Have you ever had those days when you are so distracted that you get nothing done? That’s what kind of day I’m having today. Maybe it’s because it’s Monday, but I’m not sure. In any case, I need to write more and get some of my travel experiences recorded, yet I see a recipe and want to make it. Scottish shortbread was heavily on the list and so was a sticky toffee pudding recipe that I would have substituted dried figs for instead of the dates. Don’t those sound yummy? Ever since Queen Elizabeth II of England died last week, there have been Instagram and Facebook posts of the Royal family and their favorite foods. Chef Darren McGrady was a personal chef for Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and the Princes’ of Whales, William and Harry for fifteen years. I want to try his Scottish shortbread recipe.
I found these gorgeous figs at Rick and Ann’s Restaurant and shop in Berkeley a few weeks ago while celebrating my sister Sue’s birthday. I surprised her by including her niece Gavan who happened to be still home from college for a few days. My sister was surprised and we had a nice breakfast together. There is usually a wait at Rick and Ann’s, so get there early. You won’t be disappointed. Did I mention I hosted our family of 20 people and had a party for my sister the day before? It was a last minute change of venue, but I was happy to do it. I had been in Wyoming with my husband and his family the previous 10 days, so it was a big deal to pull it off. I tend to like working under pressure to get things done.
Next, after saying goodbye to Gavan, on a whim my sister and I called the world famous The Fairmont Spa at Claremont Hotel to see if they had any luxurious massage appointments available. We were parked right in front of the hotel after all, so it couldn’t hurt to take a chance. (Rick and Ann’s Restaurant is around the corner.)Our original plan was to go on a hike in the Berkeley hills and stop by a nursery on the way home. You can imagine our surprise when we learned they had two openings for us! Sue asked for the 80 min treatment and I wanted the 50 min one. Quickly we turned back around and drove into the hotel parking lot. Parking is free if you get your card validated at the restaurant.
This place is special to me because my husband and I spent the night of our honeymoon here over 33 years ago. It’s a historic place that has been around since 1915. I even have a photo of my grandparents there when they were a young couple. My sister and I haven’t had any body treatments there for many years, but had taken our mother there for a day on Mother’s Day. If it seems like an extravagant birthday present, it was. Since our birthdays are exactly a month apart, we always celebrate them together and make a big deal about them. Here is a peek at the last time I was at Limewood Bar with my sons Curtis and Andrew and husband Ken.
We walked all over the hotel before our appointments to see what was going on there. We wandered into the dining hall called East Bay Provisions where there was a party going on. There were beautiful flower arrangements on every table, so of course I had to take a photo of all of them.
We found the spa on the lower level and looked at the fun items in the gift shop before signing in at the counter. My sister treated me to a new silk eye mask to help me sleep better. (That’s what we do. We spoil each other.)I mentioned we were there to celebrate my sister’s birthday and they immediately made sure we had complimentary champagne flutes filled to the brim put into our hands the moment we put our robes on. How fun is that? We sat in the quiet lounge and read magazines and sat in the jacuzzi tub to relax our muscles before we were taken in for our therapeutic massages. It’s nice to be pampered. It was heaven to have a day away without any chores or responsibilities.
After showering and cleaning up a little, we met at the Limewood Bar and Restaurant for a drink and dinner upstairs. The hostess was able to secure us a spot on the terrace overlooking the breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay. The bartender made me a fun cocktail called the Oakland Bramble: Hendricks Gin, St.-Germain, lemon juice, muddled blackberries, soda water and mint. So yummy. Sue had a class of La Crema, Sparkling Brut Rose from Napa. We shared the kale and strawberry salad with ricotta salata and the rib eye steak with scalloped potatoes, confit of allium (garlic) and a demi glaze and Sue picked up the tab. How generous is that?
We met two new lady friends and asked them to join us. One of the ladies lived in Washington, and was in town to celebrate her girlfriends’ 60th birthday. We thought it was surreal that my sister had also turned 60 and we compared stories for the next hour or so. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day.
Should I make the sticky toffee pudding now? This wasn’t the plan to write about Berkeley today, but now that I have, I’m glad I did. Time to feed the chickens more grubs that I’ve discovered are in my compost bin. They love grubs! And I need to make a risotto for dinner because my younger son Andrew is coming for dinner. He wants to learn how to use the bread maker. Maybe he will want to help with the Sticky toffee pudding recipe, or the shortbread. Which should we try first? I will keep you posted and updated with recipes and photos.
Thanks for reading and hopefully signing up to receive more blogs and recipes. I will try to stay focused and next time write about the vacation in the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Jackson Hole Wyoming. It’s been a fun filled summer and I’m grateful for how fortunate I am every day.
It’s been a hot few days here in Northern California. It is currently 111 degrees and it’s only the beginning of September. A month ago, my friend Marie and I decided to celebrate her birthday today. We were hoping to go towards the coast to avoid the hot weather. I chose to spend the day with her at Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside which is located 30 miles south of San Francisco, nestled on a slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains and have lunch after. Here’s a tip:It’s best to purchase tickets ahead of time online. I brought my Aunt Teri here a year ago when there was a last minute change of plans because of a fire along the Highway and I had to buy the tickets in the parking lot on my phone.
She left her house at 7:40 AM and didn’t arrive at my place until 9:00 AM. Since school has started, we’ve had to factor in more time to get places and Marie lives further inland. We were excited to spend the day together and didn’t mind getting an early start.
We arrived at Filoli by 10:20 AM and practically had the whole place to ourselves. It wasn’t much cooler than the East Bay, but we were happy to see the statues, wrought iron gates and beautiful gardens. The property has a Georgian revival-style mansion and is considered to be one of the best remaining country estates of the 20th century. The gardens are from an English Renaissance era with stunning hydrangeas, rose of sharon (a hibiscus shrub), purple and red salvia, tiny cyclamen, pink amaryllis, roses, English lavender and a deep blue ‘Hidcote’ lavender in the summer, and camelias, orchids, magnolias and citrus blossoms in the winter just to name a few. The spring display features thousands of daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and blue violas.
I was excited to see the prolific newly renovated vegetable garden on display. They had everything you could think of. We walked down rows and rows of green beans, amaranth, squash, tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, herbs, Swiss chard and much much more. We barely got a glimpse of the cut flower garden that included massive sunflowers, bachelor buttons, zinnias, bright and tall yellow marigolds, echinacea “purple cone flower” in every color and waist high dahlias that were popping up everywhere.
Eventually we needed a rest on a bench in the shade under a massive Oak tree where flying insects began swarming into our eyes and mouths. I swallowed a bug, basically inhaled it and Marie had to put her sunglasses back on to keep them out of her eyes. Obviously, we didn’t sit there long. There were massive Elm trees, Oak-Madrone Forests, Redwood Groves, Chaparral and Irish Yews (evergreen conifers) from Muckross, olive trees, heirloom apple orchards and hundreds of acres of natural lands situated on the 654 acres of ancestral lands of the Ramaytush Ohlone people. There are 5 distinct ecosystems there and a 1 mile Estate Trail that we had to miss because of the heat.
We stumbled upon the gift shop where we could find shade and cool air. There I purchased sunflower seeds for Marie and I to plant in the Spring, wildflower honey, and a cute white and pink ‘marshmallow’ fuchsia plant for a new planter box that Marie’s husband made for her. Marie loves sunflowers, so these were the perfect gifts.
We didn’t walk around the gardens as long as we wanted to because it was very warm and we had lunch reservations a few blocks away. The Village Bakery Restaurant was a glorious next stop during our birthday celebration for Marie. We had developed an appetite and decided to sit inside even though both of us prefer to stay safe and eat outdoors if possible because of Covid. I had been there many years ago when my sister lived in Belmont. It is 10 times better now than it was years ago.
The waiter was quick to bring us cold water and offer us fancy libations like aperol spritz and various cocktails, but I was driving and Marie was happy with an iced tea with lemon.
We started with a chilled cucumber gazpacho served with a cherry tomato panzanella, extra virgin olive oil and mint. The waiter was kind enough to split it for us and give us individual servings. It was cool and refreshing with just the right amount of acid from the tomato and crunch from the crouton and the cucumber. Delicious! And since we were at a bakery, we had to order the Parker House Rolls with flaky Maldon sea salt and sweet butter. My favorite!
Next Marie ordered the Caesar salad with grilled chicken which practically melted in your mouth and I had to have their French Dip (Prime Rib thinly sliced, caramelized onions, gruyere on a toasted baguette) with au jus. These were simply divine. The restaurant began to get busier and busier and both of us became a little uneasy, so we decided to skip the dessert. The waiter again thought of everything, and brought Marie a large chocolate chip cookie “to go”. It should be mentioned that there is a 20 percent service surcharge already added onto the bill to help pay the staff in support of the San Mateo County employer mandate. Many restaurants are establishing these rules and I’m happy people in the food industry are beginning to be paid what they deserve.
Lastly, we stopped in San Ramon at The Lot City Center Bishop Ranch for ice cream at Salt & Straw. This is a fairly new shopping center with many restaurants, shops and a theater. I ordered the Marionberry Coconut Sherbet in a waffle cone and Marie picked the Chocolate Gooey Brownie in a waffle cup. The $5.95 each scoops are enormous and the waffle cones are $1.50 extra, but who’s counting? Not me, certainly. Locations are popping up all over California including San Francisco, Palo Alto and Burlingame and many in Los Angeles if you want to give them a try. They have seasonal flavors no one else has like Spiced Goat Cheese Pumpkin Pie, Plum & Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread, Wild-Foraged Berry Slab Pie, Pinot Poached Pear Sherbet and Honey Lavender. These are so interesting that you want to taste all of them!
I can’t imagine a more perfect day. Marie and I have been friends for over 43 years. (Tammie Berg -my bestie pal from high school. You have her beat with 44!)(Donna- It’s been 36 years!)(Denise -It’s been 20 plus years) (Kathi- It’s been 34 years) (Sherri- It’s been 27 years) But who is keeping track? Marie and I met in 1979 at Mr. Steak Restaurant while working as hostesses. We’ve been through a lot of years raising 5 boys and two husbands between us and keeping in touch regularly. I’m so happy we could take time away from our busy schedules to make it a special day. Here is our day together last year in Napa.
Thanks for following my blog and reading my stories. I will be sure to share a recipe here when the heat subsides. Until then, stay cool and enjoy life.
It’s been quite the birthday week. Day trips to Yountville, lunches at my favorite restaurants in Danville with friends, relaxing pedicures, a wine tasting experience in Livermore with a niece and sister, and a fun birthday celebration for a girlfriend which included an overnight stay at the Harkey House in Yuba City with my husband. I’m a lucky girl and I am grateful every day for the friends and family who are in my life. I can’t forget mentioning having my sons over for a home cooked meal. They brought me my favorite See’s Candy and pastries from an Asian bakery in Concord. Just wow.
I’m not always running out for special dinners and wine tasting. Just yesterday, I unloaded a truckful of good soil from Macalveys Nursery in Martinez. I carefully dug up old annuals first and replaced them with the new soil. It’s too hot to plant anything new and we are on water rationing here in California because of the drought. Instead, I will toss some wildflower seeds into the beds and see what comes up in the fall after the rain.
My garden has been an extra handful this year. I selected special seeds in March and began growing them under lights and on heat mats in the garage. I grew several varieties of tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkin, peppers, zinnias and more. After planting them in raised beds or in broadcloth cages (to protect them from gophers), many of them were eaten by the ground squirrels. We’ve never had a problem with these critters before even though we live next to open space. It’s been WAR.
My husband Ken bought an airsoft gun after no success with the traps. I learned how to use it today, but still haven’t managed to shoot one. I know. It sounds horrible and I usually love squirrels, but when they eat all the leaves from my new Meyer lemon tree, the leaves from the new almond tree and many of my perennials, they’ve got to go. Many of the vegetables I’ve had to cover up with crates to keep them from being eaten. I don’t mind sharing, but this has been devastating seeing all of my crops and plants taken from me.If you have any ideas for me, I’m all ears. Thank goodness I don’t have to live off my land, or I would starve.
I was invited to go to lunch at Bistro don Giovani’s in Yountville with my friends and neighbors Luann and Sandra. I was blown away by Luann’s offer to take me out for my birthday, as we have gone wine tasting before, but never to celebrate our birthdays. They have expanded their outdoor patio and have added fans and heat lamps for the evenings. The meal was delightful and the service outstanding. We had the calamari with shrimp, fennel and green beans for an appetizer and I couldn’t have been happier. Luann ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc which the three of us shared. Raviolis, focaccia, a peach, marcona almond, goat cheese salad and chocolate cake with vanilla gelato dessert were also shared by all of us.
Just down the lane from the restaurant is Ashes and Diamonds Winery. The ladies weren’t ready to head back to the Bay Area yet, so we ordered another bottle of wine and sat under the umbrellas to chat. I should mention that they don’t sell just a glass of wine. Either you order the tasting menu, or a bottle of wine. The least expensive bottle was the 2019 Blanc which was $45.00. I paid for the wine and tip since my friends picked up the tab at the restaurant. How often do you get to hang out with girlfriends for hours? This was a treat. We got caught up, drank tons of water and had olives and crackers before Sandra drove us home.
Another very special day was spent with my friend Marie. She and I met 43 years ago while working at Mr. Steak. She took me for a pedicure at Bollinger Nails Salon in Danville. She was surprised to see how fidgety I get when someone touches my feet. I guess you either love it or tolerate it. I love the final look and being able to look presentable while wearing sandals.
Next we ate at my favorite restaurant Esin. The owner is a pastry chef and always has exquisite desserts to choose from. Their food is always excellent. We started with their marinated citrus olives and French bread with olive oil. I ordered their salmon tartare with avocado appetizer and chips and Marie had the Caesar salad with grilled chicken. We ended the meal sharing the lemon meringue pie with a toasted marshmallow whipped topping and raspberry sauce. This meal was perfect in every way and mostly because I had one on one time with my best friend. Priceless.
Staying at the Harkey House was delightful. We checked in at 4:30PM after spending the day with my friend Kathi at her 60th surprise birthday party in Lincoln California. I brought two cakes that I decorated the night before. There was a chocolate with candied orange, chocolate frosting and whipped cream with raspberries and a yellow cake with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. My poor husband had to balance the white cake on his lap the entire way to the party. Kathi was surprised and even cried from all the excitement. It was a nice day, but we were happy to sneak in a quick nap at the B&B before going to dinner.
There weren’t many choices of places to eat by the time we woke up from our naps. We landed at Sutter Buttes Brewing in Yuba City just 10 minutes from the B&B. Yuba City was once a thriving bustling town. It’s not fancy by any means, but we were pleased with the Harkey House and the pub food and porter beer for dinner.
The weather there was very hot, almost 100 degrees, but we found the restaurant cool and inviting inside. The waitress was friendly and happy to help us and we didn’t feel rushed even though they stopped serving at 9PM.
We slept great at the Harkey House and were welcomed downstairs for an elaborate breakfast at 8:30AM. The owners Lee and Bob have been running the place for forty years. We sat out on the back patio with another younger couple from Santa Cruz who were lovely. It was a relaxing atmosphere and we sat around for at least two hours enjoying each other and eating until we were stuffed. They made us each mini individual herb quiches,tomato salsa, a jalapeno and egg omelet, Canadian bacon, corn souffle, Oregon grape jam with lavender scones, orange juice, watermelon, fresh strawberries and coffee. Lee would come out to check to see if we needed anything and share a story or two. She also gave me a few new suggestions of books to read for my book club. They were Visionary Women by Andrea Barnet, Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher, The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia and What Happened to You, by Bruce Perry,M.D. She let us take a huge Sutter Valley grown white peach home with us and we ate it in the car. What hospitality!
On the way home we stopped at a fruit stand where I bought a berry jam, strawberry jam, green beans, jalapenos, tomatoes, and lemon cucumbers because I can’t go by one of those places without stopping.
When I arrived home, I had exactly 30 minutes to bring treats to the chickens and get ready for a day with my niece Marie and sister Sue. The three of us ended up at Murrieta’s Well Winery. We enjoyed their exquisite tasting menu with a few olives, nuts and crackers. This place had live music, a shaded outdoor patio and great service. You are surrounded by rolling hills, oak trees and vineyards.
Reservations were needed at Range Life in Livermore just down a little ways from Murietta’s Well. Luckily my niece Marie knows all the fancy foodie places. It must run in the family. Again we sat on their small outdoor patio under a large oak tree. They had fans and plenty of shade to keep us cool since it was hot and possibly 90 degrees.
I’m trying to recall everything we ate. I think the tasting at the previous place might have skewed my memory. We started with the Monterey King Salmon Crudo with blackberries, nardello pepper and cipolla verde, the Melon and Shishito’s, and Caesar salad with gem lettuce and an amazing pangrattato, tiny bread crumbs with parmigiano. This place is Michelin Star rated and I totally see why. Of course we had to try the fritto of cucuzza squash blossoms stuffed with chanterelle aioli. It’s summer in California on a plate. Everything is served family style and it’s a good thing because the Klingeman Ham Chop with polenta, valley corn, cabbage and a nectarine relish was enormous. You just want to order everything. I brought a bottle of wine to help with the cost and it served its purpose. Drink and eat. Drink and eat. That’s my life. I can’t leave out the one serving of 72% Mababu Askinosie Chocolate Sorbet with cacao nibs which could possibly be the best bite of chocolate I’ve ever had. Immediately I’m looking up the bean to bar Missouri based chocolate company and following them on Instagram.Here’s another famous chocolate shop in Portland Oregon.
I’m pretty sure we didn’t need more dessert, but we still went to Lotties Creamery in Danville on the way home. If nothing else, it sobered us up a little before driving home. We each had the vanilla salted almond toffee ice cream on a waffle cone. So delish.
Can I just say that this has possibly been the best birthday month I’ve ever had. I believe Covid has made people take more time to be with the people we love. I haven’t stopped celebrating even though it’s already almost August. Next week my younger sister Julie is meeting me at San Damiano Retreat for our traditional “buddy lunch.” It’s our little secret spot up on a hill in Danville. We make eachother lunches and sit in the most peaceful and spiritual place where we chat and get caught up on sister talk. It’s the best.
And my hiking group friends are taking me to lunch at Round Hill in Alamo next week also. I tried to put off being the center of attention and wanted to wait until September when there will be two other birthdays. Why is it that I don’t like birthday attention? I guess I will take a closer look at that.
My best news is that a very close friend is finally home from the hospital after having a serious life saving surgery. I’m overjoyed she is okay and now home with her family to heal.
Thanks for stopping by. It means a lot. Off to the farmers market for fresh fruit and vegetables and to get greens for my chickens.
I decided to add this delicious rice recipe that I love to make. I had a surprise visit from my niece and her almost sister-in-law Rachel last weekend. We made tamales, coconut rice, and a gluten free peach crumble. We never took any photos of the food unfortunately, but had tons of fun.
This rice recipe was shared from my neighbor Jen’s best friend. Jen and her husband have a Holiday party every year and their friend Vasuki Narayan
always brought this dish to go with the roasted turkey. I was blown away by the taste and spices that I had to ask for the recipe. You will love it too. You may have to take a quick trip to a specialty Indian store and have them help you find the ingredients. It’s the best rice I’ve ever had. We added it as a topping for the extra spicy chili that I made this week. It went well and cooled down the spices a lot. Why do I always add too much jalapeno grown in my garden to my recipes? Ugh.
3 Tbsp. Canola or Grapeseed Oil
1.2 tsp. Mustard seeds
1 tsp. Urad Dal
1 tsp. Channa Dal
1 Tbsp. Broken Cashews
4 green chilies (Thai or serrano)
5-6 Curry Leaves
1 C Shredded Fresh or frozen Coconut (Found at Indian stores)
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
1 tsp. Sugar
2 C. Cooked Rice (Jasmine is nice) Make ahead of time and cool
In a heavy pan or wok, heat oil. Add mustard seeds.
When the seeds pop, add urad dal.channa dal, and cashews. Lightly fry until the cashews are golden brown.
Add green chilies and curry leaves. (I substituted red dried chilies and bay leaves). Fry lightly until the curry leaves are crisp, less than 1 minute.
Add grated coconut, salt, sugar and fry for 1 minute.
I traveled last week to the West Shore Lake Tahoe area with my older sister Sue. Tahoe is her favorite place and she graciously invited me to enjoy it with her.
On the way there, we stopped at Boa Vista Orchards for apple cider, fresh nectarines, cherries and blackberries. I would have loved to grab a apple cider donut or fresh berry pastry, but we wanted to get back on the road and the line was too long. It was still a thrill to go back, even if only for a short time. Here is my blog on that area if you want to check it out.
When we arrived, we checked in at the Sunnyside Restaurant and lodge and were given a table on the patio at the restaurant. I had Ahi Tuna dish with wild rice and my sister had a halibut dish. She tried their slushie with rum and I drank the lavender lemonade with vodka. No regrets with those decisions. We walked around the property and the quiet neighborhoods close by. We sat and admired the lake for hours and even ordered their famous Hula Pie with toasted macadamia nuts, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream on a chocolate cookie crust.It was enormous and delicious. The bill came to a little over $144.00 plus tip, but well worth it and great service.
I was happy to get up and move around after sitting for hours in the car and the restaurant. We walked around the neighborhood, checked out the cute West Shore Market and stopped in for chapstick. I wanted much, much more, but we couldn’t eat one more thing. I noticed Wednesday through Sunday they have flatbread pizzas like brie and apple with caramelized onions from 4:30 until 7:30PM. Yum! Too bad today is Monday. Across the street from the market was West Shore Sports where they rent bikes, paddleboards and kayaks.We inquired about a bike rental for the next day for me because my sister didn’t have room in her car for my bike. Ohh. And they have three locations: Homewood, Sugar Pine Point State Park and Sunnyside Lake Tahoe. I should also mention there was a tiny place called Spoon Restaurant tucked behind the bike shop. They had a special that night: Paella broth with clams, Chicken and Spanish Sausage, King Salmon, coconut matcha cake with kiwi and a s’mores brownie with chocolate sauce. It all sounded great.
The hotel had a very comfortable king size bed and we slept like babies all night. My sister is an early morning gal, so she walked to the beach with her book and coffee and enjoyed watching the boats on the lake. I slept in, meditated and met her for breakfast on the deck. The Sunnyside Restaurant had a fabulous spread to choose from. I ate a piece of whole wheat bread, cream cheese, smoked salmon, tomato, onions and capers, Greek yogurt, a hard boiled egg, orange juice and a cinnamon roll with raspberry jam. They also had a wonderful granola which I took with me on our bike ride that day. We sat and ate it while sitting by the Truckee River. There were plenty of people to watch floating down the river. So fun.
After breakfast, we lathered on the sunscreen and took off to the bike rental. Sue has her mountain bike and I rented a cruiser. I was a little intimidated to go on a trail ride with her because my sister is a serious bike enthusiast. She rides up Mount Diablo like it’s nothing and has been riding since her college days religiously. I fared pretty well, considering we were out on the trail from 11AM until 3:30PM. We stopped a lot to look at the birds, munch on granola and relax by the river.
I noticed an ice cream food truck/trailer called Little Truckee Ice Creamery and made my sister cross the street to get a Dark Horse Coffee ice cream cone. She refused a sweet treat and wanted lunch, but not before she found a necklace for herself at Blue tone Jewelry. Syd’s Bagelry and Espresso was highly recommended for a good place to grab a sandwich, so we rode our bikes across the street and found it right away. I bought lunch, since my sister paid for our accomodations. Sue wanted the hot pastrami and I ordered the turkey with bacon and tomato. Everything tastes good after a long bike ride. Across the street was Rosie’s Cafe which is known for their great breakfasts and they have an old fashioned bar inside if you wanted a cold beer or a mimosa with your meal. It looked like the local hang out.
We decided it was time to head back from Tahoe City and return the bike. I was excited to stop at Tahoe House Bakery and Gourmet. They had cookies galore, beautiful cakes, cheesecake, and a huge lunch menu with everything from special sandwiches, a daily soup and five superb salads. I bought an asiago bread and was lucky enough to get another free loaf since it’s a buy one get one free between 2PM and 3PM every day. Great deal. My second loaf choice was the whole wheat made with molasses. It is now tucked in the freezer for another day.
Well, I’m off to the bar to meet my sister who has been waiting for me. Yes. We are hungry again.Thanks sister for the fun vacation.
I will have to add to this post a little later. I have pet chickens that need to cool off.
I’ve been trying to get motivated to write a new blog and it’s a struggle. I’m always inspired and excited after a fun day out experiencing the foodie experience, but too tired to get it on paper. When I’m home, I always find something else to do like work in my garden, cook, clean or bake. So here I am at the gym where I am not distracted from all of those duties.
I will write about my day in Calistoga last Thursday with my friend Lise. She organized a hike at Bothe Napa Valley State Park with a bunch of our hiking friends. Many people had to cancel at the last minute because of Covid or other obligations, so it was just the two of us who went.
I loved this hike. Lise picked me up at 8:15AM because it has been extremely hot in the Bay Area lately. I usually am the driver, so it was a nice change to have someone else drive. We got to the park at 10AM and walked for 2.5 hours. It was relatively flat and easy to walk. There were many tiny frogs crossing the path as well as several varieties of butterflies everywhere. The birds were singing and the trail was along a rambling creek, so we heard the trickle of water while hiking. So refreshing, especially since we are in a continuous drought in California. We were hoping to swim in their pool, but it was only open on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There is a $10 fee to park.
This gorgeous place had beautiful red wild flowers called Indian Pink-Cardinal Catchfly- Silene laciniata and another spectacular green bush with bright pink flowers called Pink Fairies- Clark’s Pulchella Pirsh, neither of them I had ever seen before. After we hiked, we were hoping to visit Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, but it is only open on weekends. This place is a block or two from Bothe State Park and they are both sandwiched between Calistoga and St. Helena.
Onward we went to Brasswood, which is a little south of the park where we hiked and it is on the way home, a huge plus. I have been to Brasswood once before with my boys Curtis, Andrew and Andrew’s girlfriend Shannon and my husband while wine tasting last year. It’s a lovely place and I was able to take time to explore the property more extensively this time. Lise and I walked into the restaurant and immediately sat at the bar. My friend wanted to finish the rest of her peanut butter, honey and tomato sandwich that she brought with her. I’m all about trying the latest and greatest each restaurant and bar has to offer. Lise agreed to order the beef carpaccio made with capers, watercress, sea salt, parmesan, lemon garlic aioli, evoo and crostini. It was delicious. We also ordered the focaccia served with squash blossom and fennel pollen butter. So yummy. I had a Fellini’s Muse cocktail that was made with Malfy Rosa grapefruit gin, fresh grapefruit, Fever Tree elderflower tonic, and an orchid ice cube. I can’t seem to get enough grapefruit lately. Lise had her first Arnold Palmer, which consists of iced tea and lemonade. She loved it! And last but not least, I had to order the Flying Goat Affogato for dessert. It was made with house-made vanilla ice cream and Flying Goat Coffee espresso. Incredible and the best way to end a meal.
Not only does Brasswood have a restaurant, but it has a winery, gallery and bakery on the premises. They sell gifts like cocktail cookbooks and glassware, a wooden chess set, clothing, coffee, colorful mugs, and special teas like herbal chai, Assam, Moroccan Mint, Earl Grey and Premium Green Tea from Napa Valley Tea Company.
The Bakery has a large lunch menu offering several salads, sandwiches, pizza and house made potato chips. These are the rage these days. Top Brass Wines are $12.00 and sold by the can. One can equals two glasses of wine. Rose from Russian River Valley or a Charbono from Napa Valley that tastes like plum and black cherry. Or you can buy a 4 pack for $48.00. Also offered were wines by the bottle for between $48 up to $125.00 each. They provide cheese platters, charcuterie boards or lunch boxes available for pre-order for those who plan ahead of time. I also spotted homemade Sauces: marinara made with organic tomato, olive oil, garlic confit, oregano and black pepper; the arrabiata made with organic tomato, basil, garlic and Calibrian peppers; and a short rib sugo made with organic tomato, onion, sage, thyme, cremini and portobello mushroom and Brasswood Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.
Fresh berry tarts, cheesecake, and panna cotta were just a few of the deserts being offered, as well as many cheeses, cinnamon rolls, cookies and croissants. Believe it or not they sell popular beer and cocktails as well. Manhattans, Martinis, a St Germain one and plenty of tequila drinks were just a few.
Don’t worry if you forgot to have breakfast. Brasswood has you covered. Chilaquiles, bagels with salmon, breakfast sandwiches and breakfast burritos will fill you up on an empty stomach. I swear. I’ve never seen so many food and drink options in one location.
As if we needed anything more, we had to stop off at the Acacia House in St Helena. This place pulled out all of their magic tricks for us to make it an exceptional experience. Of course I tell everyone I’m a food and travel blogger and they turn up the volume on our visit. The bar was closing within 45 minutes, but they graciously took us in. I didn’t even need another drink, but here we were in Napa Valley. Right? Can you blame me? Josh the bartender hooked me up with their famous margarita. It was a $30.00 margarita, but totally worth it. They make a special foamy concoction to dress it up with called “salt air” and it’s fabulous. They wouldn’t give me exact amounts but it has versa whip, xantham gum, lime juice and water in it. Also adorned by fresh lime zest which is something you don’t see every day. Acacia House has the most amazing flower arrangements by Tesoro Florist. Lise had their Zero Proof Non Alcoholic Grapefruit Rosemary Spritz. This is made with Ritual Zero Proof Gin, grapefruit, rosemary simple syrup and sparkling water. Very special. We met a nice man at the bar named Efrain with Efrain Interiors. He is trying to set up a flower and champagne business in the area called Bubbles and Bloom. Fabulous!
Josh surprised us with a dish of their chips and dip. It is served with whipped labneh (strained yogurt), salmon roe and chervil. We weren’t even hungry, but of course we had to eat it. I’ve been to this special place twice. One time I came for my birthday with my husband last year and one time I brought my older sister Susan. Each visit was extraordinary.
Have I told you this unique wine country property/resort has a luxury hotel attached? Alila Napa Valley has a gorgeous spa and lodging. In fact, Sean showed us the presidential suite and took us on a personal tour of the property. This review will give you a better look at the accommodations. Fun fact: In 1907 this Acacia House was a physicians house. He treated people with Tuberculosis.
I splurged and bought myself and Lise a face serum called Be Here a Summer Solstice Serum at their Spa. It is made from a local farm in Saint Helena with antioxidant oxidant rich biodynamic olive oil, calendula, St John’s Wort, tulsi, German chamomile, Roman chamomile and wild yellow dock. I grow many of these herbs. Wouldn’t that be something to be able to make potions like this someday at Smyth Family Farm?
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you how much I loved the great day hiking and enjoying the food and drinks of the Napa Valley. Thank you Lise for organizing the great hike. We even made it back in time to watch the Warrior play offs.If you are in need of respite and a fun day trip, head North and just see what you might find. Napa County in Northern California is a destination for everyone to enjoy. Thanks for following me and reading my blog. It’s pure joy sharing stories and recipes with you.
Hello again. A quick update about what’s going on at Smyth Family Farm. My mom is turning 80 tomorrow, and we are celebrating at Blackhawk Grille in Danville. This is the restaurant that I worked as a pastry chef at. I will be bringing three cakes for my mom tomorrow: A white cake with elderflower liqueur, strawberry jam, and fresh strawberries and whipped cream, a lemon cake doused with limoncello and simple syrup, meyer lemon curd, whipped cream and a lavender white chocolate buttercream. Last but not least will be the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I picked up the white tulips that I will try to decorate the lemon cake with. I am inspired by the wedding cake I saw last weekend at Kevin and Lora Mahlman’s wedding. Incredible. We’ll see if I can pull it off. More photos at the end of this blog.
Also, we have another surge of Covid spreading across the Bay Area where I live. My son Andrew was exposed at his Blackhawk Choir concert last weekend, where 10 of the singers came down with covid. My good friend Denise, had to cancel a trip to Napa because she was exposed at a women’s group meeting where she volunteers. I’m super sad that she and her husband are leaving the state. It’s one of the many who are exiting California. This past year has been full of loss whether it be from sickness or moving out of the area. I’m not happy about it, but I understand.
Here is my continued blog from the Disneyland trip I took in February 2022. Here is part one, if you missed it.
Day two of Disneyland adventure.
Woke up at 6:15 and got ready in our nice hotel. It’s convenient to stay at the Grand Californian because it’s close to the park. Kathleen, Keri and Jamie and I met up with the Louies in the lobby. We took off to Guardians of the Galaxy. It replaced the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in 2017. It is much more fun now. I wasn’t crazy about dropping hundreds of feet, but Guardians of the Galaxy is different and brilliantly done.
Toy Story Midway Mania ride was next. We love taking aim at moving objects and try to score more points then our riding buddy. The Pixar Movie Toy Story came out when my youngest son Andrew was three years old. He loved Andy, Buzz Lightyear, and the Woody character and would watch the movie over and over again. There is something about being in Disneyland that reminds you of being a child, and or bringing fond memories back of raising your kids.Loved the ride. I’m not great at scoring points, but it’s fun to try.
Incredicoaster was next on the list. All day, Kathleen is monitoring all of our lightning passes which were previously called Fast Passes. She is monitoring her phone and the Disneyland App to see when she can book our next pass. These lines are much smaller and it saves a ton of time. Only two passes are allowed per individual per day, which is why Kathleen asks us to purchase two park passes per day. It’s a lot of money, but totally worth using your time wisely at Disneyland. There is a strategy to her madness. She researches blogs and internet tips for months preparing for this trip. I don’t think Disneyland knows we are purchasing two tickets each. It’s illegal, and we would be kicked out of the park if they find out.It’s a risk we are willing to take to make our experience even more pleasurable.
Incredicoasteris located at Pixar Pier and is the fastest ride reaching a high speed of 55 miles per hour. You will be greeted by JackJack, Edna, Elastigirl, Violet and Dash, the characters from The Incredibles Movie. I’m not usually a huge roller coaster person. When I was 12, my dad made me ride the Tidal Wave Ride at California’s Great America previously called Six Flags. It was built in 1976. It terrified me. Since then, I have overcome my fear and have more fun taking pleasure in these roller coasters.
We bought a “Nom Nom” Cookie which I need to try to make myself at home. They are served warm and are an incredible cookie. Of course we share them because it’s too much cookie for one person.
Some of us purchased a latte or coffee to go with our treats.
Soaring Around the World was just as much fun the second time. It’s fun to get on this ride and sit in the first row. Your feet hang down and you feel like you are flying in the open sky. Not too far from here was Monsters Inc. We got on a “taxi ride” where we were entertained by Mike and Sully rescuing a human child. I’m not as familiar with this movie because my kids didn’t get into it. I’m also not as familiar with Tangled and other princess movies since I had two boys. I’ve had to rely on my nieces to introduce me to some of these films.
We tried getting on the Cars ride next, but there was a 30 minute wait. We never wait that long for a ride. On to see Ariel and her Under Sea Adventure from The Little Mermaid with my sister in law Terri-Ann. Ariel has always been Keri and Jamie’s favorite princess growing up. Over the years, we would get to visit each princess and take pictures with them. Of course, they are all special, but Ariel was always the family’s most loved princess. All of the others in our group went on Goofy’s Sky School Ride.
All of those rides can make a girl thirsty, so we were grateful that Kathleen made reservations in advance at the Carthay Circle Lounge. I ordered the Soba noodles with salmon edamame and a ginger soy vinaigrette. Sooo good. The VanWinckel’s ordered the shrimp spring rolls and more. I enjoyed a double pear martini. It is made with Double Cross and Absolut Pear Vodka, Pear Nectar and fresh lime complemented with a baby pear and mint leaf. Just delightful! Keri had a Sparkling Mare. This is made with Saint-Hilaire Sparkling Wine, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur and Aperol Orange Aperitif. Jamie ordered the Negroni I think. I’m trying to figure it out by looking at the menu and her drink from my photos. It was a few months ago and I have a horrible memory. Having drinks with these girls is a lot of fun. I get to sit back and watch the sisters interact and not have a care in the world. These drinks cost between $15 and $18.50 each. We are there for a limited time since Kathleen has us on the go, but not before the girls order their second cocktail which I believe included tequila. Interestingly enough, no one gets too inebriated. We all relax and have a good time.
The most anticipated attraction at Disneyland is Star Wars: Galaxy Edge called Rise of the Resistance. It is four rides built into one and about 15 to 20 minutes long. It’s epic and you won’t want to miss it.
After all the excitement, it was time to slow down and have a drink and pizza poolside at the Grand California. We sat in the hot tub to soak our tired feet and had long conversations. We’ve all missed our family gatherings since Covid started, so there was a lot to catch up on.
Next we all met at Animation Academy located at California Adventure Park. This 23 minute long hands-on attraction allows you to draw with the cartoonist. They teach you how to draw a Disney character. The whole experience is fun and challenging, especially for me since I can’t draw. So it was evident that I would lose my marbles and laugh uncontrollably when I heard Keri laugh. It was one of those awkward moments when you think you will be kicked out of class. Maybe it was the cocktail? I’ll stick with that.
We ate dinner at the Lamplighter Lounge, which again needed to be booked in advance. The Lobster Nachos are always a hit so the Van Winckel’s always order two. I find them a little over rated. I don’t find them to be very “lobstery”, but I go with the flow.
Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Fireworks, It’s a Small World, Oga’s Cucina for drinks (An Absolute MUST), and the Pirates of the Caribbean finished up our day.
That finishes up day two of our Disneyland 2022 trip.
I will post day three and four next time.
Thanks for joining me and reading my blog. I hope I’ve inspired you to take a trip to Disneyland.
Wish me luck completing and pulling off the birthday cakes for tomorrow. They are already in the freezer just waiting for the decorating final touches. I will post photos of them and my mom’s special day next week.
Here are the cakes I made for Mom’s 80th. The recipe for the white cake is in this link.
A lot has happened since my last blog in the beginning of February. I was fortunate enough to get invited to the family Disney trip again. I went last weekend with two of my sister in-laws, four of my nieces, one nephew, his wife and their significant others. It was a nice distraction from the sadness that I have been feeling about losing four of my pet chickens.
I am sharing my Disneyland experience with you since it is not like any other. Exactly a week ago, at 7AM, my husband Ken drove my sister in law Kathleen and her two daughters Keri and Jamie to the Oakland Airport.He saved us a lot of trouble and cost not having to drive ourselves and drag our luggage from the extended parking lot near the airport. We were surprised to see the huge line going through security. Luckily, all of us have Pre TSA and were able to fly right past them in our own special line. The process of qualifying for the Pre TSA is paying extra money and showing your passport and ID ahead of time in a screening process. It’s totally worth it, in my opinion.
We stopped off for mimosas, waffles, oatmeal and fruit at the Escape Lounge which is affiliated with American Express. It is all free to members and their guests. This is a special way to begin your vacation and I feel fortunate to be traveling with my sister-in -law who is a member.
We boarded the flight without any complications and landed at the Santa Ana Airport at 11:00AM. We were given strict instructions to not remove our masks during the flight so we wouldn’t be exposed to the CoronaVirus.Since I was staying in the same room as Kathleen, I needed to be safe. After we landed, my niece called an Uber driver to take us to the Grand Californian Hotel next to Disneyland. This hotel is gorgeous. It has every amenity you can think of: Pools, jacuzzi’s, a spa, a fireplace, a bar, restaurants, a grocery store, and more. My sister in law always pays for the hotel for the family. She is extra generous to me, her daughters and to the Louie family. I wouldn’t normally be able to afford this kind of luxurious vacation. I love going with her and her daughters and my other sister in law and her family because it is extra special family time. It’s worth mentioning here that we haven’t had many family get togethers the last two years because of Covid. Before Covid, we would celebrate birthdays and see each other at least once a month.
We dropped off our luggage at the hotel even though our rooms weren’t ready. Check in time is usually at 4PM, and the front desk will text you when the room is ready. Until then, the bellhop will store your items in a secure place. Next we entered Disneyland park and went to our pre scheduled reservation at the Plaza Restaurant. The four of us shared the fried chicken platter served with mashed potatoes, green beans and a buttery biscuit and we ordered a huge piece of the dark chocolate cake (shown above). It was a large amount of food and plenty for the four of us to share. My niece Jamie grabbed two corn dogs from the Little Red Wagon next to where we were sitting for us to share. These corn dogs have the best cornbread covering. It’s enormous! I tend to purchase a lot of the food since I know it helps Kathleen with the cost of the trip. We were asked to download the Disney app ahead of time to be prepared to purchase items from the stores, bars and so we could get our lightning pass tickets. These were previously called fast passes. You pay extra for these and get a limited amount of them per day. Again, Kathleen managed all of our rides on her app the entire vacation. She was on top of it, always looking to see if a ride was open or closed. She also prepares much of the itinerary before we arrive, by booking all of the restaurants and bars for each meal. This is all new. Disneyland has changed a lot since the pandemic began. They had to close down for a year.
Thunder Mountain Railroad was our first roller coaster ride of the day. Buzz Lightyear was our next ride. Of course we didn’t stand in long lines because Kathleen is smart and has a strategy of when to go on which ride most efficiently. We stopped for a pickle for Jamie because it’s her favorite snack of all time. They are big and juicy and hard for her to resist. Personally, I’m a sweet pickle kind of girl and usually only eat them when I’m making tuna salad sandwiches.
Off to California Adventureland Park where we went on Soarin’. This ride is especially fun and involves a fantastic airborne hang gliding flight which takes you through the wonders of the world. Web Slingers located in the Avengers Campus was the next obvious choice since it is the new Marvel Spider Man Adventure interactive screen ride where you wear 3 D glasses. There is a huge wall outside of the ride where spider man flies around doing aerial somersaults for the audience and people walking by. It’s very cool and popular for the little ones. I’d also mention how funny it is to see many of the children wearing costumes while in the parks. It’s hilarious to me when you see a toddler sound asleep in a stroller wearing a complete Spider-Man costume including the mask. Many of the little girls are wearing princess dresses and have their hair pulled tightly up into a bun with a tiara on their head. You really feel like a kid walking around seeing the magic all around you and remembering how you felt when you were a child in Disneyland. It’s so exciting.
The girls were ready for some shopping time. They thought that they could order clothes and have them delivered to their hotel, but that option wasn’t available this time. Kathleen uses her Disney credit card all year long and gets points to use towards the restaurants and merchandise at the stores. It’s a win win for my nieces who appreciate wearing all of Disney’s attire. Kathleen actually purchased matching Disney sweatshirts for the four of us to wear during the trip. She thinks of everything, and I love being spoiled by her.
We were thirsty, so we ordered drinks from the phone app from Pym Tasting Lab. They give you a time to pick them up and you tell them when you arrive. Our drinks were ready and we sat and drank four outstanding cocktails. I had the “Molecular Meltdown” a Garage milk stout with vanilla ice cream and marshmallows. Keri and Jamie and Kathleen had the X-Periment drink with Patron Silver Tequila, mango and habanero syrups, and mango flavor filled boba. These were so good that we went back for more throughout the weekend.
Goofy’s Sky School roller coaster was up next because Incredicoasters ride was down. I didn’t remember going on Goofy’s Sky School before. It was twisty and turny and jerky. Not my favorite, so I skipped it the next time the group wanted to go on it. Matterhorn was our next ride. I was terrified of this rollercoaster when I was young, but decided to go for it and go with the flow. It was fun. It’s even more fun at night.
I talked the group into the Winnie the Pooh ride. He’s my favorite Disney character. I love the music on this ride. Rabbit, Piglet, Tigger, Roo, Owl are cute and colorful and fun. I’ve always read these stories to my kids and provided videos for my oldest son Curtis to watch when he was a little guy while I cleaned houses.
We ate at the Blue Bayou Restaurant for dinner. They offer only a few choices and have a New Orleans cajun style menu. We shared the steak and salmon which they cooked perfectly. It’s also right next to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and it is a little dark but has many hanging lights. It’s very relaxing after a long day of running through the parks. Of course Kathleen had dinner reservations for us that she made ahead of time.
Keri, Jamie, Kathleen and me were all very excited to check out the new Star Wars ride “Rise of the Resistance.” It was an epic attraction and worth the purchase. Space Mountain was where we headed to next. This ride brings back so many memories for me because my son Curtis hated this ride when he was about 5 or 6 years old. He spitted and said it was “stupid, stupid, stupid!” We shouldn’t have tried to go on it with him. He has been scared of roller coasters ever since and this is why he doesn’t come with us to Disneyland. I don’t think he would enjoy all of the walking either. Turns out, we walked 22,000 steps that day according to my niece’s Apple watch. We landed at the pool bar called GCH Craftsman next to the Grand Californian Hotel where we were staying. We met my sister in law Terri Ann, her daughter Laura and Laura’s girlfriend Fiona at the pool bar. Eventually, my nephew Peter and his new wife Alex joined us. It was nice to connect with more of the family. I had a chocolate sundae since I don’t like to drink too late into the evening. It wasn’t that great as far as chocolate sundae’s go. The whipped cream tasted fake and it wasn’t sweet and there wasn’t enough chocolate sauce in it. But I’m a chocolate snob, so there’s that.
It was back to the hotel room to catch some zzz’s. I like to shower before bed, so I can be clean when I get into clean sheets. I’m not a morning person, so I get as organized as I can by laying out my clothes and having everything ready for when the alarm goes off.
I will have to continue this blog at another time. I have three more days to write about plus details about my sister in laws strategy to get in as many rides as possible each day. And cocktails! Lots more cocktails! I will leave you with this funny photo taken several years ago in Cancun when all three of our families the Van Winckels, The Louies, and the Smyth’s went on vacation together. Thanks for reading, and follow my blog for more recipes and stories of my travels.
Happy Saturday everyone. It’s been a rough week at Smyth Family Farm. I cut the palm of my hand while juicing oranges last night and spent an hour and a half in the emergency room getting stitches. The worst part of the week was waking up to feathers everywhere on Thursday morning. Four of my chickens were eaten by a neighborhood bobcat when the door to the coop didn’t automatically close.
I’ve been feeling extra sad and guilty for not checking the camera on Wednesday evening before bed. My husband would usually do a quick check on his phone so see if they had all gone to bed. It’s been freezing cold here at night, so I never imagined them not wanting to be inside the coop. It wasn’t a normal evening, because both of my son’s came over for a family dinner. They are my everything.
I know in my heart that I gave those chickens the best life they could ever have while they lived. I had them delivered to me from Mc Murray Hatchery in Iowa a year and four months ago. I ordered them while my Mother in law Nilda was still with us, and they came a few days before she died. It was cathartic to have baby chicks to care for and manage while grieving. I had many of my family name them. We had Burtha, who Michelle named. Dolly was named by my niece Laura. They were the first visitors after we got them. Caramel Corn was named by my great niece Tamara who is only 6 years old. Babe was named by my Mother Diane who loved going for a ride one day in the car to visit her. My Mother has had a cancer called multiple myeloma for the past 9 years and suffers from anxiety. Babe always comforted her and brought her joy.
All of these four chickens are GONE. I can’t believe it. They have given me a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning while going through Covid times. Many months of isolation were met with laughs and cuddles when I was not able to see my friends or relatives. I’m crying while I write this, but I know it’s best to feel my emotions and express myself as I feel fit. I’m pretty much a mess right now.
As for the other four chickens that are still with me, they are wandering and scavenging the entire back yard as I speak. Bee Bee was named by my son Andrew. And it’s so cute because the girl I nannied for Billie, had a nickname “Bee Bee”. Billie and her sister Sammie have been here to visit the farm and the chickens last year while wearing masks and social distance. I had to give up my job with them because of Covid.
We also still have Mary Kate, who was named by Ken, my husband. He wanted the two Red Star breed sisters to be named twins:Mary Kate and Ashley. Soon enough, Ashley was forgotten because Tamara wanted to name her Caramel Corn. Caramel Corn was one of my favorites. She loved cuddling with me every morning and evening. She trusted me the most. And I always had two brown eggs every morning religiously from this breed.
Arthur was named first by my niece Keri who saw a post on my Instagram feed. Poor Arthur was sickly and smaller then the rest of the baby chicks. I would feed her by making a split pea puree to squirt down her throat. I didn’t want to lose her. Then my sister in law Nancy came to meet the chicks and said I didn’t have to force food down her throat. It was okay that Arthur was a little smaller. Nancy has worked at the local Alexander Junior Lindsay Museum which houses injured birds and wildlife in Pleasant Hill California. I would take my kids there when they were young to learn more about turtles, owls, mountain lions, foxes, ravens, snakes and more. We even rented bunnies and guinea pigs for a week at a time from there.
It’s hilarious that Keri named Arthur a boy’s name. She didn’t know they were girls. But that’s what makes her extra special. And Keri is a special niece since she and her sister Jamie grew up in my neighborhood. We would spend time with them more than the other family, even though most of our family from both sides live fairly close by.
My older sister Susan named Mabel, who is also one of the sweetest and coolest chickens. Mabel has another name. My sweet niece Josie who is only six named her Violet when visiting the farm one day. Josie loved collecting the feathers and eggs from my girls when she would visit. It’s crazy because we haven’t seen much of anybody during the pandemic. It’s been so different from the way we lived our life before Covid. Has it been this way for you? Josie goes to school, so we haven’t felt comfortable having her here even though my husband and I have both been vaccinated and boosted.
I think I will sign off for now. It has been quite a week. And it’s not over. All I can do is heal from my hand injury and enjoy the chickens I have left. My eyes are swollen from all the crying. I can remember when I had to give Scooby Doobie Doo my rooster away to a farm in Auburn, I cried and cried. It’s like that. Only one other time did I cry so much that my eyes were swollen. It was when my friend Sherri and her son Danny moved away back to Florida. I cried and cried. She was my neighbor and a true friend. I was sad to see her leave, but she left an abusive relationship after our Avon 3 Day walk over 20 years ago. I was happy she left this guy and lived closer to her family where she was needed. I was inspired to go back to college and get my Bachelors Degree after the Avon walk. We walked 60 miles in three days and raised money for breast cancer. It was a challenging experience, but I am grateful for the time I had with Sherri, and Heidi who also walked.
As for the other four chickens that are still with me, they are wandering and scavenging the entire back yard as I speak. Bee Bee was named by my son Andrew. And it’s so cute because the girl I nannied for Billie, had a nickname “Bee Bee”. Billie and her sister Sammie have been here to visit the farm and the chickens last year while wearing masks and at a social distance. I had to give up my job with them because of Covid.
We also still have Mary Kate, who was named by Ken, my husband. He wanted the two Red Star breed sisters to be named twins:Mary Kate and Ashley. Soon enough, Ashley was forgotten because Tamara wanted to name her Caramel Corn. Caramel Corn was one of my favorites. She loved cuddling with me every morning and evening. She trusted me the most. And I always had two brown eggs every morning religiously from this breed.
Arthur was named first by my niece Keri who saw a post on my Instagram feed. Poor Arthur was sickly and smaller then the rest of the baby chicks. I would feed her by making a split pea puree to squirt down her throat. I didn’t want to lose her. Then my sister in law Nancy came to meet the chicks and said I didn’t have to force food down her throat. She told me that it was okay that Arthur was a little smaller. Nancy has worked at the local Alexander Junior Lindsay Museum which houses injured birds and wildlife in Pleasant Hill California. I would take my kids there when they were young to learn more about turtles, owls, mountain lions, foxes, ravens, snakes and more. We even rented bunnies and guinea pigs for a week at a time from there.
What’s extra special about his week has been the wave of love and support from my family and friends. My son Andrew brought me flowers and chocolate yesterday. It was right after I cut my hand, so we had to run to Kaiser, but I was surprised he did this for me. So thoughtful. My other son Curtis called and left me a message. When I called him back he was super sweet and caring. I felt all the love. And in the morning, my niece Marie surprised me with my favorite donuts from Johnny’s in Lafayette. OMG, I was floored. Marie has the biggest heart and empathy. She is a gift to this family.
If you want to learn more, follow me on Instagram or this blog. I will share my trip to Petaluma with my friend Kathi on the next blog.
I’m excited to share our last family day trip in Half Moon Bay California. We were celebrating my son Curtis who recently had a birthday. The last adventure we had before that was on Thanksgiving day at the Sonoma Mission Inn enjoying their spa treatments, pool and scrumptious dinner. Neither of my son’s had ever been to Half Moon Bay before, so this day was going to be extra special.
We started off leaving Walnut Creek at 10:30AM so we could get to the coast as early as possible. None of us like waking up early, with the exception of my husband, so 10:30 seemed like a good compromise. We made it to the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company by noon, just in time for lunch and a cocktail.
We loved their outdoor dining set up with plenty of tables and chairs available. The staff was outstanding accommodating our every need, and the cool, fresh ocean air was delightful. Some days are completely fogged over near the coast, but not this day. It was sunny and gorgeous, the perfect kind of day to celebrate a birthday.
Curtis ordered his favorite handcrafted cocktail the Brewco Bloody Mary served with Tito’s Habanero Vodka infused in house.He loves the spice! Andrew and I went on the more conservative side and ordered beer. He sampled the Saison Farmhouse Ale: 6.8%ABV a pilsen malt that lends a soft dry mouthfeel with notes of bread crust and honey. I ordered the 16 oz Tactical Sunglasses: IPA-New England 6.4% ABV which had pineapple and passionfruit with hints of ripe stone fruit and citrus lime from HBC 735, Citiva and Citra Hops. After we managed to finish these, we shared a Flat Mars Society IPA-New England 6% ABV which is floral and fruity with passion fruit, grapefruit, pineapple, orange, and lemongrass overtones from Nelson, Citra, and Simcoe. Their house N. E. yeast blends lends to a nice juicy mouthfeel, with a soft and clean finish. My favorite was the Tactical Sunglasses IPA. Ken always orders water since he doesn’t drink alcohol.
Enough about beer, although we were at a Brewing Company. Isn’t it always about the food? Fresh Crab was available, but I didn’t notice it on the menu. They also served cioppino which had ½ crab, calamari, 3 prawns, linguicia, tomato, red and green onions, fennel, and an in house tomato base served with garlic bread. I have never made cioppino, but I have a recipe from my dad’s cousin’s husband Skip which I have been meaning to try. I will be talking about Skip again later in the blog.
We ordered their cheese bread with a delicious tomato sauce as an appetizer. This was devoured almost immediately. My best bite of food that I have eaten in a long time and we make a lot of cheese bread in our house. My husband ordered the fried chicken sandwich with caesar salad, I ordered the pretzels and cheese sauce and grilled artichokes which were a little over cooked to my liking. But I had to because we were near Watsonville where artichokes are grown. The Blackhawk Grille where I worked as a pastry chef had the best grilled artichokes. They were to die for, but I don’t think they are on the menu anymore.
Andrew ordered a Portuguese seafood soup with clams, prawns and garlic toasts. He loved it. And he is my budding chef. He loves to cook, has no problem cooking with a lot of spice and makes his own fermented vegetables. Curtis ordered the beer battered seafood sampler with calamari, prawns, cod and French fries. This was served with both tartar sauce and cocktail sauce and plenty of lemon. It was very tasty, but isn’t deep fried food always tasty?
We stopped off at the inside bar and ordered a 6 pack of something that Andrew wanted to try and I bought Curtis a hoodie with Half Moon Brewing Company on it so he would have something to remember the day with. Next stop: The Ritz Carlton.
Lucky us, we happened upon a free parking spot along the coast walking trail on the way to The Ritz Carlton. Otherwise, they do have 25 available spots to park in for the hikers at the hotel. They have been known to charge a day rate to park there, which I don’t love.
It was lovely walking along the path next to the golf course and the ocean on the other side. We don’t get out to the coast as much as I’d like. So today was the day. Ken and I can walk for hours, but Curtis complains of going too far because of his knees. He was also sore from a basketball game he played in the night before.
Eventually we made it to the hotel. I like looking around, but am happier at the bar. We chose the inside bar, since there were 3 seats available. We loved our adorable bartender Vienna, who poured generous portions of a 2019 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County alcohol 14.0%. I try to order wines from the Russian River because that’s where my dad’s family is from. My dad was raised in Guerneville and would swim up the Russian River to visit a friend at Korbel Winery (his friend’s parents worked there), and then swim back down the river to his home.
The Ritz Hotel is stunning inside and out. If it were up to me, we would have stayed for dinner and dessert at The Conservatory, their signature restaurant. They serve everything from a Niman Ranch Pork chop, a Rack of Lamb, or a American Wagu Ribeye served with duckfat potatoes, brussel sprouts and red wine Jus.They served a beet salad with burrata, toasted pine nuts, peach balsamic and sourdough croutons. Grilled octopus, pumpkin soup, baked oysters and Marin County Cheese platter with Point Reyes Blue, Marin Schloss Nicasio Reserve and Walnut Bread. My kind of food right here. And much, much more was offered, but we decided upon another pour of the wine, Andrew had a blackberry beer and Curtis switched to wine after he drank the Purissima Mule: Purissima Vodka, fresh lime, strawberry mint syrup and Fever Tree Ginger Beer.
As the night grew darker, we found ourselves on the patio getting warm from the fire pit and enjoyed visiting with the hotel guests. It’s always nice to chat with people from all over, yet these locals were from Santa Rosa. They was a charming young couple celebrating their Baby Moon, which is a vacation you take before the baby comes. The woman happened to be a special education teacher and was fascinating to talk with. We shared our son Andrew’s diagnosis of autism and explained how he overcame some of his challenges. It was a win-win for us all. Here is the blog where I explain our story on raising a son with special needs. Ken and Curtis talked business as Curtis is in sales and has admired all of Ken’s achievements in his career as an Information Technology executive.
Overall, the day couldn’t have gone any better. Ken and Curtis walked back to the car and Andrew and I waited at the turn around for them to arrive. It’s a glorious place. You feel spoiled and special even if you only stop by for drinks.
I hope you have enjoyed my story about our fabulous day with our son’s Curtis and Andrew. It’s days like these that give me great joy to know they still live close and we can run away if only for a few hours to spend time together. It may not be this way forever and this I understand.
So here is a Blue Cheese Dressing recipe that was shared from my dad’s cousin’s husband Skip Cassidy who is 85 and lives in Guerneville, California. He and I chat from time to time. Last year he generously gifted me four marajuana plants that I grew and harvested last year. I make apple cake with the dried leaves and it helps me sleep. He’s a gem.
Skip’s Blue Cheese Salad Dressing from Casanova’s Restaurant in Cazadero
1.5 C. Milk
10 oz Blue Cheese
¼ C Apple Cider Vinegar
3 C Best Foods Mayonnaise
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 T No Salt
4 Cloves sauteed garlic
1 tsp Accent
¼ t black pepper
Heat milk in a medium size pot on the stove on medium heat. Watch to make sure it doesn’t overboil. Add crumbled blue cheese and stir until melted. Saute’ garlic in a small pot with a little olive oil. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until combined, being careful to cool the warmed milk and cheese before adding liquid in a blender. Place in the fridge and the dressing will thicken.
Place cleaned and dried greens in a large bowl. Pour dressing along the inside of the bowl. Toss greens to coat. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and add any topping you wish.
I served mine with pistachios and a cup of warm apple butternut squash soup.
It’s a new year, so let’s get it off to a good start by writing again. Truthfully, I’ve gotten out of my groove for some time. Covid hasn’t helped things, nor has farming and raising 8 chickens for the past year.
I’ve loved being in my garden. It has brought me peace and a great deal of exercise which I love. For a 50 something lady, I’m doing pretty good health wise. About 80% of my family got Covid during the holidays. That includes my husband, whom I live with. It hasn’t been easy staying away from him since he works from home and has for the past almost two years. We get along great, but not having time to myself to write has been an issue.
I also gave up my gym membership two years ago and that’s where I wrote each and every blog post. I would order a beer and an appetizer after a workout and get to writing. I miss that space, but am happy to spend more time in my garden and with my chickens.
My “girlfriends” Babe, Arthur, Mabel, Burtha, Mary Kate, Caramel Corn, Dolly and Bee Bee have been a huge blessing in my life. They bring me joy each and every day. I spend time talking to them, feeding them, cuddling them and driving to local grocery stores to pick up fresh greens and almost spoiled fruit and veggies. If the chickens aren’t interested in celery, or peppers, or whatever, I compost it. Nothing gets wasted here. Sometimes the tomatoes or corn are good enough to eat for us. In which case, it becomes a bit of work and a time commitment for me to separate everything, refrigerate it and feed it or compost it, etc… I love to juice celery, turmeric, beets, ginger, carrots, apples, kale and spinach for Ken and me and then give the pulp to the chickens. They basically get to have any leftovers that we can’t eat. Spoiled girls for sure.
Back to Covid. Right now the Delta and Omicron variants are here in the Bay Area. No one knew they were ill on Christmas eve. Maybe they were asymptomatic, but it was a superpreader event like no other. So far, everyone has survived. Everyone was vaccinated. Not all of us were boosted, which means their cases will be more severe.
I listen to podcasts at night when I can’t sleep and one of them is from Vincent Racaniello called MicrobeTV. He is known as the Earth’s Virology Professor and he has guests that chat with him and answer questions. It is very interesting to me. Probably not something I should be listening to in the middle of the night, but whatever. I learn a lot about Covid-19 and what’s going on.
Sometimes I listen to the Live Twitter feed of theCovid-19:Updates for the US. My favorite is listening to Governor Murphy in New Jersey who speaks every Monday or Wednesday about the numbers of deaths, whether schools are open, stories about the people who have passed away, etc… Last year, I listened to Governor Cuomo in New York, but he has since lost his job. I love learning. It’s a passion of mine.
I haven’t baked as much recently. My friend Marie and I got together last October and baked tiramisu together. I have a few recipes that I use and I promised her that I would post the recipe. I know. I’m a little late. Oh well…
Ohh. And I’ve been quilting too. I also attended a 5th birthday party for a special little girl in my life. The BEST day ever. I’ve made marajuana pound cake, apple cake with cannabis leaves which is GREAT for sleep, and cannabis butter from plants I grew last summer. Recipe coming soon.
I attended a Holiday concert with Blackhawk Chorus that my son Andrew and good friend Denise Clark performed in which was a blast.
I spent Christmas day with my 2 boys, my hubby, my older sister Susan and my dad Ron which was unexpected, but so much fun. We made a ham, scalloped potatoes au gratin, and a blueberry pie with a heart shaped crust and Marion Berry ice cream.
Back to the recipe.
You can purchase 30 small Savoiardi cookies instead of making ladyfingers. Or make a Chiffon Cake and use that instead.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 12X16 inch baking tray. Line with Parchment paper and brush again with butter.
In a mixing bowl, whip the egg yolks with ¼ C sugar until ribbon stage and light in color. Reserve. In another mixing bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining ¼ C sugar and continue to whip to medium peaks. Sift the flour again. With a rubber spatula, fold half of the flour mixture into the yolk mixture.. Fold in ½ of the egg whites. Then fold in ½ of the remaining flour mixture. Lastly, fold in the remaining ½ egg white mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, and with an offset spatula, carefully spread the batter evenly. Bake for 12-15 minutes until done and golden in color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. This can be made up to two weeks in advance, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil and stored in the freezer.
6 Egg Yolks
6 Egg Whites
1 C Sugar
¼ C Marsala
¼ C Italian Brandy
2 Lbs mascarpone cheese
2 sheets gelatin or 2 Oz unflavored Knox gelatin
¼ C cold water
2 ½ C Heavy Cream
1 C hot espresso or use 1 T dry espresso powder with water
3 T brown sugar
1 T sugar
1 teas lemon juice
1 teas vanilla extract
¼ C Kahlua
½ C grated Bittersweet chocolate (preferably Guittard or Ghirardelli)
½ C Cocoa Powder Dutch Processed
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Add the Marsala and brandy. Place over a ban marie/double boiler and cook until mixture reaches 160 degrees F. Continue to cook mixture for another 5 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick paste,( called sabayon). Remove from the double boiler and cool mixture over an ice bath or until room temperature. Whip the mascarpone cheese to soft peaks. Fold the cooled sabayon into the mascarpone until well incorporated. Place gelatin sheets in ¼ C cold water. After 5 minutes, pour mixture into a small pot and melt on medium heat. Cool. Fold melted gelatin into mascarpone sabayon mixture. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold egg whites into mascarpone mixture ¼ at a time. Place heavy Cream in a cold bowl and mix until whipped or “chantilly” stage.Fold into sabayon mixture.Mixture should be smooth and light. Use as layers in the tiramisu or as needed. Can be made up to four hours ahead.
Brew fresh espresso. (or go to Peet’s Coffee or Starbucks and buy 1 Cup). To one cup of espresso, add the brown sugar, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Stir until dissolved.
Assembly of Tiramisu:
Divide the sheet of ladyfingers into 2 (8X10Inch) sheets. Divide espresso syrup into 2 portions. Divide the mascarpone cream into 3 portions. To assemble, spread the first portion of the mascarpone cream at the bottom of a deep (8X10-inch) deep dish topped with 1 sheet of ladyfingers. (Or for fun use wine goblets) Pour one portion of espresso syrup on to the layer of ladyfingers until soaked using a brush. Repeat process. Sprinkle grated chocolate and cocoa powder on top of mascarpone. Lastly, top with remaining mascarpone cream, and cover with grated chocolate. Cover pan and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.
Note: If not serving right away, keep in freezer wrapped tight with plastic wrap and foil. (I’ve kept mine in freezer up to 3 months!) When ready to serve, transfer to fridge to defrost or take out of freezer and leave on the counter to defrost.Then top with whipped cream and chopped chocolate and a sprinkling of cocoa powder when serving.
Recipe was developed by combining Sullivan’s Sweets and Savories cookbook, Diablo Valley College’s Pastry Baking class tiramisu recipe, Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa and celebrity Italian chef Mario Batali’s recipe. You can double or triple the recipe to make a large amount to share with friends and family.
I had to stop and take a break to bring treats to my chickens “girlfriends.” Ken stopped by Lunardy’s on his way home from soccer and picked up a box of sprouts, broccoli, butternut squash and seeds, spinach, carrot tops, celery and lettuce. They were thrilled. Brought out the garbages, transferred the laundry to the dryer, texted a few friends, replied to Instagram posts and here I am.
And it goes without saying that we miss my Mother in Law Nilda Smyth who died last October a week before she turned 90. We love you Grandma Nilda.
Happy New Year everyone and hope to be writing again soon.