How to be more prolific on social media

Given that the last topic I blogged about was the summer solstice and it is now autumn in most places around the country (except for San Francisco, which is in its annual bout of Indian Summer), you can tell it’s been a while since I last blogged. 

Which is not good for a blogger, right? That’s like the number one rule of blogging, you say: Update and update regularly. Who is going to read anything you write if you actually don’t write anything? 

Gah, OK, OK, I hear you. So now I have some thoughts about being prolific on personal social media.

For many of us, the struggle with updating our digital presences—i.e. Feeding The Monster—is practical: We are just busy. Away from our screens and keyboards, we have active lives full of work and people and houses to clean and pets to feed and if we have a spare hour outside of work, we would much rather be seeing the friend we haven’t seen in umpteen months or laying down. 

Recently I’ve realized that one of the keys to making sure we have time to update has to do with our lifestyles. I have a couple of ideas about what we can do in our lives to improve our prolificacy. 

It actually has to do with commute. Commutes, in general, are terrible for our happiness. Researchers found that people consistently cite it as the worst part of their lives. So, if commute majorly affects our lives in general, imagine how it impacts our productivity. 

So, for optimal social media, there are two good scenarios:

1. Find a job that’s close to work or where we can work from home. I used to have a job where I would have to drive 1.5 hours everyday to get to work—and then another 1.5 hours back. That was three hours a day. And aside from the fact of having no time for blogging or doing anything else—I was miserable from the commute. These days, I used to live a five-minute walk away from my work, but recently the office moved more than an hour’s drive away. Now I lose two to three hours every day—that’s fifteen hours a week or more than two full days of work (assuming an average of eight hours of work a day). Which basically means that if I weren’t commuting, I could essentially be blogging as a part-time job for two days a week. 

I contrast this to when I used to work from home—in particular, when I was running social media for a startup in DC. It meant I started really early because they were five hours ahead of where I was living. But it also meant that I put in way more hours because I didn’t have a commute. And I also had time to integrate updating my social media into my life. 

2. The even better way to make time for Feeding The Monster is to plan a commute during which you can work. After roughing such long driving commutes for some time, I told myself I would live by public transportation and company shuttle stops or bust. And you know what? It was awesome. I’d walk 20 minutes to the train and get my exercise for the day and then take a 40-minute train ride down to my job. It was the similar time spent as my more awful commutes. The difference was that I could work on the way down. On my way back up, I would take the company shuttle and do the same. 

I considered my day started when I sat down in my train seat, not when I got to my desk—which meant that my day started much earlier and I had the time and mental space to work on creative problems and also to blog, tweet, and find things that inspired me to post to my social channels. 

The third way, which I do not advocate, is to find a job that you hate because then you will find yourself forced to find inspiration and creativity in your outside life, which for some people means social media. Of course, then you have a much bigger problem on your hands. ;-)

What do you guys think? How do you guys make sure you post often?

- Noelle

Winter Cocktails at AQ Restaurant and Bar

It really can't be said that San Francisco doesn't have seasons.

Sure, the city's east cost counterparts boast the full blusters of winter and dramatic fall displays of color and leaves. And even Midwest cities, like Chicago and Minneapolis, may claim seasons intense enough to freeze your tears and melt your skin and all of the earned bragging rights in leathered character.

But thin-skinned and soft-hearted San Franciscans may be, it cannot be said that the City on the Bay does not have seasons. You really only have to look to what San Francisco devotes so much of its pomp and circumstance: the food. In city that puts events like farmers markets at centerstage, eating with the seasons is an important part of San Francisco living. Home cooks and professional chefs kow-tow to fresh catches and seasonal harvests.

AQ Restaurant is the perfect example of this. The restaurant, which just opened in November to a flurry of accolades (including a nomination for the James Beard Award's best new restaurant), changes every aspect of its service with the seasons. The interior transforms from the warm colors of fall to stark winter white. The staff rotates its garb from flannels to pressed whites. And, of course, the food and drinks shift to reflect the particular season's bounty.

AQ

If the concept sounds quaint, it is. But it avoids becoming gimmicky simply because, well, the cocktails are good.

What's cool is that many of AQ's cocktails give a strong nod to the classics. In fact, a whole section of the drink menu is devoted to "seasonal classics," common drinks that are tweaked here and there to make it the restaurant's own.

AQ also features some of its own drinks, too. They're not cocktails you'll necessarily find in the gentlemen's companion—but they were definitely delicious enough to make up a modern cocktail book!

AQ

We went to AQ during its winter menu. I was particularly pleased with my Manhattan, which featured orange-peel-infused bourbon, sweet vermouth, winter bitters, and angostura bitters. It was a really lovely spicy take on the old classic. It managed to taste enough like the original but took on its own distinct mood—kind of like visiting the same place at different times of day.

AQ

Next I ordered a New Amsterdam Variant #2: raisin-infused bols genever gin, maple syrup, old fashioned bitters, topped with apple cider. It was a sweet drink that ran thick with the maple syrup. The taste of raisins and cider tasted familiar and made me feel warm on a cold winter's night. Completely appropriate drink for fall (apple season!), as well.

The drink somehow become reminiscent of raisins and of hot cider. It was the perfect spice to warm my insides on a cold winter's night.

AQ

Josh asked the bartender for a recommendation on a scotch drink, and she whipped up a super tasty Bobby Burns—a deep and smoky drink that usually includes scotch, vermouth, and Bendictine.

Our companion Kasey, on the other hand, ordered a Bison Rose, and it came in this really cool cup! (Standby for low-quality pictures in a dark, dark bar.)

AQ

Overall, we were most impressed by the drinks featured on the menu (opposed to ones whipped up off-menu), and the bar takes a really fresh take on well-loved cocktails. Drinks were really well-balanced and very accessible for food-minded folks looking for deep flavors in their cocktails. These are California cocktails at their best!

[For the interested, here are dark, dramatic photos of the AQ winter cocktail menu, which has since been swapped out for the spring menu.]

AQ

IMG_7548

AQ Restaurant & Bar

1085 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94103 415) 341-9000
http://aq-sf.com

Crossposted on The Joy of Drinking.

Seconds

I have this theory that you know a place is really good when you go twice—once, to try it out, and then second, to fulfill the craving the first visit left. This past weekend was a weekend of seconds. :-)

We returned to Plant Cafe on the Embarcadero with my visitng friend (and, incidentally, second cousin!) Crystal. It's a super healthy cafe on the Bay that specializes in organic foods. It's the perfect place to take any guest to San Francisco—they get a full Bay view and can satisfy their stereotype of healthy Californians. 

We all thought we'd try their fresh juices. You only need a little glass because it's so potent!

They also have a delicious breakfast bowl with cinammon, apples, young coconut, and pecans. 

We also returned to 15 Romolo. I had promised myself that I wouldn't get the skillet this time, even though it was so delicious last time. But this time they had pork belly in the skillet! What's a girl to do?

Pork belly skillet

We also stopped for a drink at old favorite Heaven's Dog, where Trevor whipped up a lovely Trinidad Sour.

Trinidad Sour - Heavens Dog

Cheers to the seconds!

Mint Plaza & Blue Bottle Coffee

“The one across from Square” is what my friend Ben called the Blue Bottle Coffee location, referring to the tech startup across the street. You know you’re in Silicon Valley when coffee shops are referenced according to the nearest hot startup. 

If you were really to get technical about it, the little space is called Mint Plaza—a little yuppie inlet, set off from the busy Mission Street. That part of Mission Street is actually where things get a little dodgy—crack addicts in wheel chairs and kids playing craps and other rough types who scatter out from the shelter on 6th street. People say it’s an area prime to be gentrified with Square and Twitter (both productions by entrepreneur and CEO Jack Dorsey) setting up shop and ever more fancy condos filling the lots. But for now the homeless and bored still congregate around the bus stops and benches. 

But once you turn right onto Mint Street and walk a block down to Mint Plaza proper, the yuppies and startup types appear. Young guys on iPhones and ladies with laptops, women in yoga pants and people helping their dogs to the puppy biscuits on the store counter. A BMW flies past every now and then looking for parking. 

Inside the coffee shop, the brightly lit space is fitted with long, beautiful wood bars. Fit for the cool geeks that the shop attracts, this Blue Bottle location is stocked with “our prettiest and most delicate gear,” says the coffee shop itself. This means fancy Japanese apparatus made of glass—high tech all in the name of good coffee.

The five-light siphon bar is said to be the first of its kind in the U.S.

It produces the coffee at just the right temperature in exactly the right time. 

They also have a selection of simple sandwiches for lunch—like this ham, cheese, and butter ‘wich made from ACME bread. 

Blue Bottle Coffee
Mint Plaza
66 Mint Street, San Francisco
M-F 7-7, Saturday 8-6, Sunday 8-4.

More Details on Charles Phan's and Erik Adkin's New Project

Learning about Charles Phan's and Erik Adkin's new Embarcadero restaurant had the curious effect of making Josh and me very excited and very thirsty. And so we found ourselves, only moments later, dashing down to The Slanted Door, one of Mr. Phan's and Mr. Adkin's tried, true, and institutionalized restaurants in the Ferry Building. After all, we wanted to end the three-day weekend on a celebratory note.

And as it happened, Mr. Adkins was there that night behind the bar! He shared with us a little more about the new spot, which is set to open just a little ways down from The Slanted Door at Pier 3.

The new restaurant will take on a New Orleans flare in fare and in cocktails. The drinks, specifically, will draw inspiration from the the book Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em, an artifact from the '30s and one of the few pieces documenting drinks from that place. For Erik, that means being able to do a lot of what he enjoys—stirred drinks and the like.

It's a very neat direction to go. New Orleans drinks are celebrated for some very significant contributions to the cocktail menu—the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz, just to name a few. But I don't know of very many bars that have chosen to thematically embrace New Orleans. And with the growing number of New York-style, Charles Baker, tiki, and tequila spots, it seems that Phan and Adkins might carve out a very unique spot.

The new place won't be solely about the cocktails and actually the cocktail menu won't be "seasonal," as I had previously thought. Instead, we are encouraged by with what we know about Mr. Phan's other spots—both great food and great drink. There's not much not to complain about that.

And so we wait with more anticipation! 2012 will, indeed, be a very good year.

Crossposted on The Joy of Drinking.

Cold Nights, Hot Tofu Soup

Banchan at Tofu House

For a foggy, Friday San Francisco evening, hot soon dubu chigae was the perfect method of warding off a cold. 

After playing frisbee in the parks of Oakland (several questionable aspects about this activity), Josh suffered from the congestion of both allergies and a cold. Gah. So we dashed our original hipster plans of eating cheese in the Mission and instead headed over to our favorite Korean hole in the wall: My Tofu House.

Soon dubu chigae is a Korean tofu soup, hot both for its scaldingly hot temperatures and spiciness, which makes the broth ember-red from pepper paste. The steam, the pepper, the rich broth—all of it—is the perfect salve for a cold. 

We like My Tofu House because the interior makes you feel like you’re home. Warm lights, soft seats, and kind staff make it easy to relax.

Tofu House

Plus, the banchan, or side dishes, are delicious and plentiful. Each person even get their own smelt, and when they’re not busy, you get refills on the banchan.

Banchan at Tofu House

I always get the combination soup because I like the savory mix of beef plus clam.

Combination Soon Dubu - Tofu House

And Josh likes to get the noodle one—the ramen soaks up all the flavor. It’s one of a few other vegetarian options on the menu, including vegetable and mushroom. (They always use water and not meat broth.)

A satisfying start to the weekend.

My Tofu House

4627 Geary Blvd
(between 10th Ave & 11th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94118
Neighborhood: Inner Richmond

(415) 750-1818

Heaven's Dog: Valentine's Day Cocktail Adventures

It was a kind of spur-of-the-moment decision on Valentine's. Though we had planned a classy, classy home Valentine’s dinner, Josh and I decided to capitalize on a celebratory mood and dash out for a quick happy hour. After all, one of our favorite bars, Heaven’s Dog, was not so very far away—and Valentine’s Day comes only but once a year! With hurried justification, we threw on our jackets and headed right over.

Josh and I have been going to the SOMA spot ever since it opened in 2009. Opened by Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame, the restaurant features some kind of Chinese American fare—fancy xiaolongbao, onion pancakes, spicy dumplings, and other “high-end” stir-frys. But what keeps us coming back are the cocktails. Originally managed by the incredible Erik Adkins—who is not only super talented but also the nicest guy in the world—the cocktails always took on his warmth and attention to detail, refined classics with high-quality ingredients. We recently learned that Trevor, former bar manager of Rickhouse, has since moved over to Heaven’s Dog, which is great since Rickhouse is another city favorite.

We noticed that Trevor had made a new cocktail menu. Looks yum!

New Cocktail Menu at Heaven's Dog

I started with a Nothing But the Brave, a stiff cocktail featuring armagnac, lemon juice, All Spice, and Ginger.

Nothing But the Brave

And Josh had the Oaxacan Firing Squad. The drink really became the star of the night, with its savory, smokey mix of Mezcal, lime, Small Hands grenadine, and angostura. Delicious! (Sorry for the dim photo—the place was so dark at first.)

Oaxacan Firing Squad - Heaven's Dog

We ended our happy our by splitting a Yankee Clipper, a crisp way to end our happy hour with Beefeater gin, carpano antica, Luxardo, orange bitters, and absinthe.

Yankee Clipper

Heaven’s Dog

1148 Mission St.

San Francisco, CA 94103

415.863.6008

Cross-posted at The Joy of Drinking.

Valentine's Day for practical romantics

Pink moscato -- hehe!

Like so many other couples around the globe, Josh and I aren't the type to take ourselves out to dinner on Valentine's Day. OK, maybe we're just resisting the cliche. But, eh, noisy and crowded candlelit restaurants with forced, red-colored prix fixe Valentine's menus just don't appeal to us (it's funny how much you can looove prix fixe menus until someone forces it on you and doubles the price). 

And so we decided to do something at home. 

To me, the trick to a Valentine's Day at home is making the meal feel just special enough without doing so much work that you get into a fight after a long day's work. (The last time we decided to make souffles, and my mom just laughed and walked away saying, "Good luck with that.")

So, imagine my joy as I collected these gems during my regular grocery shopping last week:

Heart-shaped ravioli from Costco

Heart-shaped ravioli - FTW #thankyouCostco

Pink sparkling moscato

Yes -- pink moscato from Trader Joe's #shameless

Combined with a butter lettuce salad and fresh guacamole, it made for a delicious meal. 

Totally cheesy? Yes! Much enjoyed? Definitely. 

Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Midweek Weekend: Rickhouse

Ever have a week so tiring that halfway through you need a little weekend? 

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It was one of those weeks. So Josh and I headed down to one of our favorite bars in the city: Rickhouse. 

We love Rickhouse for three main reasons:

  1. The cocktails are great.
  2. High-quality ingredients with a passionate staff? Yes, please!
  3. The price is cheaper than most other cocktails in this class. Each cocktail used to be $8, though we discovered yesterday that the prices were bumped up to $9 or $10. 
  4. Two words: Punch bowls!

It was crowded even mid-week—typical, due to bar's location in the Financial District, which draws flocks of suits and high heels for happy hour drinks. Even aside from the business types, however, the drinks attract cocktail enthusiasts from all over. Just last year, Rickhouse won a prestigious award for best high-volume bar at Tales of the Cocktail, and most recently, one of its bartenders, Russell, was named bartender of the year by Nightclub & Bar (if you ever sit at his bar, ask for a daiquiri. It's said to be one of the hardest drinks to make, and Russell nails it!). 

I ordered a Penicillin #2 (pictured above), one of my old fall backs when I want something refreshing after work. It's a smokey mix of Scotch, lemon, pineapple gum syrup, and bitters (a California twist on the New York original—yes, the Penicillin—that uses a ginger honey syrup).

Josh ordered a Improved Gin Cocktail—a class of cocktails that is incidentally one of my favorites, as well. This "improved" breed of cocktails is a simple (and delicious!) twist on the classic Old Fashioned with the addition of Maraschino liqueur and a touch of absinthe. It's a recipe that dates back to the 1880s, the cradle of modern cocktails, when Jerry Thomas and others started adding the then-new maraschino liqueur to drinks. You can use this method with any spirit by stirring your favorite poison with simple syrup (or sugar), Maraschino liqueur, angostura bitters, and a dash of absinthe. Rickhouse, however, chose to spotlight the gin variation on the menu, using, specifically, Bols Genevere gin. This Dutch preparation of gin ages the spirit in casks, which imparts a spicier, smokier flavor—whiskey lovers, rejoice.

We also discovered last night that, in addition to the prices, the Rickhouse menu has changed. The long, lengthy litany of cocktails has been replaced by two simple double-sided cards. Along with the Improved Gin Cocktail, it includes another favorite: the Vieux Carre.

We think the menu change is probably because the old bar manager, Trevor, headed over to Heaven's Dog. I'm not sure, though, who is writing the menu at Rickhouse now.

There's nothing like a midweek respite. Now, back to the work week. And thank the Lord, tomorrow is Friday! 

Rickhouse

246 Kearny Street  

San Francisco, CA 94108