided basis but docents are here to assist. And if there aren't too many people, you can pretty much ask to see what you want. Let me show you how kid-friendly the docents are. The docent in front of us looked at my girls and said, "Would you like to see the captain's quarters?" They nodded frantically at the word "captain". I was impressed. This venerable guy in his uniform understood that to get the family to enjoy the ship, he needed to address the kids - not us, the oldies. That's what I call "understanding your audience."

Captain's bedroom. Photo by C.G.
"Hey Chad!" He hailed a docent to guide us to the captain's quarters. Our docent Chad was the son and grandson of army veterans (pilots, if I remember well) and a US marine himself. He introduced himself, his family history, and led us up the steep captain's ladder to the captain's dining room, and the captain's bedroom. As you can see on the photo, it's got ocean views, furniture, and a double bed. Nice hey? Wait til you see the dorms, you'll think it's royal.

Chad in the emergency station. Photo by C.G.
On the same level were the quarters of the admiral and the XO, as well an "emergency station" that gave us a feel for war times. "What is it for? asked my girls. Chad switched on the light and explained that in case of emergency intervention, you had to be able to operate anywhere on the ship. There were several of these peppered throughout the ship, including some in hallways.

Back to the hangar deck, we added five people to our group and proceeded up more ladders to the second deck to learn how 15 men operated a big 5-inch gun, and the different types of shells that were fired from the guns.

Interestingly enough, the ammunition was color-coded to indicate the primary use of ammunition, the presence of a hazardous (explosive, flammable, irritant or toxic) filler, and of color of tracers, dye loads and signals. We each tried to hold one, children first, but these babies were darned heavy and none of us succeeded without puffing.
Focsle. Photo by C.G.

Next, the focsle and the 1,100 feet long chains of the anchors weighing 108,000 pounds. These chains are the kind you don't want to drop on your feet or release by mistake. Once they're going down, it's not easy holding them back. Our girls tried to lift them a 16th of an inch above the floor but of course, the chains didn't budge. I couldn't either. OK, they were as high as my knee and thick as my thighs. They were perhaps the most impressive item on the ship, apart from the crew berthing and the catapult room.

By then, I had lost all my bearings and even with the map in hand, I was glad to follow Chad wherever he took us. This ship is a maze. No wonder the "Flashlight tours" are so popular. Take a bunch of brave souls, switch off the lights and guide them through special rooms or better yet - let them explore dark tunnels by themselves. Spooky!

Crew berthing. Photo by C.G.
We stopped by the navigation room but my girls were getting distracted and I spent more time quieting them then listening to the fineries of ship radios and compasses. Fortunately, the crew berthing rekindled the kids' interest in the tour. Rows of beds, piled four high on top of each other, the most superior rank getting the higher levels, the lower sleeping way at the bottom. That's where school trips, boy scouts or girls scouts spend overnights. My girls were skeptical when I suggested we participate in the monthly family overnights on the USS Hornet, the Live Aboard Program. They wanted to see the bathrooms and the kitchen first. Fine, off we go, with a few detours.

Air compressors in the Catapult Room. Photo by C.G.
From sleeping quarters and fighting weapons, Chad led us in the deep underbelly of the ship to the Catapult Room, a fascinating room tainted with  hauntings in the form of a sudden decapitations. This room was the main room used to launch planes on the flight deck and provide them with enough speed that they'd fly off the runway into the air - not drop with inertia into the sea. You see, “the Catapult” was a very powerful hydraulic machine used to “catapult” the planes off the flight deck, helping them lift-off with a complex system of hooks, cables and wires to launch departing planes. 

Because of the tendency of the main wire to snap, the Catapult room was considered one of the most dangerous places aboard an aircraft carrier. When it snapped, it spinned around the room, slicing through anything in its path. Axes and guillotine are so old school! On a more cheerful note, the Catapult Room is home to a few air tanks named after the crew's favorite drinks! Those were the days...

Main kitchen. Photo by C.G.
On our way out of the Catapult Room, we visited the auxiliary generator and a torpedo room, both with supersized machines, overhead pipe work and shiny metallic armors. I was excited but my girls not, they were getting hungry. Which is why the next stop at the ship's bakery filed them with hopes of scrumptious snacks. They dreamed away in front of the oversized bread slicing machine, the ovens where you could bake dozens of loaves at a time, and the mixing bowls as big as bath tubs. Too bad the display bread loaf was pure painted resin.

Not far from the bakery, the laundry room offered a humorous insight in the 3 quality levels of laundry, the higher-ranked officers getting smooth settings leaving shirt buttons unscathed while lesser-ranked crew got the savage shirt treatment crushing anything thicker than fabric, starting with buttons.   

Take your tray and get in line. Photo by C.G.
Now, the kitchen was typical of any industrial kitchen but I liked the fact that it was sandwiched between two  lines, allowing for faster serving of the 3,000 meals a day (I don't recall the exact figure but it was in the thousands. The rows of trays neatly arranged in the hallway preceding the kitchen had us ponder for a second before we realized they were dining trays.

Chad gave us the recipe of the USS Hornet "rainbow ham," a delicacy I do not suggest anyone try at home unless you want to get rid of unwanted guests. Hams were purchased in wholesale quantities and frozen in the large cold chambers of the ship. When needed, they were taken out of the freezer, boiled, sliced, served and whatever remained was frozen again. Hence the "rainbow" coloration of the varying layers of the frozen-refrozen ham. In the same frozen idea, the ship's ice cream shop wasn't far from the kitchen and had my girls drool.

Where's the door?! Photo by C.G.
Just then, one of them needed to use the bathroom. We were going to see the bathrooms! In typical army fashion, the showers and toilets were shared compartments without doors or much privacy. Rest assured that your family overnight will be less authentic though. Showers now have curtains for overnight guests, and some toilets too.

On this note, we decided it was time to go for a snack. That left us with only one option: we'd need to return to see the engine room, the combat information center, the bridge, the surgery room, the dental station and all the other rooms we hadn't had time to visit during 3 hours. Phew, what a ship!

Want to go too?
  • The ship is open daily from 10am to 5pm.
  • Rates: $15/adult, $12/student, army, senior, $6/youth (5-17), free for kids under 4 with accompanying adult.

Upcoming events
  • Friday, March 11, 2011 – Family Live Aboard Experience: Enjoy the ultimate family overnight experience by spending the night onboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. Tour the ship at night, hear fascinating sea stories, sleep in the bunks, and more. Reservations: (510) 521-8448 x280
  • Friday, March 18, 2011 – Family Live Aboard Experience: Enjoy the ultimate family overnight experience by spending the night onboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. Tour the ship at night, hear fascinating sea stories, sleep in the bunks, and more. Reservations: (510) 521-8448 x280
  • Saturday, March 19, 2011 – Flashlight Tour: Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the USS Hornet including spaces that have not yet been opened to the public. The three-hour guided tour begins at 8:30am and costs $35 per person ($30 for members). Kids 12 years and older. Reservations required: (510) 521-8448 x 282
  • Friday, April 1, 2011 – History Mystery Overnight Investigation: Are the late night stories about the USS Hornet really true? Come spend the night on the Hornet and find out! The Hornet would like to invite you to join us in an evening of after hours investigations aboard the ship. During this event you will learn about the history of the Hornet while investigating the ship with crew members during the midnight hour. This is your chance to tour the ship after hours exclusively in small groups while investigating our well known “paranormal hot-spots.”
  • Big Band Dances with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra: Bring Mom aboard for an early Mother’s Day celebration! Dance among vintage aircraft on the enclosed, heated hangar deck as this popular orchestra performs classics from the big band era. Free dance lessons.

More information on all events, tours and overnights on the USS Hornet website.

Did you like this? Check out other local Frog Mom museum adventures:

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Kids' Birthday Party Idea: The Culinary Dude at In The Kitchen

Aspiring chefs get creative at ITK. Photo by C.G.
For kids who enjoy cooking up a storm, helping out for morning pancakes or evening pizzas, In The Kitchen (ITK) in Sausalito is a dream party place where freedom of cooking is unleashed in its full splendor - something that doesn't happen at home. In my kitchen, my little helpers pitch in but time constraints and an irrational fear of The Big Mess seriously restrict the range of what I let them do.

The Culinary Dude. Photo by C.G.

At ITK, kids prepare and cook a meal from scratch, then get to eat it. It's cooking heaven with a few guidelines. Get this: children even clean up so they can set the table to eat the fruit of their labor. Ever seen that happen at home? 

One of my best friends' 8-year old boy is seriously smitten with cooking and took cooking classses after school at ITK. So naturally for his 8 candles, he decided to celebrate there and threw a Mexican food party. Twelve kids from age 5 to 8 had a ball learning how to hold a knife, cut tomatoes, mash avocadoes, squeeze limes, and cry over the fate of onions. We, the adults, wished we were kids so we could steal some of their food. The cooking smells were taunting our noses but we were brave and watched stoically.

"Don't call me hey!" started Scott Davis a.k.a. The Culinary Dude. Scott is a great guy and knows how to talk to kids. He addresses them as real little people who understand instructions and who are about to become responsible of knives and food, not as nitwits in need of babysitting.
Ingredients on the counter. Photo by C.G.

Scott's philosophy is all about empowering kids in the kitchen and getting them to listen to the adult in charge. His remark had kids raise their brows and giggle but he had their attention all right. "You can call me Dude, the Culinary Dude, or Scott." Kids nodded. That was clear.
With that out of the way, Scott proceeded to explain safety measures for the day since the chosen meal involved a good deal of veggie cutting - hopefully not finger cutting. Mostly the instructions were about safety but since everybody sat in a professional kitchen with a professional chef, hygiene wasn't spared. The no-nos? Well, picking your nose, sneezing in your hands or brushing your hair with your fingers weren't going to work great with touching raw food. With some extreme booger examples, kids all got the idea and were sent off to clean their hands with soap.

Next started the actual cooking prep. The day's ingredients were described, as well as the fate they were going to meet: cutting, mashing, squeezing, baking and frying.

The bridge. Photo by C.G.

So, how you explain kids how to cut a tomato, the notoriously slippery veggie? Scott explained his great trick about forming bridges with your fingers and cutting inside the bridge, sharp blade down and tip pointing out. Even my five-year old got the knack of it and became a seasoned tomato slayer.

The operations involving knives were probably the trickiest of all but the saddest was by far the onion slicing. If you had seen all the kids rushing to the open window to wipe off their onion tears, you would know the sadness. Only my five-year old was beaming because she was the only cold-hearted onion slicer and watched big kids in tears with a slight grin.

Smashing avocados. Photo by C.G.
Next came the avocado smashing with a spatula, a simple task that all performed with great results. How was is that? Any kid likes smashing a soft squishy substance even if it's green, so that was easy. That was for the guacamole, as was the lime squeezing and onion slicing.

Adding herbs, the next logical guacamole step, had a few kids look worried. Greens? Why yes, said Scott, cilantro is part of the recipe and you don't have to like it but you'll need to taste it. There. Eat your greens, kids! And they did at the end, and they all took seconds.

Cooking corn tortillas. Photo by C.G.

To enjoy this, the young ones got to make their own corn tortillas from scratch. I kid you not. They made the dough, rolled balls in betwen their hands, flattened them with their hands and actually took turns frying them over the stove.
Oh the line to fry your own hand-squished tortilla was an impatient one, moving slowly and loaded with great expectations. Were they going to turn brown right away? When was I going to eat them? Frankly, I don't know how the kids refrained from eating while cooking.

Tacos ready to be baked. Photo by C.G.
This party was a real patience test for them because when they got to frying the tortillas, they were still 20 minutes away from eating. The table needed cleaning up and their hands too. Also the tacos needed to be baked crips in the oven.

Everybody took turns brushing their tacos triangles with oil and placing them (rather neatly I must admit) on baking trays. The oven had been pre-warmed and an adult helped put the loaded trays in the oven. Since the meat had been pre-cooked by Scott, all that remained to be done was the cleaning up and table setting.

I've never seen kids so eager to clean up. They must have been starving and drooling over their meal, all proud to have made everything from scratch. Both boys and girls picked up food scraps from the table and off the floor, sponged up the table and brought plates and cups to the table for the Mexican feast.

The Mexican feast. Photo by C.G.
Needless to say, they ate with gusto. Err, there must be a word for children wolfing down a meal. Tomato salsa, guacamole, tacos, tortillas and ground chicken and beef disappeared in their mouths without many words being exchanged. A long silence of satisfaction accompanied their meal, the only noises consisting of spoons clinking on bowls and dishes being passed around. These were happy kids.

The birthday cake! Photo by C.G.
This was not the end of their culinary delight that day, as my friend has skillfully crafted a birthday cake as a stovetop with spaghettis overflowing from a pot and eggs frying in a pan. She had even shaped knobs on the stovetop and surrounded the cake with tiny apples,, strawberries and grapes for good measure next to the sugar overdose. It was great!

When I was seven or eight, my first solo cooking experience was making crepes for my mom when she was visiting a neighbor. I made the dough, filled the pan with oil and right when I was going to fry (deep fry) the crepes, my wrist caught the pan's handle and it fell off the stovetop. I tried to catch it with my hands and fried my hands instead. This is how I learned that pan handles should not be facing towards me when cooking - and that having an adult nearby when using the stove is handy.

Clearly, learning cooking skills with a professional is a lot more fun when you're a kid - and a lot less painful. Hurray for The Culinary Dude and kids cooking their food, safely!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Uvas Canyon: Five Waterfalls and a Laurel Canyon

Basin Falls. Photo by C.G.
Uvas Canyon County Park is such an easy and rewarding hike that it's shocking the trails aren't more crowded. Here are five waterfalls peppered along 3.5 miles of well-maintained moderate trails, and you barely bump into two dozen hikers - dogs included - in a couple hours? What's wrong with Uvas Canyon? Oh, I know. It's in Morgan Hill, 45 minutes southwest of San Jose at the end of a windy road. Had Uvas Canyon been anchored along the sides of Mt Tamalpais, Cataract Falls and Carson Falls would have taken the back seat no contest. Its remote location actually saves Uvas Canyon from becoming a hiking freeway and it's all for the best. Now let's pray for some more rain because it's one of the nicest quintets of waterfalls in the Bay Area.

Swanson Creek. Photo by C.G.
Getting there
Getting to Uvas Canyon is a trek but the scenic road and the last mile make it worth your fuel. From 101, you exit at Bailey Avenue, go west for 3.2 miles, turn left at McKean Road, go 2.4 miles, continue on Uvas Road for 3.7 miles, and turn right at Croy Road. That's the short story. Now go 3.4 miles to the park and slow down. The last mile of the road to the park winds through Sveadal, a resort of the Swedish American Patriotic League. Kids play around here, which explains the 10mph speed limit.As you drive by slowly slowly, note the Swedish themed bungalows and cabins names in -son (Gustafson, Ericksson...). It's official, you're in Sweden! If you visit for the Midsummer festival (June 18 in 2011), hike around the resort to find a troll redwood carving by Swedish sculptor Emil Janel. After Sveadal, you're at the gate of Uvas Canyon County Park. Pay your fees and make yourself at home: boots, water bottle, snacks, ready-set-go.

The Hike

Lower Black Rock Falls.
Photo by C.G.
From the parking lot we decided to start with the waterfall loop. The waterfall loop is a one-miler that follows Swanson Creek upstream and passes three waterfalls. Surprisingly - given how hot this area gets during the summer - Swanson Creek is a year-round stream that trickles down the rock in small pools after the winter rains.

The first waterfall soon appeared on our right. It was right off the trail at the level of a footbridge. All we had to do was get our camera ready. The map didn't show it but it is the lower tier of Black Rock Falls, the largest of the five waterfalls which totals 55 feet in heighth on three different tiers. We kept going. The kids (3 between 5 and 7 years) were totally hyper playing choo-choo train and they needed to burn off some steam on the trail. We let them run.

Express your inner om in front of Upper Black Rock Falls.
Photo by C.G.

At 0.35 mile, we took a sharp right turn from Waterfall Loop Trail to Black Rock Falls. At the junction, all of us adults were startled by an unusual smell. We're not exactly more winos than the next hiker but it smelled like spilled wine right there. More precisely, it smelled like fermenting grape, the kind of pungent smell that floats around wineries after the harvest. Was it a mushroom? A weird fern? Not a careless wino, of course not. We looked around but weren't able to figure it out so walked on to catch up with the kids (who were way out of sight). They couldn't be very far, the fall was 0.1 mile away.

The upper section of Black Rock Falls was tucked at the back of a narrow gully but quite impressive. According to Waterfallswest, it drops a spectacular 35 feet. Since we were hiking with as friend of mine who's a yoga teacher, the kids waited for us in om position. It wasn't long before they started goofing up again, running on the trail.

Hula at Basin Falls. Photo by O.R.
Back on the main trail, we hiked up another 0.1 mile to find Upper Falls and took a short spur to go see my favourite of them all, Basin Falls. It may not get high ratings from waterfall experts but for a mom, it gets five golden stars.

At the base of the fall the creek is quite narrow and interrupted by rock piles. From the path, kids can easily reach the water and play with the mud. It's very hands-on, easy to wash off in the stream, and our girls had fun digging small pools and launching fallen leaves as vessels on the creek.

For adventurous spirits, you can make your way on the big rounded boulder where the falls create a basin, and look for a tucked rock "cave" on the left. Be careful, the rock is mossy and slippery, but the little cave barely gets sprayed by the fall and provides a quiet hiding spot for little kids. Ours rapidly got squirmy so we made it back to Upper Falls.

Upper Falls. Photo by C.G.
Upper Falls is the last waterfall on the waterfall loop at Uvas Canyon and falls in two opposing portions over 25 feet. Wider than the other falls, it is also surrounded by more open terrain and easier to approach from the trail.

Don't do like the hikers we saw who were walking their dog at the base of the fall, pretending the sign asking hikers to stay back behind a fence didn't exist. If it's there, it's for a reason. Erosion anyone? Sheesh.

If kids want to splash around, it's possible to access the creek below the sign and hopscotch your way across the creek to little rock islands or fall logs. I'm not guaranteeing shoes won't get wet - ours did - but it's fun for a little break. At that point, we were about to turn around when half of us felt we could go farther. Coming back on Waterfall Loop Trail seemed unsatisfying, half baked. We decided at that point that we would do the grand tour to Triple Falls, the last waterfall of Uvas Canyon, way in a parallel canyon along a tributary to Alec Creek.

Contour Trail. Photo by C.G.
To get there, we continued on the trail until it turned into Contour Trail, the aptly-named single file path that follows the contour of the canyon. Not recommended for people who suffer from any fear of heights. Steep drops ahead. Though that trail is 1.25 miles long, it felt a lot shorter because the kids used the elevation drops and sudden gains to run down and up and down and up. In fact we had to run after them twice because we couldn't see them anymore. Given that the drops on the side were fairly impressive, none of the adults were completely comfortable letting the kids run loose.

The succession of California bay aurel and oak groves was very pretty and after 1.25 miles, the trail abruptly ended on Alec Canyon Trail. Everybody turn right! Some of us wanted to turn left and come back to the parking lot but I was set on seeing Triple Falls. We were only 0.7 mile away and Uvas Canyon is not exactly next door. So we turned right.

Hiking on Alec Canyon Trail. Photo by Frog Mom
 As much as we had been hiking under dense tree cover so far, Alex Canyon Trail was a pleasant change of scenery, an open trail with scenic views on the redwood mountains. There were even two benches in front of the valleys to quietly reap the visual rewards of the stroll. Day was falling when we got to the benches so we simply walked on.

For a while I hoped that the trail was going to keep climbing so the return would all be downhill, but treacherously the last 0.4 miles are downhill. Ugh. The troops weren't happy. Triple Falls was a stone's throw away but the kids were getting tired.

Triple Falls. Photo by Frog Mom
Two of us ran ahead to snap a shot of the falls (and check that they were where the map said they were) and we all retraced our steps, now headed to the parking lot and warm comfort of the car.

I'll be blunt. Triple Falls was not worth it. After the gushing waterfalls we had seen on the initial portion of the hike, it's a trickle. It might be better to discover the waterfalls in the reverse order to go "oooh aah" in front of Triple Falls and be increasingly impressed at each new fall.

Otherwise don't bother and turn left at the junction of Contour Trail and Alec Canyon Trail. You've already done a lot, the kids will be happy. When we got to the parking lot, the ranger's house was all illuminated with remnants of holiday lights. It was kind of unexpected in January and a nice surprise for the kids. I don't think it's a year-round feature though. Focus on the waterfalls and you'll leave happy.

The cherry on the cake. Photo by Frog Mom


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

After-School Sweets & Treats

That I have a sweet tooth is an understatement. My Twitter profile has "chocoholic" in it. That my kids like to participate in sugary adventures is nothing short of very true. Particularly after school when they look at me like they haven't been fed in 2 hours. That my husband can't live without his post-espresso treat is a genetic sugar reality. Take my tea-drinker word for it. Since we live in the Bay Area, what do you expect? We love discovering new bakeries, ice cream parlors and chocolatiers to satisfy our sweet tooth cravings. After school seems to be a particularly good time to go out and explore as my girls are ready to follow me anywhere just to eat. Lately, we've been pretty active on the sugar front so I thought I'd share three recent finds. Here's to the after-school explorer in all of us.

5030 Telegraph, Oakland and select farmers markets

The scoop, the real one. Photo by Scream Sorbet

Thanks to my weekly Tasting Table e-newsletter, I discovered the only ice cream shop that I believe rivals Berthillon in Paris. Wherever I go, chocolate is always my number 1 (and 2, and 3) choice. It's rare that I taste another flavor so after all those years of tasting (geez, sounds like centuries!), I know my chocolate ice cream or sorbet.

At Scream Sorbet, I tasted hazelnut chocolate and askinosie chocolate. My kids had hazelnut chocolate and lemon rosemary. My husband tried askonasie chocolate and coconut kale. And we tried all the other flavors just for fun. All I'm sayin' is "wow." I want more! Actually I'll have more because a) there's three pots in my freezer and b) I need to return for the pineapple guava sorbet. It's that yummy. The only thing that's missing is cones. Scoops only come in tiny paper cups. They're not big scoops either. Don't expect the Ben and Jerry's size that feeds a family of five. They're precious scoops that scream for seconds. At the Oakland store, look for the map on the wall that provides the location of all the farms Scream Sorbet partners with to source their ingredients. Locavore, I say.

Dynamo Donuts
2760 24th Street, San Francisco
The whole donut story started for us when my piano teacher treated my girls to a donut at Happy Donuts in Noe Valley. That was last Friday. I'm not a donut fan but watched in awe as throngs of teenagers trickled in after school to get their donut fix. I learned that there were yeast-raised donuts and baking powder-raised donuts. That some are filled with custard, some with jam. Most important, my girls gulped their donut with a smile. This made me seriously reconsider donuts as a non-food item. Here was a huge piece of Americana I could not ignore. There had to be a gourmet donut shop somewhere in San Francisco. I Yelped my query and sure enough, Dynamo Donuts came up at the top of the list.

Photo by Dynamo Donuts
The next school day I took my girls after school. I was giddy with anticipation having read the different flavors on the website: caramel de sel, chocolate rose, candied orange blossom, saffron chocolate, lemon thyme. It was all so intriguing. Too much hype? At the counter, my hopes deflated when I realized there were only three types of donuts left that day: candied orange blossom, apricot cardamom and passion fruit milk chocolate. I took a couple of each to test them at home and the winner was clearly the passion fruit milk chocolate. What a flavor! Moist and light, it was well worth the extra 3 miles I'd have to hike the next weekend. The other two flavors were meh, fine but not worth 3 miles. The drag is that I know I'll have to come back for the one I really wanted all along: chocolate rose.

San Francisco and Oakland
I have mixed feelings about Miette but not about their old-fashioned cupcake. It's delish. I tasted it three years ago. Loved it. Remembered about it last week. Tasted it again. Same taste. Yum. What I love about Miette (I'm talking about the Confiserie here, the one on Octavia) is how pretty everything looks. It's like you just walked into a 50s movie sponsored by 50s Disney. Pastel colors, cathedral-clear lollipops wrapped in shiny cellophane, vintage style candy, walls of glass jars filled with gummy fruits - it's eye candy before it's candy in your belly and it's wonderfully orchestrated. It's also a dream come true for my girls who enter the candy shop with eyes wide as flying saucers. The topiary tree with gumdrop "fruits" makes them drool.

Miette's old-fashioned cupcake.
Photo by Miette
However I've had mixed luck with their baked goods, mostlly macarons and lemon tart, and that kept me away a while. Plus, it's not cheap and I couldn't see myself spending our 401K on a sugar overdose. All that changed last week. I actually spent the 401K on an old-fashioned cupcake. Honestly for a cupcake, it's good. For $3.25 a pop, it better be. Simple and elegant, it could be stronger in chocolate but it's fine as it is. What takes the (cup)cake for me is the icing. I don't know what it's made of but it reminds me of a raw meringue topping my mom made on coconut cakes when I was a kid. When any food brings back good memories of your childhood, it's worth the 401K. So there. Miette is back in my books and I intend to keep tasting.

Hopefully you haven't overdosed on sugar reading this. I was about to write about chocolatiers too but I realized I needed to do some more field testing. Until then, I'll be writing about hikes next. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, it's @frogmomblog.