Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chinese New Year (Belated)

My parents were hosting a big Chinese New Year party on Saturday afternoon (which was why our trip to SLO was so short). It is the biggest holiday of the year in the Cheung household, and another occasion to have a bunch of people over and eat waaaaay too much food...
and an opportunity to display giant flower blossoms, firecrackers (fake), and clementines all around the house...
My sister and her boyfriend Craig also flew back to CA to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family so it was a big happy reunion.
Three generations of Cheungs... our adorable little niece is dressed up in a traditional Chinese New Year costume!
I mean, seriously... which one is really the present?
Saturday morning, my dad starting preparing his infamous fried sesame balls ("jin deui")- a Chinese New Year tradition in our family.
The filling is not the typical red bean paste, but his secret mish-mash of chopped up peanuts, coconut, and Chinese "herbs" that my dad kept saying were "ivy"?!)
Paul helped Dad mix and knead the dough... Note the bottle of gin in the background, another "secret" ingredient. Paul made his first Chinese pun and renamed these "gin deui"!
Craig rolled the dough into balls and made the indentations for the filling. Then they carefully closed up the ball and rolled them around in sesame seeds before frying.
My dad started off the deep frying process, but in the end, it was Paul and Craig who finished making them. Delicious!
Gung hay fat choy, welcome the Year of the Metal Tiger!

Friday, February 19, 2010


Our rest at the Sanitarium was awesome, and waaaay too short... We had a big day ahead of us- meeting up with Tom, lunching with Grandma Owen, and driving up the coast on Highway 1 to my parents' place.

It was overcast and a bit chillier than we would have liked, but the Sanitarium was bathed in the even bright light. And we were just so envious of the mid-winter greenery!
We walked downstairs and sat ourselves at the enormous farmhouse table- and had an amazing breakfast- French pressed coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice in chilled glasses, eggs with chicken sausage, broccoli rabe over sourdough, and fruit- served on turquoise dishes! We were inspired, and made mental notes on what we would serve our next brunch guests...

After we packed our things and checked out, we had a little time to stroll back down to downtown SLO before we were to meet up with Tom. It was pretty mellow compared to the crowds from the Farmer's Market the night before. I didn't take that many photos, so many of these pictures are pilfered from the web.

First stop- architecture drooling at the Jennifer Street pedestrian bridge and Railroad Square Building/Lofts...
then to the old Mission...
the Creek...
shops on Higuera Street...
picked up more cookies at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory...
and another stop at Linnaea's Cafe...
We were still stuffed from the big breakfast, so we got some coffee and relaxed in the secret garden in back...

Back at the Sanitarium, we sat on the oh-so-charming porch swing out front and waited for Tom to zip by on his cool orange Vespa.
After a SLO-style goodbye (it took a good half hour), he presented us with a belated wedding present from him, Ava, and Whitney- it was a gorgeous set of pottery hand-thrown/made by Ava herself! It was amazing- platters, plates, cups, bowls made from this super dark matte clay with a metallic glaze- we are soooo privileged to have such wonderful, generous, and creative friends!!

Then we jumped in the car and sped down to Pismo Beach to see Grandma Owen... If we weren't so stuffed from breakfast, I would have loved to meet her at one of my other favorite places- Big Sky Cafe (SLO) or have a big creamy bowl of clam chowder at the infamous Splash Cafe (Pismo Beach)... Instead, we met at Huckleberry's, a local place with a wide array of soups, salads, and sandwiches. The "huckleberry lemonade" was quite a drink though!

It was fantastic to catch up with Grandma and for P to finally meet her. Unfortunately she couldn't come to our wedding due to a family emergency, so I promised her that I would make a special trip for her to get to know Paul. She's not my real grandma though- I met her and "Grandpa" when I was about 5 years old (through my mom's best friend in Visalia, CA) and we just all ended up calling them "Grandma" and "Grandpa", to this day. They moved to Pismo Beach right before I started Cal Poly, so I ended up spending many weekends and holidays with them instead of driving the 3 1/2 hours up to the Bay Area. They were soooooo sweet, and truly adopted me as one of their many grandchildren. Grandma and Grandpa used to write me separate letters when I lived in Italy (so that I would get more mail) and he dutifully tracked my travels on his world map. Grandpa passed away right after I returned from Italy ('97), and Grandma and I got even closer- commiserating on our singledom... They had the most sincere, genuine true love that I knew of any couple, and I yearned to have what they did. They assured me that I would eventually find "The One"- and despite my doubts, I finally did! And boy was she excited to meet Paul!

After lunch, we finally get on the road. We drove back through San Luis Obispo, took a quick loop around the Cal Poly campus, and then started zooming up Highway 1. We were completely surrounded by lush, green mountains- which we absolutely cherished. The skies were a bit gloomy all day, but fortunately the rain held off.We smelled the roaring surf of the Pacific Ocean before we saw it coming up on our left...
We HAD to make a pitstop right around San Simeon to see the elephant seals though! Those brown lumps on the sand are the seals (adults are between 900 pounds to 5000 pounds!) It was mating season so there was a lot of screeching and, um, vigorous activity going on!
The baby seal pups were all snuggled up against eachother!
The rest of the drive was pretty but uneventful. Around each bend of the windy road was another perfect car commercial view!
Paul was blown away by the vistas, but having done this drive before, I was disappointed that the weather wasn't nicer!

The Sanitarium

I first heard about The Sanitarium from Raylene a few years ago, and was reminded of it again recently by hip cats Tom and Whitney. It has been extensively and lovingly restored to a bed and breakfast, but its colorful history began in the 1880s (as a boarding house, sanitarium, fraternity and sorority house, and private residence). Some of these photos are taken from their website but seriously, the pictures do not do this place justice! Come and stay here!

It was insanely (yes, pun intended) relaxing... the fresh, airy palette was at once cool and calming, while the antique furnishings and (original) colorful artwork, stained glass, crockery, and effects were warm and inviting- it was pretty much like being in a giant Anthropologie store without all the clothing. Call me crazy, but I could most definitely live there!

Most rooms are furnished with large metal Moroccan soaking tubs, wood burning fireplaces, and private balconies. Unfortunately it was too chilly to take a nap on the hammock or sit outside for too long! But I did get to enjoy a hot soak in the giant tub!

The rooms are aptly named to induce a state of Euphoriasm or Tranquilibrium or Epiphenization... we were in the Epiphinezation(?) Room. Our mental state may have been altered from our lack of sleep in the last 24 hours or perhaps the overstimulation of being at the Sanitarium!

The Euphoriasm Room had an exotic, romantic Moroccan sleigh bed with colorful quilts, pillows, and poufs!

Our generous bathroom had vintage fixtures, antique mirrors, handcut marble tile floors and walls, and was complete with an old enamel trashcan and little cups of shampoo and shower gel in the spacious shower. Unfortunately I don't have pics of our bathroom, but here are some equally inspiring bathrooms in the other rooms:

P and I were so inspired by the gorgeous mixture of colors, styles, textures, and carefully thought out details (tasseled keys! little tray of Epsom bath salts! salt and pepper shakers!) and especially loved the friendly, easygoing California vibe.

In the open communal lounge/kitchen downstairs, guests are welcome to read, paint in the studio, play music, grab a glass or mug from the open shelves for some wine or tea, or chat with the laid-back staff or other guests.Tall glass French doors beside the massive farmhouse table framed a thriving garden with a trickling fountain and koi pond while enormous antique tin framed mirrors reflected the beautifully decorated house. We recognized the little touches here and there of the "medical" influences, but appreciated that they were not too over the top.
This was my first stay at a B&B, but I have a feeling that this is unlike what I imagine as a typical B&B experience- dark, conservative, Victorian, and stuffy.

I'd love to come back again, or imagine that someday I'll have a place just like this!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Oh.... the SLO life

As soon as we crested Cuesta Grade and started our downhill descent into San Luis Obispo, the familiar memories came flooding back to me.

I had lived on the Central Coast for 5 years (well, one of those years I spent in Italy) while getting my architecture degree at Cal Poly and loved its beautiful coastal location halfway between SF and LA. As a student, I loved the mellow, small-time vibe and lack of distractions, but I often missed the diversity and excitement of an urban city. Seeing those puffy clouds and green mountains reminded us that getting out of freezing cold New York for a weekend was exactly what we needed.
We rolled into town and checked into the awesomely beautiful Sanitarium Spa/Guest House (more on this wonderful retreat later) around 6pm on Thursday evening, just in time for the infamous Farmer's Market. It is held every Thursday night throughout the year in downtown San Luis Obispo. Tree-lined Higuera Street is closed to traffic for 3 hours and the entire town (families, college students, professors, locals, ranchhands, farmhands) comes out for the lively street fair atmosphere- freshly picked fruits and vegetables are sold along with local flowers, eggs, desserts, honey, preserves, artwork, homemade crafts, etc., the stores are all open late, and everyone comes for the food...
Every local restaurant has a booth out there, and people form lines in front of the massive pit barbecues sending smoky aromas down the street. Each intersection provides a different form of entertainment- street performances ranged from a country/folk band to a wild elect(r)ic violin concert to a ska/reggae-influenced rock band, a rock climbing wall, and kids go crazy climbing all over the local fire department's firetruck. Even the old "Wrath of God" guy with the sign warning sinners of impending doom was still there!

It was a weekly tradition during my college years to go down to what everyone lovingly called "Farmer's". My friends and I would leave studio and head downtown, get some BBQ tri-tip (or on hungry nights, gnaw on a massive turkey leg), buy a bunch of fresh local produce, and then head to someone's house and bake a big batch of chocolate chip cookies, watch Seinfeld, and then we would all troop back to our architecture studios and work until 2am! Oh, the good ol' days... It was great to relive the old days although so much has changed during the last 10 years. Many of the familiar restaurants (Louisa's, Buona Tavola, McClintock's) and stores (Hands Gallery, Fanny Wrappers, Ambiance) were still down there, but the new sparkly commercial developments (Pottery Barn? Banana Republic?! Abercrombie & Fitch?!?) seemed to be out of place from the humble downtown San Luis Obispo I knew and loved.

Well, the old haunts did not disappoint. We feasted on barbecued ribs, tri-tip sandwiches, grilled corn, tamales, fresh apple juice, and cookies while sampling fresh fruit from the stands (yummy oranges! local strawberries!). We even bought a bag of Cal Poly grown mandarin oranges to bring up to my parents.

Mica, the expert chocolate chip cookie baker/tester himself, drove up from Ventura with his adorable daughter Amelia to meet up with me and Paul. Amelia was delighted to have the Balloon Man make her some Mickey Mouse ears...

Paul was equally amazed and disgusted by Bubble Gum Alley...

Later on that night, we met up with the DiSantos (sans Tom) at my beloved Linnaea's Cafe on Garden Street. The staff is still amazingly friendly and mellow, and the carrot cake is still one of the best things I've ever had. Poor Tom was trying to recover from a bad cold, but T and N were super adorable (not surprising) and it was great to catch up with Eva! The last time I had seen her, she was pregnant with Nico, and I was on my way to Japan!

It was a lot of socializing and traveling in one day though- our 5am wakeup call in NYC that morning seemed like days ago, and we were fading fast. We couldn't wait to head back to our room and sink into bed...

SLO Roadtrip February 2010

P and I were able to squeeze in a 24 hour whirlwind roadtrip down to San Luis Obispo before the Chinese New Year party at my parents' place. It was about a 4 hour drive from SFO- and our first stop was at La Cumbre (my favorite taqueria) for a proper Mexican meal.

We drove down 101, bordered on both sides with green hills and rows of crops. The warm sun in the hazy sky was welcome on our sun-deprived skin!

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Happy Valentine's Day!

After the fashion show, Wendy and I stumbled upon the Ice Heart sculpture in Times Square.

We basically had a lovefest with New York- about how proud we were to live in the city, how much we loved stumbling upon cool things in the city, and how happy and in love we were (me with P, her with S)! OK, vomit, but it's Valentine's. We have an excuse to be giddy and all smiles and in love and wearing all red on the all red TKTS stairs.

Also I heart the NYC heart subway map!
Buy it here!