Monday, August 29, 2011

Secret Recipe Club - Vegan Blueberry Banana Smoothie and Almost Raw Pesto Guac Salad from The Mommy Bowl

For my second month involvement in Amanda's Secret Recipe Club (where one receives an assigned blog to secretly write about) I eagerly anticipated my assignment email.  Would I bake?  Would I grill?  With our 3 weeks of on and off vacation completed I was ready to head back into the kitchen and pull out my mixing bowls.

Clicking with excitement the link to The Mommy Bowl, my stomach did a bit of a drop when I read that the author blogged about gluten free eating.  Gluten Free??  Heck... I live on gluten.  And to top that, Deanna has recently gone raw... not that there's anything wrong with that. ;)

Diving in, I stopped first at Deanna's "About" section and was immediately caught up in her carefree and entertaining writing.  Amazingly, this gluten free Mom and I have a lot in common.  We are both moms, probably similar ages (though I'm thinking I have a few years on her), enjoyed Gilligan's Island as a kid, and have been addicted to cereal.  Yep, addicted to cereal.  I wholeheartedly identified with Deanna's comments of bowl after bowl of the crunchy goodness, and yes, in my later years I've also switched to wheats and brans over the sugary kind.

Deanna though, has after some 30 years of carting around her special cereal bowl become gluten intolerant.  Reading about her journey into a gluten free world I could see a healthier way of eating and a lifestyle promoting a happier body.

Understanding more of who Deanna, The Mommy Bowl, was I began to peruse her posts in search of a recipe to try.  Caught up in her writing, I spent over an hour pouring over post after post and enjoying her special and enticing way with words.  Smiling frequently along the way, recipe after recipe caught my eye.  Who knew you could make a Triple Chocolate Cherry Pie not only raw, but vegan and grain free as well?  And get this... it sounds and looks awesome. 

With 18 recipes printed I headed to the kitchen and almost immediately my teenaged son popped in proclaiming extreme hunger (it had been nearly an hour since his last Trader Joe's frozen burrito).  I offered, "How about a Blueberry Banana Smoothie?"  He pondered for a few seconds, said, "Yeah", and headed outside.

Admittedly, we do understand intolerances.  Last year my son suddenly became lactose intolerant and Liv struggles with her own lactose issues.  As such do I occasionally search vegan recipes knowing that they will be dairy free.  Frequently I adjust them adding eggs or grains, but with a dairy free base I've got a head start.

Deanna's Blueberry Banana Smoothie uses a few simple ingredients which we had on hand.  Vitamin rich frozen organic blueberries, a banana and coconut milk are enhanced with a handful of spinach for a nutrient rich smoothie packing a flavor enticing punch.

Keeping the handful of spinach a secret, I whizzed the brightly hued ingredients in the blender and served up a beautiful blueberry smoothie with a tropical twist.  Two smiles greeted the first tastes quickly followed by raised eyebrows as I explained that they were indeed drinking blended spinach in their sweet smoothies.  Pausing for a few seconds, both kids shrugged and then continued drinking, draining their glasses within a few minutes and even asking for more.

It seems Deanna is on to something.

Next I thought about myself.  With my husband out of town and the kids no longer hungry, Deanna's Raw Pesto Guac Salad caught my eye.  As eating with abandon on our Trip to San Francisco was quickly followed by Pineapple Rum concoctions on the beaches of the Bahamas I'm a bit over food at the moment.  Even I have been craving good, healthy veggies and a huge reduction in carbs and grains.

Again, all of the required ingredients I happened to have on hand.  Brilliant avocados, bright tomatoes and fragrant basil found their way into my blender along with the juice of a lemon from my dads tree, garlic and a pinch of salt.  I prefer "chunkiness" in my salad, and therefore added additional diced avocado and more chopped tomatoes to the salad part.  But here's where I did alter the recipe a bit... I grilled my zucchini along with a thick slice of onion (I'm just not a raw zucchini girl).  And then I did it, I changed the whole dynamic and added pasta.  I just couldn't help myself, but trying to stick close to the raw/gluten free theme I did only add 1/2 cup of cooked pasta for my serving.

Stirring the brilliant veggies with the whizzed pesto had my mouth watering as the aromas melded together into something special.  Setting myself at the table I dug into my healthy salad and sighed.  Yes... this was the life!  The antidote to eating with abandon and occasional rum drinks was right there in front of me and I loved every part of it.  I topped off the meal with a few nuts (raw and salt free even!) and I was one happy and very content girl.

While I don't think I'll be switching to a gluten free or raw diet anytime soon, I'd really like to thank Deanna for spurring me to explore another healthy way of eating.  My post vacation mode has me filling my plates with a greater percentage of veggies and in an effort to reduce my vacation pounds I've even put away my own cereal bowl.  Well, maybe not every night, but I am cutting way back.

Deanna, I'm your newest fan!  I will be following eagerly and feeling better along the way.  Thank you!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

Pink tastes like fun!
Pink... that was the answer I received when I asked Liv what kind of cupcakes she wanted for her 12th birthday party.  Pink?  Ok... but what does pink taste like?  Apparently pink tastes like "fun", but most importantly, with over 20 pre and early teen dancers coming to our party these cupcakes needed to be something special.  Not the little girl, overly sweet, out of the box cupcakes of yeseryear.

Searching on "pink cupcakes", results for Pink Lemonade Cupcakes came up time and again mostly with variations on a couple of recipes seeming to be used over and over.  Narrowing our choices down to two of our favorites, Liv came up with a great idea:  Why not a cupcake taste test at the party?  Done.

From scratch version from Sweet Cheeks
Our two most popular versions of Pink Lemonade Cupcakes had one totally from scratch and the other a cake mix enhanced recipe, but both arriving with wonderful reviews.

Sweet Cheeks in the Kitchen provided our favorite from scratch recipe bringing a cupcake with a lightly sweetened lemon flavor and a nice tender crumb.  Pink Lemonade Concentrate provides the perfect addition to bring sweetness and tartness all at the same time and smiles to everyone who tasted.

Enhanced cake mix from Foodie Bride
Confections of a Foodie Bride provided our second Pink Lemonade Cupcake version, and with her simple description of "Bright", she had us at the first word of her blog post.  This lower in fat recipe had me smiling even before I had my first taste of the tender little cakes and the ease of putting them together had me making a batch with minimal effort.

Double batches of each version all wrapped in pretty, colorful liners caught nearly each girl's eye entering the house in full birthday party mode.  Fresh from a week long dance intensive class, the girls were hot, tired and hungry.  Pizza, strawberries and bananas were the first order of the day followed by a cooling dip into the pool and then... cupcakes!

Eager helpers had the cupcakes passed out in no time, at least one taste of each recipe, and then the girls were off to discuss the nuances and differences of each one.  A white board was provided to keep track of their thoughts and votes as the girls spent an inordinate amount of time actually discussing appearance, texture, color and taste.

For appearance and color, most girls chose the "bright pink" cupcake which actually was colored somewhat accidentally.  Not being a food color person, my experience with food dyes is somewhat limited.  Let's just say that food color gels work exceptionally well, and one really does not need more than a very, very small amount to color a batch of cupcakes pink.  Hence... electric pink cupcakes which actually rated very high on the appearance scale. 

Texture... the scratch cupcake barely edged out the mix version for texture, though the preferences here were not very strong.  Comments of "light and airy" were given nearly equally to both cakes, though I will admit to personally preferring the from scratch cupcake over the mix version.  The from scratch cake had a crumb that simply was preferable to me.

Water slides work up an appetite!
Taste.  Here the mix cupcake nudged the from scratch cake to take the lead.  With the mix cake being somewhat sweeter it seemed to have more immediate appeal to the girls.  While the lemonade flavor enhanced both versions, it was more pronounced in the from scratch version and not as appealing as pure sweetness in the pre-teen world.  For me, the from scratch version won hands down in taste, though I will admit to being partial to lemon. 

All tallied, the electric pink cake mix cupcake came out the winner, though not by much.  Voting was split just about down the middle with 62% choosing the sweeter electric pink enhanced cake mix version.  Would we make either of them again?  Absolutely!  Each version was made as written on the author's site and either version is wonderful, tasty, pretty and most importantly, fun.  Pink is most definitely the way to go.

Lucky Liv and her friends

Friday, August 26, 2011

San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market... a foodie haven!

The San Francisco Ferry Building
I admit to having a penchant for farmer's markets and I also admit to having good friends who giggle that I actually plan vacations around said markets.  The KCC Market on Oahu has always been my hands down favorite, and while the Hawaiian Market still remains in that honored #1 position the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market and Marketplace sure gave it a good run for its money.  (Oahu wins with tropics!)

The last day of our whirlwind San Francisco summer vacation had me setting the alarm at 6:30 AM making sure everyone was up, dressed and on the road by 7:30 so that we hopefully would avoid a few lines at the breakfast booths.  With two sleepy, hungry men grumbling all the way we found easy parking on the streets around the market along with an easy to reach parking garage on the corner of Clay and Davis made even better with market validation.  A few minutes walk had us at the market in no time... ahead of the major crowds.

Before leaving home I had spent some time on Tripadvisor and other websites jotting down a few of the "must visit" booths mentioned in reviews of the market.  The first one I recognized was the Blue Bottle Coffee Company to which my caffeine deprived husband made a beeline even before I pointed it out.  With recommendations from home as well as online I was eager to try the freshly roasted, organic, shade grown coffee and promptly made my order for a Cappuccino to go as my husband chose his simple and black.

Blue Bottle Coffee... Why didn't I buy some to bring home???
With each cup brewed freshly on the spot, the aroma of fresh coffee permeates the market.  A quick visit to the Blue Bottle Coffee website lent the following history and made me an immediate fan:

Best Cappuccino ever!
319 years later (after coffee was introduced to Vienna), in Oakland, California, a slightly disaffected freelance musician and coffee lunatic, weary of the grande eggnog latte and the double skim pumpkin-pie macchiato decides to open a roaster for people who are clamoring for the actual taste of freshly roasted coffee. Using a miniscule six-pound batch roaster, he makes an historic vow: “I will only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster to my customers, so they may enjoy coffee at its peak of flavor. I will only use the finest organic, and pesticide-free, shade-grown beans.” In honor of Kolshitsky’s heroics, he names his business The Blue Bottle Coffee Company, and begins another chapter in the history of superlative coffee. 

Blue Bottle most definitely lived up to its reviews and I've crossed all my fingers hoping to see them in San Diego.

Rose's Cafe
As my husband waited in the coffee line I took a few moments to peruse
the market and scope out the most appealing breakfast venues.  Closest to the coffee both was a booth with boxes of fresh veggies just waiting to be sauteed and a menu boasting of Egg Sandwiches with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Heirloom Tomato Scrambles with Stracchino Cheese and Prosciutto, and Pablo's Pancakes with Stone Fruit Compote and Orange Butter.  Thinking I'd found "the" spot I headed back to the coffee line to inform my husband and that is when our wonderful day took a turn for even better.

Standing in front of my husband was a petite woman signified as a local with her foggy August garb of full jacket, scarf and hat.  As I mentioned to him that I thought I had found "the" spot she turned around and said, "Well... Chatty Cathy here, and I just can't help piping in that yes, Roes's is the best place for breakfast in the market!  What you want is the Heirloom Tomato Scramble or the Scrambled Eggs with Arugula and Crispy Proscuitto.  I go there every week after I get my coffee".   With a recommendation like that, how could we go elsewhere? 

Rose Pistola, a restaurant on Columbus Avenue, has been "going to the market" since 2004 and from the rave reviews I read online as well as heard verbally from the many customers in line, it is "the" place to enjoy breakfast on Saturday Morning at the Market.  Turns out Chatty Cathy was right there in line, just as she said she would be after we picked up our own coffees.

Notice the Blue Bottle Coffee cup in the upper right!
Saying she wanted people to take happy memories from her city she kindly insisted on us moving in line in front of her and reminded us of her favorite menu selections.  Taking her recommendations to heart we ordered and watched as the workers quickly plated up heaping portions of eggs scrambled with heirloom tomatoes, toast and veggies.  Note:  Rumor has it that Rose's is immensely popular and lines get lengthy quickly, advice is to arrive early. 

Honey sized for airline travelers
Grabbing our plates we made our way to the seating area and once again, Chatty Cathy invited us to join her.  What a treat we were in for!!  As we got acquainted, I was excited to learn that not only was Cathy a long time resident of San Francisco, but she actually remembered when a certain restaurant in Tiburon from years past was named the Windjammer.  My dad had owned a portion of that restaurant when I was young and I have fond memories of being spoiled by his waiters.  Her comment of "I arrested someone right at that restaurant" had us raising our eyebrowns in question and she proceeded to fill us in that she was a recently retired homicide detective for the City of San Francisco.

For the next 20 minutes we enjoyed tales of her adventures during her SFPD tenure, and she kindly gave my son advice on living life in a safe manner that will most likely stick with him forever.  Cathy was a true gem, and she most certainly did as she had hoped in giving us a lasting, wonderful memory of San Francisco.

With more of Cathy's recommendations for the market in hand, we headed to the center of the market in search of Olive Oil, cheese and of course, bread.  Stall after stall was filled with offerings from the exotic Lion Mane Mushrooms to the plain bunch of carrots to raw and vegan prepared offerings... all quickly having me wish I was closer to my home kitchen.

A purchase of Sciabica's Olive Oils had one of those "one for her, one for me" moments as I picked up a sampler for my mom as well as one for myself.  Flavors of Meyer Lemon, Jalapeño, Basil and Garlic had me planning menus in my head as we chatted with the owner and chose our bottles.

In the main part of the Ferry Building a foodie meca of cheeses, bread, pastries and chocolates awaits as you make your way past the permanent vendors.  Home to the famed Slanted Door, the Market Plaza also houses Cowgirl Creamery's Artisan Cheese Shop where I found a most wonderful Humbolt Fog Cherve.  With 8 hours of driving time in front of us keeping the cheese fresh was a concern, but the vendor promptly told me not to worry as he packaged up two bags of ice for my cooler and assured me we would be fine.

Yes... it was that good!!

Just next door, the Acme Bread Co. was wafting aromas of freshly baked bread into the aisles and drawing customers from all corners of the Plaza.  I was lucky enough to be right behind a man in a chef uniform with his helper and I simply ordered what he did, a little French Bread, an Italian Loaf and of course, a crusty Sour Dough to bring home to mom.

Acme Bread Co. - I followed the chef and simply got what he got!
As my husband informed me time was ticking by and that the roads to San Diego were not getting any shorter I bid goodbye to the market, only stopping at two more stalls on our way out to pick up honey (local from Marin where my mom grew up) and a couple of scones and cupcakes to keep our energy up on the long drive home.  Arms loaded with packages we made our way back to the car, headed across the Bay Bridge and out of the city.

Cable Cars, Fog, Fisherman's Wharf, Billy Elliot at the Orpheum, the Exploratorium and Palace of Fine Arts, China Town, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli, shopping in Union Square, Alcatraz, the Farmer's Market and Chatty Cathy.  I think you know where I've left my heart...

Breakfast with a view... and also an audience!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A San Francisco Treat... Honey Honey Crepery, the Exploratorium and the Palace of Fine Arts

Clockwise:  Banana Crepes with Cinnamon and Sugar, Crunchy Granola with yogurt and fruit, Miami Heat Crepe, and simple Scrambled Eggs with Toast and Fruit
Breakfast was on everyone's mind as we woke at the Chancellor Hotel to dense fog on the second day of our August San Francisco family vacation.  After reading rave reviews about the Banana Nutella crepes at Honey Honey Crepery, Liv wanted to see if they were as good as the ones we make at home.  Frankly, I think the comparison idea was just a tactic to move us in that direction, but lucky for us it worked!

Located at 599 Post Street in San Francisco near Union Square, Honey Honey is right around the corner from the Chancellor and a much more appealing option than the Luques restaurant in the hotel.  My husband was somewhat skeptical about crepes for breakfast as he is not much of a "sweets for breakfast" person, but he was more than pleasantly surprised to see the incredible menu board filled with much more than sweet crepes.  The Miami Heat -  Cheddar, avocado, chicken breast, scallions, spicy hot sauce - had a smile on his face in no time as Liv changed her mind and went with the Banana Crepe with cinnamon and sugar.  My son preferred a simple classic breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and fruit while I chose the Crunchy Granola with fruit and yogurt.  Coffee was ordered and we sat down to wait for our meal.

Seeing a restaurant slowly fill with locals meeting friends and colleagues is a sure sign of "the place to be" and Honey Honey most certainly fit that bill.  Within 20 minutes of our arrival nearly every seat was taken as even more customers streamed through the door, many greeted by name from those at the counter.

Talking to the clerk as we ordered, I discovered that Honey Honey is a family owned business and takes great pride in food quality and service.  The pride most definitely showed as our beautifully plated food arrived hot and appetizing along with a broad smile from our server.  Coffee was refilled as we all shared our plates with each other proclaiming every dish excellent all the way around.

The corner of Post and Taylor
The fruit on each plate was arranged artfully and the Banana and Miami Heat Crepes folded to perfection.  The Banana crepe had received a light dusting of powdered sugar while my husband's Miami Heat had been nicely doused with a tasty, spicy sauce that pleased him greatly.  My granola was topped with mounds of fresh, vibrant fruit and provided a wonderful, non-restaurant-like healthy start to my day.

Honey Honey offers free WiFi and is easily reached from Union Square.  I can without reservation highly recommend this restaurant and only wish I lived closer so I might visit again.  Honey Honey really is the place to be!

Fueled up for the day we made our way to our car and headed through China Town and on to the crooked part of Lombard Street.  Billed as the "Crookedest Street in San Francisco", the beautifully landscaped curves of Lombard are worth a trip.  Hoards of tourists stop at the bottom (the best photo op) for photos of the cars making their way down the crooked, brick lined street.  For a bit of trivia, note that Vermont Avenue at 20th claims the actual San Francisco "Crookedest Street" Title.

Off through the Marnia District with the morning joggers I was a little disappointed not to see any kites flying on the greens however the views of the bay were once again stunning.  The Golden Gate Bridge would have been visible had the fog not been so thick, but we still knew it was there. 

Stopping at the Palace of Fine Arts I thought it would be Liv who would most enjoy the Exploratorium, a museum of science, art and human perception, but instead it was my husband who moved from hands on exhibit to exhibit, his face flushed with excitement.  He and Liv made their way through the event gaining excitement together as they found item after item which piqued their interest.  From electricity to simple bubbles, the Exploratorium can take hours of fun to get through without the kids really knowing that they actually learned something.

Wandering outside the Exploratorium through the grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts is alway a beautiful way to spend a bit of time.  Sea Gulls flapped in the ponds as we meandered the pathways of the remaining grand structure built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.  A popular place for weddings the theater also serves as a venue for numerous events throughout the year.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The San Francisco Tourist - Union Square, Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli with lunch at Boudin's

Continuing our travels up the coast of California from peaceful Santa Barbara the evening traffic into San Francisco lived up to every comment I had read.  My excitement built as I returned to my hometown of some 25 years ago as we passed SFO and my husband and I marveled at the changes to the airport since we had last visited.  Candlestick brought back happy memories of my beloved Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and Jerry Rice, the Ticky-Tacky houses reminded me of my dad, and within a few minutes the 2mph (if we were lucky) traffic reminded me why I love my sleepy surf town of Carlsbad back home.

With our destination being the Chancellor Hotel on Powell Street, smack in the middle of Union Square, our stomachs clenched just a bit as my husband attempted to navigate past Moscone Center without hitting any of the celebrating Giant's Fans teaming across the street decked out in black and orange team regalia.  The iPad map showed a bend in the road, but not which lanes continued straight.  Thankfully my son's eagle eyes spotted a left only turn lane just in time for my husband to move right to take us straight across Market and into the heart of downtown.

Feeling like bumpkins entering the big city the kids had wide eyes as we navigated our way to the Chancellor Hotel just in time to watch a cable car steak past on its way to pick up more passengers.  The bustle of the city brought me back to my school days, but the kids stared, somewhat overwhelmed at the height of the buildings surrounded with the flurry of people, honking horns and clanging of the cable cars.

View from our hotel window
Entering the haven of the hotel lobby brought peacefulness back into their bodies as everyone enjoyed one of the warm chocolate chip cookies upon check in.  Heading up the small elevators which have transported guests to one of the 137 rooms since 1914, our family arrived at the 11th floor weary and ready for a rest.  Small, but nicely appointed rooms with windows opening to Powell Street below brought smiles to everyone's faces as we leaned out to greet the fog swirling down the hill along with another clanking cable car.  Fire escapes line the outside of the hotel and had me exclaiming "NO!" to Liv's first question of "Is that our balcony and can I stand out there?"

Ceiling fans made up for the old hotel's lack of air conditioning and a jar of hard candies made up for my son's lack of lunch.  Free WiFi is available and a large, old fashioned soaking tub had my name on it for later in the evening.  The open windows let in fresh air, however my husband admitted later in the trip to having difficulty sleeping with the constant noise of the never sleeping city.

Shopping on Union Square is always a treat and taught Liv that our local mall is not the big event she thought it was.  A four story Forever 21 had her literally leaping with pleasure along with the Victoria's Secret just a block from our hotel.  She loved the fragrant Lush store filled with fresh handmade soaps and was introduced to a world of people different from home when a man with streaked blond hair gave her tips on how blonds really do have more fun (she loved that a man would know about handmade soaps and shampoos!).  With a beaming smile and packages tucked under her arm we made our way around the corner to meet the guys at Macy's for a family friendly dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.

The next morning had us up early and dining at the hotel's restaurant, Luques.  The restaurant is fine but nothing to write home about and with so many better dining options in San Francisco one visit was enough for me (try Honey Honey Crepery just down and around the corner for a real breakfast treat!).  With our newly purchased 3-Day Cable Car passes on hand we rushed outside and jumped on the Mason/Powel line, destination:  The Rock... Alcatraz Island.

Wrapped in appropriate foggy August attire (jackets and long pants complete with socks and shoes) the family laughed as I shivered in my capris, light sweater and was the only person in the City wearing flip flops in August.  With the wind in our faces we traveled up Powell and did our best Dorris Day impressions as we rode the car to the end of the line near Fisherman's Wharf.  A few blocks walk had us arriving at Pier 33 and Alcatraz Cruises in plenty of time for our designated tour.

Note:  Alcatraz is an extremely popular destination in the city of San Francisco and tickets to the attraction are often sold out weeks in advance.  Most days will have no available tickets for those who did not plan ahead.  Book your reservations up to 90 days in advance at Alcratraz Cruises.

A small ferry brings travelers the short distance from Pier 33 to Alzatraz Island.  A brief history form the Alcatraz Cruises site:
Most people know that Alcatraz was once a world-famous federal penitentiary, but the island’s history before and after the penitentiary era is less well known. For example, few realize that it was also the site of the first American lighthouse on the West Coast and that the island served as a huge harbor defense fort during the Civil War. After the fort became obsolete, the U.S. Army turned the island into a grim military prison. Following the closing of the penitentiary, Alcatraz became the site of a American Indian protest movement that would change modern American history.  Rich in history, there is also a natural side to the Rock - gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare.

Included in your Alcatraz Island ticket is a Cell House Audio Tour.  Taking you through the cell house with narration from former inmates and guards the tour brings life to the empty cells and courtyard.  With stories of daily life and breakout attempts the audio tour held everyone's interest and left us wanting even more.  From Al Capone to Machine Gun Kelly and Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz, the history and lore of the tour gave a grim impression of life on The Rock during its penitentiary years.  Definitely a highlight of our trip, Alcatraz Island is highly recommended!

Back on land and with our stomachs rumbling, my husband and I directed the kids towards Fisherman's Wharf, an area we had both often visited as youngsters ourselves whenever out of town guests came for a visit.  Memories of steaming steel vats, piles of fresh crabs and clam chowder in sour dough bread bowls came flooding back as the infamous Fisherman's Wharf sign came into view.

Perhaps it was the passing of the years and visiting now as an adult rather with our 35 years prior child-like eyes, but the area is not the traditional Fisherman's Wharf that I remember.  The crab pots remained along with the restauranters informing you that they only had one good seat left that just happened to be for four people and men were still hawking their fresh crab hauls.  The clam chowder in the bread bowl also remained, but somehow the area had lost much of its charm.  A large In N Out Burger somehow seemed out of place and an aura of tourism filled the air along with the steam from those famous crab vats.

Crab anyone??
Still worth a visit, Fisherman's Wharf brought back those memories of our childhood while a visit to Bistro Boudin's filled our stomachs.  With stunning views of the Golden Gate, Alcatraz and the bay, a bowl of crispy sour dough was promptly devoured and a second one requested as we awaited our pricey lunch.  My husband's Crab Tacos were good as was my Bistro Shrimp Salad with Grilled Avocado.  Liv enjoyed a Chicken Bacon Sandwich served on the famous sourdough bread while my son munched on his Anchor Steam Beer Battered Fish and Chips.  All in all a good meal, but priced high for tourists and with smallish portions the view was the best part.  However, it was exactly what we expected and no one was disappointed.
Bistro Boudin on Urbanspoon
Clockwise:  Crab Tacos, Shrimp Salad, Fish & Chips and Chicken Bacon Sandwich
Downstairs a visit to the bakery has a 30 foot observation window allowing visitors to view bread making in action.  The aroma of the freshly baked sour dough was intoxicating as loaf after loaf was shaped, baked and wrapped for sale.  Next time I'd probably visit the Boudin Cafe in place of the Bistro and take in the sights and smells of the bakery.  If you are looking for a view though, the Bistro is your spot.

Norbert Yancy - A hidden treasure!
Moving on to Ghirardelli Square, another childhood favorite, my heart burst with happiness to see Norbert Yancy still on the corner below the square.  Mr. Yancy has been sitting and singing on that corner for as long as I can remember and as a reviewer on yelp wrote, he is "An unknown known performer, Norbert's signature is a black hat, blue sweater, unwavering cheer and an endless supply of rhymes."  I still remember walking by when I was about 10 and he did a little ditty about the pants I was wearing (my mom had me wear something fairly colorful and yep... I did stand out.)  I have never visited Ghirardelli Square without him singing on that corner and have always looked forward to his rhyming song.  Norbert is one of those hidden treasures in the city and sure to bring a smile to your face as you visit.

Heading into the square with ice cream on our minds my elation deflated as soon as I read the Ghirardelli menu.  Years past had the sundae concoctions all named to be reminiscent of this beautiful city by the bay with The Rock, three large scoops of ice cream surrounded by marshmallow and whipped cream and topped with fudge sauce, nuts and cherries always being my favorite.  This visit had a similar sundae, however the noted title of "Three scoop sundae with marshmallow and whipped cream" was far less charming than in the past.  And far less ice cream for a higher price than in the past as well.  However, the smell of the parlor along with the large chocolate vats in the back made our trip reminiscent of our childhood, and we got off with less calories, so I guess all was good.

Tired feet took us to the cable car turn around as we walked past gorgeous bay views and tourists on segway tours.  Bikers filled the area with cameras in hand as we watched the Powell-Hyde Cable Car reach its last stop just across from the infamous Buena Vista, known for the creation of the Irish Coffee.

Know that the wait at the cable car turn around can be lengthy, but an endless supply of local entertainment will keep your attention - Escape Man had the kids laughing as he escaped from a straight jacket and chains giving a comedic narration all the way through.  Packing the cable cars to capacity on their return to Union Square the view from the back of the car on this line is particularly spectacular!  Soaring up the hills of the city, one is treated to the stunning views of Alcatraz and the bay that are made to be featured in films (or tv commercials!).

Alcatraz from the back of a Cable Car heading up the Powell/Hyde Line
A wonderful day filled with the sights, sounds and aromas of the city had us all pleasantly tired and ready for a quick meal before heading to bed.  Was it crowded?  Yes.  Was it cold?  Yes.  Was it touristy?  Another yes.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.