Conferences

Five San Francisco Highlights

I figured the best way to recap my trip to San Francisco without going overboard was to share with you the best meals and fun things I did (outside of the Mariani Walnut Harvest Tour which was awesome) so here we go!

1. Dinner at Nopalito on Friday night.

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It included the best ceviche I’ve ever had in my life, hands down.

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Ceviche Verde de Pescado y Calamari aka marinated fish and calamari in lime, tomatillo, jalapeno, cilantro, and avocado with house made tortilla chips. Seriously, heaven on a plate. I’d never had tomatillo ceviche before and it added a tang that really just took it to a new level.

And then, the Quesadilla Roja con Chicharron

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Which was a mulato chile-corn tortilla with crispy pork belly, chile cascabel, jack cheese, queso fresco, onion, and cilantro. Unreal, I tell you. I mean I’m not sure how pork belly and cheese on a house made corn tortilla could be anything short of incredible, so I doubt it’ll take much convincing. And, healthy choice, I know.

Friday night’s dinner was actually sponsored by Foodbuzz. They gave all the attendees who checked in on Friday $50 cash for dinner anywhere in the city. Pretty awesome, huh?

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2.) Getting all dressed up for the Saturday Night Gala.

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The event was held at the California Academy of Sciences, and it was so awesome to have full access to the aquarium while sipping on prosecco and eating copious amounts of cheese.

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Though my date was excellent company, the food itself was nothing to write home about, which was surprising for a food blogger conference.

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They missed a lot of the little details, like having knives available to cut the food with, or you know, plates or utensils for the desserts. At least there was an open bar! Plus, getting dressed up was fun and the venue was awesome, so those count for something…

3.) Wine tasting in Napa Valley.

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Can you believe that I had never in my life been wine tasting before? I mean, I’ve tasted PLENTY of wine, but not at a vineyard even though there are plenty very close to DC. But I guess tasting wine in Napa for your first time is a great way to kick off the hobby.

The drive itself was GORGEOUS. I could not believe how pretty and surreal it was!

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It honestly would have been worth it just to drive through wine country without tasting any wine – but that wasn’t really even a slight possibility with this pair.

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We stopped at two different vineyards and tried 10 different wines each!

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The first place – The Hess Collection – had 4 wines for $10. I had a Verdelho, then 3 reds – Charbono, Petite Sirah, and a big Cavernet Sauvignon. I don’t know much about wine (besides the basics), but they were all delicious. I almost got a bottle of the Charbono and the Petite Sirah, but shipping was $19 for the first bottle – yikes!

At the second place, the guy who poured our wine is actually from a town right next to where I grew up in Connecticut. It was funny to talk about our tiny towns and nice when he gave us 2 extra wines because of the CT connection.

So fun.

4.) Dinner at Nojo on Sunday night.

This was my last dinner in San Francisco so it was best to go out with a bang! This place divides there menu into “On a Stick” and “Not on a Stick” and are known for their various meats… on a stick. They had all sorts of different parts of animals, like chicken skin, liver, heart, etc., and literally every small plate we ordered was delicious.

The highlights for me were the Albacore Tuna Tartare.

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Which was flavored with chives and pink peppercorns, and then served with lightly fried nori chips for scooping and was seriously of this world. The tuna was so fresh it melted in our mouths and was so nice against the crunchy nori. I’d never seen or heard of nori in chip form, and they were incredible.

Also, the Tsukune, which is Japanese chicken meatball in sausage form, with egg yolk sauce for dipping.

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Our waiter instructed us to break the yolk and stir it into the soy glaze sauce below it, and then dip the cut up chicken sausage in there. The sauce underneath was slightly warm and the yolk stirred and dissolved it into a creamy, delicious sauce that perfectly complimented the chicken. I thought the presentation was SO COOL and loved being able to do the honors of breaking and stirring the yolk.

And last, and also probably my single favorite of the night, was the pork and wheatberry rice ball.

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It was crunchy on the outside and filled with a small amount of pork and wheatberries, with a mustard miso sauce on the plate. I loved how the crust on the outside of the rice ball contrasted with the warm, sticky rice and the slightly sweet pork inside. It was so amazing, even if I did feel like a rice ball myself at the end of that meal, and the end of the 5 day eating frenzy that was my trip to San Francisco.

5.) Ending my last morning in San Francisco with a skim latte from Blue Bottle Coffee.

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I looooove coffee, and it wasn’t until my first trip to San Francisco this time last year that I realized what I’d been missing out on. Blue Bottle Coffee is seriously the best I’ve ever tasted, and they make each cup so artfully. When you get drip coffee there, they even brew each cup to order. Last time I was there, I had the steel cut oatmeal that had whipped BUTTER and brown sugar and it was out of this world. This time though, I woke up feeling like I needed to get it together and had Greek yogurt for breakfast instead, and then treated myself to this latte as a last taste of San Francisco!

Mariani Walnut Harvest Tour

Hello! I am back from San Francisco (and super glad I’m NOT weighing in this morning…) and wanted to share a really cool experience with you guys. I booked my ticket back in July because I had been talking with my friend Robyn about coming to visit, and then when they announced that the FoodBuzz festival would be this past weekend, I figured why not see what plane tickets were looking like and hit two birds with one stone. That day, I checked out tickets and found a round trip fare from DCA to SFO for $313, with taxes!! I bought it right then and there.

When I got an email a couple weeks ago from the people over at the Mariani Nut Company asking if I’d be interested in a trip to visit the walnut orchard, have lunch, and see the harvest process on Thursday, the one day I had zero plans, it seemed like it was meant to be.

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A group of about 10 bloggers gathered at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel (sorry for being the last one there guys… whoops!) and we took the 1.5 hour trip on a cute little private bus to Winters, CA, where the orchards were.

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On the bus ride there, we got to hear from an RD who works with the nut company, and I found out a few interesting things.

    1. Walnuts are really good for you. They’re loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. OK, I guess that wasn’t that interesting.
    2. Walnuts can actually help you LOSE weight. What? Apparently, a diet that includes healthy fats such as walnuts can help you feel more satiated, and there have even been studies done where people ate walnuts on top of the calories they were already consuming and still managed to lose weight. Good to know!
    3. I asked the RD how she recommends people who have a tendency to overdo it (HELLO WORLD) can manage to have walnuts in their diet, and she said portion control is key, obviously. She said that at some health expos they hand out little boxes that hold exactly 1 oz. of nuts (5 Pts+ on Weight Watchers) that help with portion control and are completely portable. I’m going to look into getting one of those.

And then, before I knew it, we had arrived at the orchards!

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We honestly could not have asked for a more gorgeous day. The weather was in the high 70’s, sunny, clear, and perfect the entire time we were there.

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There were rows and rows and rows of walnut trees.

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Before this tour, I barely knew that walnuts grew on trees, much less that they had a soft skin around them that begins to brown and break open as the walnuts ripen.

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I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many walnuts in one sitting (guess I really do need one of those boxes!) but man does it get any fresher than this!?

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They don’t call them the ultimate brain food for nothin’!

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The COOLEST part was that there is this little machine that comes down the rows of walnut trees and tree by tree, shakes the nuts off.

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I even made a little video which I posted on my Facebook page where you can see that machine shaking the trees.

After the machine was done, the ground was covered with fresh walnuts.

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And then another machine came down and sucked all the walnuts up and transported them back to the plant for processing. We got to see that whole thing too, but first – lunch!

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Literally right in the middle of a walnut orchard. Gorgeous.

We started off with a delicious butternut squash soup, garnished with crème fraiche and toasted walnuts.

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It was so creamy and delicious, and the walnut provided a nice crunch against the smooth texture of the soup. Yum.

For the main course, we had a spice rubbed salmon along with a penne pasta and veggie dish. The pasta was out of this world and had brussels sprouts, rutabaga, red peppers, green beans, and toasted walnuts. It was in an olive oil based sauce and was something I’d never think to throw walnuts into, but it totally made the dish. The salmon was perfect too, and a great contrast to the pasta.

For dessert, we had a persimmon tart with toasted walnuts and fresh whipped cream.

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It was SO GOOD. The crust was so light and flaky and the persimmon were perfectly ripe and juicy with a lightly sweet glaze. My plan was to just eat the fruit off the tart and leave the crust, but I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that I actually all but licked the clean plate. Oh well, it was the theme of the trip.

After that incredible lunch, we were brought back to the processing plant to see what happens with the nuts after they are collected from the trees.

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We got to (had to) wear really fashion-forward hairnets before heading into the processing facility to see how it all goes down.

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Basically, they have these incredible high tech machines that sort the walnuts out from the shells (and any other dirt that is picked up) and they go through this sorting process many times, so by the end there is nothing but fresh nuts. They use the shells for fuel and other industries, so nothing goes to waste!

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They are broken down from half nuts all the way to walnut meal (very fine powder) and everything in between. The final step of the process includes two sets of human eyes and hands checking them before they go to packaging.

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How cool is that!?

Seeing the entire process from tree to package was a really cool and eye opening experience. I hope you enjoyed hearing about it (almost) as much as I enjoyed being there. Thanks Mariani!

What’s your favorite kind of nut? How often do you eat ‘em?

Mine’s a tie between pistachios and almonds. I think the reason for that honestly is that they are the easiest one for me to control my portions with (10 pistachios = 1 pt+, 7 almonds = 1pt+) but the walnuts were REALLY good and worked so seamlessly in the dishes we ate, both sweet and savory, so I think I’m going to give them more of a chance!

The End of an Era

For my current job, I travel about 4-5 times a year for conferences and courses, so I have been to a lot of places I might not have gotten to see otherwise! Just to recap, here’s a list of all the cities I’ve visited because of my job over the last three years:

    • Reno – September 2009
    • Houston – January 2010
    • Oklahoma City – June 2010
    • Minneapolis – July 2011
    • Columbus – September 2010
    • San Diego – January 2011
    • Indianapolis – June 2011
    • Kansas City – July 2011
    • Charlotte – September 2011
    • New Orleans – September 2011
    • Sacramento – November 2011
    • San Antonio – January 2012
    • St. Louis – June 2012

That’s a pretty long list of cities! The only ones I would probably have gone to visit independent of my job are San Diego, New Orleans, and San Antonio, but I’m so glad I got to see them all! I can honestly say that pretty much every city on that list exceeded my expectations, regardless of how low they may have been going in. Winking smile

Tomorrow, I am leave for a conference in St. Louis for five nights for work, and it is going to be my very LAST trip with my current job.

After 3 years and 2 months, I am leaving my current position for a new opportunity at a different association in DC. The move is extremely bittersweet because I actually really love my current job (most of the time) and have grown very close with my coworkers, so I am really sad to be leaving. When I was interviewing, I didn’t really take much time to think about leaving the current place and was more looking forward to the next stage in my career, but when I put my notice in the week before last, it hit me.

I won’t be seeing these same faces of my coworkers five days of the week.

I won’t be seeing the members of the organization who I’ve seen several times a year for the last three years.

I won’t be at a place that I know inside and out and have been at more than any other place for the last three years.

I won’t have already proven myself.

With that said, this new opportunity was one I couldn’t walk away from. It’s a huge step up professionally and is making me feel like a real grown up, even if I have technically been one for some time. I don’t want to go into too many details on here, but my new title is Director of Corporate Relations, and I’ll have an opportunity to rework the entire corporate relations program at the new association and build a team under me over time.

Part of the reason that things have been so insane for me lately is because I’ve been interviewing a lot, and then super busy at my current job as I try to wrap things up before heading out the door! I will be back to DC next Monday night, then back in my office Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and then I am done! It’s so crazy to think about the change after you’ve headed to the same place every weekday morning for years, but even though I am nervous about it, I truly am more excited than anything.

10 Foodbuzz and San Fran Surprises

I’m sure by now most people who are less lazy than I am have posted full reviews of the Foodbuzz Festival and you’ve probably heard lots of great things about the conference. And I completely agree – the festival was awesome! It was much more food-focused (as the name implies) than the other blogging conferences I’ve been to, and there was only 3 panel sessions during the whole event. Most conferences are largely made up of the sessions, and this one was largely made up of eating all over San Fran. I didn’t mind, though. Winking smile

Rather than do a play-by-play of the entire conference, I’ll just share some things that surprised me about the conference and San Francisco in general.

1.) The events of the conference were spread throughout the city.

Every conference I’ve ever attended (or worked on, since that’s what I do for a living!), has been in one building from start to finish, with maybe an event or two offsite. The Foodbuzz Festival had every event at a completely different location spread throughout the city, and I absolutely LOVED that. It was so great to actually get to see San Francisco, rather than be inside a hotel all day which could have been anywhere.

2.) San Francisco has an underground train like DC and NY.

Even if the trains were only 2 cars long, I didn’t even know the Muni existed! And it’s a good thing, too, because we used it to get to the Saturday morning sessions!

3.) I knew no one.

I feel like most of the time when I go to these conferences, there are plenty of familiar faces and of course new people to meet, but I barely knew or recognized anyone at Foodbuzz! I actually kind of loved that because I felt like I got to meet so many new people and it felt great to be completely anonymous. I didn’t meet even one person there who said they read my blog!

4.) San Francisco is really as hilly as they say it is.

I’m not sure why this surprised me, but the entire city was SO hilly. I’d heard it many times, but didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.

5.) Some big bloggers use iphone pics almost exclusively on their blogs.

One of the seminars I went to was called “Beyond the DSLR” and talked about using cameras OTHER than those big fancy (expensive) DSLRs that so many big bloggers use. One of the presenters used his iphone almost exclusively for his blog, and another presenter, who was actually a professional photographer by day, used his point-and-shoot exclusively for his blog. It made me realize I need to invest more time and energy into my photos even though I don’t have a fancy camera.

6.) San Francisco has the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, hands down.

Blue Bottle Coffee. Go there.

7.) Male food bloggers are plentiful.

Relatively speaking, that is. I’d say about 30% of the attendees were male, whereas about 2% are male at the normal healthy living blog events I attend (hey Evan!).

8.) My friend Robyn is the best hostess ever.

Really, you should be friends with her if you ever want to go to SF. After the conference was over, she came and scooped me at my hotel and gave me a tour of the entire city! We saw the golden gate bridge from every angle, walked along the beach, got some incredible coffee, and also had some amazing meals at Foreign Cinema on Monday night, Beretta on Sunday night, and Tadich Grill on Friday night. And man, looking up the URLs for those restaurants just made me mildly depressed that I’m not in San Fran anymore.

8.) Tyler Florence is the nicest guy ever.

I know, but I can’t stop. Love him.

10.) Butter really does make everything better, even oatmeal.

I got this amazing bowl of fluffy steel cut oats from the same place I got the skim cappuccino pictured above, and they serve it with whipped butter and brown sugar. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to love it or not, so I just put the smallest amount of butter in the oats and it melted and slid down the heap of oatmeal and I could.not.get.over. how amazing it was. I immediately put the rest of the butter in the oats and devoured the entire bowl. You only live once.