Oxbow Public Market

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When I first learned about Oxbow Public Market last summer, I imagined it to be something like San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace: Unique to its locale, full of vendors selling seasonal foods and bustling with visitors.

I visited on a Saturday afternoon, and Oxbow was mostly empty, a far cry from the city’s Ferry Building. I guess that’s partly because there aren’t nearly as many vendors at Oxbow as there are at the Ferry Building, but I probably shouldn’t compare. Napa is not San Francisco.

While walking down its aisles, I could tell that Oxbow is being marketed to tourists, but it’s not quite there yet. A Hog Island Oyster Company outpost was being advertised as coming soon when I visited (and is now open) and the Oxbow Wine Merchant and Wine Bar seemed to be attracting customers. But the Ritual Coffee Roasters outpost was without a queue (unthinkable in San Francisco’s Valencia Street location) and the Fatted Calf had all of two people lined up to order.

I was craving something Latin American, so I had lunch at the market’s Pica Pica Maize Kitchen. I started with the bululu salad.

Bululu salad

The salad was fresh tasting and although I usually don’t like fruity salad dressings, this one packed a punch, and was almost oniony.

Next I had a pelu’a arepa, which was tasty and filling, without being too greasy.

Pelu'a arepa

I finished off with some yucca fries with tamarindo salsa, which was not what I was expecting.

Yucca fries

The fries didn’t have a fry-like texture, and while I absolutely love tamarinds, the tamarind salsa was syrupy sweet instead of tart and sour.

Oxbow Public Market is still relatively new, and things are still changing. I’m hopeful that in time, it will get the traffic it deserves, and in turn, encourage more vendors to move in. Until then, I’ll be at the Ferry Building.

Mumm Napa

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Growing up in Wine Country, I’ve visited my fair share of vineyards. But they’ve all been primarily in Sonoma County, and to be honest, I’ve only visited a handful of wineries in Napa Valley. As part of my efforts to rectify that, I made quick trip to Napa Valley a few months ago to dine and wine for a weekend.

The wine part mostly took place at Mumm Napa in Rutherford, where I spent an afternoon in one of the most inviting tasting rooms I’ve ever visited. Now maybe that had to do something with the ten or so glasses of cuvee I tried, but the service was warm and the view was incredible.

Sparkling wine tasting at Mumm Napa

Mumm Napa wines are made in the Carneros region of Napa using the same process that is used in Champagne, France, the m├ęthode traditionelle. The result is a wine with high acidity. My guide encouraged me to identify the flavors in the sparkling wines we tasted, and we did pretty well. I tried the DVX (my favorite), the Brut Prestige, the Rose, and the Blanc de Blanc, and uh, I sort of lost track after that.

Even if you opt out of a wine tasting at Mumm Napa, the view is spectacular and well worth the drive. The winery also boasts a fine art photography gallery, though it can be easy to miss if you don’t get past the wine tasting terrace. If you can stand the Napa Valley heat in the summertime, now is a wonderful time to go.

Negril, Jamaica: Day Five (Or, Appleton Rum Estate)

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The Appleton Rum Estate is a three-hour drive from Negril; two parishes away, actually, in St. Elizabeth. But I began my last day in Jamaica in Negril, where I boarded a charter bus with a group to take us south to the Appleton Rum Estate near the town of Balaclava.

Our drive was incredibly scenic and we made a couple of pit stops along the way. First, we stopped at Bluefield Bay.

Bluefield Bay

Internet, doesn’t this look like the quintessential “vacation in paradise” advertisement? Why don’t pit stops in California look like this?

About an hour later, we stopped at a roadside stand for a quick snack of crawfish soup.

Crawfish Soup

The soup was simple and satisfying. I never really got used to eating hot soups in Jamaica’s warm and humid climate, but as a dish on it’s own, I enjoyed it.

About an hour later, we arrived at Appleton Rum Estate and were joined by Senior Blender David Morrison. David took our group on a tour of the estate, beginning with a demonstration of the rum aging and blending process. This is how rum used to be made:

After learning to juice sugar cane, we held a rum tasting where we not only tried Appleton’s range of rums, but also got to try our own hand at blending rum.

Rum Tasting and Blending

Each participant received a small bottle with which to take their creation home. With bottles in tow, we walked over to the Appleton dining hall to enjoy a buffet-style lunch of fried fish, callaloo, boiled crawfish, rice and peas and salad.

Lunch at Appleton Rum Estate

I don’t know what it was about the fish, but it was so fresh and seasoned so well. I still can’t put my finger on what the seasonings were. The crawfish was very spicy but the rice and peas helped cool things down.

Soon after our late lunch it was time to head back to Negril. It was a mountainous journey back for most of the way, and it began raining heavily right as we got on the road. We still made it back with plenty of time to grab a bite for dinner, pack up our belongings and get a good night’s rest before our flight back to San Francisco the next day.

The next morning, I got a ride to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, where I enjoyed a grapefruit-flavored Jamaican Ting soda as we waited for my flight to board. It’s been two months since I returned from Negril, but I’m still dreaming of Jamaica. And now, I’m itching to go somewhere new yet again.

Negril, Jamaica: Day Four (Or, Royal Palm Reserve and Cool Spot)

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I’m sorry, Internet. I haven’t been updating this blog nearly as much as I should. I can assure you it’s all for good reason, though. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Anyway, where where did we leave off? Oh yes, Jamaica. On our fourth day, I enjoyed my requisite breakfast at Country Peppa before arranging for a ride to take me to the Royal Palm Reserve, a 300-acre site within the Negril Great Morass. The reserve boasts 114 plant species and 300 animal species, though it seemed most of the animals were hiding when we visited.

Royal Palm Reserve

Royal Palm Reserve

The sun was shining harder than usual during my walk around the grounds but the forest provided ample shade and I kept busy by trying to spot the alligator reputed to roam the reserve. Luckily for me, I didn’t find it, but I did see tons of birds and butterflies, including a duck species unique to the reserve that makes a chirp-like noise instead of quacking.

The ride back was full of more domesticated wildlife, or goats and cows to be exact. Baby goats are everywhere in the Negril countryside and I never got tired of seeing them. By the time I arrived back to my cottage, I was hungry, so I walked down Norman Manley Boulevard in search of conch. I had been wanting to try conch fritters or grilled conch since my arrival, but every restaurant or stand that I approached was out of supply by the time I’d asked.

I settled on a meal at Cool Spot, a beachside restaurant on Seven Mile Beach. Alas, they were out of grilled conch and conch fritters as well, so I ordered the only other conch on the menu: curry conch:

Curry Conch and Coleslaw

The conch was not very flavorful and the curry sauce was pretty average. Texturally, it was like calamari, but slightly thicker and softer. If nothing else, at least now I can say I’ve tried conch. The accompanying rice and peas, though, were well-prepared:

Rice and Peas

After our meal, I returned to the beach and observed a storm approaching. Instead of going indoors for cover, I took a dip in the ocean and really, I cannot emphasize how fun it is to wade in the (warm and calm) water in the middle of a rainstorm. (Can you imagine people doing the same in San Francisco’s freezing Pacific waters? Terrible idea.) The dark clouds that had approached in less than an hour were gone just as quickly, and I dried up just in time to enjoy a gorgeous sunset.

Sunset at Seven Mile Beach

All that hype you’ve heard about Caribbean sunsets? It’s true.