I visited San Francisco for the first time last month and left my heart as they say.  I knew that it would be a fabulous place to visit, but between the perfect weather with only sunshine days, incredible food and ease of getting around, I cannot wait to return in June.

Here are some food highlights from the city:

Gnochetti at SPQR in Pacific Heights, because baby-sized food is always better

SPQR

I always say that it is my due diligence to do a bakery tour in any city that I visit and San Francisco did not disappoint.  Sift Dessert Bar offered up the classics like cookies, macarons and cupcakes and one unique offering, the Cruffle.  The Cruffle  was not totally unlike a cake pop, I was told it was crushed up cupcake mixed with frosting and coated in chocolate, but even for this sweet tooth, one bite was more than I ever need of that sugar bomb.  My Samoa cupcake was perfection though and their glittery cakes made me want to have a party immediately.

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Once my husband joined me in San Francisco, we were on a coffee mission.  He is a huge fan of Blue Bottle Coffee and he had to sample their siphon-brewed coffee.  It was quite a process and fun to watch, but I am not a coffee connoisseur enough to know if the taste is truly superior.

We enjoyed a fantastic lunch at Kuleto’s which has been in Union Square for many years and offers lovely Northern Italian cuisine including this fig, burrata, balsamic onion and prosciutto bruschetta, roasted beet and arugula salad and rosemary flatbread with roasted garlic and triple cream blue brie.  Our entire lunch was delicious and our cheese cravings were surely satisfied.

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The highlight of our trip was the time we spent in Yountville in Napa Valley.  I am in love.  I was unaware that there were places so quaint, relaxing and beautiful so relatively close to home.  The trip was so lovely that I couldn’t wait to get back and share where and what we ate and the vineyards that we visited.

Our drive to Napa Valley began with a stop by the Golden Gate Bridge because after all, we were tourists.

We then stopped at the San Rafael Farmers’ Market for lunch and I was loving all of the fresh produce that is months ahead of our local farmers’ markets.

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We stayed in Yountville and I loved how many restaurants were within walking distance since Yountville is quite small and all of the shops and eateries on within a few blocks of each other.  I am not a person who likes to stay in hotels, but I guess I can’t claim that anymore because I never wanted to leave the Hotel Yountville where we stayed.   IMG_0060 IMG_0063 IMG_0065 IMG_0104

I especially loved being within walking distance of Bouchon Bakery.  I did a review of the insanely gorgeous Bouchon Bakery Cookbook awhile ago and visiting the bakery each morning we were there was definitely worth each ounce of butter that I consumed.  In fact, the visit made me love my favorite cookbook and Thomas Keller even more.  My favorite bakery splurge is an almond croissant and Bouchon Bakery’s almond croissant is the best croissant I have ever had.  Big surprise, Thomas Keller knows what’s up.

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Speaking of Thomas Keller, the most exciting surprise place that we had the pleasure of dining at was his pop-up restaurant Ad Lib.  I’m sure you know about Thomas Keller’s famous, fancy restaurant The French Laundry which basically gave such prestige to “the tasting menu” as we know it.  We would have loved to have eaten there during our trip, but the restaurant had been closed for renovation since January.  While the restaurant was closed for renovation, Chef Keller was looking out for his staff and elected to open Ad Lib in the Royal Oak at the Silverado Country Club so that they would have a place to work while the Laundry was closed.  So all of the chefs and servers migrated down the road for the brief 10 month lifespan of the restaurant (it will close in October).  It was such a treat to get to experience Chef Keller’s magic in such an intimate setting and everything they put before us was incredibly beautiful and undoubtedly delicious.  We started with the table side Caesar salad, I had the Salmon with dill beurre blanc and my husband had the Chicken Schnitzel (imagine the best chicken piccata you’ve ever tasted and yes that is a normally-sized dinner plate that it is on) and we shared the spring pea and mushroom gnocchi.

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Oh yeah, how could I forget the vineyards, aka the reason people visit wine country!   Enough about food for now.  We visited several vineyards including Domain Chandon, Hess (they have the most incredible art collection that is worth the trip alone not to mention how many wines I loved there), Pine Ridge (I already loved their Chenin Blanc Viognier blend that you can get anywhere) where we did a unique tasting in their wine cave,

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Rombauer (one of my family’s favorite winemakers:  we LOVE their zinfandel and chardonnay and they just came out with their first sauvignon blanc which was nice),

Duckhorn (my new absolute favorite white is their sauvignon blanc) wine labels are the wines that have been served more at White House events than any other American label.  They had menus hanging on the wall from various presidential events that the wines have been served at which I totally ate up.

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A couple of our other favorite stops were Frank Family vineyard

 And Mumm Napa, which is now one of my favorite bubbles to drink.

We fueled up during our big day of tasting at a place called Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena and I wish I would have known in advance about the experience that they offer that includes a walking tour of their garden with their chef followed by a tasting menu lunch at the chef’s table.  Next time.  I got their homemade cookies to go for dessert, I’m sure you’re shocked about that one.

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Last stop was a visit to The French Laundry gardens which were so perfect and lovely to walk through.  The chickens were plenty friendly too.  It was so amazing to see the actual garden right across the street from the restaurant.  It doesn’t get any more “farm to table” than that.

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I can hardly wait to return to Napa Valley someday and I would love to hear about any of your favorite places to visit when you’ve travelled to wine country.

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My husband and I travelled to Washington D.C. last weekend for the first time.  I have always known about how much there is to do in D.C. and heard that it is one of the top restaurant cities in the country, and the city did not disappoint me on those fronts.  While I did not spot Olivia Pope (boo), I thoroughly enjoyed our visit.  We went to multiple museums (I still can’t believe the they are free!), walked and biked around the mall to see each of the monuments, and dined at incredibly delicious restaurants and bakeries.

DC

Neither my husband nor I could believe how CLEAN Washington D.C. is!  Even their metro was pretty spotless, and for such a bustling city, we were impressed!

One of my favorite restaurants we ate at was Graffiato by Mike Isabella. The restaurant served small Italian plates and each dish was more surprisingly delicious than the last.  One of my favorite dishes we had there that I must try to recreate at home is the broccolini with red pepper relish, walnut and feta.  Words cannot describe how perfect the combination of flavors in this dish were.

I also found a cocktail that I will be pining for all summer.  The Mexican Mule at MXDC Cocina Mexicana by Todd English was dangerously refreshing.  Something tells me my sister and I will spend many summer nights trying to recreate this little devil.

Mule

I had to visit my absolute favorite cupcake shop, Crumbs Bakeshop while I was in the big city.  The Samoas Girl Scout Cookie Cupcake was literally the lightest cupcake I have ever tasted.  The cake seemed to just dissolve in my mouth.  The caramel filling, chocolate cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut didn’t hurt either.

Crumbs Bakeshop

Finally, we stayed at the Hotel George, a Kimpton Hotel located just a few short blocks from the capitol building and it was such a nice stay.  The front desk staff were endlessly helpful and accommodating.  I love when front desk staff seem to really understand what you’re looking for and give you great personalized recommendations which was exactly what I got when I was looking for a good lunch/shopping area.

Hotel George

I love to stay at Kimpton Hotels when I can because they have so many nice features.  Not only are the hotels usually quaint boutique hotels, but they have a complimentarily nightly happy for guests every night.  Who wouldn’t love a glass of wine on the house while you get ready for your evening?  The Hotel George also had complimentary bike rentals so on our last day, my husband and I were able to cruise around D.C. and see the final sights that were on our list.

As cheesy as it sounds, my visit to our great nations capital, made me truly proud to be an American.  It was so humbling to see and learn more about how much has been sacrificed by others so that we can know freedom.  I can’t wait to return someday.

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When I shared these quintessential New York Black and White Cookies

Black and White Cookies {Satisfy My Sweet Tooth}

with you a couple of weeks ago, it made me so excited to share this unique cookbook with you.  New York Sweets:  A Sugarhound’s Guide to the Best Bakeries, Ice Cream Parlors, Candy Shops and Other Emporia of Delicious Delights by Susan Pear Meisel is literally my dream book.  It divides New York City into neighborhoods and highlights many of the best and most famous bakeries and sweet shops in each area.  As if that guide book wasn’t enough, New York Sweets also shares recipes for some of the best-loved treats from these landmarks!

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The book is divided into neighborhoods:  Greenwich Village & Soho, East Village & Lower East Side, Midtown & Uptown and Brooklyn & Queens.  It highlights some of my favorite places such as Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village and Ferrara Bakery in Little Italy.

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And there are so many other bakeries and confectioneries that I am dying to visit that it makes me want to hop on a plane to the Big Apple immediately and take my own personal food tour with this book as my guide!

If you love to read about the history of bakeries or you find yourself visiting New York City anytime soon, pick up a copy of this book and pick at least one bakery from each neighborhood to sample treats from!  What a fun culinary adventure!

*Rizzoli Publishing provided me with a review copy of New York Sweets by Susan Pear Meisel, but all opinions are, as always, my own.

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Do the effects of jet lag intensify as you get older?  I returned from Europe on Tuesday and I have been rising before the sun (like 4:00am before the sun) and falling asleep at 8:00 like a baby.  I am really not complaining because morning hours are arguably some of the most delightful hours of the day and I know I will get back on a normal schedule eventually.

My trip to Europe was a celebration of my brothers graduating from high school,

a last hurrah before my husband begins another educational endeavor next week (yikes!)

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and we also treated it as a celebration of our 3rd wedding anniversary.

This was the first cruise I had been on and I loved that this particular mode of transportation allowed you to see so many countries in a relatively short amount of time.  The trip was filled great food, lots of giggling and sights seen that we will never forget.  Here are some photos from my Baltic Adventures that I want to share with you.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Berlin, Germany

Ronne, Denmark

Gdansk, Poland

Visby, Sweden

Riga, Latvia

Tallinn, Estonia

St. Petersburg, Russia

Helsinki, Finland

If you have made it this far, you deserve to see a few funny photos!

It was an amazing trip, but I am always happy to be home!

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It seems like every city, no matter how big or small, has a cupcake shop.  It amazes me that a bakery can make it only selling one item and it also makes me very curious to sample these items to see what all of the rage is about.

I have told you before about my love for Magnolia Bakery and when I was in Chicago this past week, I naturally had to wander in to the Magnolia there to see if the standards that NYC set were held up.  Everything that I have come to expect from Magnolia was just as it should be.  In addition to their cupcakes, Magnolia offers other confections that people rave about such as pies, icebox desserts, cookies and bars.  I have only sampled the cupcakes, but the other desserts look just as drool-worthy.

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I have never tried Sprinkles Cupcakes and felt that it was my sweet tooth duty to compare the other popular cupcakery to my already beloved Magnolia.  Sprinkles prides themselves on having celebrity fans and using high quality ingredients for their cupcakes which are topped with their signature “modern dots”.

While the cake was incredibly moist, and the frosting was just fine, I just felt that the cupcakes were nothing to write home about.  I detected no overwhelming flavor sensations and the vanilla and chocolate cake may as well have been from a box mix.  Please don’t stone me to death devoted Sprinkles fans, I’m just telling it how I experienced it!

There was an unexpected contender in this battle for the country’s best cupcake.  This quaint little place literally just snuck up on me.

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Even though this place was a sleeper to me and I had never even heard of it, I made two trips in the 4 days I was in Chicago just so that I could be sure of what I am about to proclaim:  Crumbs Bake Shop officially makes the best cupcake I have ever tasted!

What makes these little babies earn the top spot on my list?  Well these aren’t just any old cupcake.  Almost every cupcake is not only frosted and topped with wonderful things like candies, cookies or nuts but also filled with fruit preserves, buttercream, fudge and many more tempting fillings.  I also love the Crumbs philosophy of celebrating the simple things in life, like the best cupcakes on earth, for example!

This cupcake was my love at first bite.  It is called the Baba Booey and is a peanut butter lover’s dream come true:  chocolate cake filled with peanut butter frosting and topped with peanut butter and chocolate cream cheese frosting and miniature peanut butter chips.  Are you booking your trip to Chicago yet?

The bakery also offers inciting breakfast options such as scones and ginormous muffins that looked splendid, but even I only have so much room in my tummy for treats, so those will have to be a reason for me to revisit Crumbs (like I needed another reason :))!

The day we left Chicago, we made one final stop and my husband and I each chose a cupcake for the road.  Before I forget to mention, Crumbs cupcakes come in 4 different sizes:  Taste (a mini cupcake to tease you a bit), Classic (your traditional-sized cupcake), Signature (Crumb’s most popular size and the size that you want if you are a serious sweet tooth like me) and Colossal cupcakes (perfect for a party:  serves 6-8).  My husband chose the Salted Caramel Cupcake which was a deep chocolate cake filled with melty salted caramel and topped with fudge sauce and I chose the Cookie Dough which was vanilla cake with chocolate fudge filling and topped with cream cheese frosting studded with cookie pieces.  I regret to inform you that possibly our favorite cupcake, the Salted Caramel variety never made it to it’s photo debut.  You can use imagination as to why that tragedy may have happened……

But it’s Cookie Dough friend made it far enough to introduce himself:

The cake is so moist and flavorful and that fudge filling and perfect frosting just puts these cupcake over the top into my new favorite bake shop dessert.

Don’t worry, Chicago is not the only place you can find a Crumbs cupcake of your own.  There are bakeries on both coasts and you can also order your very own assortment of cupcakes and have them delivered to your door.

I hope you enjoyed my cupcake tour of Chicago (FYI: they actually have formal cupcake tours of the city that you can go on!).  I always love to get new inspiration on my travels and you can bet I will be trying to replicate some of these incredibly scrumptious creations!

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