Whole Wheat Bow Tie Pasta

BowTie Pasta

I really can’t start yet another post with ” Sorry for being absent and not posting frequently”.The “Sorry” itself will¬†start a “Sorry, Not Sorry” debate in your mind ūüėČ

Really, things have been chaotic in real life. Vipul’s travels for work, my job search, me exploring other things I want to do alongside (E-book, art portfolio and lot other¬†ideas in works), debating whether to buy a house or NOT ( if so, where, how much etc), volunteering at Varun’s school, not to mention pinning ton’s of stuff for Varun’s party which is totally outsourced (the pins are just so I feel I contributed to it other than swiping my card).

Anyways, in amidst this, I found myself with orphaned egg yolks. Yet again. Pudding I salivated!

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Savoring Summer Break At Lake Tahoe

Summer at Lake Tahoe

Varun’s preschool had a 3 day summer holiday last week. He graduated from previous “Rabbits” class into pre-K “Giraffes” class.

Vipul could take a couple of days off as well.

We took off to Lake Tahoe to enjoy its crystal clear waters. A 4 hr drive from SF, Lake Tahoe is a large alpine lake boasting crystal clear water and surrounded by mountains on all sides. Numerous beaches, hikes, ski resorts, casinos dot the area, Playing on its sandy beaches, taking the cruise boat ride to Emerald Bay, bob around on a cheery yellow paddle boat was the agenda. That and relaxing at the hot tub overlooking the golf course was on mine. Vipul added golf lessons at a nearby driving range to his travel wish list. And we all wanted to enjoy the scenic 72-mile drive around the lake one afternoon when both kids were asleep.

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Sonoma Wine Tasting – The Local Way

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Years ago, I should say a decade ago, we visited Napa Valley with a bunch of friends.

Some drove from Florida, others flew in from DC; one was in all the way from India.

We all were visiting San Francisco for the first time. And as with all SF itineraries, we all had Napa on our radar. An afternoon tasting wines, driving from one winery to another. Packing as many tasting rooms and flights in that short time as possible. Before we headed on to another SF vacation destination.

This was Dec 2004. We didn’t know our Chardonnay from our Syrah. We didn’t care what the area specialized in. It was drizzling and overcast. We just went with the flow.Napa was on the list. Napa was done.

Now, we are older, wiser and seem to know our wines and know which ones we like. So after a spell of rainy spring days, when the weather was warm and sunny last Saturday, we decided to head out to Sonoma Wine County.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

With a baby and a toddler in tow, a family friendly winery was the name of the game.

Wine tasting was important but more important was a reasonable driving distance, picnic tables, food options and restrooms, bocce ball court, lawn to let Varun run about. We wanted to spend an afternoon at one winery where we could real, enjoy the sun, the views and the wine.

Larson Family Winery came highly recommended and it didn’t disappoint.

Since it was our first trip with the baby, and we were not sure how he would fare, we set out during his longish nap for the day. Vihaan slept during the hour-long ride to the winery. He fussed a bit but was largely in deep slumber.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Once past Golden Gate Bridge and Marin county, we saw vineyards dotting alongside the road, rolling hills in the distance, cows grainy on pretty green meadows and low hanging clouds. It was a beautiful day for a picnic at a winery. We picked up sandwiches, cookies and chips at a deli en-route.

Sonoma Vineyard

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

We reached the dirt road that led us to the winery. A barn, tractor, petting animals gave way to tasting room and a patio with tables overlooking the vineyards. The place was very casual, and laid back. Not as crowded as Napa wineries are. And certainly not pretentious.

One thing we didn’t realize was that we could have booked a table earlier. Luckily, there were still a couple of tables available for us to grab in the shade and ¬†staked our claim.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Wines Sonoma

There were many groups with kids, toddlers, babies and even pets in tow. Some were there to just enjoy a sunny California day, others to celebrate a birthday. Food and drinks were spread out on the table. People were chatting, laughing, playing bocce ball or simply lazing with their glass of vino.

We had lunch while Vihaan slept. Along with table side wine tasting. Even mom had fun tasting wine. I abstained.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Varun promptly wandered off with his bat and ball and played on the lawn and then went to check out the vines. He was hoping to see grapes but since its early spring, was disappointed to see tiny buds.

Well, we need to simply plan another trip in Fall when the grapes are ready for harvest. Hopefully then, I can indulge in one glass of their famous 3 Lab Cab!

Vihaan woke up and nursed and was awake for almost an hour while we were there. It was pretty hot by then even in shade and we decided to leave before the baby got too cranky. We headed back, a bit tipsy. Vihaan fussed a bit on the way back but slept right away, alongside Varun and grandparents.

It was an uneventful first outing. That’s¬†good in my books.

Sonoma had us hooked with its pastoral beauty. Even though we barely have seen it, we can’t wait to try other wineries in the region. Further north are more famous ones. One winery, one weekend at a time!

Along The Road to Hana

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I have always wanted to drive on the Road to Hana since I saw it on some travel channel years ago.

In one of our earlier versions of the trip plan, we planned to stay overnight in Hana and explore the Seven Sacred Pools and hike in the vicinity.

Of course, this time we didn’t really want to change hotels etc. So we just decided to do a day trip. Drive as far as we could go and then turn back. the trip was more about the journey than the destination.

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We didn’t want to wake up early just to complete the drive. The drive one way is about 45 miles and there are several guides/maps that list what to do mile by mile. The roads hugs the coast and crosses many single lane bridges as it winds its way to Hana. On a busy day there is a pile of cars and that tends to slow folks down. Most folks tend to drive all the way to Hana, have lunch there and then stop at different attractions on the way back.

We took it easy and left Wailea after breakfast and decided that we will probably go up to mile marker 17 or such and then head back.

First stop – Paia Town

This is the last big town before you embark onto the road to Hana drive. We stopped here to pick up picnic lunch, water and use restrooms before continuing further. Didn’t really spend much time here though it has some excellent shopping opportunities – jewelry, clothes, restaurants etc

With our lunch packed we headed to our first real stop on the drive.

Mile Marker 2 Р Twin Falls

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Varun hates long drives. To get him excited about the trip we told him about waterfalls and how he could splash in them and get wet. In fact the only reason he agreed to sit in the car for this long was to see waterfalls. So, we were very happy to find a decent waterfall right off the bat. Parking was a bit tricky here as this is the first stop on the trip and almost everyone stops here but we managed to find one along the road. Varun hiked the almost one mile gravel trail to the falls.

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Flowers, fruits, singing and dragging a stick behind him helped him walk on the uneven trail.

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The falls were strictly ok but Varun loved getting wet in the big pool.

And holding a big green gecko on a stick.

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As a reward for walking, we treated him to coconut water and bananas at the fresh fruit stand right outside the trail head to the falls.

Exhausted he slept in the car. So now, we had a dilemma – should we stop along the way and carry him or drive a bit further and then stop on the way back. We decided to do the latter.

We stopped and ooh-ed-aah-ed at the views from the car but our real next stop was in Ke’anae Peninsula.

Mile Marker 16.5 – Ke’anae Peninsula¬†

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Tall waves spraying over rocky lava coastline, taro fields, a beautiful old Hawaiian church and not to mention the most amazing banana bread. Need I say more why we stopped here. Shaved ice was heaven. It was dramatic and hypnotizing. Inviting us to stay, lay a blanket and have a picnic lunch right there.

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The open green fields next to the church would be perfect for Varun to run around but he was still asleep.

We sat there taking in the dramatic scenery and munching on the warm banana bread and then drove down further south to see more waterfalls and coast.

Mile Marker 25 РNahiku Landing 

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Nahiku landing promised a drive through forest and a hidden waterfall on the beach. We though this would be perfect for Varun. Wake up from his nap, have lunch on the beach and then spend time in the waterfall before heading back. The drive was beautiful. But unfortunately the waterfall had dried up. We met another couple who hiked around the beach to find the waterfall with no luck.

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This was the least touristy spot on the drive thus far and the solace was very comforting.

Varun was a bit disappointed about the waterfall but was happy to see the giant waves splash on the rocky shore below.

We decided to head back as it was past 3 by now and see if we could wrangle in one more waterfall stop on the way back.

Mile Marker 17 –¬†Pua’a Ka’a Park & Falls

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We stopped at the Pua’a Ka’a park for late lunch and rest room break. Across the road there was a small waterfall and Varun was very impatient to cross a little stream to reach it. He wanted Vipul to help him jump from one rock to another while crossing the stream. The water was a bit cool to actually bathe in but it was fun splashing around in it.

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We spent some time here and then decided to drive back home. Clouds started gathering and it was bit dark. We drove back playing car games like I Spy games and  asking him to recognize animal sounds.

It was a lovely day out – away from the resort to see the real Maui.

I am sure areas around Hana are even more prettier but we got a glimpse of it on this lush green tropical drive. Wonderful seascapes, quaint one lane bridges, thick bamboo forests and taro patches. A must do while on Maui.

Travel Tales from Nilgiris – Ooty Highlights

After a long day of travel and visiting the Tea factory in Coonoor, we slept early and woke up refreshed ,ready to take on the mountains.

The plan was to go to Dodabetta peak and other sites along the way. The  basic sights outside of Ooty. After breakfast we headed out towards Ooty, ooh-ing and aah-ing at views along every turn. More tea estates, cute bungalows and roadside fresh vegetable sellers with just pulled carrots, radishes on sale. Seriously, Ooty has to be the root vegetable capital of India! The colorful carrots, radishes, beets have never looked so inviting and fresh in India!

Carrots for sale

Doddabetta Peak
Views ofOoty below

The dark clouds parted making way for sunshine and every now and then a light drizzle added to the misty weather around us. The kids were bundled up and cosy. After about an hour from Coonoor we reached Dodabetta, the highest peak in the Nilgiris. It was windy and super cold. We just had lame wind cheaters and hurriedly bought fleece caps from a hawker who made most of the opportunity by selling cold weather clothes from the trunk of his car.

Us at Doddabetta

Doddabetta peak telescope house

We almost ran from the car to a tea stall on the peak who was making brisk business on this cold windy day. We wandered around, chased the kids who kept warm by running around and even went up the tower that had the telescope to take in views below. Clouds drifted in and out revealing and hiding the Ooty city below. It was a bit like being in Switzerland minus the Alps, snow and crowds.

Cloudy misty peak

Oh, and the plump dahlias and marigolds and a host of other flowers at the top were envy inducing.

Nilgiris Tea and Chocolates
Nilgiri tea and chocolate

After an hour or so we headed back to the car and drove back towards the city stopping en-route at Niligiris¬†tea shop for another round of tea. Kids had chocolate. It’s an¬†experience to sit amidst tea gardens and sip hot tea. And variety of tea like masala tea, green tea, cardamom tea, even chocolate tea! We definitely OD’ed on tea and chocolate while we were here. Luckily all the walks and chasing Varun helped with keeping the weight piling on.

Pykara Lake
Boating at PykaraLake

Next stop on agenda was Pykara¬†lake. It was cloudy but not raining hence we decided to make most of it and went boating. The kids were cold, but were thrilled about going out on the boat. there are no views here to talk about but if you want to have a boating experience while in Ooty, this is probably a better bet than Ooty lake ( which is very crowded). I didn’t like this spot as much.

Pykara Falls
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Our driver recommended going to Pykara¬†falls from here and I didn’t really have any hopes. But we went along nevertheless. This was a surprise for me. Although the monkeys here are aggressive, the falls were very beautiful. These are the kind of falls you can sit on rocks on and enjoy levels of falls all around. The water was brown due to rain run off but I really liked them. They had an earthy, down to earth quality about them without boasting about being the widest, tallest, most visited or one with most water. Arum leaves nodded in the light breeze, couples walked hand in hand to the falls and odd visitor sat by a burning log to keep warm. It was a bit slippery due to rain and moss and we had to keep an eye out on Varun to ensure he didn’t slip. We returned to tell the tale without any accidents.

By now, we were all hungry and headed to a “dhabha” or a road side eatery for lunch. It looked clean so we ordered food which to our surprise was very fresh – dal, curry, rotis and rice. We were set. We got some bhaajis or fritters from a neighboring stall as appetizer while waiting for our food to arrive. It starting pouring heavily and we contemplated sitting there over lunch and prolong it to tea to wait it out. But as if on cue, rain stopped after we had lunch and we could step out to take in more photos of the scenery in rain.

Photosession us

We left Varun in the car and wandered around to get some couple photos ūüėČ

Nine Mile Stop
9 milepoint

Our driver prodded us to go to another “tourist” attraction on the same road -the¬†nine mile stop. It is so-called¬†as it is 9 miles from Ooty¬†and is a popular spot for movie shoots. It’s an¬†overview point. You have to climb a small hill to get to the top to the view-point¬†but the rains made it very slick. We managed to make it to the top with Varun who as he was cold pulled his cap over his face and proclaimed he is a Spiderman. Things kids do!

Varun as spiderman

Vipul ran around taking photographs while Varun and I huddled closely to keep warm. The wind was wild on this exposed location and we were pushed by the wind. Varun and I headed down and soon Vipul and other’s joined us. Back in the car we were warm and happy.

Getting tired of the cold we headed back to our resort in Coonoor, even though there are additional attractions ( Pine Forest, Six mile stop) in this area. Back in the resort we sat by the fireplace enjoying some more hot tea while the kids played around.

eating by fireplace

Latter that night there was a bon-fire where we sat, joked and had drinks.

Wildas fire

It was another awesome day of sightseeing, great scenery and amazing company. The evening and night were spent at the resort- resting and charging for another day ahead!

As we headed to bed that night we couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful Ooty must be when the weather is better in early summer months of March and April. Sun soaked hills and valleys would be the perfect getaway – no wonder it is called the Queen of the Hills. We dozed off dreaming of the scenic vistas and great company counting our blessings for being able to enjoy this!