It’s winter in Northern California, but the weather has been sunny, warm and magical. I was inspired to write this post since visiting Delta’s Farmers Market yesterday. They have a HUGE selection of beer. If you like beer, I highly recommend you check this place out in Rio Vista. They sell fresh produce, (not as good as Andy’s Orchard) fancy jams and local honey, wine, ciders, fancy caramel chocolates, pies, chocolate dipped coconut macaroons, my favorite and much much more. I learned they have live concerts on Friday nights. Whohoo!
Besides stopping at farmers markets, my sister and I went bird watching at Cosumnes River Preserve. We had a great time. We saw sandhill cranes from afar which are only around from October until March. We learned how to identify waterfowl and ducks from other visitors. We saw blue-winged teal ducks and several cinnamon teal species. It was a gorgeous sunny day to be relaxing out in nature.
In my last post, I promised my next blog would be about my chickens. I’ve been having fun feeding and taking care of nine chickens since October 2020. They are about 12 weeks old now. I have five varieties: 2 Red Stars (brown eggs), 2 Ameraucanas (blue eggs), 2 Anconas (white eggs), and 2 whiting True Blue’s and they sent one extra chicken for free. McMurray’s Hatchery in Iowa helped me decide which breeds to order and sent them as baby chicks. I was so excited to find them on my front porch delivered by my postman. According to Concord Feed where I get my chicken feed, the girls should start laying eggs in April.
It has been wonderful to have the chickens to look after. Since March of 2020 there have been lots of deaths from the Covid 19 pandemic, and anxiety around constant news cycle of President Trump’s drama, the presidential election, and the recent insurgence on Jan 6th 2021 on our state capitol. It has been a tumultuous time in America. But, not for long.
Last Wednesday January 20th, Joe Biden became our new President. Kamala Harris is the very first female African American and Asian American Vice President elected official to hold office. Many of us can breathe a sigh of relief now with this new administration. And happy birthday to my oldest son Curtis, who turned 36 this week.
The chickens have been my therapy. We have named them! I have Bertha (named by my niece Michelle), Mabel (named by my sister Sue and after Ken’s Aunt), Babe (named by my Mom), Arthur (named by my niece Keri-who by the way hasn’t met her yet), Dolly (named by my niece Laura)or Snowy (named by Terra), Mary Kate (named by my husband Ken), Caramel Corn (named by my niece’s daughter Tamra), Scooby (named by my son Curtis), and Bee Bee (named by my son Andrew). Each chicken has her own unique personality. Some are friendlier than others.
Every day, I have been making a mush for them and adding their chicken feed to it to keep them healthy. I have a Mockmill which grinds the grain up into flour. I purchased it when there was a flour shortage because being a baker, I cannot be without flour.
Some of the ingredients I add to their mush are: Malted barley (from a friend who brews his own beer), pearled barley (given by my son’s girlfriend Shannon for Christmas), chia seeds, quinoa, oatmeal, farina, brown rice, Korean rice, millet, sorghum, lentils, black beans, green peas, buckwheat, and much more that I can’t recall.
The girls love greens. I give them Napa cabbage from Windmill Farms, cilantro, parsley, dandelion greens, kale, beet tops, carrot tops, leftovers, chicken bones, broken up egg shells, weeds, grass, and kitchen scraps. They love blueberries, cranberries, pumpkin (which I grew myself), and so much more. They will really eat practically anything except onions and citrus.
I need to get up the hill and feed them now, and put them in their coop before dark. Hope to share many more stories with you in the near future. 2021 looks a little brighter. I am filled with hope for peace and I know America will come together in the days to come. Hoping for another road trip in the near future. It is fun to find special farmers markets along country roads.
I promise to write up my coconut macaroon recipe in the coming days. They are yummy and make wintertime magical on #Smythfamilyfarm.
Thanks for reading my blog. Please follow me and subscribe or leave a comment below. Have you ever had chickens? Did you grow up on a farm? Should I get a goat some day? Have a good weekend.
We are coming to the end of 2020, and I’m not sorry it’s almost over. What a year it has been. My husband and I have survived Covid19 so far, but not all of us have been so lucky. This was our first year celebrating Christmas without Ken’s Mother.
In November, I found a pasta sauce recipe and quickly rescued it from a pile of papers that were being discarded when going through my mother in law’s things. This recipe could have been lost forever. She would call her Uncle Howard weekly, so it was a gift to find this scribbled down recipe. We lost her in late October. She fell in August and broke her ankle. Things went downhill after that. She never got Covid19, but was isolated and alone in an acute care facility where visitors weren’t allowed. We could stand at a window and wave to her, but she couldn’t hear us. It was heart breaking to not be close to her. We were lucky to have three days with her at her home where many of her family members could be by her side and say goodbye before she passed. Nilda died a week before she turned 90. Here’s a tribute to Nilda that my husband Ken made for her memorial.
330,000 American’s have lost their lives to the Corona Virus in the last ten months. Uncle Howard was one of them. He died of Covid19 in November at the age of 95 after contracting the virus at his retirement home. Sadly, his two son’s Robbie and Johnny never got to be with him when he took his last breath.
Many of my friends are in grief over placing their ailing parents with Alzheimer’s in elder care homes. I am always on edge, waiting for a call from a nurse or social worker at the Veterans Home where my Father lives. My parents have been blessed thus far, still healthy, and I feel grateful every day they are alive and well. And can we applaud the first responders, the nurses, the doctors who work tirelessly to nurture the sick back to health? Even my Mom is doing okay. She has survived cancer for the last seven years, so she has to be extra careful and stay home.
I’m thankful for these family recipes that will be passed down from generation to generation, especially Howard’s Pasta Sauce recipe. Howard was an excellent cook. Hoping you too will go to great lengths like my mother in law Nilda did, and write down these precious recipes so you can share them with your friends loved ones.
This week I will be driving an hour South to visit my 88 year old Uncle Joe (the man in the red sweater above) who also has Covid. My cousin David (who also contracted the virus, but is ok, and is in the center with a black shirt) has been caring for him at home. The least I can do is bring them some of our leftover lasagna made from Uncle Howard’s sauce. My husband made the pasta dough by hand and together we made 2 huge pans of lasagna. I will also bring them some homemade chicken broth to help Joe regain his strength. Luckily, I rolled and baked the last of the gingerbread dough yesterday and can send them a plate of cookies for them to enjoy as well. Here’s a tour of me in my kitchen talking about gingerbread cookies.
I haven’t been active writing my blog for several months. Instead, in October I acquired nine baby chicks. It’s been a great distraction to all the pain and worry we’ve all been experiencing in 2020.
I will write about the chickens in my next post. Until then, stay safe friends. Let’s put 2020 behind us, get the vaccination when it’s available and make time for family and friends when it’s safe.
Feel free to leave me any questions or comments in the space below. How has Covid affected you and your family? How are you coping during the pandemic? What wonderful things have happened this year because of the lockdown?
Thanks for joining in today and reading my blog. It means a lot. Follow along for more recipes and stories. I needed to get this sauce recipe written out because Michael Schenone’s daughter Sarah, Howard’s great niece wanted it. In the coming days I can write out our lasagna noodle recipe for your pleasure.
Uncle Howard’s Sauce
2 lbs Ground Beef
1 lb Mild Italian Sausage
1 large or 2 Medium Onions
6 cloves of Garlic
2 Large Cans (29 oz ea) of Hunts Tomato Sauce
Add water (doesn’t say how much) My guess is @ 4 Cups using the cans from the tomatoes
1 lb fresh mushrooms sliced
Dash Dried Ground Oregano
3 T dried Basil (Could be fresh. Doesn’t specify)
1 T dried Rosemary
2 Bay Leaves
Fry ground beef in olive oil in a heavy skillet in small batches until cooked.
Boil the Italian Sausage for 20 min to remove the fat, then chop into bite sized pieces.
Fry chopped onions and minced garlic on med high heat for 10 minutes being careful not to burn the garlic.
Put all ingredients into a large stock pot and simmer for 4-5 hours. Taste to adjust seasoning.
Stole my husband away from the Bay Area a few weeks ago to celebrate his birthday. Ken has been working from home since the March lockdown and hasn’t had a vacation since our trip to Tuscany last July. So you can imagine how excited he was to learn of my escape plan to The Albion River Inn close to Mendocino, our favorite place. Today’s blog will be about our adventure, exploring the town and local businesses. I will also share my cheese zombie recipe that my friends keep asking for.
Mendocino is special because it is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon 31 years ago. We hadn’t been back to the Albion River Inn for many years and we wanted to escape the poor air quality in Walnut Creek. California has had the worst fire season ever. Even Oregon and Washington are struggling to contain wildfires also, causing smoke all across the West Coast. Yesterday, we had our first clear blue sky in many weeks. It was so bad that no one could go outside for fear having the effect of smoking 20 cigarettes. Ugh. We escaped to Yountville in August to get away as well.
After a restful night at our bed and breakfast, we drove to Mendocino. The Albion River Inn provided hot coffee, homemade granola, fresh fruit and yogurt, and freshly squeezed orange juice brought directly to our room and left on the doorstep of our little cottage. We slept like angels listening to the ocean and breathing fresh salty air all night long.
Not much of the town was open, but there were a few quaint places to check out. The streets and stores were adorned with the most beautiful wildflowers. We found a natural food store Corner of the Mouth Co op. I bought local whole wheat flours, buckwheat, teff, cracked freekeh, and organic barley so I can bake healthy breads and pizzas. They even had an herbal section where they sold a pandemic tea for $49.00 a pound. Let’s hope we never need it. I spotted dried organic hop flowers, horehound, holy basil, hibiscus flowers, lobelia, linden leaf, maca root powder, marshmallow root, green teas from India, China, Japan, Nepal, Argentina, Ecuador, South Africa, USA, Poland, Cameroon, Hungary and more. Wild yam root, yarrow, turmeric, white willow bark, wild cherry bark, wormwood, valerian root and much much more. I saw many kinds of dried mushrooms including reishi which has healing powers. These herbs and mushrooms fascinate me since they have been used as medicine for many years.
We stumbled upon a small family owned business called Garden Bakery where we had fresh chicken tacos and empanadas, and a blueberry cream cheese pastry for lunch. I saw an Oreo cookie baked inside a chocolate chip cookie too! They only took cash, so we had to go back to the car. We hardly carry cash anymore. Totally worth it.
The Mendocino Garden Shop had plenty of seeds for me to buy. Have you noticed the seed shortage? More people are planting gardens since the pandemic, so it can be hard to find seeds. I also bought cover crops like crimson clover, rye grass, and fava beans to add to my soil. These fix nitrogen that have been depleted from our summer vegetable gardens.Other cover crops that I didn’t buy were Red Fescue, Daikon Radish, Bell Beans, Common Vetch, Red Oats, Journey Peas, Blue Wild Rye Grass, Meadow Barley, White Dutch Clover. If you are interested in learning more about cover crops, you can listen to John Kempf and this YouTube video. It is so interesting. Some other soil diversity experts are Chris Nichols, Jeremy Wilson, David Johnson, Grant Simms, Joel Williams, Russell Hedrick from North Carolina and Andrew Man from Alberta. If you want to grow great crops, listen to these experts.
The flowers in Mendocino are outstanding! I loved seeing the hollyhocks, sunflowers, naked pink ladies (belladonna lily), and more in bloom. It is enchanting and romantic to be where we began our marriage.
Another thrill was finding the Highlight Gallery where we enjoyed seeing exceptional fine art, watercolors and oil paintings. Erin Dertner is one of the local artists who provided us with gorgeous watercolors that adorned our walls for many years. We met Phil Chomak who happened to overhear me speaking to the sales lady at the gallery. He is one of Erin’s good friends and was able to tell us how she recently relocated to Santa Rosa. We were given her biography which revealed her philosophy, “There is no better life than to study the world with paintbrush in hand and a heart full of love and gratitude.” We love art galleries. Here is the one of the artsy blogs I wrote when we went to see my friend Margery Ammond’s art in Caramel a few years back.
Getting to run away with my husband to Mendocino was one of the best vacations we have ever had. The time away and clean ocean air was just what we needed to get rejuvenated and reconnected. I highly recommend eating at the Albion River Inn Restaurant too. We were spoiled with free champagne, an incredible Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and anchovies, meatballs and mac, and a seafood chowder with crispy croutons. The table was set outside with the most beautiful view of the sea and coastline. Charming lights were lit and strung above us and whimsical heat lamps were nearby to keep us warm. It will be an evening I will always remember.
Thanks for spending time with me today. I hope I’ve inspired you to bake, garden, or vacation with a loved one. I’m grateful for the time you have shared with me here and outside these homebound walls.
While rifling through my recipes, I encountered this family favorite. Cheese Zombies! I first experienced tasting one of these in high school in 1978. They were sold at brunch and provided by the cafeteria ladies. I’ve since learned my girlfriend Kim Johnson’s Russian grandmother Helen Ballock who worked for the Mount Diablo School District in the 1960’s came up with this recipe and it was inspired by her husband’s Piroshkis. The government had a cheese surplus, so she invented the Cheese Zombie. Kim’s grandfather immigrated from Russia to the United States in 1926. I may have to make Piroshki’s next since Kim shared her family’s traditional recipe with me.
These delicious warm balls of cheesy dough make the perfect snack. I hope you will give them a try.
MOUNT DIABLO SCHOOL DISTRICT ZOMBIE RECIPE
This recipe makes 2 ½ pounds of dough or 15 large filled zombies or 24 smaller zombies
2 C warm water
2 T Active Yeast
6 C Bread Flour
¼ C Sugar plus 1 T for activating the yeast
½ C room temperature unsalted butter
1 ½ t Kosher salt
⅛ C Poppy seeds or White or Black Sesame seeds
1 whole egg whisked
1 t black Hawaiin Sea Salt or whatever special salt you have
Whichever filling you desire:Cheese, sausage, etc… I used canned chili and cheese.
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and 1 T granulated sugar. Stir and let bubble up for about 5 or 10 minutes.
Using a dough hook, slowly begin adding some of the flour (about 2 cups) a bit at a time, incorporating the sugar and salt also while the mixer is on low. Add the room temperature butter to the dough in stages to make sure all butter is incorporated equally.
Let dough rest for 5 minutes, before adding more bread flour until most of the flour has been added. The dough should be mixed on medium high for about 10 minutes or until it is soft and pliable to the touch. Set dough aside to rest for about another 5 or 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into 1pound portions and roll into long logs. Cut each log into 5 equal pieces.
Roll out each piece with a rolling pin, using extra flour as needed to keep from sticking and place your favorite filling in the center of the dough, being careful to pull dough up from the sides to cover filling. Pinch to close carefully, so the filling can’t escape while baking. Place zombies pinched side down on a well greased or use parchment paper on a sheet pan. Brush with one whole egg.Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds and Hawaiin Sea Salt. Let rise until doubled in size.
Bake in a 375 degree preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Use 1 ½-2 oz of cheese per zombie.
Traditionally, Velveta Cheese was used, but I prefer a sharp white cheddar.
Other filling suggestions are:
Pepperoni, pizza sauce and cheese, ham and cheese, green chilies, ground beef, sausage, roasted vegetables, or scrambled eggs.
I’m told these zombies were inspired by the Russian Piroshikis. My friend Kim Johnson told me her grandmother worked for the Mount Diablo School District in the 1960’s. The government had a cheese surplus, so she invented the zombies to use up the cheese. Kim’s grandfather would fill his dough with meat. Great history lesson there.
I’m a huge fan of these lunchtime or anytime treats. It’s comfort food during these hard times.
I’m stuck sitting in my house all day because the smoke and ash from the West Coast wildfires are making the air unhealthy to breathe.The fires have charred over 2.5 million acres and it’s only mid September. I can’t imagine anything else that could go wrong in 2020. America and the world have been dealing with the Covid pandemic. We have missed weddings, funerals, concerts, and everything about our previous lifestyle and all this began a little more than six months ago. But August 23, 2020 will go down in history as being one of my favorite experiences ever, dining at The French Laundry in Yountville, California.
I’ve been following Thomas Keller (ChefThomasKeller) and the Three Star Michelin Restaurant The French Laundry (tfl) on Instagram for years. I’ve walked through the gardens across the street from the restaurant every time I visit my dad at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville. I’m inspired by the organic produce they grow and look to see what flowers I can identify by name. Not only have I worked as a pastry chef, I’ve also been an avid gardener for over 30 years. So getting the chance to dine at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, was a dream come true.
In January, my sister Sue booked a reservation in May for four to celebrate her daughter Marie’s 30th birthday. Marie takes after her auntie and is one of the biggest foodies there is. She knows her wine too, especially after working for Wente Winery for a few years.There is a great story of our day together in a previous blog if you want to check that out. When Covid hit in March, the restaurant had to close and pivot to outdoor dining reopening on July 8th. Our reservation was rescheduled for August 23rd, which happened to be my sister’s birthday. Perfect right? I was excited to be included in this fancy affair and couldn’t wait for August to come fast enough.
When the day finally arrived, we started it off the right way by having brunch at my house first. Here’s the beginning of the story tfl Part 1. I didn’t want to go wine tasting at Robert Biale on an empty stomach, so I whipped up a few dishes to keep our tummies full.
Before our reservation, we had to get coffee and hot chocolate and buy something at Bouchon, the famous French Bakery also owned by Thomas Keller. We then took a walk through the gardens, said hello to the chickens and the bees and took photos like we were having the best day of our lives. And we were. We even touched up our makeup and hair in the car so we would be ready for what was to come.
The time had come. It was 5:15PM, so my husband Ken dropped us off (a designated driver is always a good idea), took a few photographs and we walked up to the back entrance. We were greeted and welcomed with a smile. We gave our name and were escorted to our table. Just so you know, I don’t get to eat at places like this every day. I appreciate restaurants and bars and how they make us feel and that’s why I write about them.
Our waiter was handsome and had an English accent. Very charming. We were smitten with him. My niece is single so of course I wanted to see if he was available since I am a matchmaker. I bet you didn’t know that about me. Well, he was taken, so that was that.
Marie brought a Del Dotto Rose sparkling wine and I brought a Red wine to avoid extra costs. Our waiter was nice enough to decanter the Italian Amarone Della Valpolicella Terre Molin red wine and open the sparkling wine to start. It was delightful. Light and plenty of bubbles. The perfect way to start the evening.
Then the tastings started coming. There was an amuse bouche of a cheese ball served in a cone dipped in white and black sesame seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds I think. We were also given hand made, perfectly cut out, flower shaped crackers filled with special cheeses that came from the cheese maker Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Farm in Petaluma California.
And lucky me, Chef Keller graced our table. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Chef’s are like rock stars to me. I had to give him my business card with my blog on it and share that I almost applied to a job to be his assistant 8 months ago, before I chickened out. Maybe I will get the courage to apply there someday. He was warm and professional and everything I had hoped for. He is an author of three cookbooks: Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc At Home, and the latest one Under Pressure Cooking Sous Vide, none of which I have. Hint. Hint. He also launched a magazine called Finesse in Dec 2010 that featured different themes of importance to Chef Keller such Design, Community, Preservation and Evolution. I must check these out. For $15.00 a month you can register for his Online Masterclass and learn how to poach perfect eggs, make pasta by hand and confit vegetables. Pretty cool.
I should have taken better notes because I’m trying to decipher the menu and compare it to the photos I took of the dishes. I can recall a special pastry that we were served along with their extraordinary butter made by Diane St. Claire, found only in Vermont by a dairy called Animal Farm. Chef Keller even had a cow named after him. I bet the pastry was made from heirloom grains provided by Glenn Roberts owner of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. The miller also grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats, Italian farro, legumes and antebellum corn. I’ve been experimenting with these grains and making bread by grinding grains with a Mocksmill that I purchased when there was a flour shortage.
This dining experience is special because of the close relationship the chef has with the farmers like Sadie Kendall at Kendall Farms in Atascadero who makes creme fraiche, seafood purveyors like Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts,or Ingrid Bengis Seafood for her lobster, scallops and crab. Chef Keller buys only the best ingredients for culinary excellence and discriminating appetites such as special spices and olive oils from Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco. You get the idea.
I won’t go into every bite with you here, but I will include the menu so you can look it over yourself. It’s totally worth every penny to have an experience like we had.
In my opinion, the best part of the meal was the dessert. We were presented with a birthday cake “Gateau Marjolaine” a hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate ganache and praline buttercream for the birthday girls that had fireworks coming out of it. No joke. Incredible. My niece was blown away and so were the rest of us.
Did I mention Sue Baker, my sister’s best friend paid for Marie to have a special glass of wine selected from the wine cellar to celebrate her and to make her experience even better? How sweet was that? I can’t forget to address that my sister Sue paid for all four of us to dine at The French Laundry. It’s seriously unbelievable and added to the excitement of the day. Thank you Sue. So generous.
Back to the desserts, because of course these were my favorite treats and the most indulgent part of the evening. They kept coming and coming. There were caramels, and a strawberry flavored one too. We tried a peach French macaron (My recipe here) and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I ate a white sesame cake with yuzu glazed strawberries, served with cream and cosmos flower petals.
Our service was undeniably the best I’ve ever had and our waiters had the precise attention to detail, skill and expertise that you would expect from a three star restaurant. They anticipated our every desire. Only better. I’m pretty sure someone stood near our table the whole evening just in case there was something we needed.
I wish I had taken better notes because I can’t begin to describe what was served in a tiny coffee cup. I also couldn’t stop eating the fluffy white dessert with chocolate crumbles. You realize we had been eating for four hours at least nine or ten decadent servings of everything a person could ever want and yet, I couldn’t stop myself from eating every single bite. Then they brought out the chocolates and we could try as many as we wanted. OMG. To die for. Don’t tell anyone. I took a few home in my purse so I could save them for later. Delicious. Works of art.
To make the day even better, the staff guided us through the kitchen for a tour. The kitchen is spotless and shiny like no other. Copper pots lining the walls, bins of tiny white and red onions probably coming straight from their garden across the street.
We laughed and giggled all the way back to the East Bay telling Ken all about the upcharge option of wagyu beef, and the stunningly, impeccably cared for grounds and the gently lighted ambiance when the sun went down.
Dining at the French Laundry has been the most relaxing and memorable foodie experience ever. We were treated like royalty by the most courteous staff. It was truly remarkable.
I hope you enjoyed my blog on The French Laundry. Meeting Chef Thomas Keller made my evening, but dining with my family and loved ones will be something I will always cherish. Thanks for stopping by.
Follow my blog for more stories and recipes.
CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
50g or ½ C. Cocoa Powder
40g or ⅓ C. Powdered Milk
150g or ¾ C. Granulated Sugar
10g or 2 T Instant Coffee powder Or Espresso
½ T Kosher Salt
100g or about 5 large Egg Yolks (Yolks ONLY)
360ml or 1½ C. Whole Milk
2 T Rum
480ml or 2 C. Heavy Cream
1 tsp Tahitian Vanilla Extract
In a medium size heavy saucepan, place the cocoa powder, the powdered milk, granulated sugar, instant coffee, rum, salt and stir with a wire whisk. Stir in the egg yolks. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla extract into the pan. Whisk ingredients and cook over low to medium heat until the thermometer reaches 158 degrees F or 70 degrees C.
For the next 25 minutes (set your timer), move the pan off and on over the heat keeping the temperature between 158-162 degrees F or 70-72 degrees C and constantly stirring. Stay with your ice cream base the entire 25 minutes.
Remove the pan off the heat, once the 25 minutes is up. Strain the custard through a wire mesh into a large bowl to remove any clumps.Cover with plastic wrap touching the custard directly onto the plastic to prevent a skin from forming on your custard.
Put the chocolate ice cream base into the refrigerator overnight or for at least four or 5 hours to chill. Pre chill the 2 quart bowl preferably overnight. (I leave mine in the freezer all year long, always returning to the freezer after my ice cream is made.) When ready to churn, take the frozen ice cream container out, add the chocolate ice cream base and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions approximately 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume. Remove it from the ice cream machine and place in a container with a lid and freeze until firm.
This is my latest favorite dessert. It is fairly easy to make and keeps well in the freezer. Never lasts long in my house… Here is a video of me making the chocolate custard that is uploaded from my Instagram page.
Spent last Sunday in Napa and Yountville celebrating my niece Marie’s 30th birthday and my sister Sue’s birthday. We were joined by Sue’s best friend Susan Baker, her college roommate from 40 years ago. Today’s blog is all about our day together having brunch at my house, tastings at Biale Winery and dinner at the world famous three Star Michelin restaurant The French Laundry.
I was concerned about drinking on an empty stomach, so I decided to whip up a few things to keep our tummies happy. The day before, I prepared an organic milled spelt, bulgur, heritage grain Olan wheat flour by Capay Mills, sun dried tomato and salami bread and kept it in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. Baked it fresh that morning, so it would have time to cool before cutting into it. I served this wonderful high protein bread with two cheeses: havarti dill, and Nicasio Reserve from Marin County California and my homemade Blenheim apricot preserves. We splurged and opened a bottle of sparkling wine and made bellinis with my canned peaches from my garden and garnished with lemon verbena from the garden.
I also served a potato Spanish tortilla and a peach crumble with vanilla ice cream and homemade caramel sauce. So yummy. I probably over did it. But this was going to be a special day and I wanted to start it out right.
We left for the winery later than expected with full bellies and smiling masked faces all piled into my Lexus. My husband Ken agreed to drive us, so we could enjoy the day.
We had a nice experience tasting wines at Robert Biale Vineyards. Since Susan has a membership, we were spoiled with impeccable service and attention. We relaxed looking at the vineyard, chatting and sipping some of the best Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Biale’s rare blends some of the best in the Napa Valley. We happened to be the only people there because of the wildfires and smoke permeating the area. We were lucky there was a breeze and the air quality didn’t bother us. It was much worse in the Bay Area where we traveled from. We sat for hours admiring the planters filled with prolific fuchsia pink and yellow perennials lantana, pink dianthus and red and yellow dahlias. Just gorgeous.
We were blessed to be able to get a reservation at The French Laundry 6 months ago for a May celebration. Covid closed down many restaurants in March, April and May, but we were fortunate enough to claim one for August so we could acknowledge Marie’s 30th birthday. Her dream came true that day, and I was ohh soo grateful to be included in her special day. I can’t forget to mention the quick stop at Bouchon Bakery where we indulged in hot chocolate, espresso, fresh French bread and pastries, not wanting to spoil our appetites for what was to come. Bouchon sells Paris-Brest, Macarons, fresh fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, cupcakes, pain aux raisins, yuzu citrus croissants, chocolate almond croissants, cream cheese Danish, french baguettes filled with ham and cheese, smoked salmon sandwiches on seeded rolls,tomato and brie sandwiches, cookies, chocolates and candies like almond toffee.
It’s hard to know where to begin on describing my experience at the French Laundry. The four of us began by walking through the gardens across the street from the restaurant. They are incredible. They keep bees hives, tiny new starts of herbs in a tunnel, rows of lettuce, peppers, squash, onions, tomatoes and more. We visited the chickens who seem happy eating their fill of discarded squash. I’m curious about owning chickens and am ready to try keeping them in my home garden.
My husband took photos of us perfecting our makeup, like we were getting ready to get married or something. We were so excited and had waited so long to have this day finally happen. It had been cancelled a few times because of Covid and we were worried it would be cancelled again because of the fires and smoke in Napa County. The tables would be set up outside because no one is allowed to eat indoors for fear Covid could spread. We were fortunate to have the money and resources to afford the $350.00 per person fine dining experience. My sister Sue treated us by scheduling the date and paying many months ago. How incredibly lucky I was to be included in this special day, since originally my sister had another person in mind for the ticket.
More photos were taken at the entrance, then my husband drove off to find his own dinner nearby. Kind of sad we couldn’t include him in the event, but he wouldn’t have wanted to participate nor have wanted to spend the money on this extravagant meal.
I’m going to end here and write my next blog about the remainder of the day. I hate to see my blogs getting too long. Look forward to my next write up continuing on about our French Laundry experience part II.
First I will share my Peach Crumble and Sea Salt Caramel Recipe.
Peach Crumble with Sea Salt Caramel Sauce
4 or 5 medium to large size peaches peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
2/3 C Brown Sugar
⅓ C Granulated Sugar ( Plus 2 T more sugar for peaches
2 T Tapioca Flour or arrowroot to add to peach mixture later)
½ C. Buckwheat flour
¼ C All Purpose Flour
¼ C Oats
½ C Unsalted Butter room temperature or cold cut into chunks Plus 1 T extra to coat pie dish
½ t Kosher Salt
½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground ginger
¼ t ground cloves
1 Baking pie dish or use several individual oven safe serving size bowls
1 Cuisinart Food Processor or Kitchenaid Mixer
In a Cuisinart food processor, Kitchenaid Mixer or large bowl combine all dry ingredients: Brown Sugar, White Sugar, Buckwheat Flour, All Purpose Flour, Oats, Salt and spices: Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves.
Pulse 5 times to mix thoroughly. Add butter pieces and pulse again until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
Peel peaches by boiling first and placing in an ice bath to loosen skins. Dry and cut peaches, remove pits and cut into ¼ inch thick slices and place in a medium size bowl. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of sugar mixed with 2 T tapioca flour onto peaches.
In a buttered pie dish, place cut pieces of peaches that are covered with sugar and tapioca flour. Add crumble topping on top of peaches. Set the pie dish on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35-50 minutes or until dessert is hot and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Dessert can be refrigerated at this time and reheated and served later.
Serve alongside vanilla ice cream and sea salt caramel sauce.
Sea Salt Caramel
Ingredients and Instructions
320g or 11 oz Heavy Cream
200g or 7 oz Light Corn Syrup
60g or 3 oz Granulated Sugar (Plus an additional100g or 3.5 oz for later)
Heat these ingredients together in a medium size pot and set aside keeping it hot.
In another medium size pot, on medium low heat sprinkle 100g or 3.5 oz of granulated sugar little by little melting and cooking sugar slowly NOT stirring, until caramel turns amber color.
Slowly add hot cream mixture to amber caramel stirring and cooking until temp reaches 105 degrees C or 220 degrees F. The longer you boil, the thicker the caramel.
Add 4g Sea Salt, Maldon, or Fleur de Sel and cool. Caramel will thicken as it cools.
Recipe credit to Pastry Chef and author Dominique Ansel
I’ve used buckwheat flour to add complexity to the recipe and to make it healthier. You can substitute your favorite flour or use flax meal or almond flour.
Thanks for joining me today. Leave me questions or comments below.
Spent the morning planting herbs. Last week, I went to Sloat Nursery and bought basil, parsley, cilantro, marjoram and kale. My girlfriend Marie gave me a generous gift card for my birthday. I also bought seeds for my Fall vegetable garden. Tending my garden helps me cope with the challenging times Covid brings. Also sharing my favorite Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke
yellow zucchini growing outside my back patio
I’ve really taken the Victory Garden thing seriously this year. Because of Covid and the possibility of a food shortage, I planted seeds in March. I am growing 3 types of zucchini, 3 types of pumpkins, strawberries, lettuce, kale, peas, beans, chard, several tomato plants, several corn varieties, cucumber, sunflowers, fennel, cantaloupe, butternut squash, acorn squash, and more. It brings me joy to share these organic crops with the neighbors and our family.
I’m harvesting peaches now. I should be canning them instead of writing, but I’ve put my blog on hold for way too long. Last month we picked loads of Santa Rosa plums from our backyard tree. Besides sharing with neighbors, I was baking crisps, jams and we ate plenty of fresh ripe plums and now peaches with our yogurt in the morning.
Me, my Dad Ron and my sister Sue taken over 25 years ago
This has been a tough week. Thank goodness for my garden. I feel peace there and can work in the soil and feel my stress dissolve away. The first set of bad news came a week ago last Sunday. I received a call from the Veterans Home where my Father lives. He had a seizure and was taken to the emergency room at a hospital in Napa for tests. It was the worst day ever waiting for some kind of news. I wasn’t able to visit him because of Covid. All of the hospitals have strict visitation rules about keeping loved ones away. It is sad and hard knowing I couldn’t be with my Dad.
Great day visiting my Dad Ron at the Veteran’s Home 8 years ago
Luckily, the cat scan was negative and his blood tests were normal. They released him back to the Veterans Home, but since he was away for more than 6 hours, they had to quarantine him. So he has been in the hospital across the street from his home all by himself. I talk to him regularly and he has had a fairly good attitude about his situation. He is feeling okay, but misses his home in memory care. He should be released back there this weekend if his Covid test comes back negative. Thank Goodness.
Great time hanging out with my Dad Ron in the patio at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville 8 years ago
All in all, my Dad is well. He is a fall risk, so that is scary, but hopefully he will get stronger and regain his strength.
I cried talking to him today. This happens often, but today I was especially sad. He said I almost made him cry, and he never says that. I miss him and wish this pandemic would go away so we can go back to our normal lives and be with our aging parents.
The next bad news came last Sunday, a few days ago. Ken’s Mother Nilda fell and broke her ankle. She was visiting Ken’s brother Dan and fell going up a step. She has horrible knees and doesn’t get around very well. She is 89 years old and we are very concerned about her.
Beautiful Mother in law Nilda at her aunts wedding
She had surgery on her ankle and will get a cast when the swelling goes down. She is still in the hospital at John Muir and we are not able to visit her. The family doesn’t want her put in a nursing home because people are dying in these homes from Covid. It’s a horrible time to need care.
My mother Nilda and her daughter Terri Ann visiting with us in her home in Rossmoor
So there is a plan to put a hospital bed in her family room when she is released and she will be cared for in her own home by Ken’s sister Terri Ann, his brother Dan and his wife Nancy who will temporarily live there with her. It’s a crazy idea and no one knows if things will work out.
There are obvious things to worry about like blood clots, and pneumonia from being in bed too long, etc… It is a tough time. You can never prepare for losing a parent.
Great day celebrating my son Curtis’ graduation at Monte Vista High School with my ex husband Eric, and his grand parents Elena and Robert 17 years ago
The last bit of sad news was hearing that my son Curtis’ grandfather Robert passed away last Friday. He was my ex Father in law. We are so sad to hear this and had heard he had a stroke a few weeks ago. My son wasn’t able to see him either before he died. It is hard to process these times. How can you grieve the pain? I work in my garden. I see the beauty in the plants and flowers. I pray for my family. I talk with my friends and I write. It’s times like these we need each other even more. We hold our spouse a little closer. We take one day at a time. We stay away from the news. We love those around us more than ever before.
There is more to do. I will be preparing food and helping out however I can. I hope life is treating you well. For now, I will put the computer away and sit with my 16 year old kitty. My husband is done with his work for the day so we can hang out . Maybe we will play Scrabble and eat popcorn. Maybe we will start a puzzle. In any event, it is a good day and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. Ahi Tuna Recipe.
Enjoyed a Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke appetizer at Jessup Winery in Yountville California last Friday with friends
Sesame Ahi Tuna with Avocado
1 lb fresh Ahi tuna
1/2 jalapeno , 3 cloves garlic, 1 green onion, 2 shishito peppers, sauteed in canola oil
1 T soy sauce
1 T chopped fresh ginger
2 T Sesame oil
2 avocados cut in small chunks
Juice and zest 1/2 pink grapefruit
Juice 1 lime
Bunch of cilantro
1/2 t sesame chili oil
1/4 t kosher Salt
1/4 t Lemon pepper
White and black Sesame seeds to garnish
2/3 C Canola oil
1/2 package Won Ton wrappers fried in canola oil.
1 t finishing salt. Sea Salt, Himalayan salt or Fleur de sel
Cut 1 lb of fresh Ahi Tuna into bite sized chunks. Set aside.
In a blender add all other ingredients except avocado and mix until combined.
Pour dressing over raw tuna.
Heat up a frying pan with canola oil. Fry each won ton until crispy turning over after 1 minute. Place on a sheet pan lined with a paper towel. Sprinkle with sea salt while hot.
Cut up 2 large avocados into bite sized pieces and fold into tuna mixture. Alternatively, you can put the avocado on the bottom and the tuna on top if desired.
Serve into individual bowls and sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds.
Heaven on a plate. Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke with crispy won ton wrappers and a chicken pot pie for a mid day lunch in our backyard
Feel free to follow me if you aren’t already. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and I hope to see you again very soon.
It’s been almost a year since my neighbor Caroline came over to teach me how to make French Macarons. Caroline is a student and dancer at Loyola Marymount University in Southern California. She is quite an artsy person and I love her parents. She was on her summer break when she and I met to have baking lessons in my kitchen. I taught her how to make apricot jam and in return she taught me how to make macarons.
Here’s Caroline showing off her macaron’s on the sil pat
I feel badly for all the college kids that have to return home because of Covid 19. It’s such a bummer how our lives have changed since March 2020 when California went on lock down. My kids have since graduated and moved on, but I can’t imagine how hard it is to not get the “college experience” of being on campus with your friends.
I have also been affected by this virus. I’m not allowed to visit my 83 year old father who lives in a skilled nursing facility in Yountville. He has COPD a lung disorder, diabetes and many other preexisting conditions that would make him vulnerable if he got the virus. I fell badly that he is alone without his family. We can drop off goodies and they will bring them to him. We can Face Time him and talk on the phone, but it isn’t the same as a personal visit. He has a good attitude about it all and is hanging in there.
I haven’t been able to have outings with my mother who is also immunocompromised. We can talk over the phone also and visit at a distance from her front porch, but it is difficult. She has her husband Tom to keep her company and they are very happy.
Me and my mom on her wedding day 7 years ago
We haven’t had any large family gatherings and that is unusual for us. We have seen our son’s who live nearby and neighbors when we walk in the evenings, but that’s about it. We are only going out for groceries and essentials to keep our exposure to a minimum.
A few of our family members have enjoyed a dinner or two at a distance in our backyard, but even that makes us a little uncomfortable.
Before the Corona Virus, I would go to my gym and exercise and write my blog. It was my happy place, but I’ve decided not to rejoin and find ways to exercise on my own. I’ve missed my hiking on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings with my friends. I can hike, but prefer to go with only one other person, usually my husband.
I’ve spent my days keeping abreast of the news (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Late night shows, You Tube, the SF Chronicle) and talking to friends. I listen to podcasts like Macrovoices.com, The Sourdough Podcast, Rise Up, Unlocking Us By Brene Brown, Oprah Super Soul Conversations, The Southern Fork, and Hidden Brain. I have two books I’m listening to on Audible. I’m definitely informed and up to date on the latest shenanigans of President Trump. I’ve even started reading “Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,” by Beverly Daniel Tatum PhD. Our family started a book club to raise awareness about racism since George Floyd’s outrageous death by a police officer. And don’t forget Netflix.
I’ve spent most of my days gardening and growing vegetables in five raised planting beds. This is the first time I grew most of the plants from seed. It has been fun picking zucchini, tomatoes, beans, peas, peppers, and cucumbers. The pumpkins are cute and getting bigger and more orange every day.
ravioli’s made with semolina flour, parsley, Parmesan ricotta and spinach
I’ve been making pasta from scratch, finding ways to fill raviolis and lasagna and serve them to my husband. I’ve learned how to make sourdough bread and brioche with my own sour dough starter, experimenting with rye, buckwheat, kamut, quinoa, beans, and millet. I learned how to make a starter with cherry pits and also one with organic red grapes. I now know how to properly score the loaves by following lots of bakers on Instagram and You Tube. It is so much fun and tasty too.
Brioche rolls sprinkled with sesame seeds and poppy seeds
I’m cooking more since my husband is working from home. I had to cancel my cleaning people since I didn’t want to bring the virus into my home. Now I’m cleaning more than I ever have, even the dusty floor under the bed yesterday. Yuck!
One of my latest endeavors, was growing poppies. Fancy ones. I grew varieties like “Fruit Punch” Papaver, a raspberry Breadseed papaver somniferum, “CupCake”, “Swansdown” and a Papaver Atlanticum called “Flore Pleno”. I’ve let the pods dry and carefully collected the seeds so I can grow them again next year. They are beautiful and extra special additions to my garden.
Dahlia’s were my latest obsession last year and I bought more tubers a few months ago from the Dahlia Society. The first one has bloomed and I’m quite excited.
I dusted off the sewing machine too and started making masks for the family. I was hoping to try a new pattern today, but got involved in writing my blog instead. There is always tomorrow to start sewing more masks.
So after almost one year, I’ve finally posted the recipe of these amazing macarons. I hope you will try them too. I don’t have the filling recipes up here yet, but I hope to get to that by next week. Thank you Caroline for the great recipe and the fun time.
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m grateful for my family and friends who follow me and read my posts. Hoping all of you stay safe and healthy and we can get back to our happy places whether it be a college campus or the gym.
Hope I’ve inspired you to try something new in your kitchen or garden. Make ART.
150g Confectioners Sugar
150g Almond Flour
150g Granulated Sugar
150g Egg Whites
38g water (for sugar syrup)
55g liquefied Egg Whites (Eggs that have been in the fridge for a week outside of shell (for sugar syrup)
1.5 teaspoon Vanilla or whatever flavoring you like
Pastry bag and medium size plain tip
Parchment Paper or Silicone mats
Using a Cuisinart Food Processor, combine Almond Flour and Confectioners Sugar pulsing until combined. If you don’t have a food processor you may sift almond flour and sugar together a few times until there are no more lumps in the mixture.
In a separate large clean bowl, pour 55g of egg whites to the flour and sugar mixture and stir with a spatula until it forms a paste. Set aside after covering with plastic wrap.
Put the 38 grams of water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan on medium heat. Use a pastry brush to keep the sides of the pot clean by brushing the sides with a small amount of water. Bring to a boil and cook syrup until 116C/ or 240 degrees F using a candy thermometer.
Start mixing the egg whites in a clean bowl of a mixer with a whip attachment when sugar syrup is almost ready at 115C or 235degrees F. Simultaneously, whip eggs on medium high until the eggs are frothy. Pour sugar syrup in the mixer slowly incorporating the sugar into the eggs. Keep mixing until the meringue is white and fluffy and can hold a stiff peak about 6 minutes. Add the vanilla and any food coloring you might like. Continue to whip meringue for another 4 to 5 minutes until it has cooled to 50C and is thick and glossy.
Meringue ready to mix into almond flour and confectioners sugar for our macarons
Mix a scoop of the meringue and fold into the almond flour/confectioners mixture. Little by little being careful not to deflate the egg whites, folding together with a large wire whisk or spatula. Keep folding meringue into dry ingredients until it gets to the ribbon stage where the batter falls off the whisk into the bowl like a ribbon.
Scoop the batter into the pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip. You will have to fill it a few times.
Get out a flat sheet pan.Place the parchment paper on top. Draw small 3cm to 3.5cm circles (1 inch diameter) onto your parchment paper about 2-3 cm apart with a pencil or use a sil pat silicone baking mat. Place a tiny amount of batter onto the sheet pan on the corners under the parchment paper to keep the paper from moving while baking. Tap the tray onto your counter to get out any tiny air bubbles. Leave tray stand on the counter for at least 30 to 60 minutes to harden the shells and form a skin on the cookie.
Preheat oven to 160C or 320 degrees F. Bake macarons for 12 minutes in the center of the oven one tray at a time, turning the sheet pan around half way during the bake. Cool completely.
Finish the macarons by filling with your favorite curd, chocolate ganache, or Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting or Italian Buttercream.
It’s Tuesday. These days I rarely know which day it is. My husband and I spent last weekend in Eldorado Hills and Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley with our friends the Cowies and Castiglione’s. It was refreshing to have social time again especially with some of my favorite people. It was nice to introduce good friends to our other good friends who happen to live in the same town. In today’s blog I will reflect on our weekend away and tell you what I’ve been up to lately.
The last four months have been interesting. Every day, I wake up, check on the latest news, water my vegetable garden, check email, have my coffee and a bit of breakfast, and do whatever chores are needed to get done. I’m not currently working, but I have worked harder in the past four months than I ever have. It seems there is always more laundry, more cleaning, flour to mill and bread to bake, fresh pasta to make, pies to bake, or a new cookie or Rice Krispie treat recipe to try.
Two of the masks I made for friends to protect themselves from Covid19
Covid masks made for the little people in my life
I’ve also made a dozen or more masks for family members, using up material I have had for years. It is rewarding to up cycle many fabrics that I’ve saved, knowing I could find a way to use them eventually.
My strawberry plant blossoms. Just one of the many plants I am growing in my victory garden
Just a few of my baby seedlings poking up through the soil
I’ve started an enormous vegetable garden, growing many varieties mostly from seed months ago. Not knowing whether we would have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because of Covid 19, I decided to grow a victory garden. I’ve had edible gardens in the past, but never like this one. It is rewarding checking on the size and color of the tomatoes and picking them off the vine when ripe. Many of them don’t make it into the bowl, but get popped right into my mouth. So tasty.
Many varieties of flowers from my March garden in Walnut Creek. Photos taken by a friend Linda Kwong
So when our friends Elaine and Craig Cowie invited us to their new home in Eldorado Hills, we jumped at the idea. They have postponed the visit at least three times, because the Bay Area has been on lock down. My husband and I have been good about not going out unless we wear a mask, and we social distance if we see one of our friends or family. We felt safe about going North since there aren’t as many cases of Covid there. The population is less, and it’s not as crowded there.
We have known the Cowies for over 30 years. We met them after moving to our second house in Concord California. They lived directly across the street, so we had many dinner parties with them. Also included into the mix were the Faulkenberry’s. The Cowies and Faulkenberry’s have been friends since college at Chico State. Our son Curtis took Taekwondo classes from Ray Faulkenberry when Curtis was in elementary school and we’ve loved them ever since.
Every year, the three families have stayed connected taking turns having dinner together, even after we moved to Walnut Creek. We’ve had great times together watching our kids grow up, attending weddings and sharing meals over the years. We were happy to finally meet again, this time at the Cowies new home in El Dorado Hills. They moved there in February, after selling their home in Concord, to live closer to their daughter Leslie, son in law Kyle and two precious grand kids.
Two couples enjoying the day at Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard.
Leaving the chores, the garden and kitty cat behind, Ken and I happily drove North and were graciously greeted by Elaine and Craig when we arrived. We unpacked the car with all the goodies and clothes and enjoyed the tour of their new home. I was excited to learn their floor plan was similar to our other friends the Castiglione’s, our friends from our current Walnut Creek neighborhood who have also recently relocated to Eldorado Hills. Kayla and I have been in the same book club for over 20 years. I was happy to set up a day for the two couples to meet. We decided to get the six of us together on Sunday while wine tasting. Unfortunately, the Faulkenberry’s couldn’t stay overnight and join us having to get home to their puppies and cats.
We relaxed by the pool on Saturday while snacking on chips and mango salsa, fresh fruit skewers and pinot grigio. When the Faulkenberry’s showed up, I visited with their daughter Meg, who is a writer and social media expert. She wrote a book called Summer Rain. She had all kinds of great tips about how I should use Twitter to share my blog and many more new websites to check out like Blue Host, Hootsuite Wattpad, Booksie, 750words.com, Quotev.com and who to follow on Tik Tok. She should be teaching classes on these social media tools.
The weather was warm and yet there was a nice breeze which kept us cool. Elaine and Craig made fish tacos for dinner which we gobbled down and I made two apricot dishes for dessert. The first dessert was an apricot pie. I picked these ripe and juicy Patterson apricots from a farm in Tracy a couple of weeks ago. I also made two gluten free apricot turnovers with Teff flour and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour. These were special. I had heard about the Teff flour from The Sourdough Podcast, so when I stumbled across it at Lunardi’s Grocery Store I quickly swept it into my cart. I had a little sticker shock when I got to the register. It was over $7.00 for a small bag, but was worth the price. It is high in fiber, high in protein, has more calcium than any other grain and is the only ancient grain containing Vitamin C. Teff flour has a subtle hazelnut earthy taste, is cultivated in Eastern Africa and is found in Ethiopian flatbread called injera. I enjoyed these hand pies more than the apricot pie made with all purpose flour.
After the Faulkenberry’s left Saturday night, we got on our “jammies ” or pajamas and watched a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Ken and I had never seen it before, so it was nice to find a new funny night time splurge. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. It was so fun.
Before bed I assembled my Overnight Baked French Toast recipe and placed it in the fridge. I make it with two loaves of cinnamon bread, cut it into thick slices and pour a custard over the top to soak overnight. In the morning, you spread on a brown sugar, butter and maple syrup mixture on top of the soaked bread and bake in the oven for one hour. I made a fresh blueberry sauce ahead of time, before we left for our trip. I served the sauce along with maple syrup on the baked French Toast. I was introduced to this recipe from my friend Carolyn Regan. She made it when we went on a St Mary’s religious retreat in Guerneville many years ago. It is the perfect breakfast served with Italian sausage or bacon.
Sunday morning, Ken finished off preparing the breakfast and baked the French Toast while I stayed in bed a little longer. Most people know I love to sleep. At 9 AM, we ate breakfast and got ready to drive to the wineries. My husband Ken drove since he doesn’t drink. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to drive through the countryside.
Ken and I outside at Iron Hub Winery
Our first stop was Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard. The views here were simply spectacular. They only charge $10.00 for a tasting and if you buy a bottle of wine, they give you a tasting for free. The pours were tiny, but we tried two whites and four reds. There was hardly anyone there with the exception of one other family of three tasting at the end of the outside bar.
We had an appointment at Cooper Vineyards at 12:15 and met up with our friends Kayla and John Castiglione. The six of us sat outside in a shaded patio where we shared stories and drank more delicious wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of all of us this time. We will have to go back again the six of us. The Cowies are members there, so our wine tastings were free. That’s a bonus. The 2017 Barbera Riserva was the group favorite and the server generously gave us another pour.
Cooper Vineyards tasting room and patio
Safety Instructions everyone must read and attend to while wine tasting at Cooper vineyards
The last place we ventured into was Jeff Runquist Winery where John and Kayla were members. We enjoyed the beautiful and welcoming tasting room, especially the fresh wild flowers of black eyed Susan, clarkia, yarrow, daisies and queen Anne’s lace in vases in every corner. We tried their Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. At the end of the tasting, we said goodbye to John and Kayla and sat outside for a quick picnic before driving back to El Dorado Hills. It was lovely and the perfect day with friends. It was nice to see John and Kayla exchange numbers with Elaine and Craig. Especially since they are practically neighbors, living less than 10 minutes from one another.
We had hoped to check out the Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, but it was getting late and we still had to drive back to the Bay Area. The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. We thanked Elaine and Craig for the generous hospitality and good food, packed up our things, cleaned and changed the sheets and were off. Our drive home was uneventful and I had plenty of time to get home and water the garden before dark. It’s nice to know our friends won’t be lonely since they now have a new couple (The Castiglione’s) to play golf with or have dinner with.
Today, I’m back to my cleaning, cooking, gardening, baking and writing. It’s good to be home, back to my meowing kitty and small homestead. I’m grateful for friends, their generosity and love. We have so much to be grateful for, even during a pandemic.
Stay healthy. Thanks for reading and following my blog. I promise to add a recipe next time I write.
One last photo to bless you with. This photo was taken at Ben Runquist Winery’s tasting room
I loved you when you were just a tiny human when your parents would drop you off at my house in your car seat
I loved you when you wanted to have sleepovers
I loved you when you decorated Christmas cookies with us
I loved you when you sang at the top of your lungs “Wannabee” by the Spice Girls a zillion times on the way to Disneyland
I loved you when I took you to choir lessons at St Isidore’s Church after school
I loved you when I picked you up from grammar school and drove you to gymnastics practice with Andrew and Keri
I loved you when we gave you a birthday celebration with all of your friends and family at the gymnastic studio
I loved you when you wanted a yearbook and your dad wouldn’t buy you one
I loved you when you needed someone to sit by your side at the dentist
I loved you when we made kitty blankets for the Tri Valley Animal Shelter
I loved you when I picked you up after school to volunteer for Children’s Hospital’s Family House to cook meals for the families of children that were ill
I loved you when the dozens of times we got lost and I didn’t have a GPS or written directions driving to a philanthropy and you were always patient with me
I loved you when you needed a hairdresser to comb out the tangles in your hair and give you a haircut
I loved you when at Christmas time, I gave you a beautifully painted pot from Mexico to plant your succulents in
I loved you when we spent hours shopping for the perfect dress for the many National Charity League events
I loved you when we made happy birthday and thank you cards for the senior citizens and we chatted for hours
I loved you when we volunteered at the Ice Cream Social and you met the 100 year old man who wanted two scoops of ice cream instead of one
I loved you when I brought you to Kaiser Hospital and made sure you were up to date on your immunizations and made sure you had adequate birth control
I loved you when Iron Horse Middle School called me because they couldn’t reach your dad. They told me you fell while playing on the monkey bars. I drove you to Kaiser where we learned you broke your arm. You didn’t want to get out of the car, but finally did and needed surgery immediately
I loved you when we spent the day in Capitola and Santa Cruz buying shoes because your feet hurt
I loved you when I had Emily at the Livorna Swim Club teach you how to swim
I loved you when we made macaroni and cheese with your girlfriend in my kitchen
I loved you when I made you a quilt for your bed and months later it was burnt up in a fire
I loved you when we went to the movies together
I loved you when I picked you up from the San Ramon Library
I loved you when you got transferred to San Ramon Valley High
I loved you when you helped out Roxanne Stone the school secretary every morning at 7AM after your dad dropped you off
I loved you when you got into Treble Clef and Concert Choir at San Ramon Valley High School
I loved you when you and Andrew would endlessly sing “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch in the back seat of the car
I loved you when you took off without me in San Diego while riding a scooter at a very young age
I loved you when we played in the butterfly garden at Marine World and when we let the parakeets stand on our heads while we fed them at the San Diego Zoo
I loved you when we played on the beach in Santa Cruz and went on the “Giant Dipper” roller coaster with my Dad and Andrew at the Boardwalk
I loved you when we sat in Berkeley at the coffee shop and you were inspired by and watched the homeless woman do her nails and wrote a book about it
I loved you when we volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in Bay Point painting houses
I loved you when we read books before bedtime and I would rock you on my lap and give you a special blanket to sleep with
I loved you when we played with and brushed the dogs and cats at TVAR
I loved you when we drove to Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek and you, Andrew and I picked out our dog Baxter after just going there for popcorn during Christmas break
I loved you when you were the only one who noticed I had been crying after my cat Woody died and you wanted to know if I was okay
I loved you when we ate peanut butter on apples for snack after school and you didn’t ever finish your drink
I loved you when we played with the kids at the Concord Child Care Center at the swimming pool and they hung all over you and you never wanted to volunteer there again
I loved you when you gave out baskets of food to the hungry at Monument Crisis Center during Thanksgiving
I loved you when I watched you and Andrew thrive in a summer drama program through Contra Costa Christian Theater acting in “High School Musical.” And you wanted to drop out, but didn’t
I loved you when you and your boyfriend Sean bought a kitten
I loved you when you graduated from High School around all of your family and friends
I loved you when you took on leadership roles in your Vista Oak NCL. Your graduation video was so inspiring that it is still used as a template for all upcoming seniors that need to write a speech
I loved you when you worked at the front counter at the Hospice Thrift Store
I loved you when you went to Camp Concord in Lake Tahoe with your cousins Vince and Marie
I loved you when you married your cousin Vince at auntie Sue’s house in Belmont
I loved you when you cared for your cousin Kendall when she cried at night
I loved you when you danced with your Dad when he and Aly got married and you got a new Mom
I loved you when we spent hours at the beauty salons having our nails done
I loved you when Uncle Kenny took you to Oak Hill Park to take photos of you
I loved you when you liked auto shop and worked on cars
I loved you when you welcomed your baby sister into our family and loved her
I loved you when you fell in love with Darius and brought him to family events
I loved you when you began making YouTube tutorials on how to do skin care and make up
I loved you when you became famous on Twitter after helping a jobless man become employed
I loved you when you said you were married on Twitter even though you never shared it with me
I loved you when you took me to the Facebook and Instagram Campus in Menlo Park and showed me where you worked
I loved you when we spent the day in Carmel chillin on the beach, going to art museums, chocolate shops and beer tasting after my foot surgery
I loved you when we toured Pixar Studios in Emeryville and how Pocahontas was your favorite princess
I loved you when you and Andrew would sing “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne at the top of your lungs while riding in the back seat of my car
I loved you when you wanted to be a part of my life and family
Sitting here in my backyard watching my husband take a quick break to have lunch with me is a new reality. It’s nice to have a lunch buddy even if only for a short time. We have been in lock down for 6 or 7 weeks now since the Covid 19 breakout. My husband has been working from home in the spare bedroom taking conference calls from early in the morning until at least 5 or 6 Pm every weekday. I’m sure he has gained a bit of weight since I’m making him healthy lunches and dinners daily. We’ve only ordered out a few times: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Chipotle and Round Table Pizza were the few restaurants we chose to indulge in.
My husband Ken and our Kitty while working from home
Normally I would write my blog at the club I belong to so I can focus and not be interrupted. But that luxury has been taken away since the quarantine. Instead I get to look at my beautiful garden, the squirrels that munch on the birdseed and the scrub jay that snacks on the peanuts I provide. They are constant company and happy little friends who are grateful for my presence and heavy hand with the snacks.
The days begin and end in much the same way as before, except I read and watch more news to keep informed on the latest on the virus. I haven’t worn make up much or gotten dressed up since we aren’t going anywhere. I really should do something about that. We’ve been social distancing by staying home, not entertaining and only going out for walks or bike rides, and an occasional trip to the market.
Side view of back yard currently.
I have been spending time weeding, planting seeds and playing tug of war with the gophers. They made their way into my backyard raised bed a few weeks ago and my husband and I had to dig everything up, transplant all of my vegetables into temporary buckets, containers and my front raised bed. As soon as we accomplished this enormous task, the f@%^&*$king gophers got into my front yard raised bed! Now I’m hurrying to save those plants until the bed can be gopher proofed. It’s a huge chore and not easy, but I’ve been making the best of it.
Raised garden bed in back that has had to be replanted because of gopher damage.
This year I’m growing lettuce, kale, collards, spinach, sweet peas, green beans, parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, onions, tomatoes, Swiss chard, rainbow chard, cucumber, pumpkins and squash. I love walking into my garden and gathering fresh greens to make salads with.
Lettuce and kale picked fresh from our home garden
Today I made a chef’s salad with leftover ham from Easter. My husband loves ranch dressing, so I made a fresh batch of that to dress our salad. Here’s the recipe in case you want to have a yummy healthy salad.
Chefs Salad for two with fresh greens and herbs from the garden
Teri’s Chef’s Salad
¾ head of Lettuce washed then torn to pieces
¼ C fresh organic Kale washed and sliced thin
2 pieces of bacon cooked crispy
2 hard boiled eggs
1 whole tomato seeded and cut up into bite sized pieces
2 slices of cheddar cheese cut into small chunks
2 slices of Monterey Jack cheese cut into small chunks
1 green onion sliced thin
1 T fresh Italian parsley chopped finely
Avocado (If you have one. We didn’t)
¼ C sour cream
¼ C mayonnaise
3 T Milk
1 T Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
In a large bowl, tear washed lettuce into bite size pieces. Add thinly sliced washed kale. Add chopped parsley and green onion. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix sour cream, mayonnaise, milk and ranch dip mix.
Pour dressing into the sides of the bowl around lettuce. Toss with your hands and divide between two pasta size bowls. Add ham, cheeses, sliced avocado, hard boiled eggs cut in half and seasoned with salt and pepper, tomato and a touch more salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
I’ve also started sewing again. It seems masks are essential and short of supply, so yesterday I took to making them myself. Here’s the pattern I found on YouTube. My first attempt didn’t turn out all that great since I misjudged the pattern and they came out way too small. It’s okay because I was able to share them with a family that has little ones. My girlfriend Marie is using this pattern
Pediatric size masks hand made with love for some little ones
I will adapt the pattern and make it larger so these masks will fit adults.
Earth day was three days ago. Late to acknowledge but wanted to give a link to a recent post about cannabis when in Santa Cruz last year.
As you can see I’m keeping busy sewing, gardening and cooking for the ones I love. I’m in total awe of the nurses, doctors and first responders that are sacrificing their own lives to help the sick. I’m grateful for all the I have including my good health and hope everyone stays well.
Thank you for reading my blog and follow me if you aren’t already. Especially grateful for my WordPress family of readers and writers. What have you been doing while staying home? Would love to hear in the comment section below. Stay safe everyone.