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Archive for the ‘Travel’ category

For the last three weeks since we got back to the UK I’ve been meaning to write up something about this last trip to the US and especially about what an amazing traveler Elisabeth was.

I was a lot more anxious going into this trip than I was about our trip in March-April 2009 when Elisabeth was just three months old. Back then she was much more portable and not mobile. I was worried that this time around the long flight would be very difficult with Elisabeth not being happy sitting on our laps and wanting to get down and walk around a lot and getting upset when she couldn’t. It turns out I worried needlessly. She was an absolutely fantastic traveler – slept about half of the London -> Chicago flight and happily played on our laps for most of the rest of it. I took her walking up and down the aisles a couple of times and she happily toddled around wanting to check out everything and stopping to say hi to everyone she passed, especially the kids. She was a big hit, and the flight attendants were very impressed with her.

The only bad thing about that flight was our seats. We weren’t able to get bulkhead seats, and regular economy seating on United transatlantic flights is so squashed and uncomfortable. At one point the woman sitting in front of me completely reclined her seat and hit Elisabeth on the head with her seat! And then she couldn’t understand what we were upset about and was completely unapologetic. A flight attendant tried to intervene but couldn’t do much more than suggest I recline my seat as well which didn’t actually create that much more space for Elisabeth. Traveling in economy if you aren’t in a bulkhead or exit row seat is uncomfortable enough, doing it with a kid is ridiculous.

The first week of our trip we were in Grand Rapids and while it was lovely to be there staying with Christina & David and visiting lots of friends and former colleagues, it was made rather difficult by Elisabeth’s process of adjusting to the time change. She woke around 4:00-4:30 every morning, bright eyed and ready for the day. Ugh! Somehow we made it through that and kept our sanity in tact – just barely at times, though.

The next week and a half (Dec 19th-30th) – after an overnight at my sister Dana’s house in Morton Grove, Illinois (just on the north side of Chicago) – was spent at my parents’ house in DeMotte, Indiana. It was so lovely spending time with my family especially since this time Elisabeth was old enough to interact much more with my niece Leah who is seven months older than Elisabeth. At first Leah was a little suspicious of this new kid who was getting so much attention from her Oma (my mother) and Tante (my sister Erin) but she warmed up pretty quickly. Elisabeth, as usual, just glowed with all the extra attention she got with lots of relatives around. And James and I got a night away on our own. We left Elisabeth in DeMotte one night while we went and spent the night at a hotel in Chicago. What a treat!

We stayed in DeMotte a day longer than we had been planning because we were reluctant to take Elisabeth away from her Oma & Opa. But we had friends to see and parties to attend in Nashville, so on the 30th we piled into my parents’ minivan and, along with my sister Erin, drove the 7 hours to Nashville. Elisabeth was a trooper on the car journey. She wasn’t that thrilled about spending so long in a car seat (something she hardly ever does in the UK since we don’t own a car) but she managed and at least didn’t make us feel like we were torturing her the whole time.

Our week and a half in Nashville was a great conclusion to our US trip. We spent the first night at the Weavers’ – who we had never met – as none of our other friends had room for us that night. They were amazingly hospitable, and their seven-year-old daughter Julia was fantastic with Elisabeth. The rest of our time in Nashville was split between staying with the Dave & Sarah Dark and their three kids and with Trevor & Jenna Henderson (Elisabeth’s American godparents) and their two boys. Elisabeth loved being around other kids so much and was fantastic with all the adults. Having a kid who is very social and is happy being with just about anyone who will pay attention to her certainly makes trips like this a lot easier!

Our trip home was delayed by a day, but the bright side is that we were upgraded to business class for our Chicago -> London flight and got to spend our 7 hour layover in Chicago in the Red Carpet Club. While James and I didn’t get much sleep on the overnight flight, having wide seats that fully reclined made it a lot easier to keep Elisabeth asleep on us. As we were debarking in London, one of the flight attendants said to me that he would be happy to have Elisabeth on any of his flights any time! The man seated next to James also commented on what a great traveler Elisabeth was. I think flight attendants to some extent and other travelers especially assume that if a baby is on the flight there’s going to be lots of crying and they will be very bothered by it. So when Elisabeth is a perfect angel and hardly cries or complains at all, they are impressed and grateful. Well, we are too!

It was good to get back home to London, and Elisabeth’s adjustment this way was a lot easier on us as she pretty much slept 13 hours straight the first two nights back and by the third night was more or less back into her regular sleeping pattern. She was also back in nursery three days of the week (two half days and one whole day) right away, and I think that was probably a very good thing since she had gotten used to being around other kids so much during our trip. To just be with me five days of the week would have gotten awfully boring – for both of us!

We’re not yet sure when our next trip to the US will be. Elisabeth will be a lot more verbal and able to express her desires. It’s hard to know whether that will make a long flight easier or harder. It’s also very possible that even if she’s not yet two years old, we may well pay for her to have her own seat. I can’t imagine that it’s going to be comfortable to have her traveling on our laps for much longer.

We’re very much looking forward to visits from Oma & Opa and Tante in the summer. And in the meantime, we get on Skype as much as we can!

Elisabeth in the Red Carpet Club at OHare

Elisabeth in the Red Carpet Club at O'Hare

Ever since Elisabeth was 13 days old, we have been bundling her up in her snowsuit, tucking her into her buggy, sling, car seat or – more recently – Baby Bjorn, and taking her out and about. Some places Elisabeth has been in her 7 1/2 weeks of life:

St Luke’s – we first took Elisabeth to church when she was 16 days old. It happened to be the Sunday of the kids’ nativity play. Elisabeth was very cuddled and cooed over after the service, and a number of people commented that in three years time, she might be up there as one of the sheep (which were played by the congregation’s three-year-olds). We were just glad that we hadn’t agreed to have Elisabeth play the baby Jesus this year when we saw how the four-year-old Mary yanked around the baby Jesus doll.

Mamas and babies group – the couples in our birth preparation classes really bonded over the course of the seven weeks that the class met and since then, the mothers from the group – and babies as they’ve been making their appearances – have been meeting weekly for lunch at a cafe in Crouch End. I really enjoy having a group of other new mothers to get together with regularly, and it’s fun to see how the other babies grow and change from week to week.

All Hallows & the Greenbelt offices – I am administering the talks programme for Greenbelt this year and so have had quite a few meetings at All Hallows just this month. One of them was on Inauguration Day, and when I arrived they had all the lights off in the Greenbelt office and were projecting the Inauguration ceremony on the wall. That was a great way to watch it! I kept telling Elisabeth how significant it was and how cool it was that she would never know a time when there hadn’t been an African American president. She seemed more interested in eating. Oh well. Some day she’ll get it.

Our local pub, the Salisbury – When Elisabeth was just a few weeks old, our good friends Matt & Clare (who are also Elisabeth’s godparents) phoned us up and asked if we wanted to join them at the pub for a pint. Since it’s just down around the corner, we put her in her snowsuit and James just carried her there. She had a drink at the pub too (of mama’s milk, not beer – not for 18 years yet, please dear).

Cambridge – On December 19th when Elisabeth was 15 days old, James’ parents came and picked us up and drove us to James’ grandad’s flat in Cambridge where we were joined by James’ Uncle Louis, Aunt Martha and two of their sons, Daniel & Christopher, Martha’s mother Carol, and James’ Uncle Alex. We had a lovely lunch with all of them and they all very much enjoyed meeting Elisabeth. Martha, who was in a back brace due to a bicycle accident, still managed to spend a good bit of time holding Elisabeth. She was still only about 6 1/2 pounds then so it wasn’t too hard. Delightfully, we were able to take a photo of four generations of Stewarts.

Hampton-in-Arden (near Solihull) – James and I were supposed to go to his Aunt Sheila and Uncle Ian’s house for the Ganjavi family Christmas gathering on Saturday, December 13th. Those plans had been made when we thought it unlikely that we’d have a baby yet on that date. Whoops! Since Elisabeth was still just nine days old on the 13th, we decided to stay home and try to get together with the family at a later date. A gathering for Baba’s (James’ grandfather) birthday on January 2nd proved the perfect opportunity. Again James’ parents picked us up and drove us to Hamton-in-Arden. As with the trip to Cambridge, Elisabeth slept in her car seat almost the whole trip. The Ganjavi family loved meeting Elisabeth as well, and this time it was Baba who spent the most time holding her.

Tunbridge Wells – After the day with the Ganjavis, James’ parents drove us to their house in Tunbridge Wells where Elisabeth had her first overnight away from home. On Saturday I got to do a good bit of shopping in town while Elisabeth’s Nana (James’ mum) watched her. I came back from shopping expecting to find a baby girl wailing with hunger, but she wasn’t even there! She was out for a walk with Nana and quite happy about it apparently. On Sunday we took Elisabeth to James’ parents’ church where she was introduced a lot more people who oo-ed and ah-ed over her. To get back to London that evening, we were driven to the train station, then took a train back to London Bridge, then a bus back home. Elisabeth slept pretty much the whole time.

The bowling lanes at Shoreditch House member’s only club – our friend Beki Bateson had invited us to help her celebrate her birthday on January 20th at Shoreditch House. Did we let having a seven-week-old baby stop us from joining the party? No way! Elisabeth spent most of the time at the party cuddling with our friend Gill who has a number of grandchildren herself and thinks babies are the best.

Hackney – We have lots of friends who live in Hackney and we end up spending quite a bit of time there. We regularly join our friends the Turners for their Monday evening open house suppers and took Elisabeth there for the first time on January 12th. They were thrilled to bits about meeting Elisabeth and she got lots of cuddling that evening as well as some adorable shoes made by Burmese craftspeople and a stuffed elephant from Sri Lanka. We were back in Hackney – just up the street from Turners – on the 18th for Sunday lunch with our friends Joe & Annabelle. They are expecting their first baby in July, and we are excited for Elisabeth and their little one to grow up together!

We are very much looking forward to Elisabeth’s first airplane journey which she will take on March 8th when we fly to Nashville. We can’t wait for her to meet her American family and lots of friends in the States!

As James and I planned our trip around the world, I have to say that what I got excited about most was the thought of eating in all of these places. Bloggers like Meg, Heidi, and Adam got me especially excited about eating in the San Francisco area. We were most certainly not disappointed. So here, inspired by The Amateur Gourmet, is my pictorial review of the wonderful food that delighted us in Northern California.

Our first morning in California, we woke up in the Marin Headlands International Hostel famished having arrived at 10:00 p.m. — too late to find much open on a Sunday night without having driven at least 20 minutes on very windy, unfamiliar roads in the dark. We stumbled on a great little bistro called Caffe DiVino on a Sausalito side street, and had some tasty (albeit dripping with oil) egg dishes. For lunch that day, we had paninis custom made for us by the owner of Bella Luma in Petaluma, Craig Stammler, who decided that it was too boring for each of us to have the same thing, even though that’s what we had ordered. He didn’t let us down! We intended to go back for Palazzolo’s gelato (shipped across the country from Saugatuck!) later that night but they were closed by the time we got back. Weren’t too disappointed though, because our supper at small, classy Italian joint called Risibisi – a shared selection of small plates including caprese salad; spinach and arugula salad with shitake mushrooms, crispy bacon, shaved manchego, and balsamic vinaigrette; and hand-cut pommes frites with marinara dipping sauce – was scrumptious. Dinner at Risibisi in Petaluma

On Tuesday, after doing some wine tasting at Cosentino — which we definitely recommend, especially if Bob Silva is the guy out front guiding your tasting — we followed Bob’s suggestion and had lunch in downtown Napa at Downtown Joe’s. My reuben was pretty good as was James’ cheeseburger, but the most memorable part of the meal were the dozen miniature mugs that arrived at our table when we requested the taster of all their brewed-on-site beers. After lunch we drove back to San Francisco, checked into our hotel in North Beach, dropped off our rental car at the airport, then took public transportation back to the Financial District from which we walked back to North Beach via Chinatown. Upon arriving back in North Beach, we decided to grab supper at Caffe Puccini. Excellent decision! The spaghetti carbonara that I ordered was some of the best that I’ve ever had. And while James’ chicken parmigiana was a little dry, the fettucine with marinara that came alongside of it was just delicious. It was all pretty basic food but seasoned just right. The strawberry ice cream that I had to top off the meal was incredibly fresh. All in all, a good choice for eating in North Beach. Amazing spaghetti carbonara at Caffe Puccini (North Beach)

Frangipane Tart Wednesday started with a cable car ride down the hill and then a bit of a walk to the Mission District where we found on the corner of Guerrero and 18th one of the most anticipated stops of our trip to San Francisco: Tartine Bakery. After reading Adam’s description of the franginpane tart, I was dying to try it. And oh. my. word. It was fabulous. The crust was so flaky. The huckleberry filling was so juicy and fresh. And the almonds on top were toasted to perfection. I only dream of being able to bake something that good. James had the double pain au chocolat (made with Scharffen Berger chocolate) which was also amazing. And our mochas were perfect too – not too sweet. (We found that to be pretty consistent with mochas in SF. They know how to make them there.) We were tempted to buy a whole lot more baked goods in Tartine, but our eating in the Mission had only just begun.

After spending a good bit of time browsing in Modern Times, undoubtedly one of the coolest independent bookstores on the planet, we grabbed some coffee a few blocks down at Ritual Roasters. Lunch was at Taqueria Cancun where we shared the Super Burrito al Pastor (with marinated pork). Burrito close-up Besides the meat, it contained rice, fresh cilantro, Mexican cheese, pinto beans, and avocado. Qdoba couldn’t hold a candle to this burrito. This was the real thing! One burrito is huge too, and was plenty for the both of us. After a bit more walking around, we stopped into the Dolores Park Cafe for some refreshment and journaling. Dinner on Wednesday was chicken kebabs, rice pilaf and spinach salad at the home of Dave, Kate and Ivan Austin-Groen: a treat to have a great home-cooked meal and terrific company to go along with it! After dinner, Dave took us to Mitchell’s Ice Cream, a San Francisco institution since 1953. Their flavors are fascinating! I wanted to try at least 10 of them. In the end I settled on the Halo Halo, a combination of Buko, Langka, Ube, Pineapple, Mongo & Sweet Beans. James had the Mexican chocolate. Good stuff!

Soft shell crab po' boy and coleslawOn Thursday morning, we grabbed pastries and mochas at the original Caffe Trieste to eat on our way up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. After our trip out to Alcatraz, we came back and walked along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building where I had a soft shell crab po’ boy at The San Francisco Fish Company. The crab had that great fresh shellfish taste that made me think of going to my Oma & Opa’s house in Sayville, NY when I was young and eating stuffed clams. From the Ferry Building we got a bus to the Upper Haight and walked around there a bit, stopping to get online and have coffee at Rockin’ Java. We then walked 13 blocks down to the Lower Haight and stopped for Chimay at Toronado Pub, a recommendation from our good friend Adam who used to live in San Francisco.

Dinner on Thursday was perhaps the culinary highlight of the week: nouveau soul food at Farmer Brown. The amuse bouche was miniature jalapeno cornbread muffins served with maple butter – and intriguing start to the meal. Kari's fried chicken with macaroni & cheese and southern greens I ordered the fried chicken with mac & cheese and southern greens. The chicken was wonderfully juicy, and I even allowed myself the indulgence of a little bit of the crispy skin. (C’mon – it’s southern fried chicken. You only live once.) The mac & cheese was made with Tillamook Cheddar, paprika, probably shallots and I’m not sure what other flavors but it was terrific. The southern greens was a mixture of chard, cabbage, collard greens and maybe some others, again uniquely flavored. James had the pulled pork sandwich which came with BBQ sauce on the side, cole slaw, and handcut chips. He thoroughly enjoyed his choice as well. Oh – can’t forget the angel biscuits. We ordered those at Dave & Kate Austin-Groen’s suggestion and were glad we did. They were light and buttery and just light years better than Pillsbury biscuits out of the can. Our only regret was that we didn’t have room for dessert, especially since from our first scan of the menu we had been looking forward to the key lime pie and strawberry rhubarb pie! We’ll just have to go back for those another time.

Sheep's cheese and quince jam pressed sandwich at Bakery TartineFriday was a day of going back to our favorite places from earlier in the week. We had breakfast at Caffe Trieste again and this time stayed there soaking up the atmosphere. We also went back to Ritual Roasters and Tartine Bakery. This time James had the jambon and gruyere croissant and I had the Idiazabal & Membrillo (“lightly smoked sheeps milk cheese with quince jam”) pressed sandwich. Soooo good! We also had a couple of Scharffen Berger mini chocolate cookies and a slice of Valrhona chocolate cake. Tartine's Valrhona chocolate cake We really want to take Tartine to England with us. Although if we lived around the corner from it, we’d both be broke and fat very quickly. So it’s probably just as well…

And after that, we were back to our hotel to get our bags and off to the airport for our flight to New Zealand with wonderful memories of our taste adventures in San Francisco!

More photos of our San Francisco meals and other highlights of our time there can be found here.

Next time… Eating our way through New Zealand!