Staying at The Oaks at Ojai….

When I was first invited to head out and experience The Oaks at Ojai, I definitely felt like that cliché blogger from Los Angeles. Heading out of town in LA terms (not even 2 hours from home) and going on somewhat of a retreat. What would I find? Are you expected to stay on The Oaks’ grounds your entire stay? Can you bring any of your own snacks? Will you get in trouble if you don’t drink decaf coffee?! I knew I could survive an overnight boot camp if that turned out to be the case. But, what I discovered both after learning more about The Oaks, and while on my stay, is that The Oaks at Ojai has created an extremely unique atmosphere where YOU are in charge of what your idea of a “spa”, “detox” or “retreat” is.

Located in the tranquil Ojai, California (Just a half hour inland from Ventura Beach), The Oaks is one of the several hacienda-style buildings within the city, and from their street, can look very un-assuming. Park your car in their ample parking lot (free and they take up an entire corner on Ojai Street) and enter the lobby. The architecture of The Oaks, especially from the main drag, brought to mind one of the 21 California missions.

I arrived at noon as I had been invited to join the resort for lunch prior to my check-in. When you stay at The Oaks, all of your meals are inclusive, plus many snack breaks throughout the day and drinks available 24 hours a day (regular and decaf coffee’s, teas, water, etc). You can imagine that I was tickled pink when Maria, the courteous and warm Oaks associate who assisted my check-in, informed me that my room WAS indeed ready, and that I could head on in to freshen up before my meal and tour.

My cozy bungalow.

Before I was on my way, Maria also made sure that I chatted with Christine, The Oaks’ Head Chef, regarding my gluten allergy. While we had emailed about the lunch I would be having, she wanted to ensure I was good to go for dinner, as well as give me the lay of the land of their formal dining room (where you can join other guests for lunch or dinner and get table service) and The Libby Lounge.

I must admit, I favored The Libby Lounge. As I get older, I really have found that I NEED my solo time, and work trips like this are real treats I’m grateful for to have some time to myself and let my mind wander. In the lounge, you’ll find a long counter top filled with iced teas, water, a great assortment of tea’s, coffee’s, milks/creamers, fresh fruit and during lunch time, the meals are served in the lounge, as well. Come dinnertime, should you wish to enjoy your dinner on your laptop or reading in the lounge, you can ask the staff to bring it to you there. (You can also eat your meals poolside or back at your room. Entirely up to you!)

The Libby Lounge is also where you will grab your AM fuel whether it be post-morning hike, pre-yoga, or just anytime before 9:30, so keep hitting snooze til then if you wish. The cuisine is definitely along the lines of a health program. Yet, the portions are there. Lunch at my arrival was a tostada salad with turkey and soup of the day was a pumpkin chili (which I really favored. Hearty and nice to enjoy a fall favorite in the spring for a change). For dinner, Christine had several options for me to select from, and I selected their vegan and gluten free black bean noodles stir-fry. It was delicious, and the veggies fresh and cooked in a flavorful tamari sauce. Having enjoyed black bean noodles in the past, they were not as spicy as I have had them, and they soaked in the flavors from the sauce and veggies greatly.

In between your 3 meals a day, there are several snack breaks that include a vegetable broth with magnesium and electrolytes (vital if you’re enjoying all of the activities offered at The Oaks) as well as veggies and dips, and a savory popcorn after dinner.

Each day, The Oaks has countless classes throughout the day for all of their guests. Whether you are a pro at yoga, or a newbie to dance or hiking, the dedicated trainers and teachers at the resort will take great care of you. The daily relaxation yoga at 4pm will be the perfect way to unwind post swimming, walking or shopping downtown. While I was concerned I’d forgotten my yoga mat, I was in luck as such amenities are there ready for you at the fitness center. Pool towels, too!

With so much going on outside your door, you may find it hard to want to leave your suite. I was so excited to stay in one of The Oaks’ famed bungalows. Boasting a sun deck to tan with lounge chairs and a patio perfect for sipping your morning coffee or un-winding after your facial, I could have easily moved into my room! I felt like Georgia O’Keefe at her New Mexico hacienda. Inside, I had a cozy living room and a spacious bed room and double bathroom.

All I kept thinking is how many people my suite can hold; easily 5 guests as the living room has a pull-out couch, pillows and blankets, and many rooms have double beds.

So, while this is definitely a great place to detox, you can keep in mind living it up, too. Just steps outside of The Oaks  you will stumble into Downtown Ojai where there are delicious cafes, wine bars, shopping and even The Ojai Valley Trail. A fantastic 15 mile loop that goes throughout Ojai. I had no idea such a gem of a town existed in Ojai!

Next week, I will share with you my experience at their spa. From hair care and nails, to facials and massages, The Oaks has you covered there, as well. In the meantime, learn more HERE and plan your own visit to The Oaks! xo

(*Disclosure: I was invited to stay at The Oaks on their behalf for this feature. All opinions are my own.)

10 Valentine’s Day Date Ideas (& Giveaway ends 2-13!).

I know what you may possibly be thinking…Valentine’s Day?! The greeting card holiday?! Or, I am single! I can’t do this stuff! While, maybe, hopefully, some of you are eager to read about some Valentine’s Day ideas and my pretty sweet giveaway I have for you, I also hope you agree with some of these thoughts I had for super awesome and fun getaways, and places to wine and dine. All of these options would be excellent with your friends, too (Galentine’s Day, anyone??). Read on and good luck with the giveaway, too 🙂

GETAWAYS

Cruise on down the coast for Valentine’s Day in San Diego and stay at one of the best 5 diamond resorts in California, and the nation, for that matter, at Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Currently running a “Do Not Disturb” package through February 11th which includes a one night stay, a $50 food and beverage credit, complimentary bottle of champagne and strawberries amenity and in-room movie. Learn more HERE.

An often overlooked getaway destination, Sacramento is booming with culture, great food and wine, and some adorable boutique hotels and my favorite, The Amber House Bed and Breakfast. Minutes from the State Capitol, and convenient to walk to several activities, The Amber House is an amazing experience that includes a fresh breakfast brought to your room each morning. With several packages currently being offered, check out The Exquisite Dinner and Lodging package.

Gluten free French toast served in your room at The Amber House.

If leaving Fido home for Valentine’s Day is out of the question, consider a few nights at Carmel by-the-Sea’s pet friendly Hofsas House. A favorite here at Along Comes Mary, Hofsas is currently offering a “sweet” deal that when you  stay for at least two nights with them, you will receive a box of local Lula’s Chocolates and a Hofsas House logo tote bag to welcome you! Book HERE.

If you’re an Angelino looking for a local getaway, drive over Route 66 to Claremont, a hidden gem here in SoCal. The DoubleTree Resort is a gorgeous, newly renovated and modern home away from home that i’ve had the pleasure of staying with twice now and along with Downtown Claremont just a few miles away, you have The Piano Piano Bar, a Dinner and Theatre venue and a Trader Joe’s all within the hotel’s parking lot, making it perfect to simply park your car and hang out at the complex. With their Celebration package, get a bottle of sparkling wine, breakfast and a late check-out. Get all the details and book HERE.

WINE and DINE

Reserve a gorgeous table over looking the water and harbor at Cafe Del Rey in Marina Del Rey. Easily one of the best restaurants I’ve come across in LA as of late, Cafe’s Chef David Vilchez is a master in the kitchen and dedicated to ensuring each plate leaves you wanting more of his creations. With their Valentine’s Day dinner, choose from such decadent dishes like a 10 oz steak, salmon or lobster tail. Lets not even mention the strawberry panna cotta. Check out the menu HERE.

A cozy table for two at District Wine Bar.

Nothing like the custom build mac and cheese at Stacked.

If you do head for a Northern California getaway, do yourself a favor and spend the day in Cambria and dine at Linn’s Restaurant. Whether you stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Aaron and his amazing staff are sure to treat you like family and their Olallieberry-centric desserts (many gluten-free) are the ideal sweet treat for Valentine’s Day!

A place to see a piece of history in the middle of Downtown LA is no other than San Antonio Winery. Always a fabulous time, San Antonio offers daily wine tasting, tours, delicious cuisine at Maddalena Restaurant, a coffee shop and bistro and, of course, their beautiful gift shop. San Antonio would be an ideal Valentine’s Day date.

Down in Long Beach, treat yourself to some beach time, stroll with your love on Belmont Shore’s 2nd Street, then drive down Ocean boulevard to Downtown and plan an afternoon at District Wine Bar. One of the first wine bars to ever invite Along Comes Mary to do a feature, District Wine is one of those places that feels like you’re with family. Mark and Angela Dunton launched District Wine in Long Beach’s funky Arts District in 2010, and have been hosting memories in the making ever since. From daily happy hours to Sunday mimosa brunch, make a reservation NOW to cozy up to your sweetie this Valentine’s Day!

If you’re looking to have a laid back Valentines Day (granted, it is on a Tuesday so getaways will probably have to be on a weekend), take your Valentine to STACKED: Food Well Built. With several California locations (Including Thousand Oaks and Huntington Beach), make it a fun evening by having you and your sweetie order for each other. At Stacked, you order and customize your meal on an iPad! (Psst, great gluten-free options, too).

A NIGHT IN

If you are more the type to have a cozy and romantic evening at home (or if it better fits your budget), why not try surprising your love with homemade chocolates? Or, better yet, make a recipe together or surprise each other with one each from Susie Norris’ decadent book, Chocolate Bliss. I had the pleasure of meeting Susie at The IFWTWA Conference and she was such a sweetheart that she  offered me an autographed copy of Chocolate Bliss for one of my readers! Simply use the form below to enter by February 13th, a winner will be selected at random, and make sure to check out my sweepstakes tab!

Let me know what your plans are for Valentine’s Day! xo

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

A Sunday Brunch at Copper Blues Oxnard!

I think it is safe to say I love me a great Sunday fun day brunch. There’s nothing like knowing you can enjoy that extra hour (or two) of sleeping in and lounging, then still be able to catch a great late breakfast or early lunch paired with a Mimosa or Bloody Mary. Michael and I were able to do just this when Copper Blues Rock Pub and Kitchen invited us out to see what makes their brunch ROCK harder than any others!

Following a gorgeous drive up Highway 101 to Oxnard, we arrived at the city’s beautiful shopping center. Boasting department stores, movie theatre, top notch dining and, of course, Copper Blues and their partner, Levity Live Comedy Club. Which are conveniently located next to one another.

Entering Copper’s feels more like a rock club than a restaurant, but don’t be fooled: They know how to do both, and how to do it right. Murals and portraits of famous musicians adorn every wall (Amy Winehouse, John Lennon, Keith Richards, just to name a few) while the ladies room had framed song sheets of such hit songs as Blondie’s Call Me. Everywhere you turn in Copper’s, there is something to see. And, that is to say nothing of their food.

Beautiful fountain and views out front. Photo: Michael Farah.

Copper’s is very gluten free friendly! Photo: Michael Farah.

Getting to chat with the Management team, I was fascinated to learn that EVERYTHING at each Copper Blues is made daily from scratch. From the Bloody Mary mix  to their apple and fennel sauce, it is made with love in house. Thus, making each bite taste more like a home-cooked meal than a restaurant.

While I opted for an order of their endless mimosa (which I was warned is mostly champagne. I wasn’t complaining), Michael was eager to take advantage of their Build-Your-Own-Bloody-Mary bar! Your server brings you your glass with ice and alcohol, then you’re off on your own to make your concoction however you like. Less mix, more bacon? More spice, less celery? It is all up to you. Not being a big fan of the spicy favorite, I had to try Michael’s (which mind you had bacon in it. I tried that too and it was an epic moment of flavor) and for once, I found a Bloody Mary tolerable. I think it is all about the mix and Copper’s does an excellent recipe.

While we awaited our main dishes, the team insisted we try their brunch staple, Bibimbap. Having not had this dish much, I was intrigued. At first look, it appeared to be some hot rice with an egg on top. After one bite? I could have ordered 2 more bowls of this! Filled with savory flavor and spices, kimchi and the option of bacon (Vegetarian for me), their Bibimbap was delicious and certainly a signature dish.

Bibimbap. Photo: Michael Farah.

Cajun Shrimp Benedict. Photo: Michael Farah.

While we awaited our breakfast plates, the live music set began. At Copper’s, they are not joking when they say they are a Blues Kitchen. Behind their full bar that looks out onto the restaurant, a stage rests there, right in the middle of the action. As the great Sunday morning band began, they combined dynamic energy while taking great takes on popular covers that made them their own. An energetic and fun cover of Sunshine in my Pocket while sipping my 2nd (or 3rd) Mimosa made for a great afternoon!

Michael ordered The Cajun Shrimp Benedict while I tried out the Smoked Salmon Omelet with a side order of their Potato Latkes. That is correct, friends, they have Potato Latkes that ARE gluten free! Along with that apple and fennel dipping sauce, I had to ask if the accompanying sour cream was also made in house. I was shocked its one of the few items that is not! Not being a huge sour cream fan, this was delicious and fresh.

Both our seafood dishes were hearty and just what we needed given the bottomless alcohol we were enjoying. Along with Copper’s weekly brunch, make sure to check them out for their “Wine Down” evenings, karaoke and fun to be had before and after you catch some comedy next door.

I am so excited to have a new go-to spot for brunch, and can’t wait to return to Copper’s. Visit them HERE and make sure to let them know Along Comes Mary sent you! 😉 xo

 

A Gluten Free Haven at Linn’s Restaurant.

During my time living up on the Central Coast of California in the Santa Ynez Valley, I always loved any chance I got to head to Cambria. Cambria is 30 miles north of San Luis Obispo, and 230 miles south from San Francisco. A humble, small town, Cambria is known for their stunning Moonstone Beach, as well as their annual Scarecrow Festival and a great Main Street drag of restaurants.

One of their dining staples is the absolute gem of a cafe, Linn’s. Linn’s Restaurant is known for their “Olallieberry”; a Youngberry crossed with a Loganberry. The primary fruit grown on their beautiful farm nearby, a Olallieberry tastes similar to the Knotts’ famous Boysenberry, or blackberry. While very tart, it did not provoke any crazy  “lip smacking” and was a great sweet treat…on the MANY dishes I recently got to experience on a visit to Linn’s!

Heading in on a rainy Sunday, we were quickly greeted by our Hostess, Kim and while the place was bustling, she assured us it would be less than a 20 minute wait. We were so engrossed with their bakery and gift shoppe that it felt more like a 5 minute wait. All decked out and ready for the holidays, Linn’s shoppe may not be ample, yet, they manage to have enough variety and beautiful adornments that you feel inside a proper department store.

Just a glimpse of their gift shoppe.

 

Gluten Free Olallieberry Muffin

We were soon escorted to our cozy corner table with a great window view of the rain coming down and the locals enjoying a stroll under their umbrellas. Mr. Linn himself, Aaron, soon came over to greet us and was an absolute delight to chat with. A Cambria native, The Linn’s have been operating their restaurant and farm since the 1980’s. If you want to know anything about Cambria and their townspeople, go have a chat with Aaron and he can fill you in on the what/where/when of the town. Great guy!

They’re also not shy to encourage you to try the entire menu. I was very excited to head to Linn’s as nearly everything is gluten-free (or they will gladly assist you if an item is not). Aaron’s Mom has Celiac, so they know first hand the excitement  you feel when you hear “Olallieberry Chocolate Brownie Cake….Gluten Free” or, my personal favorite: warm bread baskets that are gluten-free brought to your table.

We began our food journey with one of their most famous appetizers, their Ocean Rose Farm Abalone. Having not recalled experiencing Albalone, I was anxious to see why this is such a special dish. One bite, and I knew. Locally sourced Albalone from nearby Cayucos is served with two hazelnut encrusted medallions, lemon-thyme beurre blanc and a decadent jicama-jalapeño slaw. While not a gluten-free dish, simply mention if you need it to be, and they adjust the encrusted medallions for you. Perfection!

Albalone.

Moon Stone Beach Omelette.
Photo: Michael Farah.

Hearst Ranch Hamburger.
Photo: Michael Farah.

With so much already having gone down (chats with the locals, gluten-free galore, great coffee, great atmosphere), it was time for Mike and I to make our big decision: Whats for lunch?! I decided to take advantage of a late breakfast (Weekends they serve it until 2pm, other days, 12p) and try one of their favorite omelettes, The Moon Stone Beach with an abundance of Shrimp, Dungeness crab, tomato, green onion, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. While Mike decided on an old reliable: their Hearst Ranch Beef Cheese Burger with fries.

The Moon Stone omelette was to die for. The seafood so fresh, I would imagine it could have been caught that morning, while the flavor combinations of the cheese and veggies enhanced it perfectly. Mike enjoyed his burger, and the presentation was gorgeous and made it hard to want to dig in (Just a little….).

We were very stuffed by the time we had many options for dessert coming our way….check out what Aaron and staff insisted we try….

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

See all this, folks? Mike and I were able to get it all down…and, as some of you know, I am a Type 1 Diabetic. I am pleased to say with the proper amount of insulin injections that day, I was able to keep my sugars in a  good range! I truly thought this could be my last supper. Death of a sugar rush. And, what a great last supper it would have been! 😉

First up, was that irresistible chocolate brownie concoction, followed by their famous Pecan Chew Cookie Delight with Linn’s Pecan Chew Cookie, Brazilian Coffee ice cream, house made caramel sauce, candied walnuts and just a little real whipped cream. Bravo!

 While I could continue to share my love for Linn’s, I will end here, and trust that you will do yourself a favor and head to Linn’s next time you are in Cambria. Learn more about them HERE and make sure to tell them Along Comes Mary sent you! xo
(*Disclosure: I was a guest of Linn’s Restaurant in exchange for this feature. All opinions are my own and it was a phenomenal experience!)

 

Make it an Easy Morning with Overnight Chia Seed Pudding! #NOSHWithGroceryOutlet

Remember awhile back when I introduced you to Grocery Outlet? Well, folks, since then, I have been an avid shopper. Even with our closest one about 20 minutes away, you will commonly see me braving The 5 freeway to head on over.

While they have always had such a great variety of the types of foods and beauty care products I need, I was especially excited to hear that my favorite aisle at Grocery Outlet, with my gluten free crackers, cereals, and plenty of coconut oil, is officially their NOSH section.

Where else can you get Annie’s products for 99 cents?

NOSH indicates Natural, Organic, Specialty, Health. While alot of discount stores are hit/miss with healthy and organic offerings, I love that Grocery Outlet is devoted enough to make a section of these foods and treats. I headed over yesterday in search of the goods for a recipe I kept hearing I need to try: An overnight chia pudding! Both my friends and Naturopathic Doctor had recommended learning to cook with chia seeds, and I can see why:  A 1 ounce (28 grams) serving of chia seeds contains (1, 2):

  • Fiber: 11 grams.
  • Protein: 4 grams.
  • Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s).
  • Calcium: 18% of the RDA.
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.
  • They also contain a decent amount of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.

Chia seeds are also high in fiber (which actually comes from the carb content), protein and a powerhouse amount of anti-oxidants. Whats not to love, right?

I found a great HUGE bag of chia seeds on the NOSH aisle, as well as everything else I needed  to try out the pudding. And, thats not all I found on my trek….

And, want to know a secret? This was all under $40!

Not only was that maple syrup under $5, but, that was also an idea for the pudding. I ended up holding off, but, feel free to add a tablespoon of maple syrup or agave to your concoction, too!

OVERNIGHT CHIA SEED PUDDING

You will need:
2 tablespoons of chia seeds
1 cup of milk (I used Almond Breeze, also on the NOSH aisle)
A glass jar (I used an old Kombucha glass bottle. Mason jars are awesome, too)

Optional:
A dash of cinnamon, vanilla
A tablespoon of maple syrup or agave

Toppings:
Berries
Peaches
Nuts
Chocolate chips

Simply mix the first 2 ingredients, shake VERY well and put in the fridge. At about a half hour, take out for one more good stir and shake, then leave in fridge til the morning. Its pretty amazing how chia seeds expand, and in the morning, you will have this:

I was in a simple blueberry mood, but, you can get as creative as you like with the AM toppings. Having just finished that bowl this morning, I will say that I feel extremely satisfied and that I had a wholesome breakfast to start my day.

Make sure to mosey on over to THIS LINK and get a $3 off coupon for Grocery Outlet to see for yourself how awesome Grocery Outlet is. What will you create? 😉

 

(Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Grocery Outlet, but, the content and opinions are my own.Products and prices featured may not be available at all locations. Please check your neighborhood store for more info.)

A Farm to Table Evening at Thomas Hill Organics.

A term I have noticed suddenly coming to the front burner is “Farm to Table” dining. This means that your meal is sourced from locally grown (usually organic) produce and locally raised meats. I find it especially exciting when your dish is from right outside the door of a restaurant. I was lucky to try some remarkable restaurants offering Farm to Table experiences on our trip last month to Paso Robles and The Central Coast. First up? Dinner at Thomas Hill Organics.

After an afternoon at The Hearst Castle (recap coming soon!), Michael and I were in for a real treat when we headed to Downtown Paso Robles to be guests of Thomas Hill Organics. Founded in 2009 by Debbie Thomas, Thomas Hill Organics is actually one of the first restaurants to launch with that now infamous “Farm to Table” as well as source primarily organic ingredients that are brought to your table.

Utilizing the 10 acre farm on the restaurant’s property, Thomas Hill Organics is on the tree-lined Park Street in Downtown Paso. Strolling by, the restaurant is quite un-assuming from the window front. Once you head on in your greeted warmly by an intimate wine bar that houses the front of the bistro. With cheery holiday music playing, our Hostess quickly took us to our cozy table in the back of the building, where the restaurant action takes place. While there was an outdoor area, we opted to stay in to hide from the brisk cold, but, guess what? Walking by on our way out, it felt perfectly toasty as the heat lamps burned on. I would gladly opt for the patio, next time.

Our adorable table for two was next to a window and despite it was dark outside, there still is something fun about that window seat, am I wrong? We began our evening with a glass of their house white wine (Chardonnay that night) and it was really fun to see Michael, who usually is low-key about food and wine (as to where I am pretty straightforward if I like or dislike something), say “Thats a really good glass of wine!”

With a menu that changes nearly weekly, according to what is in season and available, (what could be more fun than never knowing what you would be able to order at your favorite eatery?!) Michael and I both had our eyes on the Weekend’s specials. He ordered their spare rib while I chose the Sole fish over a bed of veggies and cream sauce. Mike’s beef was atop roasted potatoes and some of the best carrots we have ever had. Yes, carrots! Easily, one of the most memorable sides we tried there. That is how fresh and flavorful their food is; we do not usually find carrots that memorable.

The presentation to these dishes were gorgeous, and while the meal appears compact, we were FULL by the time we left…..dessert may have been involved.

Incredible Sole dinner

Mike’s spare rib.

Panna Cotta.

The moment I heard that their sweet special was a Panna Cotta with freshly picked mint leaves and mango, there was no doubt we were ordering one of my favorite desserts. The dairy favorite was sheer perfection, and the cream easily some of the most fresh I have had. It complemented both the wine and our meals perfectly.

During the week of our visit to their Paso Robles location, Debbie and her team were busy launching the second location of Thomas Hill Organics in San Luis Obispo. A half hour from Paso, this is a such brilliant addition to “SLO” that will give both residents and visitors the chance  to experience Thomas Hill’s Farm to Table approach.

Next time you find yourself in Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo, do yourself a favor and make a reservation. Learn more about Thomas Hill Organics HERE.

 

(*Disclosure: I was provided a meal in exchange for this feature. All opinions are my own.)

 

 

A Day at The Huntsville Botanical Gardens. #TravelTuesday

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On our fantastic trip to Memphis last month, I admit that our following destination was not thrilling me as much as arriving to Tennessee did. Next up, we headed to Alabama. I was THAT person that believed there must be NOTHING to do in Alabama. Well, folks, if my post on all my gluten-free finds while there is any indication of just how wrong I was, events and sights to see are also in there, too.

Little did I know that I would spend a gorgeous afternoon at a railroad station, have delicious sushi and see a movie at one of those 21+ theaters and even get my Target shopping fix in (Just like home!). One of my favorite outings we had in Huntsville, though? A trip to their Botanical Gardens.

Bringing to mind The Huntington Library or Descanso Gardens here in LA,  these gardens rest on 112 acres and are the absolute playgrounds for kids young and old alike.

When we arrived, one of the first stops is The Hobbit House! A home easily under 3 feet tall, this Lord of the Rings-esque bungalow is the gateway of what is to come and just how FUN the botanical gardens are…..

THE FAERIE GARDEN

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As someone who loves mythical subjects (and collects garden gnomes), I truly could have moved into this land in the gardens! The majestic trees each have small doors on their bottom, while the small house (I could just about fit in there) has its trusty homeowner gnome at the ready to give you a warm welcome, and there are countless bird feeders and trays for both the critters and the faeries to munch on.

This is an ideal area of the gardens for a fun, faerie tea party photo shoot, or for your little ones as everything will be their size!

SNOOPY’S DOG HOUSE

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Now, this was a surprise to stumble upon! Near the playground and picnic tables, you will come up on a giant size red dog house and large bones. It becomes clear as soon as you see the Peanuts characters on the house, that this is none other than ol’ Chuck’s BFF, Snoopy.

Since The Great Pumpkin just had his big night, soon Charlie Brown will be learning the true meaning of Christmas from Linus. Making it such a great time to pay a visit and snap some holiday pictures, no?

THE CHILDREN’S GARDEN

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To me, the entire grounds of Huntsville Botanical Gardens is one big Children’s Garden! But, they’re pretty cool and have a designated garden for the young and young at heart. Remember when we started at The Hobbits House? In this garden, most decor is gigantic and you can even go down the yellow brick road……oh, yeah.

When you first arrive in the Children’s Garden (Which is actually more like EIGHT gardens in one), you can stand in an actual Space Station node….and play with Lego’s in there, too! Then, you can play in mazes and get your picture with an awesome wooden statue of Mr. Rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland).

THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE

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While The Butterfly House has now closed for the season (Until May), I was eager to see Huntsville’s exhibit after my amazing experience at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens butterflies in Claremont earlier this year.  Much like entering a greenhouse, this pavilion boasts a beautiful, intimate lake with exquisite flowers and orchids. All while the butterflies flutter around. While I appreciated its more ample size, I still appreciate that Claremont’s butterfly exhibit had an extremely knowledgeable staff inside with you to answer questions and teach you more about each of these stunning creatures.

GALAXY OF LIGHTS AND WEDDINGS, TOO…..

The gardens always have something great planned for each season. While there is bird watching and garden activities to explore, through December they will be hosting The Galaxy of Lights which brings to mind The LA Zoo Festival of Lights; a larger than life event, walk (or drive!) through the gardens to see animated, lit up displays as well as the popular icicle village!

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

This made me miss LA!

This made me miss LA!

The coolest thing? Select nights will be a walking tour, while others, driving AND, select nights will invite you to bring your dog along, as well! Get all the info HERE.

This was such a great visit, and I already look forward to returning again. If you’ll be in the Huntsville area, make sure to plan your visit HERE! xo

Weekend Getaway on a Budget to Chico, California! #TravelTuesday

At Chico State.

At Chico State.

While I am a City Girl, I could easily see myself retiring (or just moving if the chance came) to Chico, California. A college town loaded with laid back vibes, warm Summer nights and a strong community bond, Chico lays just under two hours out of Sacramento, and is your gateway to Mount Shasta and Redding (home of Turtle Bay and The Sundial Bridge).

Having visited a couple of times to see one of my best friends and her family, Chico is the kind of town with Farmer’s Markets throughout the week, live music in the park and locally grown fruits and vegetables. I love being surrounded by so much nature, and the opportunity to take a hike in Bidwell Park in the morning, then swim in one of the local lakes by the afternoon.

If you are in search of a fun and affordable California road trip, stopping in Chico just might be for you!

Dinner and drinks at Tres Hombres.

Dinner and drinks at Tres Hombres.

EAT

If you want the ultimate Mexican cocktail, head on over to Tres Hombres on Broadway Street. A secret menu item, their Avocado Margarita will have you drinking like a real 530 local. If just Mexican food is what’s more on your mind, Tres is a locals favorite. Just be warned: Their drinks sneak up on you!

For breakfast, the place to go is Morning Thunder Cafe. With massive, share-able portions, you can imagine my excitement that this Mom and Pop’s “greasy spoon” offers many gluten-free dishes, including gluten-free pancakes AND toast! I had their Vegetarian Omelette and, as usual….was a bit skeptical of cream cheese inside the entrée. This would be along with avocado atop, too (I know–I get excited to order avocado anything). I decided to not omit it and was happy I did not. Strange at first, but, went very well with the avocado and veggies.

While my meal was delicious, Eric, Ariel’s fiance, had a less than happy experience and was unsatisfied with his dish. The staff offered to change out his breakfast and while he declined, they did not charge us for his plate.

They also offer original and French Roast coffee. Mmmm…..

Morning Thunder is perfect for families and everyone in between!

Breakfast at Morning Thunder.

Breakfast at Morning Thunder.

And, we all know I can devour a pizza, and luckily Chico has one of my favorite pizza parlors. Woodstock Pizza always makes me think of “college life” as fellow student-ville San Luis Obispo has a location on their main drag, as well. Even Ariel did not think this pie “tasted” like it was gluten-free. Get there before you’re too hungry, though: As they get busy.

PLAY

If you’re wondering why I said Chico is ‘affordable’, their outdoor activities (especially in the Summer) are mostly free or affordable. Making it the perfect NorCal getaway for the camping loving family or the couple looking to bike around town and find some new hiking trails.

Bidwell Park

This 3,670-acre municipal park encompasses both sides of Big Chico Creek Canyon for a full five miles up into the foothills, making it a truly unique and spectacular retreat. There’s really no park like Bidwell anywhere else. The Lower Park gives you the option of swimming in ether the pool or one of the lakes, or head upward and hit their trails. I could spend every day of Summer here!

On their website, they list a total of 17 different trails from minor, easy trails to 10 mile and elaborate hikes. I like a challenge 😉

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Paradise Lake.

In nearby Paradise (which feels a bit like the real thing to me, but, Ariel says it’s a play on words. Paradise used to be known for its gambling and casino community….get it, “Pair of Dice”??) spend the day fishing or reading a book at Paradise Lake in Magalia. Perfect for dogs, too!

Back on Broadway Street in Chico, no stop is complete without a visit to The National Yo Yo Museum. Yes, there is a National Yo Yo Museum, and its in Chico! You will easily see the most yo yo’s in your life. Plenty to buy, play with and even the largest anywhere. It’s about 5 feet tall!

If you are a BEER lover, Chico truly is for you. Sierra Nevada Brewery calls Chico home. While I have not visited the brewery, they do offer daily tours! Get more info HERE.

STAY

After countless adventures of food, hikes, water, bikes, beers and yo yo’s (Oh my!), head back to relax and freshen up at nearby Motel 6. Motel 6 is an oldie but a goody. Less than 3 miles from Chico State University, Motel 6 completes keeping this NorCal trip on a budget. Most rooms are under $100 a night, and boasts all the amenities you have come to expect when traveling.

My 1st Dutch Brothers coffee!

My 1st Dutch Brothers coffee!

GET YOUR COFFEE FIX….

Something in Northern California that is much like SoCal’s In ‘n Out Burger is Dutch Brothers Coffee. Having heard of this widely popular drive thru only coffee-house, Dutch Brothers has really made their fan base with remembering the ol’ reliable: Great customer service. The barista’s are FUN and were just as excited as I was that it was my first visit!  They gave me a frequent stamper card that just needed 1 more for a free drink. When I returned to use my card at the Paradise location, Kyle could not have been more sweet and gave us both our drinks for free!

And, was my iced triple shot latte as awesome as the people? Absolutely!

I could go on all day about Chico and its surrounding areas. Let me know if you get the chance to visit! xo

 

 

Summer’s Final Hurrah at The LA Times TASTE LA!

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Summers in Los Angeles are definitely the best. Sunshine, music, events, beach time and FOOD are just a few of the things that come to mind as I think about my “Summers in the city”. While Labor Day is  the last hurrah of the light nights and fun, The LA Times has been ensuring that each year closes with a bang….and, maybe a food coma, with their annual The TASTE of LA.

I was thrilled to be covering The TASTE for my very first time, and, to be honest, did not really know what to expect. I knew there would be food, free-flowing wine and spirits, but I left also pleased to have been on the Paramount Pictures studio lot where some of my favorite films were created, and to have even connected with some of The Times’ royalty from the Food section.

Entering the studio lot for Saturday night’s “Dinner with a Twist”, brought to mind when Pee Wee Herman crashes the Hollywood sets in search of his lost bike in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (Yes, this is one of my favorite films). The array of countless LA restaurants representing the TASTE filled the streets and movie buildings taking me everywhere from New York to Paris.

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Citi Stage

Acura Stage

I began my night with a sake tasting courtesy of the Japan National Tourism Organization. It was a blind tasting, and, I learned I don’t know my sake as well as I thought! I got 1 out of 3 correct…but, enjoyed all 3 😉 Sake connoisseurs were even on hand from Japan to answer any questions about the libation.

With seafood dishes aplenty, I gravitated towards stepping out of my comfort zone with some of my usual faves. (Usually sushi, salmon) I found 2 vendors offering up octopus. Cafe Del Rey, a gorgeous eatery in Marina Del Rey, was sampling the often overlooked dish topped with scallops. I already cannot wait to pay a visit to Cafe Del Rey. I felt transported to the ocean, just by one delicious bite.

Somewhere I was anxious to check out was the “Coffee Talks” being held within a coffeehouse set on the lot. Dubbed Cafe LA Times, barista’s were on hand making artisan espresso drinks while you could hang out and meet LA Times Restaurant Critic, Jonathan Gold. Practically royalty to the newspaper,  Gold stopped in for photo op’s with attendee’s in the most creative, rather bizarre, setting. Bright lights and walls covered in paper scraps of the LA Times, and, before I even got in queue for my turn, I was somewhat in awe at the scenarios people were dreaming up to pose with Gold!

I was a bit dull myself….

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While all of my experiences with food and wine weekends, one thing is for sure: I end up over eating. It’s too irresistible. With The Taste,  they have taken a ‘food fair’ atmosphere a step further and along with the restaurants to sample, each event had several culinary experts and stars hosting demo’s and panels on food. In between your noshing, you could experience on stage Cooking and  Mixology Demonstrations with several of LA’s award-winning chefs, including Kris Morningstar and Ray Garcia

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Despite some frustration when I arrived from The Taste crew, I finally found my way thanks to the dedicated parking team and the guards from Paramount. The entrance line was intimidating, but, ended up being extremely fast and kept moving. All the restaurants and wineries I connected with were lovely and eager to share their stores with me!

While The Taste may be in the record books until 2017, you can keep a piece of it with you via their Spotify play list. These tracks are what the DJ was spinning throughout the weekend. Perfect for your next soiree! xo

 

The 6th Annual LA Food and Wine Festival Pulls Out All the Stops..

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While there are so many subjects that come to mind when you hear “Los Angeles”, I feel like “Food and Wine” may not be the first thing that you think of. LA became famous for its Hollywood glam, the rich and famous, beaches and its diversity. Yet, in the more recent years? Hands down some of the most beloved weekends are all about the food festivals. Not to mention popular attractions like Disneyland, Eat-See-Hear, The Dodgers and more are now offering an array of top notch wines, beers and dishes.

One of those anticipated weekends is The LA Food and Wine Festival. Having just wrapped its 6th year this past weekend, I was thrilled to once again cover this fabulous festival. With its Night Market at 1st and Grand Street in beautiful Downtown LA, this 3 night event is just whistling distance from The Music Center and makes for the ideal backdrop for a night of delicious foods (I was treated to everything from crab legs courtesy of Mr. Chow, to Earl Grey sorbet from Sweet Lucy’s), schmoozing and free flowing wines.

Don't forget, I Snap chat from events! Check me out at GreenEyedMary.

Don’t forget, I Snap chat from events! Check me out at GreenEyedMary.

Along with the Night Market, LA Food and Wine has expanded immensely over its years establishing itself as the hottest food and wine event to attend. Thursday night found the one and only Emeril Lagasse hosting their opening celebration of “Eat the World” while Saturday found foodies enjoying The Sunset Chill ‘n Grill event hosted by Rick Bayless at The Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica.

What makes The LA Food and Wine Festival’s Night Market so eclectic and fun is the variety of dishes and varietals you get to try while also getting the opportunity to chat with the wine makers and the famous chef’s behind your plate. The slew of world renowned Chef’s in attendance is something to marvel at, and, if you’re lucky, you may even get a photo op or autograph from them!

Tonet Tibay

Tonet Tibay

Favorite wines of mine including J. Lohr and Justin were there pouring some of their consumer’s faves, while I got to sip phenomenal Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir’s from new friends like Priest Ranch (Out of Yountville, CA) and Paso Robles’ Tablas Creek. I will be visiting the Paso wine region later this year, and love the fact that I have already connected with some great wineries to visit there.

Unlike last year, I was extremely pleased that at-least half of the cuisine offering were “Mary Friendly” (Gluten free and Vegetarian or seafood)! Aside from the decadent crab legs at Mr. Chow’s (Which were indeed battered, but in corn flour), I was treated to spicy salmon hand rolls from The Grove’s Blue Ribbon, Lavender truffles from Tonet Tibay (Chocolatier and Founder of Marti Chocolatt here in town), gluten free and vegetarian tostada chip appetizers from Chef Nicole Votano and more over the course of this three hour soiree.

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Something else to keep in mind when attending LAFW is that, all are welcome. Whether you are a wine connoisseur or just love a great slider, it doesn’t matter what your level of food and wine is. I love talking wine, yet, am in no way near being a Sommelier. I love to eat, but don’t often eat meat and am somewhat picky. I was surrounded by both like-minded attendees as well as very educated Chefs and wine makers. Everyone is family at LA Food and Wine Festival. It’s a great, eclectic mix all coming together.

While LAFW Festival may be in the books for 2016, I cannot wait to see what they unveil for us dedicated foodies and wino’s next year. See you there?! xo

Troop Beverly Hills Gets The Rockwell Treatment in Los Feliz!

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The 1980’s were filled with some of the best cult films conceived. From The Never Ending Story to The Goonies, and E.T. or Ferris Bueller, I think we all have our 80’s favorites. One for me has always been 1989’s Troop Beverly Hills.

Troop Beverly Hills wasn’t a huge success at the time, but, fast forward some years and there are now many fans like myself out there who first fell in-love with the movie on Los Angeles’ KTLA Channel 5, or rented it from The Warehouse (Be kind, rewind!).

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It is currently receiving the ultimate royal, cult status treatment as the un-authorized musical parody is being performed at Los Feliz’s Rockwell Table and Stage, through September 10th. I was so excited to see one of my favorite films done “Rockwell” style, along with my friend, Melanie. At Rockwell, you cannot get much more hipster meets flamboyant than their stage performances of some of our favorite films, told with countless tongue in cheek snarks and musical numbers that has the diners howling for more.

With the script nearly identical to the film, the talent team has managed to weave in several lines and remarks that we all know we are thinking as we watch Troop Beverly Hills. Right down to Hannah and Chica’s bi-curious feelings!

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One of the highlights to seeing a parody at Rockwell is the cross-dressing roles of beloved characters. We were in for a real treat seeing Christopher Youngsman as micro managing, power-hungry, Wilderness Girls leader, Velda (sharing the role with Rockwell favorite, Drew Droege, respectively). Youngsman had Betty Thomas’ Velda down pat, as did Kat Tokarz in the role of Annie, Velda’s reluctant side kick.

With an 80’s soundtrack of such faves like Material Girl and I Will Always Love You, Marla Mindelle as Phyllis (Shelley Long’s infamous role in the film), has the ideal powerhouse chops needed to sing such songs. She also has an un-canny resemblance to Long’s Phyllis, which made it even more fun to experience!

The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Troop Beverly Hills is currently playing in repertory at Rockwell Table and Stage. Reservations are recommended and do remember: This is an interactive show! 😉 Learn more here. xo

Saturday at LA Food Fest.

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

 

Last weekend marked one of the most anticipated weekends of the year if you are a hardcore foodie and Angelino: The LA Food Fest. Formerly known as The LA Street Food Fest, this food faire with the possibility of “all you can eat” was a favorite of Michael and me when we went a few years ago. Back then? One entry fee got you into The Rose Bowl and the ability to eat whatever you want, as much as you want, from the festival’s food vendors. There were massive lines for the Stella Rosa wine samples, Sushi Roku’s hand rolls, tequila tastings and all kinds of bar-b-q’ed meats.

Since then, The LA Food Fest has had changes in management, PR and location. Now taking over Exposition Park behind The Natural History Museum, they certainly have managed to transform a generous amount of space to their 100 vendors, entertainment and, now, food trucks, indy co-op shop stands and their “Rose Garden” al-fresco style dining experience.

Wine. I wasted no time. Photo: Michael Farah.

Wine. I wasted no time.
Photo: Michael Farah.

Like I quite often say with festivals involving help-yourself-food-samples and crowds, there are going to be some kinks. What I previously loved about the food fest was the one ticket price for all to enjoy. The only other ticket option was a VIP, which meant you got to come in earlier to start your noshing. VIP now indicates “The Golden Hour”: Giving those of us wanting to enjoy samples til our heart is content for 2 hours (from 12-2) to do so. Once the clock striked 2? The vendors stopped serving for an hour, to make way for the MRKT ticket holders.

MRKT passes got you into the fun for a small fee, and you then select from the vendors full portioned dish on ap for the day. From the signage, it appeared that the prices went from $5 and up. Not sure if the prices meant a different sized dish, too.

And, for the full treatment, their Rose Garden Pop Up Restaurant passes got you an intimate, Chef hosted, long table style dining experience, including a brunch, for $95 and access to MRKT.

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

And, there is also the elephant that’s always in the room with me: My diet. Many have asked me, Is this worth it if you’re gluten-free? Or, better yet, gluten-free AND Vegetarian/Pescatarian? While it was a fun afternoon at Exposition Park, and I got a great share of wine, ice cream and iced coffees, I would vote no, judging from 2016.

In 2014, I had a ball trying a great selection of “Mary Friendly” foods. While Michael enjoyed himself a plenty (BBQ, ice cream, meatballs….), he also felt that the variety was not as elaborate as 2 years ago.

Nevertheless, I will always have fun and enjoy LA Food Fest. Here is to 2017! xo

(*Disclosure: I received media credentials to cover LA Food Fest. All opinions are my own.)