Cuba - Surreal Beauty

Hot. Colorful. And visceral. A country full of contrast and warm, vibrant people. Years later, my experiences in Cuba still resonate with me.

My mother and I went in 2012 as part of an educational tour when it was more difficult for Americans to visit. It still had a magical quality of feeling frozen in time - untouched by consumerism and mass tourism, people lazily going about their day without being glued to their cell phones, 1950s cars driving by in perfect condition. Yet it also felt on the precipice of change. A large part of the tour involved attending talks by artists, politicians, and locals discussing their thoughts on the effects of globalization. As the relations and travel between the US and Cuba continue to ease, the culture will undoubtedly be affected - visit now before their cafecitos are replaced with Starbucks, their traditional architecture torn down for Marriotts. Experience this beautiful country before it changes too much.  

Sunset over Havana on my first night 

Sunset over Havana on my first night 

Growing up, my knowledge of Cuba was limited - relegated to history class lessons about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the United States embargo, navigating popular culture's conflicting opinions about Fidel Castro's rule. With our country's strict travel restrictions, I had never actually met someone who had been there before so I went in with low expectations and an open, curious mind. 

What I found was a country full of beautiful, joyous people and a passion for life - people who would spontaneously burst into dance on the street and laugh late into the night over mojitos and cigars.

At sunset, I loved people-watching and walking along Havana's Malecón, an ocean esplanade that serves as a social hotspot to meet, catch up, or simply relax. The cross-section of personalities is wonderful and varied - on one short block one might encounter a group of men playing jazz trombone, an elderly woman peeling bananas, a man fishing tonight's dinner, a couple in romantic embrace, and a gaggle of girls gossiping away. An older man reminisced to me that when he grew up, the Malecón is where you would meet a girl, only to take her back for a date, kiss for the first time, and officially become boyfriend / girlfriend. 

Doors and people, two of my favorite things to photograph !

Doors and people, two of my favorite things to photograph !

Snippets of life around Havana and Santiago de Cuba 

Snippets of life around Havana and Santiago de Cuba 

One of the things that Cubans kept telling me was that they were a "surrealist" country filled with dichotomies. The concept behind surrealism stems from the 1900s art movement that juxtaposed incongruous subject matter to create fantastic imagery. They would often point out to me - the beauty and majesty of grand sweeping architecture crumbling under peeling paint. Or the bizarre visual of pristine 1950s American cars set against the backdrop of tropical vegetation. Perhaps the most "surreal" thing for many Cubans was the reality of existing a mere 90 miles from the United States, with whom they share such a complicated history. Cubans refer to the American trade embargo as "the blockade," and many implored us to write our government to have it repealed. I can't imagine what it's like to grow up so close to a country you are unable to visit, giving meaning to the old idiom "so near and yet so far." Our two countries seem to have so many misconceptions about one another, and while it was clear to me that Cubans definitely felt their economy had been deeply affected by the United States embargo, instead of being angry they wanted to break down any ill-will and shower us with warmth and welcome, get Americans to come visit and learn about what their country is really like. 

The poverty of Cuba is different from anything I'd experienced during my previous visits to developing countries. Before visiting, I met with another American photographer whose wife and daughter live in Cuba and were unable to come to the US. He told me that people would rarely beg for money because the government provides basic living necessities, but often had no access to things like pencils and paper and I should bring those instead. Indeed, during one of our first days a woman came up to our group signaling for writing utensils. Another misconception is that the food is amazing (Miami's flavorful, authentic fare is one of my favorites.) The country has been operating on ration books for years, and while they can always get staples like chicken, rice, beans, and plantains - on any given day they might not have access to any spices to flavor the food, or fresh vegetables to round out their diet. My understanding is that in recent years, the government is now allowing more privately-run businesses to exist and you can find more varied food options at "paladares" (expensive, family-run restaurants) and select markets. The Guardian has an interesting article HERE, explaining the complicated intersection of the country's agriculture and government, the embargo, and its resulting food shortages.

Pristine retro American cars; beautiful historical architecture crumbling under peeling paint  

Pristine retro American cars; beautiful historical architecture crumbling under peeling paint  

The "surrealism," as the Cubans call it - of seeing a 1950s American car set against the backdrop of revolutionary Che Guevara 

The "surrealism," as the Cubans call it - of seeing a 1950s American car set against the backdrop of revolutionary Che Guevara 

One of the most striking things about Cuba is their intense appreciation for the arts in its many forms. A large part of the tour was educational / art-focused, so we visited museums, the national ballet, poetry readings, jazz performances, and artists in residence at their painting studios. My highlight of the trip was attending a dance school, where students trained all day - from classical ballet to traditional AfroCuban dance. They were talented and spontaneous, filled with vibrance and joy. Like many children, they also loved hamming it up for my camera - my image of the three seated ballerinas (below right) went on to garner recognition as it won 3rd place in the APA (American Photography Association's) national competition.

Dance studio, Havana 

Dance studio, Havana 

Dance studio, Havana 

Dance studio, Havana 

A few days into the trip I hit a bit of a slump when a guy I'd been casually seeing back in San Francisco pinged me he was now seeing someone else. I moped around for the better part of a day, failing to appreciate an amazing live jazz performance; I decided I needed some alone-time and split off from the group for a bit. I ended up exploring the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, renowned for its history, elegant design and architecture. Over the years the hotel had welcomed the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, and Winston Churchill. I wandered through the corridors and imagined being transported back to the 1930s heyday of the Rat Pack; I felt it wouldn't have looked or felt much different. I drank a mojito and walked along the rocky coast, sought shade beneath the palm trees and inhaled the salty sea air. I suddenly had a realization - this trip was awesome. *I* was awesome ! At this point, how many Americans were allowed into Cuba, much less hanging out in Sinatra's old haunt sipping mojitos ?

I felt the beauty of the moment, I felt self-worth and confidence, I appreciated my love and curiosity for adventure, and I spent the rest of the trip soaking in the experiences instead of moping over a boy. 

Hotel Nacional de Cuba (top), Seaside bar in Havana (bottom)

Hotel Nacional de Cuba (top), Seaside bar in Havana (bottom)

In the end, my mother and I did a lot of things while in Cuba - visited the stunning home of artist and sculptor José Fuster, went rum tasting and smoked cigars, visited the mines near Bayamo and the gravestone of Bacardi. I rode in a Chevy Bel Air, watched my mum salsa dance, and drank at Ernest Hermingway's old watering hole, La Bodeguita del Medio.

Yet when I think back on Cuba I'm far less interested in the things I did and much more interested in the way I felt. Thinking of Cuba brings me back to the thick hot air and sea breeze against my skin, minty mojitos and cigar smoke, the warm and welcoming smiles of the locals, the colorful facades of buildings wearing with time.

Rural mining town near Bayamo

Rural mining town near Bayamo

Scenes around Santiago de Cuba (top) Castillo El Morro (castle on the other side of the Havana harbor)

Scenes around Santiago de Cuba (top) Castillo El Morro (castle on the other side of the Havana harbor)

Cigar tasting and wearing my new Commandante hat !

Cigar tasting and wearing my new Commandante hat !

Third Burn's the Charm

Phil and I have just completed our final Burning Man for the foreseeable future and oh, what a ball we had ! 2016 marked my third year at Burning Man and Phil's seventh, and it felt like we finally nailed all the elements to provide the groundwork for an excellent week in Black Rock City !

I have to admit that I initially hesitated to write about Burning Man because - 1. There's been so much written about it already 2. People get really self-righteous (aka burnier-than-thou) about what it is and what it means and 3. Everyone's experience is so vastly different. I've only been three times, but I think even if I'd been 15 or 20 times it would be difficult to elucidate its meaning. Seventy thousand people converging on a desert to create a temporary city is a living, changing organism; every year and every person's experience unique and varied. So I hereby absolve myself of any authority on the subject, and am simply sharing snippets of my own experiences and photos from the past few years !

The "LOVE" sign in 2014 - perfectly encapsulated our experience that year !

The "LOVE" sign in 2014 - perfectly encapsulated our experience that year !


When the sun begins to set in the desert and you look out at the horizon you'll see hundreds of twinkly LEDs and giant bursts of flame begin to light up the night sky. It's a sight to behold and one of my favorite parts of Burning Man - a promise of any number of adventures available to you out there - all you need is an open, curious mind to bike out and see what lies ahead.

You can truly find anything at Burning Man, depending on what you're looking for. People who haven't been before take their cues from the media and imagine a debaucherous drug-fueled orgy filled with naked hippies and weirdos. Many of those elements do exist there (and lose any negative connotation within the walls of the city - weirdness, nudity, self-expression are all encouraged !), but so do innumerable other experiences - inspiring art, dancing to incredible DJ sets at sunrise, building community, exploring your spirituality and reflecting upon oneself. Everyone can curate their experience to be as wild or tame as they see fit and no one will judge you for it.

Phil (my boyfriend at the time, now husband) moonlights as a DJ, so our week is usually centered around finding excellent music and art. In 2014 we caught an amazing DJ set by The Crystal Method, our shared favorite electro band in our teens. We laid in a hammock someone had set up in the middle of the desert to watch the sunset, and kissed on the LOVE sign just as a dust storm began to hit (pictured above.)

We'd only been dating for a few months at the time, but I like to say that we began to fall in love during a magical sunrise on Thursday morning, dancing on top of a giant fish art car at Robot Heart. 

Going into Burning Man, I felt like I had a decent idea of the scale of art and people I was about to see. Phil had begun sharing his experiences with me as early as our third date, he'd often send me articles to read and documentaries to watch on the subject. Yet the one thing that is perhaps a bit difficult to describe and is one of my favorite things at Burning Man is the wonderful and unique interactions that take place between people on playa. The act of "gifting" (there is no "barter" system) breaks down walls and barriers between each other - strangers walking up to give you a hug when you look down, someone handing you a bottle of coconut water in the unbearable heat, a handmade bracelet that matches your outfit. It makes everyone friendlier and warmer, more receptive to interacting with people that they would pass by without so much as a glance in the "default world." The environment itself, harsh and unforgiving, further builds this sense of community. One afternoon we got caught in a "white out" dust storm out in deep playa (meaning you can't see more than a few feet in front of you;) we sought shelter inside a small enclosed art structure and were joined by a few German blokes. Huddled up, we handed them a beer and talked about life, bonded over the ferocity of the storm until it passed; a "playa moment" that would not have existed given other circumstances and environments. 

Fortunately, my first year was great. I was awed by the sheer amount of art, quality of musical acts, and community involvement. When we left, I knew Phil and I would be back together again.


2015 was a difficult year, for a number of reasons. While Black Rock City has always been inhospitable, many veterans claimed it was the worst weather in more than ten years. Some were unprepared for evening temperatures in the 30s, and though we had packed enough long-johns and fleeces - it was still bone-chillingly cold. The dust storms were frequent and intense. Whether it was day or night, it seemed that every time we left camp to check out an art piece or find a friend we would get caught in an hour-long whiteout in the middle of nowhere. Many people don't mind dust storms (some even enjoy them), but lost in them I often felt claustrophobic. Despite vigilant care for my skin, after a few days the dust infiltrated and tore away at me - my face became scaly and began to peel and crack, my nose began to bleed, and I broke out in rashes on my legs and arms. The real kicker, however, was my autoimmune disorder began acting up in a way Phil and I didn't know how to deal with at the time. A short bike ride often left me exhausted and in pain, barely able to get back to our camp. Needless to say, my experience differed drastically from the previous year and it was difficult for me to get out there and adventure.

On the left is a popular meme from 2015, which is a hilariously accurate depiction of what "The Man" looked like most of the week in all that dust ! On the right is a photo of me that was taken in 2014 as a joke, but is actually how I felt most of 2015 ;) 

On the left is a popular meme from 2015, which is a hilariously accurate depiction of what "The Man" looked like most of the week in all that dust ! On the right is a photo of me that was taken in 2014 as a joke, but is actually how I felt most of 2015 ;) 

That being said, I felt it was OK to have a different experience ! Burning Man is never meant to be easy. It made me appreciate the previous year even more, and I knew the weather the following year would be undoubtedly better. As the week came to a close, Phil and I had seen a few stunning art pieces and caught some great musical acts (stumbling upon Bob Moses performing a sunset set was my favorite), yet we felt a bit underwhelmed as a whole. After The Man burned Saturday, it appeared as though the skies and dust had cleared at last - and we decided to have one "big night out !" We drank a ton of Red Bull and powered through till the sunrise - returning to our fish art car from the previous year for music and dancing at Robot Heart, making friends with an amazing group of people, and feeling satisfied that our burn ended on a good note.

An assortment of art installations from the year, as well as our Saturday into Sunday sunrise at Robot Heart

An assortment of art installations from the year, as well as our Saturday into Sunday sunrise at Robot Heart

Our favorite fish art car Sunday morning sunrise after an amazing DJ set by Thugfucker. A dusty, tiring week, but still finishing happy and in love <3 

Our favorite fish art car Sunday morning sunrise after an amazing DJ set by Thugfucker. A dusty, tiring week, but still finishing happy and in love <3 


We knew this would be our last burn for awhile. We've had our fun, and with hopes of starting a family soon - the next few years of our lives would take on a decidedly quieter tone. So we thought about what would make this our most epic burn yet ?

AWESOME FRIENDS ! We were thrilled that so many of our best friends finally decided to join us for our last burn / their first time. Phil and I have always loved exploring together as a couple, but going out in a big group of friends has an entirely different energy ! One of my college roomies even flew out all the way from Singapore for the festivities.

AND A WEDDING ! We decided to hold a playa wedding that was quirky and silly (contrasting with our traditional wine country wedding back in June.) We almost skipped it but our friends insisted, and it ended up being the highlight of our week.

Incredible capture by Chris Mullendore during our surprise sunset wedding

Incredible capture by Chris Mullendore during our surprise sunset wedding

Phil and I still felt planning-fatigue from our real wedding and couldn't think up anything worthy of an audience. Two of our good friends - Tom (our officiant from our June wedding) and Cheryl (my college roommate) - promised to take the helm and surprise us with a location, ceremony, and vows to read - all we had to do was show up. Saturday afternoon we were blindfolded and taxied out to the surprise destination by one our campmates. As they removed our scarves, the reveal showed a beautiful location at sunset near The Temple, with more than 20 friends and campmates' beaming, smiling faces. 

Our officiant Tom wore a silly squidhat, and made us recite even sillier vows. We all shared a giant group hug, popped champagne, and danced to "Barbie Girl." It was spontaneous and heartwarming, a bright and beautiful memory for us to cherish. 

Popping some Veuve Clicquot to celebrate (photo by Cindy Chiang), getting biked around blindfolded by a campmate (photo by Chris Mullendore)

Popping some Veuve Clicquot to celebrate (photo by Cindy Chiang), getting biked around blindfolded by a campmate (photo by Chris Mullendore)

The first dance - "Barbie Girl" (photos by Cheryl Lee) 

The first dance - "Barbie Girl" (photos by Cheryl Lee) 

The rest of our week was somewhat mellow - exploring on bike and chilling with friends back at camp. Our friends Scott and Cindy constructed an incredibly spacious and comfortable yurt their first year - a haven from the elements and amazing hub for us all to reconnect, relax, and chat. When we did venture out we found some wonderful art installations, my favorite being the impressive "Sonic Runway" - a 1000 ft-long tunnel of lights, synchronized to sound. Other highlights include Phil dancing on top of the Robot Heart bus as Lee Burridge deejayed (a feat usually reserved for scantily-clad models), and a man making a fresh batch of curry udon noodles in the middle of the night - building flavors for over 30 minutes in a meal that was as much performance art as culinary cuisine. The wonderful randomness and absurdity you encounter is another of my favorite things about Burning Man - listening to your camp neighbors making loud cat noises into a microphone while running into someone you met once on a backpacking trip in Australia while wearing a rainbow tutu and eating some exotic tropical fruit someone gifted you - wouldn't seem entirely out of place ! But rather a collision of elements and people and all the creativity they bring coming together in one crazy place.

Phil dancing on top of the Robot Heart bus as Lee Burridge DJs (left), driving into Black Rock City (right)

Phil dancing on top of the Robot Heart bus as Lee Burridge DJs (left), driving into Black Rock City (right)

The twinkly LED lights of Burning Man at night (left), my nighttime furs and lights (right)

The twinkly LED lights of Burning Man at night (left), my nighttime furs and lights (right)

On Saturday night, ten of us biked around searching for Robot Heart in vain. We rode for hours in a thick duststorm with limited visibility and eventually settled by a giant sheep art car playing some great music, and danced into the sunrise. In the past, I've never been comfortable in whiteouts - so this was my first time feeling safe among friends (and even having fun) as we adventured together, calling out to one another frequently to make sure we stuck together. The duststorms are another experience that for me, feel incredibly unique to Burning Man. 

Surrounded by a white haze, a fine dust whipping at your skin, a desolate landscape gives way to some incredible art installation covered in magical twinkly lights - it is truly the only place I've experienced that feels like some alien planet.

The WETA art installation (left), the Sonic Runway LED / sound installation (top right), a creepy Barbie / Ken headswap (bottom right)

The WETA art installation (left), the Sonic Runway LED / sound installation (top right), a creepy Barbie / Ken headswap (bottom right)

I feel that each of my burns had a different "theme," if you will. My first one was about falling in love - learning more about Phil and exploring this strange and wonderful desert land together. 2015 was about struggle, as we tried to deal with the limitations of my health and the harsh climate exacerbating my autoimmune disorder. And I felt that 2016's burn was about friendship - reconnecting with old friends, and building deeper connections with new ones. Phil and I have mellowed out over the years, and this year's burn struck just the right balance of party time and rest time, socializing and relaxing. We'd brought out a bunch of our first-time friends and turned them into certifiable Burners who would surely return next year to create bigger, bolder things.

As we left Black Rock City, Phil and I felt that if this was our last burn together, we would be satisfied. Content in the breadth of our experiences together, forever able to reminisce about our memories of dusty days, sparkly nights, silly costumes, and sunrise sets in the bizarre and beautiful world of Burning Man.

THESE GUYS. Our beloved crew of 2016 aka #teamyurt #allyurtallday 

THESE GUYS. Our beloved crew of 2016 aka #teamyurt #allyurtallday 

New Zealand - a Little Summer in Winter

Last year I spent the better part of December traveling throughout New Zealand - meeting my husband Phil's family, exploring the sights, and learning all about his country ! Never before have I seen such vast expanses of raw natural beauty - I often found myself marveling at how often I would turn my head to find yet another epic view in sight. I was happy to have a little summer in the middle of winter (December is peak summertime in New Zealand) - prime time for wine tasting, beaches, and flowers all abloom. Our initial itinerary was ambitious, and with winding country roads and long distances between cities, we found ourselves continually cutting down on the number of places to visit. Three weeks was just the right amount to get a taste and feel for the country, but nowhere near enough time to see everything we wanted. I hope to return again this winter for a little summer down under !

Lupines blooming on the road to Milford Sound

Lupines blooming on the road to Milford Sound


I'm a huge Lord of the Rings fan, so I knew Hobbiton was on my must-see list. About an hour outside Auckland, surrounded by rolling hills and cows, Hobbiton is a pristine and magical little world ! The former movie set is beautiful and meticulously maintained, with large staffs of gardeners working round the clock. The experience felt just a bit like Disneyland - an organized and well-oiled machine for visitors to meander through the set, snap a few photos, and end with a beer / cider at the Green Dragon Inn, all on a punctual schedule. Although there were quite a few people there, they've clearly nailed the pace of the tours and it never felt too crowded to enjoy. Guides gave all kinds of fun tidbits about filming - from director Peter Jackson dictating every single leaf on a tree be painted a particular shade of green, to transporting an entire pond of frogs elsewhere because they were too noisy (and returning them back again post-filming !) Visiting Hobbiton gave me a huge appreciation for the enormous scale of the set and Jackson's amazing attention to detail that lent such visual beauty to the trilogy. 

Hobbiton movie set 

Hobbiton movie set 


While visiting Hobbiton, we spent the night at Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel - a historical inn built in 1889. I loved its quaint, rustic charm - flowery bedspreads and quirky taxidermy (outfitted with Santa hats for Christmas.) My favorite part, however, were the hot spring pools - surrounded by such lush greenery that I felt we were in the tropics ! These mineral-rich baths were so relaxing, the perfect way to acclimatize after our long journey from the States.

Rustic design and hot springs at Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel 

Rustic design and hot springs at Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel 


After just a few short days on the North Island, we headed down to the South Island for the remainder of our trip. Queenstown, sometimes called the Adventure Capital of the World, is a hub for bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, and skiing. I'm a little on the milder side though, so my experience was more - sunny beaches, stunning views, and wine country ! We took the Skyline Gondola to the top of Bob's Peak for some amazing panoramas of the city. They also had a fun luge run (driving small go-karts) that weave down the windy hillside and overlook the water. 

View from Bob's Peak 

View from Bob's Peak 

Our stay in Queenstown was otherwise pretty mellow - packing picnic lunches for the beach, wine tasting, stopping by the side of the road to snap photos of the scenery. I highly recommend the bistro at Amisfield Winery as a great lunch spot with outdoor seating, stunning views, and excellent wine pairings with the meal. 

Beaches and rivers of Queenstown 

Beaches and rivers of Queenstown 

Amisfield Winery is a beautiful lunch stop with outdoor seating and stunning views

Amisfield Winery is a beautiful lunch stop with outdoor seating and stunning views


While in Queenstown, we stayed at The Millbrook Resort, a world-renowned golf course and spa. The grounds are gorgeous - with sweeping views, standalone cottages, and manicured gardens. A hotel of this caliber would easily cost upwards of $600-700 in the US, yet the Millbrook somehow remains surprisingly affordable (between $200-300 per night.) Their Millhouse Restaurant was also one of my most memorable dining experiences in New Zealand - featuring local, seasonal ingredients and beautiful food styling.

Pristine and picturesque grounds at the Millbrook Resort

Pristine and picturesque grounds at the Millbrook Resort

One of my favorite meals of the trip at Millbrook's fine dining option - The Millhouse

One of my favorite meals of the trip at Millbrook's fine dining option - The Millhouse


Our trip to Milford Sound was probably my favorite part of the entire vacation ! The fjord (a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by glacial erosion) was once famously coined "the eighth Wonder of the World" by writer Rudyard Kipling, and it's easy to see why. The boat ride through the national park gives you 360° panoramic views of lush forests, stunning waterfalls, and snow-capped peaks. We drank water straight from beneath the waterfall, watched seals-at-play, admired a double rainbow. It's a majestic display of nature not to be missed. 

Getting there is an adventure itself, as Milford Sound is a good 4 hour drive from Queenstown - yet the journey there was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip. It was fascinating to drive through so many different microclimates in a short period of time and we stopped frequently to document the experience. While we began in the warm sunshine of Queenstown, our drive took us though rainy lakes, fields of wildflowers and sheep as we headed straight into the looming storm clouds of Milford Sound.


We passed the night at the Milford Sound Lodge during a torrential rainstorm, meaning all the waterfalls were in action that evening and during our tour the following day. The lodge is truly in the middle of nowhere, without wifi or fancy amenities, and bathrooms are mostly shared (though they have a few private room options.) Yet the lodge still managed to feel quite cozy, with a communal kitchen for backpackers, and rustic, hearty fare for dinner. It's nothing fancy, but I have a really fond memory from our evening there - Phil and I huddled up in our tiny room watching The Hobbit with a bottle of red wine, warm and safe from the raging storm outside. 

View from our room at the Milford Sound Lodge, waterfalls flowing freely !

View from our room at the Milford Sound Lodge, waterfalls flowing freely !


We finished our vacation in Phil's beautiful hometown of Christchurch. The final leg of our trip fell around Christmas and was less about tourism and more about family-time - the week was filled with holiday gatherings, leisurely afternoons, delicious food, and blooming gardens. It was a novel experience to have Christmas during summer - BBQing outside, enjoying berries and ice cream, wearing tees and sandals. I feasted on lamb and pavlova, drank the local kiwi wine. And while it was difficult to be apart from my family for the very first time on Christmas, Phil's family was incredibly warm and welcoming. 

Living together in California, I'd spent the last two years sharing all my favorite childhood haunts with Phil. Now it was his turn to share his history with me - visiting the house he grew up in, walking around his college campus. It was a restful week punctuated by compelling conversations over delicious meals, strolling through gardens, and learning more about my love. 

New Zealand is such an easy country to travel around - safe for tourists, a common language, and friendly people. I've really been pushing it on my friends as a gorgeous place to visit during winter (and get a little taste of summer) - especially for those who are active and love being outdoors. I've been to over 30 countries (and counting) now - and New Zealand is by far one of the most beautiful ! You can't escape its dramatic mountains, lush greenery, and crystal clear waters around every bend, and I felt constantly in awe of nature.  I can't wait to return again and discover more of this country's raw, natural beauty.  

Sunshine & Rosé, Fog & Tears

Alright folks, it's time for a blog overhaul ! After neglecting Sunshine & Rosé for many months (busy with wonderful things like wedding planning and honeymooning) - I've decided to undergo a bit of a brand is with great pleasure that I bring you...Sunshine & Rosé, Fog & Tears ! A more well-rounded reflection of my thoughts and beliefs, hobbies, queries, and ramblings. To date, the blog has encapsulated my love of all things pretty - fine wine, good eats, spring flowers, and summer travels. But I equally love moody landscapes, quirky animal rings, and Burning Man. A foggy evening and sour craft brew. 

I first noticed the disconnect as I began to build my brand on Instagram. My @sunshineandrose and personal @brittanymclaren accounts had two distinctly different aesthetics that felt like opposing sides of my personality without any crossover. It felt constricting to limit each account to certain "looks" - flowers, sunshine and luxury on one account, minimalism, mood, and architecture on the other - while feeling I embody all of these qualities. 


So while the visual accounts may remain separate, the blog will become more about writing whatever I want as opposed to building a cohesive brand. Upon graduating from USC, I wrote movie reviews and interviews for a now-defunct website in Hollywood, sidebar tidbits about where-to-go and what-to-do for Where Magazine. As a result, an objective, third-person tone permeates most of my writing and even made its way into my blog; I'm hoping to cultivate my creative learning skills and learn how to add a more personal touch ! 

My husband Phil helped me create the new blog title, which I love :) One night he mentioned that Sunshine & Rosé was only part of my personality, and I should have an alter-ego blog called Fog & IPA that encapsulated everything moody and hipster that I was photographing. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of IPA ! But I loved the idea of "fog" to counterbalance "sunshine", and "tears" to capture emotions beyond the cheery and pretty. Here's to exploring a new chapter !

INSPIRE - Asha Shivakumar

When Asha Shivakumar talks about food, her face lights up and her smile grows wide. If you get her to talk about her grandma's homemade curries back in India ? She positively glows. I lunched with her last month as she showered me with gifts and nurtured me with food, sharing her journey and creation of “Food Fashion Party,” a wonderfully popular blog filled with Indian-inspired recipes and her slice-of-life stories. When she moved here 19 years ago as a newlywed to study finance in the Bay Area, she never would have guessed where life would take her – into a creative world of food, fun, and family, with tens of thousands of followers who want to hear all about it ! Warm and effervescent, Asha radiates positivity and happiness with her motto - “life is beautiful with food” - and you can understand how her personal stories have swept social media by storm.  

Maybe you can start by telling me a bit about how the blog came about ?

It started back in 2012. I had so many friends and friends-of-friends asking me how to make dishes, asking me to send them recipes that were fast, easy, and fun for parties. My friends and family all said my food was so good that I should just start a blog ! And I kept talking about it with my husband for awhile. Until one day my son, who was about 12 at the time, said “Mom, you can't just keep talking about it and talking about it – come and sit down with me, I'm going to start this blog for you !” So the first design was all him !

The name “Food Fashion Party” is so much fun and has really become your brand. How did you choose it ?

I love entertaining and I love the social life. For me, showing you that I care about you is through food. I remember looking through all these blogs looking for recipes to entertain – I wanted it to be simple and look good; I don't want to be in the kitchen all day, I want to be a guest at my own party. Some were very professionally done with beautiful settings and food, but I really wanted to keep it casual and fun. The blog title isn't about what I'm wearing, it's saying that food can be fashionable and simple and you can entertain with it ! I try to get together simple, small groups that can hang out and talk – sometimes I'll say “let's just sing karaoke and have a dosa party !” I show my friends I care about them through food, and when someone enjoys my food, it gives me so much pleasure.  

You have tens of thousands of followers now across various social media platforms - it's really taken off in the last three years !

I was featured by Buzzfeed, Cooking Light, and The Feed Feed which was great, but I definitely work at it. The cooking is a breeze for me and I enjoy the styling; honestly it's the photography that takes me awhile and I'm still learning ! I don't know how it all happened but I feel very blessed.

Asha prepared the most delicious lunch for me - the appetizer was a take on sev puri, cracker chaat. Our main was an Achari chicken curry (with pickling spices.) And for dessert, she made a gorgeous Falooda - rose milk, basil seeds, ice cream, and nuts !

Asha prepared the most delicious lunch for me - the appetizer was a take on sev puri, cracker chaat. Our main was an Achari chicken curry (with pickling spices.) And for dessert, she made a gorgeous Falooda - rose milk, basil seeds, ice cream, and nuts !

I love scrolling through your images on Instagram - your food always look so beautiful.

I cannot paint a single thing, this is my form of art. I strongly believe what my dad used to say when I was growing up – you eat with your eyes first. He taught me how to present your food, and in what bowls. Food needs to look beautiful before you'll enjoy the flavors, and I'm definitely an artist in this case !

Your blog is about the food but it's also a bit of a diary of your life. I loved your recent post about making jam and all your memories with your grandma.

After that jam post, I had so many emails from people – some were very emotional, asking me “how could you write such a beautiful thing without crying ? Did you cry?” and I said “Yes, I did. I'm very emotional.” I write and I express and I show my love to my grandmama who left us long, long ago. And I'm sure she's looking over me now.”

Is she the one who taught you to cook ?

Growing up, my grandma was one of the most amazing cooks I know – she could cook for 50 people in 2 hours, and it would taste heavenly ! I used to sit next to her and she never asked me to help her, but I was always the taste-tester. I would always get the first bowl or first curry. Without even noticing she would explain to me what goes into it and what color it needs to be - it wasn't teaching, just her talking ! And now the color and smell and taste are just imprinted in me, I was developing my palate and watching how she organized everything. To be honest, I never even cooked til I came here to America !

I find that so hard to believe, you're such a prolific cook now ! What made you start ?

I came here from Bangalore, India back in 1996 to study and to get married. I started cooking the moment I came here ! Imagine I used to eat crazy-good, fresh food everyday, and now I had to learn myself. I didn't even know how long it took for a bean to cook or how long to soak rice. I remember in those days we didn't have laptops or computers and I'd talk to my mum once a week and ask her, “Can you send me that recipe please ?” But I had wonderful friends here, learnt some recipes from them and from my mum, and lots and lots of experimentation.  

Is your mum super excited about all your cooking now ?

My mom is amazing – she reads and comments on every post ! And gives me feedback on everything. She's come to the point now where she says, “That looks so good....How did you make that ?” And she loves some of the really personal posts; sometimes she even tears up a bit and is surprised by how much I remember as a child. Because the blog isn't just about food – it's me. It's about family, friends, and my kids and everyone – it's my personality and I just want to share it ! I got so much from my grandma – she would be so proud and I wish I could share it with her, too.

It's so wonderful when families create these lasting memories around food. Do you cook with your two sons ?

Ohmygod, all the time – and they love it ! When my teen was around 3, I would give him a bowl of garlic and ask him to peel it for me. And he'd take forever, but he'd sit there and peel everything ! And now he can cook a wonderful meal for you – he just made me funnel cakes for my birthday – all by himself ! And my baby bear will use everything but the kitchen sink when making his omelet, which by the way, is one of the best ! Everyday my older son makes coffee and the three of us have a snack together – we sit for an hour and talk about school and simply enjoy each other's company.

What's your favorite thing about the blog ?

I love the food itself and sharing the food knowledge that I have, and what goes together and what might not. I love writing my personal stuff there and people relating to it - it's not just about me. I really enjoy when people write to me, and going back and reading my blog posts and reliving those moments. 50 years down the road it's still going to be there and I hope someone can still read and enjoy my story.

When you came here at 21 to study finance and get married, would you ever have guessed you'd be where you are now ?

Not in a million years ! I had a dream of becoming a police officer, a lawyer, or something in finance ! I never knew how to cook – I just enjoyed it and ate everything ! I'm so happy now – I'm blessed every single day that I can do this and God's given me this opportunity and I thank my husband for this. Today I can do whatever I feel like – and it's very creative and it's beautiful. I get to be in this wonderful zone of cooking, and writing, and creating and I love this because it's where I get to show and share myself.

You can follow Asha's stories and recipes on her blog at and on Instagram @foodfashionparty

She also recently partnered with Z Gallerie for their 2015 Entertaining Guide – pick up her tips, tricks, and recipes on Z Gallerie HERE

Go - Greek Isles, Greece

As a photographer, I tend to associate the places I visit with color palettes. For me nothing quite compares to the distinct colors of Greece - its islands awash in blue and white, punctuated with bright purple bouquets of bougainvillea ! Its picturesque ocean views combined with its laid-back atmosphere make for the perfect summer getaway spot. I've had a few friends visit this summer, igniting my inner wanderlust and inspiring me to look through old photos. Had I the time (and budget) right now, I would easily hop on a plane there for some classic R&R - good eats, sunshine, and scenic beauty. Hoping to go island-hopping again next summer !


With its pristine white buildings and blue domes overlooking the Mediterranean - the island of Santorini epitomizes our vision of Greece. The small town of Oia is full of shopping, arts and crafts, with wine tasting tours just outside the city.  Despite the heavy influx of tourists, the views are every bit as beautiful and unspoiled as you would hope. On my two trips here, I spent most of my time meandering the narrow streets and alleys, searching out photo ops of flowers and stunning scenic views. For lunch, park yourself at a cafe with a good book and view, enjoy a fresh greek salad, glass of wine, and soak up the beauty ! And make sure to allow yourself at least one magical sunset, when the entire island transforms from stark white to shades of rose and gold.


Although a little less manicured than Santorini, Mykonos marks my favorite island. Its vibe is a little more casual and relaxed, with fishermen coming in to port, children playing on the beaches, and a famous pelican who frequents the town square. The island's aesthetic is distinct - with cobble stone floors and red domes (the only island to feature red in addition to the traditional blue !) It's home to one of Greece's most famous churches - "The Church of Our Lady," and the country's iconic windmills, set against vast expanses of blue. Mykonos features active nightlife and parties on the south end of the island, while the beaches to the north are quieter and more secluded. Per usual, I spent most of my time sampling Greek cuisine and exploring the neighborhoods to get a feel for the local culture and lifestyle !

There are a number of fun activities one can partake in on small islands off the coast of Mykonos or Santorini. Some of my favorites have included sipping ouzo on a sailboat and swimming in Mediterranean hot springs, and hiking active volcanoes. Check out the various boat tours you can book from your island !


History buffs will enjoy a day-trip to the island of Delos, which marks one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece - and birthplace of mythological gods Apollo and Artemis. While many of the structures are in ruins, there are still a number of statues that are remarkably intact. There's something amazing about walking among ruins and structures that were inhabited back in the 3rd millennium BC, walking where so many generations lived and fought and worked before us. I remember feeling quiet and humbled by the experience.

If you're keen on history, I also recommend visiting the island of Rhodes (full of well-preserved medieval architecture, and declared a World Heritage Site), and Athens of course (home to the first Olympics and the Acropolis.) 


I've had the pleasure of visiting Greece twice (and counting !) My first voyage there was part of a cruise throughout the Mediterranean - exploring Italy, the Greek isles, and Turkey. Cruises are a great way to explore numerous cities in a short period of time, but don't give you a ton of time to really get to know the area. I recall our stop at the gorgeous Santorini was less than 4 hours, which was about enough time to eat lunch, poke my head in a few shops, and snap some photos ! My second trip there I went with my mum and a group called Gutsy Women Travel - a women-only tour that ferried us between islands every few days, allowing a more in-depth look at each city with guided tours and meetings. Neither experience is wrong - depending on what you're looking for ! But I like being able to partake in the local culture - wake up and wander the streets, grab breakfast at a local cafe, and walk around the neighborhoods on my own time. Next year I plan on flying into Athens and ferrying between islands myself.

Some have raised concerns about traveling to Greece after the economic crisis this summer. Greek Landscapes is a great website that updates travelers each month about the situation, and at this point one can travel without fear - banks have reopened, there are no ATM withdrawal limits, and prices have dropped. Greece still offers great history, delicious food, and unbeatable views - book a trip and support the Greek economy !! 


FIND - Westover Vineyards, Castro Valley

High in the hills of Castro Valley lies Westover Vineyards - a family-owned winery specializing in handcrafted wines, champagnes, and ports. Set inside a mediterranean-style villa, the winery has a rustic, unpretentious beauty - with fountains, lush trees, twinkle-lit terraces and tables prime for group picnics. Westover specializes in ports - offering the largest variety in the US, with over 20 varieties available at any given time (including 10 year barrel-aged tawnys, varietals like cabernet sauvignon or merlot, and white ports infused with the extracts of vanilla, peach, or chocolate). The vibe is amiable and relaxed, thanks to owner William Westover Smyth, who cracks jokes over tastings and makes you feel at home - like an old friend who just dropped by for a visit.

enjoying peach sparkling wine and picnic goodies on the back terrace !

enjoying peach sparkling wine and picnic goodies on the back terrace !

An hour south of San Francisco along quiet, windy roads, Westover is a wonderful place to escape the crowds of Sonoma and Napa Valley. They manage to infuse a bit of fun to the staid nature that typically surrounds wine - outfitting the winery with foosball, a ping pong and pool table. It's ideal for large groups, and the owners are very open to customers bringing their own food for picnics to accompany tastings. It's currently open the second weekend of every month (sat-sun, 12-5pm), and otherwise by appointment. They also have special events - last year featured a "port and cigars under the stars" evening, this summer offered a "champagne weekend" with a free bottle of bubbly with any purchase !

roosters running about the westover property 

roosters running about the westover property 

at one of their special event tastings, they allowed me to bottle my own port from the barrel with a dropper !

at one of their special event tastings, they allowed me to bottle my own port from the barrel with a dropper !

FIND - Margerum Riviera Rosé

Rosé is finally having its moment. While its image was once considered unsophisticated, it's now evolved into a lifestyle - pretty, refreshing, and luxe. It used to be difficult for me to find it in restaurants outside Southern France, yet my most recent trip to New York showed me how ubiquitous it has now become - men and women, young and old, bankers and artists all around me seemed to be sipping the pink juice while soaking up the summer sun. Even Vanity Fair is discussing its newfound fame, with this month's article entitled "When did Rosé, Like, Becoming a Thing ?"  While I've enjoyed it for years, I'm excited to see that it's finally made its way stateside as a delicious and respectable option on your local wine menu !

With San Francisco's "Indian Summer" just around the corner, I went in search of my new favorite rosé to drink this season. I asked the knowledgeable staff at my local wine shop to recommend 5 or 6 of their favorite rosés this season, and after a series of tastings I settled on Margerum's Riviera Rosé (and stocked up on a few...)

Lots of rosés are seasonal, so I like to stock up on my favorite ones from the summer !

Lots of rosés are seasonal, so I like to stock up on my favorite ones from the summer !

Margerum Riviera Rosé is made by Santa Barbara's restaurateur-turned-winemaker Doug Margerum. Produced primarily from grenache grapes from California's Central Coast, it's dry, crisp, and refreshing, with notes of strawberry, honeysuckle and rose petals. While some rosés suffer from being a bit one-note, one of my favorite things about this wine is its balance - it performs equally well pairing with food or sipping on its own. This aptly-named "riviera rosé" brings me right back to some of my favorite moments in Southern France, with its pale pink color and vibrance. Margerum is reasonably priced between $15-20, with a screw-top cap making it prime for picnics - I highly recommend this one to cap off your summer rosé season ! 

A glass of rosé and a view of Alcatraz from my rooftop - never gets old !

A glass of rosé and a view of Alcatraz from my rooftop - never gets old !

INSPIRE - Jenna Bennett

Jenna Bennett had a plan - to travel the world for a year – or until she ran out of funds. Budgeting for a mere $50/day, she saved up and left America on her 30th birthday. A year and a half and 35 countries later, Jenna continues to galavant around the world in search of new cultures, food, and friends. Sporting bouncy curls, a wide smile, and a laugh you can hear in the other room, Jenna's warm and carefree personality always shines through. Her joie de vivre is palpable - it's no wonder she's always at ease and makes friends wherever she goes ! Her blog - jennalogic, is both informative and colloquial, filled with everything from historical finds to silly selfies. Holed up in Amsterdam with a bottle of wine on a rainy night, she sat down with me for an online chat about what led her on this journey, how she continues to fund it, and what she and the rest of us can learn about ourselves through the magic of travel !

Jenna taking a ferry across the English Channel to get from England to France (photo by @jennalogic) 

Jenna taking a ferry across the English Channel to get from England to France (photo by @jennalogic) 

So you left america on your 30th birthday to travel the world. What inspired you to go on this journey ?

Well, I looked around at all my friends and saw that they were either married, married with multiple kids, or losing their minds in LA trying to date and just pay the rent. I was one of those LA people and didn't want to be. So, I set a goal to travel the world after my 30th. The goal was one year or until my money ran out - I made it about 49 weeks.

49 weeks is a long time ! How did you save up the funds for a year abroad ?

My job allows me a very flexible lifestyle. I worked in hotels in Beverly Hills roughly from 2006-2011 and then became a consultant for hotels where I am able to live at the hotels I am currently working for. So, I got rid of my apartment which meant no rent and no bills ! It's pretty easy to save when you eliminate those things.

I remember thinking at the time that it sounded awesome to save on rent and utilities, but you basically had no home base for over a year ! Did you ever miss cooking in your kitchen or having your wardrobe full of clothes ?

I miss cooking the most ! Anytime a colleague invites me over for a home cooked meal, I get really excited. And when I work I basically have a uniform of a black skirt and three different blazers I rotate with different shirts and deal with it. I do miss shoes though. I am obsessed with shoes ! But as soon as I made the decision to travel, I knew it was all going to be worth it.

Right, you understood your sacrifice was going towards something awesome ! Once you were abroad, how did you budget your funds then ?

My idea was to spend $50/day for hostels and food and activities. From all the blogs I read and researched, they said that was a good daily average to spend. I started in Europe with my parents for a few weeks, so my average spend was $0. But, after they left me in Switzerland I quickly realized how little $50 could be in certain countries ! I quickly left Switzerland and went to Germany where my dollar went a lot further. However, that doesn't mean that once I spent $50, I was done for the day. Traveling is about eating the local food and trying the local beverages and exploring local sites. So if I wanted to go to an opera or a museum and eat a delicious meal, I would spend the money. There were others days where I would only pay for accommodation and maybe a few dollars on groceries. The choice to stay in hostels instead of hotels is what allowed me to last so long. In countries like Serbia and Romania I paid as little as $9/night whereas in London I paid about $35/night. It all evens out.

Jenna's stay at The Pink Palace in Corfu, Jenna atop a volcano in Santorini, Jenna's stay at Caveland in Santorini (photos by @jennalogic) 

Jenna's stay at The Pink Palace in Corfu, Jenna atop a volcano in Santorini, Jenna's stay at Caveland in Santorini (photos by @jennalogic) 

I hear a lot of people say “Oh, I don’t have the money to travel,” but I think you’re a great example that if it’s really important to you - and you budget correctly - you can make it happen !

People choose to spend $5/day on Starbucks. If you made coffee at home instead and saved that you would have over $1,800. It is just making your dream a reality with little changes to your everyday life no matter what the dream is.

Are there certain websites you like to find good deals on airfare and buses ?

Skyscanner has been my savior. For example, I knew I needed to get to Ecuador from San Francisco but didn't really mind what route I took. I found an amazing deal to Bogota and then another amazing deal to Ecuador from there. It ended up being about $250 ! As long as you have the patience and the time Skyscanner is great for flights. For trains and buses I use rome2rio which at least shows me what I can expect to pay. Also, sometimes just traveling on a Tuesday instead of Wednesday or something like that changes prices drastically. When you have all the time in the world, the only other thing you need is patience.

Jenna exploring The Galapagos Islands (photos by @jennalogic) 

Jenna exploring The Galapagos Islands (photos by @jennalogic) 

What countries / continents has this journey taken you on so far ? Is “where you go next” super planned out, or do you sometimes wing it ?

I managed to make it to Europe, Indonesia and South America thus far covering about 35 countries. The Indonesia trip was very spur of the moment to meet friends from Uni that were heading there from Hong Kong and China ! Other times I would plan a route and generally stick to it. But, the longer I travel the more spontaneous it has become as I am more confident with the ability to move around at random. Planning is just not for me any longer and I love it!

Sounds like you're usually pretty footloose, but I know you did spent a good amount of time in Rome. Tell me about your time there !

When I decided to start this journey I had no idea what to expect. I found a volunteer organization called that has opportunities around the world to work with animals, children, the environment or in hospitality. I signed up to volunteer at a hostel in Rome for 6 weeks and in exchange for the $350 fee, I received free accommodation, food and booze ! But I was required to "work" 30 hours/ week. My job was to walk people to their room at The Yellow (the hostel I worked at) because it was so large and in different buildings that it was necessary. It took my love for meeting and learning about people and combined it into the ideal job ! However, 6 weeks is a long time in one city and with the Schengen restrictions of only a 90 day visa, that ate up a lot of my time.

Scenic view in Bosnia, Jenna at Stonehenge, wine and fashion in Barcelona (photos by @jennalogic) 

Scenic view in Bosnia, Jenna at Stonehenge, wine and fashion in Barcelona (photos by @jennalogic) 

What have your favorite places been so far and what else is on your bucket list ?

That is such a hard question ! But if I have to answer I would say I loved Bali, Dubrovnik, Bruges, Barcelona, Valparaiso, Chile and Buenos Aires. Costa Rica has always been my favorite country but I haven't been back there in over 10 years.

As for the bucket list, I want to travel the world. There is nowhere that I wouldn't want to go unless it was incredibly unsafe at the moment. But the world is ever changing and 15 years ago I couldn't have gone to Bosnia or Albania and felt very safe and when I went, it was amazing ! In the near future I'm aiming for finishing off South America and all of Central America and doing Sri Lanka and the surrounding countries. The thing with wanderlust though is that it will never end.

That's right ! You came back to the States after a year, worked to make more money for a few months and took off again ! Is that the plan – work to travel ?

That's the plan for now until I find where I feel home is. And when I find that place I want to open my own hostel. I figured I've stayed in enough and work in hotels as my actual profession, I should be able to run a successful hostel. The ultimate plan is just to make myself happy and continue to travel and figure out a lifestyle that allows me to do that.

Views and beer in Bruges, selfie in Stuttgart (photos by @jennalogic) 

Views and beer in Bruges, selfie in Stuttgart (photos by @jennalogic) 

I can’t recall - were you an “experienced” traveler before this journey ? Did you travel with your family growing up, or was it something you’d always wanted to do and finally jumped at the opportunity ?

My mom let me go to Spain for spring break my freshman year of high school and that sparked my interest. For high school graduation I went to Paris and I was hooked from there. From that point on if I didn't leave the country every year I felt like something was missing. I had never done a trip longer than a month and even that trip was a program in Costa Rica so I wasn't on my own.

This was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I remember being at the train station in Geneva saying goodbye to my mom. She walked to her platform and I walked to mine and in that moment I thought to myself, "what the hell am I doing? I speak English and bad Spanish and I want to galavant around the world?" It was a total gut check moment.

OK, so you had this gut check moment and were like “ahh what am i doing ?” and now you don’t want to come back ! Do you think you'll ever fulfill your mom's dream and come home to the States ?

I got over that moment when I checked into my first hostel and met my first fellow backpacker who I have now seen a few other times while traveling. I don't think the States is where I see myself permanently any longer. I'm not sure I see myself permanently anywhere to tell you the truth. Now that I have this true love and addiction for travel, all I want to do is continue to do it. My mom would love me to be home but she would love me to pursue my dream even more. She's good like that.

Sounds like your family has been super supportive about yout travels.

Yes, my family was incredibly supportive! Like I said before, I started the trip with my parents and then 6 months in my mom met me again in Europe and then a few months later my parents met me in South America. They also let me move my clothes and a few of the possessions I held onto back into the house. All of my friends were supportive too even if they thought I was a little crazy. But they know me so a little crazy isn't unexpected. Social media has allowed me to stay in touch with people and the support keeps coming.

All kinds of deliciousness in Paris (photos by @jennalogic) 

All kinds of deliciousness in Paris (photos by @jennalogic) 

What kind of people do you meet on your travels ? Do you feel like there’s a sense of community among other world travelers ?

I meet a lot of Aussies - they're everywhere ! But really since I stay at hostels I meet a lot of younger people on a gap year and then a few people like me who have just decided to leave it all behind. Everyone is a backpacker and everyone just wants to make friends. I've gone to dinner with people I don't even know the names of but I know their life story. It's like sharing the common experience of traveling instantly bonds you and there is no need for the norm of social conformity. You are instant friends that you feel like you have known for years and some you will never see or hear from again but you have this amazing memory with them. I think a lot of traveling is about the people you meet. It's an amazing feeling to just belong to a community of travelers.

Jenna's selfies with various friends and world travelers (photos by @jennalogic) 

Jenna's selfies with various friends and world travelers (photos by @jennalogic) 

Sounds like you've had some amazing journeys and met some great people the last year and a half. Ever had any scary experiences ? I know for a lot of women it can be daunting to travel alone. Any bits of advice in that regard ?

Traveling alone for a male or female can be scary. But in cities where I didn't feel 100% safe I made the choice to not go out alone at night and put myself in a scary situation. We lived in the ghetto of LA while at USC and I was probably in scarier situations there than I ever have been while traveling. Something could happen anytime and anywhere. I can't live my life in fear because then I would never go anywhere. But it's all about not putting yourself in the position for something to happen.

With that being said, I've seen people get pick pocketed and been at hostels where people have come home and said they were robbed with a knife. I think traveling at 31 makes a big difference for my "street smarts."

OK, logistically speaking - how much are you traveling with on your shoulders ? How do you pack so light ?

On the first trip I completely overpacked. My bag was about 17kgs (just over 34 pounds) and after a few weeks it was down to about 15kgs. I couldn't do it. On this trip though my bag is 11kgs and I went to REI and bought a new backpack that is custom fit to my body. It has made all the difference ! It's all about packing things you can wear multiple ways and multiple times and not worrying about being in the same outfit in pictures. I have a smaller backpack that I carry my computer in along with books and an extra outfit just in case my luggage is ever lost.

Jenna off to South America, bright walls and doors in Valparaiso, landscape in Chile (photos by @jennalogic) 

Jenna off to South America, bright walls and doors in Valparaiso, landscape in Chile (photos by @jennalogic) 

Tell me about your blog - “jennalogic” ! You’re a great writer - it’s so easy to read and the pictures are so fun ! It's a great mix of food, architecture, history, and silly selfies with the people you meet along the way !

I started it as a way to catalog my travels so that I remembered them. It's easy to forget the name of a restaurant or a church or a play. I also started it so my mom always could keep up with me and know that I was okay. But like anything online, I have some random and loyal followers because they like it. Now I have some travel business cards with the blog on it and if people want to read it and look at the pictures, then that's awesome. But in 30 years I will basically have a diary of my travels and that's what I wanted. For me, if no one reads it or if 5000 people read it, it's all the same to me. Truly though, with Facebook and Instagram and my blog, I have met people around the world because of something I've posted or that they have posted. I love that!

One of the things I notice you post a ton about is graffiti art ! What draws you to it and where have you seen some great pieces ?

Oh gosh. I truly love graffiti. I think it's really an under appreciated art form. I really like the street art aspect and I think it's such a wonderful expression of what is going on at the moment. For example the Berlin Wall had a tag that just said "Freedom to Greece" about two weeks after the referendum. That speaks to the public while it's still in their consciousness rather than waiting for it to come to fruition in a gallery. And it's just so personal. Berlin, Buenos Aires and Valparaiso were all amazing places for the street art!!!

Clockwise from top left: graffiti in Bogotoa, Bogota, London, Berlin (photos by @jennalogic) 

Clockwise from top left: graffiti in Bogotoa, Bogota, London, Berlin (photos by @jennalogic) 

You've obviously fallen in love with travel. What do you think it teaches us about ourselves ? What have you learned about yourself ?

Well, I think it's really different for everyone. I do often get asked if I'm running away from something and I think that's a misconception of traveling. I think traveling teaches you how to step out of your comfort zone and try a new food or speak a new language or get lost in a city and figure it out.

Personally I have learned to open my mind and be at peace with wherever I am and with whatever I am doing. I find that in the States people are so stressed and for what ? Often times a thankless job with little appreciation. I have taken my travel zen into my job and it made everything so much better. I think I've also learned just how to be my best self. I'm not worried about the latest fashion or what people think of me from the outside because we are all here to soul search in one way or another and so it's easy to look past the physical and just be honest.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to make travel happen but isn't sure how to go about it or if they can ?

I would honestly say just do it. There are so many excuses not to do it. Rent. Relationships. Friends. Family. A job. But they will all be there in one way or another when you get back. And if not now, then when?

Sunset in Bulgaria (photo by @jennalogic) 

Sunset in Bulgaria (photo by @jennalogic) 

Do you EVER miss home ? Or get frustrated with being away for so long ?

Home is a fluid place for me now. Since I got rid of the apartment and sold my car and moved back to my parents, home isn't where I was the 13 years before I left. I don't exactly miss it but I miss the ability to just call up my friends and meet for dinner. But for me, as cliche as it sounds, home is where the heart is and my home is wherever I am at the moment.

In all your travels the last couple years, ever had any amazing moments where you just thought “this is what I’m meant to be doing, this is happiness” ?

Actually it was a very random moment when I was in Maresias, Brazil and almost no one spoke English ! It's a place that is a big destination for Brazilians but not really tourists. I was walking along the beach at sunset and not really paying attention and a huge wave completely pummeled me. Instead of getting mad or frustrated or annoyed I was completely elated. I threw off everything (except my bathing suit) and splashed around in the waves until the sun was gone. In that moment I was without worries or cares and just very happy with my life. And to me, that's what it's all about.


EAT - Fruit Tart

I love fruit tarts - they're beautiful, rustic, and fresh, and can feature any combination of fruits in season ! Although they take a fair amount of steps (crust, custard, and fruits are all prepared separately), they're not particularly difficult to prepare. One of my favorite parts is the wow factor - fruit tarts look gorgeous - and guests will be surprised if you prepare a tart from scratch ! I've made this recipe a number of times from Laura Washburn's beautifully photographed cookbook "French Desserts," it's no longer in print so listed below are her directions (with a few of my modifications.) Bon appetit !


A tart crust requires sweet pastry dough, called "pâte brisée" in France. It's light, flaky, and incredibly buttery to taste. I've tried to cut corners and use frozen crust from the store, but it's absolutely worth it to spend the extra time on homemade crust !

Pulse the flour, sugar, butter, and salt in a food processor 5-10x. Add 3 Tbsp cold water and pulse until the dough forms coarse crumbs. Roll the dough into a ball on parchment paper and flatten to a disk, wrap in parchment and chill for 30-60 minutes. Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to be slightly larger than your pan. Transfer to a pan that has been floured and greased, trimming the edges and refrigerating for 30-60 minutes until firm. Lastly, prick the dough with a fork, and cover the pan in parchment paper and baking beans. Preheat your oven to 400° - bake for 15 minutes, remove parchment paper and beans, and bake 10-15 minutes more until crust starts to brown slightly. 


Homemade pastry cream is so delicious - I love that you can see all the little vanilla bean seeds sprinkled throughout ! If you're tight on time, you can prepare the custard one day in advance and keep it covered in the refrigerator. 

Split the vanilla bean in half, and place it in a heavy saucepan with the milk; bring just to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl. Then add the flour and mix. Slowly add the milk to the egg yolk mix, whisking the whole time. Now put everything back in the saucepan, and cook over low heat - stirring constantly for a few minutes, making sure to constantly scrape the bottom of the pan with your spatula so it doesn't get clumpy. After it thickens, transfer to a shallow bowl to let it cool. 


Spread the pastry cream evenly on the tart crust. Arrange the fruit on top as you please - while many patisseries fastidiously arrange it in pretty patterns or circles, I like it to look more rustic and homey by arranging them haphazardly ! Put 2 Tbsp water and 1/2 c. jam in a small saucepan and melt over low heat. Strain out the clumpy bits, and glaze the fruit with a silicone pastry brush. Let it cool, then refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours (any less and the custard won't be firm enough.) Return to room temperature when serving ! 


You can create a tart with any combination of fruits you like - depending on what's in season, and alter the amounts accordingly. While I believe the original recipe called for peaches and plums, I prefer nectarines and pluots ! Author Laura Washburn also offers a variation strawberry tart - where she uses 2-3 baskets of strawberries instead of a variety of fruit, and uses a red currant or cranberry jam instead of apricot. This is such a delicious summer dessert, and looks much more impressive and difficult to make than it actually is. Happy baking !

EAT - Summer Tomatoes

This summer, I've simply fallen in love with tomatoes !  A simple splash of olive oil and vinegar (with a sprinkling of sea salt) can bring out the sweetest of flavors in under ten minutes. Whether off the shelf, from the farmer's market, or from your garden (I adore picking mine fresh from my mum's), tomatoes can be the star of any summer salad. I share with you a few of my favorite recent preparations ! 


My mum and I love watching episodes of The Barefoot Contessa together, drooling over celebrity chef Ina Garten's picturesque home full of flowers and garden-fresh produce ! One of my favorite salad recipes of hers takes less than 5 minutes to make, and marries tomatoes, feta, and arugula - bringing me straight back to the isles of Greece. 

Cut a 7 oz block of feta cheese into thick slices and place in the center of the plate. Slice 6 medium tomatoes into wedges and arrange loosely around the feta (Ina uses red tomatoes, but I love heirlooms - for their pop of color and sweetness !) Arrange some arugula salad around the edges of the plate. Drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and top it off by crushing 1 tsp dried oregano over the feta and tomatoes. Finish with sea salt and freshly ground pepper ! You can find The Barefoot Contessa's original recipe on The Food Network site - HERE.


I saw this recipe on the cover of Saveur Magazine last month and had to try it - I made it for an outdoor dinner gathering last week and it went over amazingly well ! Vinegar and a bit of salt brings out the natural sweetness in all tomatoes, but this recipe takes the time to marinade them for an extra 20 minutes - intensifying the flavors (and then brightening them yet again with some mint !)

Halve about 2 lbs. of cherry tomatoes, thinly slice 1/2 a red onion, and toss them with 1/4 c. olive oil and 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar in a large bowl. Season with salt and let it marinade for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Slice 1 lb. of heirloom tomatoes and arrange them on a platter. Top them with the cherry tomatoes and onions (being sure to pour all the marinade juices on top.) Lastly, tear 1 c. mint leaves into tiny pieces and sprinkle over the salad, finishing with pepper and sea salt. In the above photo, I prepared about half all these amounts for a smaller serving ! You can find the original Saveur recipe by chef Chris Fischer - HERE.


I really got into caprese salads on my trip to Spain last year, where they were often sliced thin and stacked in beautiful towers of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella ! I have a basil plant in my apartment, and try to make use of it at least a few times a week - here are a few different ways I like to prepare my capreses.

For my housewarming party last week, I prepared some caprese salad bites atop warm, toasted baguettes - a great way to turn the classic salad into finger food. I thinly sliced two french baguettes, dipped one side in olive oil, and baked them in the oven for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. After cooling, I topped each with one large basil leaf, an heirloom tomato slice, and slice of mozzarella (for bruschetta I use the "ovolini" - 4 oz. egg-size mozzarella balls.) I finished each with good Italian olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic, freshly cracked pepper, and salt (I particularly love the look and texture of French sel de guerande.) These got snapped up super quick - I made a second batch and it, too, was gone within minutes ! 

When reminiscing about Spain, I stack my caprese salads - tomato slices on the bottom, mozzarella in the middle, followed by a giant basil leaf ! You can simply do one slice of each (as pictured), or stack them like towers with multiple slices of each ingredient. As with all my other salads - I love the look of chunky sea salt, particularly French sel de guerande or fleur de sel from the Camargue region, as well as a splash of olive oil and balsamic.

My last, and perhaps most frequently made salad, I like to call my "Lazy Caprese." I lost nearly 30 lbs. last year, and I like to think this fresh salad was one of the reasons ! This is a healthy and easy lunch option I usually make a few times a week - 10 baby cherry tomatoes cut in half, 10 "bocconcini" 1.5 oz. bite-size balls cut in half, and a few torn basil leaves, garnished with salt, pepper, and olive oil. This amounts to precisely 20 bites, each one with a piece of tomato, mozzarella, and basil in it ! You certainly don't have to be so specific with the ingredient amounts - I always just found this was a nicely portion-controlled lunch for one that was fast, easy, and delicious !

EAT - Lisa's Tea Treasures, San Jose

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite treats was when my mum used to take me for afternoon high tea. With their pastel palettes, flowery cups, and pristine, bite-size pastries, I always loved the visual splendor of tea parlours and felt like I was transporting myself to a different time ! My childhood haunt closed years ago, but lately I've enjoyed Victorian-inspired Lisa's Tea Treasures hidden among the posh stores and restaurants of Santana Row. They of course serve all the traditional tea plates - cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches, fresh-baked scones with devonshire cream and strawberry preserves, crumpets, and lemon tarts. But they also offer some more unconventional platters, such as "An Afternoon Tea in Italy" (with caprese salad, goat cheese and sundried tomato sandwiches, and cannoli cream cakes) or "Afternoon Tea in the Garden" (with peach-strawberry tea, chicken waldorf salad over organic greens, pear and almond brie savories, and key lime cheesecake.) The tea list is extensive, and the decor charming. They also have a gift parlour - selling fine china wares from England, handcrafted jewelry, and adorable toys for children. I went last week with my mum, and we were delighted to see a mother-daughter duo seated next to us - a girl of no more than 10 with a bow in her hair and flowery day-dress, learning the beautiful and fine art of afternoon tea. 

INSPIRE - Erin Gleeson

 Four years ago, Erin Gleeson and her husband left the hustle and bustle of New York for a quiet California cabin in the woods. With no job prospects and friends in a new city, Erin thought the heyday of her photography career was over - so she started a blog photographing fresh fruits and veggies in her backyard. Within a year, this spiraled into what is now known as “The Forest Feast,” a Tumblr blog with over 150,000 followers and a book deal that eventually became a New York Times bestseller. Erin's story shows how amazing change can be if we welcome it into our lives and let it guide us to new, exciting places ! I sat down with her over a bottle of rosé and some of her delicious home cooking as she shared her story with me in the comfort of her lovely home.

So you're known now as author and photographer of the book and blog, “The Forest Feast,” featuring beautiful photographs that accompany your simple and delicious garden-fresh recipes. But before that, you were an editorial food photographer out in New York, how did you end up there ?

I grew up in Sonoma County and studied art and photography at UC Santa Barbara. Right after that I moved to New York in hopes of becoming a photographer ! I did a lot of internships – for National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, and also for Conde Nast Traveler Magazine. I went back to school to get my MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York because I also wanted to teach.

It's a competitive market to be a photographer in New York City – what was it like for you ?

When I first went there I said I'll go out there with enough money for one month and see what happens ! I'd do babysitting, dog walking, and work in restaurants just to make ends meet, alongside all these unpaid internships. After I completed my MFA I did a combination of teaching and freelancing, and shot for Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan, small daily newspapers, sometimes the New York Times dining section. I also shot a lot for the James Beard Foundation, which opened a lot of doors for me in the New York culinary world and allowed me to photograph famous chefs like David Chang, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and the Voltaggio brothers.

Sounds like things were going really well having just graduated ! Then your husband Jonathan got a job offer out here in the Bay Area, and you came back to California. What was that like ?

Part of the draw was definitely that my family is two hours from here, but yes, it was mainly for his job. When I first arrived here, I really wanted to shoot other people's cookbooks. I tried to meet with a couple publishers in the Bay Area and it became clear I needed a more rustic aesthetic to shoot here in California. My stuff was on all-black, all-white backdrops, fancy chef-food that had been styled with tweezers. They wanted natural light, more lifestyle, more rustic.

So you had to build out a whole new portfolio, despite having already shot for some very solid clients on the East Coast ?

Right, I was like – well, I'm living in the woods, and have all this rustic wood around me already – maybe I can make that happen right here ! I had all these props right outside in my backyard – a mossy log or fallen leaves. I basically starting shooting a blog to send links to photo editors of new work. I wasn't setting out to be a blogger, just trying to build a portfolio that looked more California.

And then the social media boom took over ?

It happened naturally and slowly. Tumblr featured me as a blog to follow on their homepage, which got me a ton of followers quickly, and my editor featured me on her blog where she talks about other good blogs. Six months later, a literary agent saw my work on there, and then approached me about finding a publisher for a book deal.

And you got this book deal how long after starting “The Forest Feast ?”

It was about a year after starting the blog. I didn't even have a lot of followers yet.

That's incredibly fast, how wonderful ! From there, how did the book come to be ?

My agent and I spent about 6 months writing a proposal, a 20 page pdf to send out to publishers. In the end, we went with Abrams – they do a lot of both art books and cookbooks, so I felt like it was a good fit for me. And they also gave me a lot of artistic freedom.

In what way ?

They really let me do what I want to do; while they gave me a lot of helpful notes, they didn't art direct me. I've been painting since I was a kid, but always thought there had to be this delineation of what you do – a painter has to paint, a photographer has to take photos. It's so specific. For the book, they let me lay out everything, my handwriting on top, and I did all the watercolors. The whole watercolor-photography combination was something I'd never done professionally before.

And it took off in a really wonderful way. I see your book everywhere – bookstores, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters. And it's a New York Times bestseller ! What do you think it is about your work that people are so drawn to ?

The visual layout makes it so much more approachable. I always try to include a pic of all the ingredients needed to make a certain dish, and a photo of the actual dish once it's made. When I'm cooking from a cookbook I feel like seeing the photos make it so much easier. I also never went to culinary school, so while I always cooked a lot with my family, everything I do is super simple ! On Instagram people like to cook from the book and hasthtag it. That's one of my favorite things – seeing my recipes are working and that people like it !

I also think you're really selling this amazing lifestyle – you live in this beautiful cabin in the woods with this magical mist and greenery, you entertain and throw these awesome-looking parties, and you somehow balance being a successful mother, wife, teacher, and working artist !

It's turned into that somehow, but I certainly didn't think of it like that in the beginning. It was so surprising for me when I initially got some emails from people who liked hearing my stories and about my life, and I just thought I was a photographer wanting to share some food photos !

Where do you get your inspiration ?

I'm usually just experimenting. I get a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box every week, I pay weekly and it's collected from farms and delivered once a week. Often my inspiration comes from – what’s in the box ! Sometimes it's seeing something in a magazine, or reading about local flavor combinations I want to try out.

What's up next for you ?

My own son is almost one now, so I've been working on a kids cookbook – I just finished “The Forest Feast For Kids”, which is 40 recipes and about half the size of the original book. Produce-rich recipes that are simple and visual, and that comes out in the spring. And now I'm working on “The Forest Feast Gatherings,” featuring menus for parties, and that comes out next fall 2016. I do entertain quite a bit, and I always try to do stuff that can be prepped beforehand; I like to try to be out of the kitchen by the time people arrive !

In your journey – from California to New York and back again, you had a lot of life changes thrown at you, and I think that can be really scary for a lot of people. When you can roll with the punches like you did, great things can happen !

Creatively, coming here I thought that my biggest career accomplishments were behind me in New York. I remember moving here and being like, what am I going to do ? That might be it. I knew no one, and was moving into these suburbs. I knew that coming here would be a really different turn for my work and it has been, but it's been a better turn which I wasn't expecting - I was hoping to shoot other people's cookbooks and ended up shooting my own cookbook !

As one photographer to another, we also talked a lot today about the challenges of being in any creative industry. Any lasting thoughts / advice to people wanting to pursue their creative passions ?

Basically - do what you want to do more than what you think the industry tells you to do, or what will make you money; I think eventually your audience will find you no matter what you do. If you really get into whatever project, your work will show for it, and then people will want it. Stick to that, and while it might not be easy, what you love will win out in the end !

EAT - Fraîche, Palo Alto

When temperatures soar, there's nothing better than a cold scoop of ice cream or a tart swirl of froyo ! While Fraîche opened a few years ago, it has yet to lose its charm and is still my go-to dessert option when strolling around downtown Palo Alto. Bright and sunny with a modern rustic interior, Fraîche serves up artisanal natural yogurts, fresh-pressed juices, homemade mochi, hand-shaved chocolate, and Blue Bottle coffee. My favorite flavor is "natural," though most of their frozen yogurts seem to err on the tart (instead of sweet) side. With branches in Palo Alto, San Francisco, and (on) Stanford campus, Fraîche is the perfect place to stop by for a tasty afternoon treat or light and fresh dessert ! 

INSPIRE - Abigail Zimmerman Bordigioni

I am very proud to introduce the very first feature in my “Inspire Series” – the newest section of my blog sharing people's life stories of creativity, happiness, and success. Warm, vivacious, lively, and intelligent, within minutes of meeting Abi Zimmerman Bordigioni I knew she was the first person I wanted to interview ! Eight years ago, Abi took a 92% paycut to leave NASA, move to Sonoma and learn how to make wine, paint, and cook. And what happened ? She lost 60 pounds, fell in love, got married, had two beautiful children, and now co-runs a winery, cooks, paints, and is currently featuring her artwork in the nationally-renowned Easton Gallery. They say fortune favors the bold, and Abi is no exception ! She's a success story because she demonstrates the promise of pursuing your passion over security, and being all the healthier, happier, and fulfilled for it.

Abi in front of the barn at Annadel Estate Winery !

Abi in front of the barn at Annadel Estate Winery !

So to bring everyone up to speed – you're Abigail Zimmerman Bordigioni (Abi, to friends) – winemaker, cook, painter, and mom extraordinaire. But before this life, you were working in public policy in Los Angeles followed by a few years at NASA. What kind of work were you doing there ?

I had just finished working for the mayor of Los Angeles and got recruited by NASA to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They needed someone to be able to speak about a science mission or project to a variety of demographics. They wanted somebody to work with people who got interviewed or talk to the elected official offices, or talk to the communities themselves, as well as write contingency planning. I did all of that within a group called Launch Approval. I essentially took complicated issues and science and converted it into English.  

And during this time, did you have any interest in winemaking and the arts ?

I've been painting since I was a kid, but I got really exposed to wine while at NASA. A lot of these jet propulsion guys were home garage winemakers, so I'd be stuck in these Marriott courtyards outside the weapons testing ranges tasting and talking about wine with these highly intelligent colleagues and their homemade wines. And they could talk about it in a way that I realized I had no clue what they were talking about; I couldn't keep up.

So you decided to learn more ?

I was a wine club member at a winery in Sonoma my mom and I used to go to when I was in college. I called up Deerfield Ranch Winery – owners PJ and Robert Rex – and asked if I could trespass on them during a weekend of harvest in return for one of my paintings. I just wanted to know what the heck people were talking about at work ! PJ said sure, so I drove up on a Friday and walked in as this overweight, LA girl with blonde highlights and a manicure and designer jeans. I walked up to some guy and said, “I'm here ! Put me to work !” He was just another cellar rat like I was about to be, but he told me to go sort fruit, so I did that till 2 am and then dragged myself back up to the house.

And obviously, something about you fell in love with it.

Deerfield is a very professional place now, but this was in the beginning when the cave had a dirt floor, everyone was playing reggae, everyone had these fun lunches and went back to make world-class wine. Kosta Browne came out of there at that time, Michael Muscardini, Peter Haywood, it was just a place of renaissance. Loud music, hard work, artistry, and good times. I woke up the next day and went back to sorting fruit, cleaning bins, and loved it. At the time I had no intention of leaving NASA.

So what was the impetus for your move up here ?

About six months before I left NASA I got really sick – I collapsed at work and went to the hospital. I had some kind of severe bacterial infection and lost 35 pounds in 10 days, my fever was so high for so long I baked the space between my corneas and retinas. And after that, I just didn't have the brain power anymore but I believe it opened up something else. My palate bloomed and my art shifted into a more fluid direction. I could especially taste wine in a whole new way ! I wanted to learn more.

So you made the move !

I had worked at Deerfield that weekend, a full shift on Sunday, and then drove back home to LA in the evening. (Owner) PJ called me and said, “I've had a flash you're supposed to be here.” And I knew I was supposed to be there. So she had called me Sunday night, and on Monday morning I quit my job. I started the exit process at NASA, had a fire sale on my lawn, packed my Volvo with my shoes, clothes, and art collection and was back up here by Thursday. It was insane.”

That timeline is crazy ! Were people supportive of your choice ?

When I was living in LA I was really unhappy, and I just kept thinking this is just how people are. You wake up like everyone else, you fight traffic for three hours a day, you work hard, and it's miserable. There's all this smog, no seasons. I had stress tremors, gray hair, wrinkles; I was overweight and unhappy and I didn't know it. The only person who knew it was my mother. When I called her to tell her I was moving away to Sonoma she cried with relief and said, “God, get out of here ! Go, live !” She was supportive, while everyone else was saying I was never going to find anybody, never going to have children, all those horrible things people say to single women, which is all crap.

So you moved up here and began the daily grind of winemaking in Sonoma.

I agreed to finish up the project I'd been working on at NASA, so I'd wake up everyday and work from 5 to 8 am on a contingency plan for the big rover that's up there right now. Then I'd work in the cellars between 9 to 5, and then in the evening I'd go to Santa Rosa junior college to take wine classes and learn more about how to really taste.  

And shortly after, you met your future husband Dean, who had recently bought Annadel Estate Winery.

Right. The following summer, I met Dean at the Sonoma Farmer's Market. I was eating healthy, making wine, and feeling good. Winemaker Mike Muscardini introduced us; and I shook Dean's hand and it was a lightning bolt ! It was the one time in my life that I literally looked at someone and said - “You're going to be the father of my children." And I could see it – the two kids, everything, even though I knew nothing about this man at all. But I looked up at him and he had these blue eyes, and this look of - “I will so take care of you.” Four or five days after meeting, he backed his truck up to my apartment, took my red rocking chair and said “this would be great in my home,” and started moving me in.

And now you two are married with two beautiful children ! And running a winery fulltime.

It's a lot of work – there's the wedding business, the flower business, and running the actual winery, which is a ten-acre vineyard. Making wine is a wonderful, dynamic, year-round thing. It's physical, it's lovely, it's romance and chemistry together. 50% art 50% chemistry.  

Abi's beautiful porch and cozy kitchen, home to @abisfarmhousekitchen ! 

Abi's beautiful porch and cozy kitchen, home to @abisfarmhousekitchen ! 

Tell me a a bit about your wine. Where can people find and taste them ?

We grow our Estate Blends right here outside our kitchen window. We buy our white wine grapes from boutique vineyards like Los Chamizal grown for us by Peter Haywood, and custom crush all our wines at Deerfield. We are starting to win some big awards, which is an honor. Our Bordigioni Zinfandel from Monte Rosso Vineyards just got awarded best of class (in the nation) for 2014 by the San Francisco Chronicle competition. Everyone should know – this is where you go to find real, authentic scores – fourteen days in a row of blind judging by 20 master sommeliers – and they break wines down by category and price. We sell wine directly through our website and to our Wine Club, we don't wholesale or distribute our wine. We also have our wines right now in some of the great restaurants we like to eat at like Aventine, or Olive & Vine in Glen Ellen, or Boulevard in San Francisco. We do host beautiful weddings and garden tours at Annadel Estate Winery, which was built in 1886.

Abi gives me a tasting of some of Annadel Estate's wines.

Abi gives me a tasting of some of Annadel Estate's wines.

In addition to your winery, you have quite a following on both your blog and instagram handle – abisfarmhousekitchen. You cook up all the most delicious, garden-fresh recipes !

When I got pregnant with Anni (her firstborn), that's when I took up cooking. The theory in wine country is that you can't make good wine unless you can cook ! At the time, I'd been cooking from the farmers markets. Mostly vegetarian – I still love roasting vegetables. But staying at home for the first time with a newborn baby girl, I started reading cooking magazines, buying cookbooks, and experimenting. Food and cooking is vital to my husband's Italian family too and it was something we could do together. It was my new passion - it was bubbling up I just didn't know it yet.  

Abi at ease in her adorable farmhouse kitchen at Annadel Estate !

Abi at ease in her adorable farmhouse kitchen at Annadel Estate !

Farm fresh baked eggs, roasted garlic and asparagus, and a glass of her Sauvignon Blanc for lunch !

Farm fresh baked eggs, roasted garlic and asparagus, and a glass of her Sauvignon Blanc for lunch !

So you're helping run the winery, you're taking up cooking, where does the painting come in ?

I've been painting since I was a child and did art during my undergrad. But with the move, living and collecting beauty turned into into living AT beauty. My paintings are not about me - they're about the scene and the landscape and the breeze and the vineyard and the air and the soil ! I paint California; California is heaven. Just between driving from Napa to Sonoma to the Russian River Valley to the Coast, it's only an hour and thirty minutes, but I can paint 32 different microclimates and all the atmospheres they represent.  

Congratulations on your work currently being featured at the nationally-renowned Easton Gallery in Santa Barbara. With everything on your plate, where do you find time in the day to paint ?

I will often paint from 430-630 in the morning. Most of my day is gardening, cooking, painting, and doing the preschool run, which is two hours a day. Really, I'm a mom – and I get about 90 minutes to myself a day, including shower time. I'm still a workaholic but my work is my husband, our children, our garden, our vineyard. People ask me how I do it all and the answer is - I can't not do it all. I come from a family of doers. But you know I started my blog and Instagram and Facebook as my way to connect as an adult food dork with the outside world. There are all of these beautifully fancy chefs out there on Instagram and I'm not one of them. I'm just a mom in a Victorian farmhouse trying to grow and cook as much as I can. Trying to infuse my kids with this love of food and “grow your own.”

Abi's art studio where does she does her paintings.

Abi's art studio where does she does her paintings.

I'd like to end with this really beautiful story you told me about your trip to India, just a couple months after you made made the bold move to uproot your life to Sonoma.

I'd only been in Sonoma a few months ago and I was visiting India with a friend. We're in this Kali temple in Calcutta and this man comes up and pours warm lamb blood over our toes to read how the blood moved. And what he said to me was, “You've made your shift. You will be in front of people in a positive, beautiful way. Don't give in to the darkness. If you resist the currents of your life you will drown. Every human soul has a river and that is your river, whether it stops short or goes long. If you fight your fate, that voice in your stomach, your instincts - you know it and you devolve into unhappiness and misery. And even if you're financially successful you've missed your passion, your life, your calling.” I'd only been in Sonoma a few months and I wasn't sure about my life choices at that point, so it was really powerful. I still vividly remember getting into the taxi with dried animal blood all over my feet and thinking about what he said.

An incredible story Abi, from start to finish. As a woman, as an artist, and simply as a person – I'm inspired by your story and how you pursued your passions and found creativity, love, and happiness.

I love being this mom to our kids in our beautiful old farmhouse. Eating well, sharing food, making and drinking great wines, and painting !

EAT - Fig & Thistle, San Francisco

Recently rated one of the top 20 wine bars in America by Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco's Fig & Thistle combines small batch California wine with East-coast cool. Plop yourself down on their midcentury bunkbed lined with pillows or on one of their modern rustic barstools. The wine selection is smart and diverse, the cheese and charcuterie plate delectable. They also offer beer on tap and some creative wine flights. I love their menus and giant chalkboard that both feature a beautifully designed map of California, marking the origin of each of their wines. And much to the delight of Sunshine and Rosé, during summer months they are currently featuring a rosé of the day ! (ask the bartender.) The vibe is relaxed and hip without being pretentious; I've always found amiable service and good people. Located in a small alley in Hayes Valley, you'll feel as though you've stumbled upon a hidden gem - hit it up soon ! 

FIND - Flower Piano, San Francisco

RUN, don't walk to the amazing, interactive art project "Flower Piano" in Golden Gate Park ! For twelve days only (ending July 20th,) there are twelve pianos sprinkled throughout the San Francisco botanical gardens. While there are scheduled performances by professionals on the weekends, the rest of the pianos are open for all to sit down and play on a first-come, first-serve basis. Singles, couples, families, and dogs all gathered round to listen to professionals, hobbyists, and even small children tinkle out a tune, surrounded by the most beautiful flowers, lakes, and redwood groves. It was inspiring to see such a cross-section of people come out to experience this wonderful pairing of nature and music; during one of the professional performances a young girl seated on her mother's lap next to me whispered, "Mama, just close your eyes and listen to the music." 

Professional performances were fantastic but crowded. Some of my favorite moments were actually the more impromptu ones - crowds laughing as small children pressed piano keys for the first time, a gregarious man playing while belting out Billy Joel's "My Life," and spontaneous performances from amateurs. As someone who's played the piano for over 20 years, I grew nostalgic hearing songs I had learned at various times in my life - simple scales, Chopin nocturnes, film score music from Amelie. That being said, my companions of the day had no musical background and reveled in the relaxed beauty of the day. The sun shone, people napped in the grass, and everyone took in the most wonderful bridging of art, music, and nature. 

STAY - Carvi Hotel, New York

Well-located, mid-priced, with a simple, chic interior - The Carvi Hotel is a steal ! At Lexington and 55th, its midtown residence is central to everything but far enough from Times Square mania (and a very short walk from main subway lines.) While the rooms err on the small side, they're modern, minimalist, and packed full of all the amenities a weary traveler might need. My favorite part is definitely the rooftop terrace - with its bright orange couches, rustic lights, and flowers, it feels like a mini oasis to escape the noise below ! On my last trip I spent a good deal of time up there - to read a book, eat my lunch, enjoy a nightcap. The hotel is owned and managed by a Brazilian family, and their staff are amiable, helpful, and multilingual. I'd nearly given up on finding a clean, decent New York hotel for under $200; this boutique hotel is now my go-to for every trip ! 


Rooms can cost more than $300 during high season, so there's a trick to paying under $200 / night - the hotel has a few rooms with no windows that can be discounted up to 30 percent ! A windowless hotel room feels a bit stranger than you might think, so if you're someone who spends a lot of time resting in their room, this might not be ideal for you. But if, like me, you spend all your time in New York out and about - book over the phone with a receptionist and request one of their windowless rooms for an amazing deal. Safe travels ! 

FIND - Orange Wine, Kivelstadt Cellars

I'm a rosé loyalist through and through, but sometimes another varietal does manage to catch my eye ! I recently had the pleasure of attending Kivelstadt Cellars' summer release party, featuring food and wine tastings amidst their picturesque vineyards. While they featured a number of bottles (including their 2010 estate syrah and provençal rosé,) the most unique wine I tasted that afternoon was their "Wayward Son" orange wine.

If, like me, you were previously unfamiliar with orange wine - it's made with skin fermented, or skin-contact white grapes (in this case - using viognier, roussane, vermentino, and piquepoul blanc varietals to co-ferment on the skins.) While most whites are pressed off of the skins immediately, this orange wine sits on the skins for 75% of its fermentation process. Extremely food-friendly, the flavor is a surprising balance of being refreshing and summery yet earthy and briny. I love that this wine is a bit quirky and unique, and I would definitely recommend bringing it to share with friends over a summer picnic ! 

With its stunning views and delectable bites (put on by Stag Dining), the event was a lovely way to spend a sunny, summer day. I was very impressed with the catered lunch - a spring pea salad with nardello peppers and ajo blanco, szechuan lamb sausage with five spice scented yogurt, and strawberry black pepper popsicles for dessert. The crowd was a lively mixture of local winemakers and young, friendly San Franciscans who drove (or took the shuttle) in from the city. To boot, proceeds went to the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center ! When the city fogs in during our "summer" months, it's always nice to escape into the sun and warmth of wine country - this is an annual event I'll definitely be attending again in the future !  

Kivelstadt' Cellars wines can be purchased locally throughout the Bay Area, or on their website HERE.

STAY - Carneros Inn, Napa

For our one-year anniversary celebration, my boyfriend Phillip and I decided to splurge and stay at Napa's lovely Carneros Inn. From start to finish, this resort was the perfect locale for a special occasion experience !

Upon checkin, we were given chocolate truffles and glasses of wine we were free to drink while driving around the property, as well as a private escort to our cottage. Grounds are meticulously maintained, with water baths, trellises, and flowers abloom. 

When splurging on a luxury vacation, I think it's important to figure out what elements are *really* of utmost importance to you. As much as we love stunning views and incredible interior design, what's really worth the splurge for us is - fire and hot tubs. We picked the "harvest cottage," which was short on vineyard views but featured an outdoor bath tub surrounded by flowers, and a toasty firepit for keeping warm and roasting marshmallows in the evening !

For daytime activities (beyond the many neighboring wineries to visit), Carneros offers free cruiser bike and helmet rentals to explore. Concierge services will show you multiple routes around the property, including a beautiful 4 mile loop nearby that takes you through gentle sloping hills with vineyard and lake views.

Carneros Inn was definitely special-occasion territory for us in terms of pricing, so we were determined to budget in other ways. With such a gorgeous private garden, we figured - why not picnic in our own backyard ? I baked a decadent ham, leek, three-cheese quiche (from Yountville's delicious Bistro Jeanty can be found HERE), picked up some baguette and cheese from Carneros Inn's local market, and brought along a bottle of 1982 St. Emilion. OK, I guess that last one isn't quite a bargain (but the occasion certainly warranted its opening.) Other onsite dining options include elegant, renowned restaurant The Farm, and rustic yet casual fare from The Boon Fly Cafe.


Carneros Inn certainly falls more on the luxe side than bargain, but you can save money by booking through Jetsetter when they offer deals, or booking in the offseason. I personally prefer Napa and Sonoma outside of summer months, when wineries are far less crowded and temperatures are less scorching. Our anniversary also happened to fall on a Wednesday this year - booking midweek instead of on the weekend saved us more than $300/night.