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.
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.
Spent time in Capitola and Santa Cruz recently with my niece Jasmine. She had time off from work and needed a get away. We all need mental health days and Santa Cruz was just what the doctor ordered. Good thing we are both over 21, since a few of the places we explored required a valid drivers license if we wanted to buy the mind altering drugs which I describe below. In today’s blog I will write about the unique stores that we found in downtown and explain what we learned along the way.
Several years back, I had been to Santa Cruz with my neighborhood book club. Our friend Rachel lived near campus and offered an overnight at her place. In the morning, we ventured into town and ate at one of the local restaurants. I had wanted to explore the area further, but we didn’t have time. So I was happy to make a trip back to the Pacific Avenue strip with Jasmine. Too bad she isn’t talking to me these days.
We started off in Capitola at Gayle’s Bakery where they have every sweet imaginable including Florentine cookies, pavlova’s and German Chocolate Cake. Yum. We spent a couple of hours eating and walking around, when we decided to move on and find this cool neighborhood that I had been to years back. We stopped at a gas station and asked a local. He knew exactly where we wanted to go and after Google map search, we made it there. Side note: My grand parents on my mother’s side Elvina and Bill lived in Santa Cruz when I was a child, so my family would take trips on the weekends and holidays at the Beach and Boardwalk. So fun!
We started off at a small shoe shop since Jasmine’s feet were killing her. I scored some Teva sandals and she found a comfy pair of sneakers. Off we went!
Next we asked about massages at the Tea House Spa, but they didn’t have any appointments available. Might have to make a special trip back just to spend time there to drink herbal tea and get a body treatment.
We walked past Mission Hill Creamery which specialized in local organic ingredients. Salted Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla Bean, Candied Ginger, and Nutty Cookie Monster were just a few of their ice cream flavors. They also served Margarita Sorbet, Strawberry Daiquiri Sorbet, Mango Sorbet, Avocado and Almond Milk and Toasted Almond plus a Blueberry Goat Cheese all perfect for vegans. We had stopped for coffee earlier at Mr. Toots Coffeehouse in Capitola, so we weren’t in the mood for these ice cream treats quite yet.
Glow Candle Lounge came next where we observed two women assembling colorful wax cubes into molds to make candles. This looks like a fun activity when you have all day and can come back later to pick up your candle.
Melo Melo Kava Bar attracted us in with their wall of living ferns and houseplants and plush, bright, modern couches. We had no idea what was going on in there, but it looked interesting enough to take the seats at the bar. One guy was preparing a chocolate drink using Keith’s Cacao 100% Pure Ceremonial Grade Cacao. And chocolate drinks always get my attention. This was serious stuff. They serve sipping chocolate one called Midnight Mystic which is 80% cacao, vanilla bean and himalayan salt, and Global Warrior which is 65% cacao, with maca, turmeric and cardamom. We learned that raw cacao contains more than 300 different chemical compounds and nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate. It is a mind stimulant and a great aphrodisiac. I’m a fan.
This article explains Kava’s non addictive-medicinal South Pacific root and how people are using it to calm their nerves and relieve anxiety instead of using drugs. Kava Kava Root (Piper Methysticum) relaxes the nervous tension, muscle cramps and helps to stabilize moods. It is a mild psychoactive, tastes like earth like you are licking an outside of a potato, and will numb your throat when you drink it.
The employee recommended us trying the Nak-Out 8 oz. drink of kava and to add the Rip Tide to it which is an extra boost of kava. Here was her explanation about Kava.
My niece and I were smart enough to pass on these drinks especially since we still had an hour drive home.
Go Ask Alice was another interesting place to check out. Here we found many medicinal herbs like Chaga, Ginkgo, Mullein, Borage, Calendula, Comfrey, Holy Basil, Lemon Balm, Red Reishi and many more. There was a section of herbs under an Aphrodisiacs sign like Cacao (which we learned at the previous business), Blue Lotus, Cordyceps, Damiana, Kava Kava Root, Maca, Macacao, Muira Puama, Mucunna, Oat straw, Schisandra, Shatavari Root, Tongkat Ali, and Tribulus. Weird stuff, but if it helps people then I’m all for it. They also sold CBD, Kratom and devices to smoke them with. It’s all news to me.
Under the Sleep Aids and Sedatives sign were Ashwagandha, Catnip, Hops, Mugwort, Mulungu, Night Tea, Passionflower, Skullcap, and Valerian Root. I grow Valerian, Borage, Comfrey, Mullein, Lemon Balm and Calendula and many more herbs in my garden, but I haven’t made them into tinctures for health purposes.
Go Ask Alice sold Let’s Thrive a CBD wellness products, Melo Out Man a CBD Milk Chocolate Bar, Honu CBD Chocolate Turtles and CBD Peanut Butter Cups, Kratom Chocolates and Treometry Raw Cacao and Reishi products. These items reminded me of my trip to Portland at Electric Lettuce.
Go Ask Alice had everything from Root Remedies Kava Liquid Chill drops to Rainbow Bliss Botanicals Rooted Tea. Host Defense Primordial Chocolate Bar, Choquiero Chocolate Bars like Spicy Chipotle a 73% with cacao nibs and cayenne pepper or Mayan Rose that included a 75% cacao plus cinnamon and maca root. This place was mind blowing!
There were lots of books on Psychedelic Healing, one on The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants by Christian Ratsch, the Handbook on Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda by Bridgetta Shea, The Honey Prescription by Nathaniel Altman and many more. One could spend all day here and get all the feels that Santa Cruz has to offer.
Jasmine grabbed a couple of cookies from the Pacific Cookie Company. They had so many to choose from including Triple Chocolate, Mint Condition, Coconut Macaroon, Almond Joe, Chocolate Chip with Walnuts, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, Snickerdoodle, Ginger Spice, Peanut Butter and Gluten Free varieties from Mariposa Bakery. The place smelled intoxicating and I wanted one of each, but I had already purchased and eaten a Florentine cookie earlier. I definitely want to make them. All of them looked delicious!
Retro Paradise was a clothing store with lots of colorful and erotic merchandise and reminded me of The Haight in San Francisco. Of course the Pride Parade took place last weekend, so I’m sure many folks bought their outfits from this shop.
There was plenty more to see, but we decided to drive back before it became dark. When I’m not familiar with a new neighborhood, I don’t like to be there into the evening. It looked safe enough, but we needed to get back to the care before our time ran out on our parking meter.
We made it back to San Jose in time for a drink, hot wings and chicken fingers at Smoke Eaters. Fieldwork Blackberry Parfait a Sour Ale, Jackrabbit Afterglow a Brown Ale, Hop Dogma Stout, Anderson Valley Nitro Cerveza Crema, Lagunitas Citrusinensis a Pale Ale, Knee Deep Simtra Triple IPA, Six Rivers Sasquatch Double IPA and many more were sold on draft. Or you could choose from their signature cocktails Rose Martini, Lemon Pie Martini, Black Beauty, Pisco Sour or a Prickly Pear Mez-arita. The bar was fun and lively everyone watching the hockey game hooting and hollering. I drank water since I still had another hour drive back to my house, but Jasmine had a cold pineapple cider. She taught me how to order wings by choosing a sauce like mango habanero, honey sriracha, garlic Parmesan or the extra hot inferno sauce. Eating at Smoke Eaters Restaurant was the perfect ending to our day together.
So if you are looking for an outing a little out of the ordinary, check out Santa Cruz. Whether you visit the far out kava house Melo Melo also located in Berkeley, or bother to stop off at Go Ask Alice for a mood elevator or plant sedative you will not be disappointed. Maybe you are lucky enough to take a friend or loved one with you like I did.
Thanks for spending this time with me and reading my blog. I’m so happy I can share my treks and good eats here and give you ideas for your next vacation or day trip.
Please leave me a comment and share your Capitola and Santa Cruz experiences with me. Next I will be sharing my trip to San Francisco with my son Andrew and also share a fun beer crawl in Walnut Creek with my son Curtis. Someone has to have some fun, so it may as well be me.
Here is my famous Carrot Cake Recipe for you all to enjoy.
Fabulous Carrot Cake
2 C. Granulated Sugar
1 C. Canola Oil (Vegetable or Grapeseed ok)
Zest 1 Orange (Blend with the sugar in food processor)
1 teas Pure Vanilla Bean Paste
2 1.2 C. Unbleached All Purpose Flour (Can substitute flax seed, freshly milled bulgur, wheat bran)
2 teas Baking Powder
1 teas ground Cinnamon
1 teas ground Ginger
¼ t ground Cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 teas Baking Soda
½ teas Maldon Salt (kosher ok)
3 ½ C Grated Carrots (can substitute zucchini)
1 Grated Apple
3/4 C Chopped Toasted Walnuts (or pecans)
¼ C. Chopped Crystallized Ginger (Found at Trader Joes) Or 1 T freshly chopped ginger
½ C Flaked or Shredded Coconut(Can be toasted first)
½ C Dried Cranberries, Raisins or Currants (steep in warm brandy before adding)
Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz Pkg cream cheese softened
½ Cube Butter Softened
1 teas Vanilla Bean Paste
1.5 C Powdered Sugar sifted (Can use less)
1 T Heavy Cream
Premier Pastry Pride (A Non Dairy whipped cream found at Smart n Final)
Directions for Cake:
Preheat Oven to 350 degrees
Grease 8 ½ X 12 ½ Bundt Pan with shortening then dust with flour
Or Make 2 dozen cupcakes using muffin pans and use paper or foil liners. I like CupBakes brand which are grease resistant and found in restaurant supply stores.
In a large bowl, cream together Sugar, Oil, Eggs, Orange zest and Vanilla until combined. I use my Kitchen Aid Mixer.
In a separate medium size bowl sift together all dry ingredients flour, spices, baking soda, salt, baking powder until combined.
Using a Cuisinart, grate carrots and apple. I swear by this piece of equipment and use it every day when cooking and baking.
Chop walnuts and set aside.
Starting with the dry ingredients, alternately add dry flour mixture to wet sugar, oil and egg mixture while mixer is on low. Then add some grated carrot/apple to mixer and blend. Keep adding more dry, then more carrot/apple until all ingredients are in the mixer ending with flour.
Remove bowl from Kitchen Aid, and fold in remaining ingredients: Crystallized ginger, coconut, cranberries (rehydrated with brandy) and walnuts.
Pour carrot cake mixture into prepared bundt pan or lined muffin pans. If using a Bundt pan, bake for 45-60 minutes. Cupcakes will only take 15-17 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean.
Frost with cream cheese frosting when cake has completely cooled.
Directions for Cream Cheese Frosting:
Place softened room temperature cream cheese, butter in a mixer and blend until smooth. Add vanilla and powdered sugar slowly while mixture is running adding heavy cream to get the right consistency.
Last and final note. I give credit to the original recipe to Lorraine Andrew’s who is the mother of my previous coworker Cynthia. I worked with her at Dr Hunter’s office over 20 years ago. I’ve added a few extra ingredients to make it my own and love spoiling my family with this cake on special occasions.
Until next time.
Here is the link to the white cake with strawberry jam and whipped cream frosting cake I made for Mom’s 80th.
Spent the day with my niece Marie at one of my favorite places, Healdsburg, California. Today’s blog will be all about our fun day exploring, eating good food, drinking great wine, munching on chocolate treats and buying tea. After all, an aunt’s job is to spoil people on their birthday, right? And I will be spoiling you too by sharing my buttermilk chive biscuit recipe at the end of this blog.
To start things off right, we began our day by being introduced to Russian River Flowers just a few blocks from town. We learned that they provided flowers for the restaurant The Shed, which went out of business and only has a pop up store next door now. The flower arrangements on display were beautiful and provided me with a lot of inspiration. Gardening is a passion of mine and I spend a lot of time growing perennials and annuals so I can make my own gifts for family and friends. Russian River Flowers store can be rented for special occasions as well. So clever! Marie and I enjoyed our time there, but were happy to move on to Banshee Wines.
My niece Marie and me celebrating her birthday in Healdsburg
Marie was drawn to Banshee because there was a bar in Chico with the same name and she spent four happy years studying communications there. She enjoyed their Fog Line tasting menu which included a 2016 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, and 2017 Pinot Noir, Grenache and a Russian River Cabernet Franc. They spoiled her with more tastings because she works at Wente Winery in Marketing. We thought the service could have been better since we waited for a bit to be acknowledged, but had a nice experience at their cozy location.
Next we were ready for lunch and opted for a burger and glasses of red wine at Journeyman Meat Company. They had salumi, cheeses, sandwiches, pizza and more, but this combination was perfect after an hour and a half long car ride.
Of course we had to stop for chocolate and tea at the Russian River Tea Company. I made sure I purchased some apricot tea for my mom for Mother’s Day, her favorite! They had confections like toffee and peanut butter cups from Healdsburg Toffee Company, Volo Chocolate Bars and teas of every kind. I make toffee candy every holiday and have for years in case you are interested in a good recipe.
My niece Marie tasting chocolate at Russian River Tea
Next up, was JCB Tasting Salon. I was surprised to find this gem in Healdsburg, since I’ve written about JCB in Yountville. This place is extraordinary and not to be missed. We were taken back by the hospitality and attention not to mention their relaxing comfortable velvet booths they seat you in. Marie was swimming in sparkling flights and we had a great conversation.
Lingering around in Healdsburg for hours is not a problem when you can find a reservation open at Valette. We were trying to get a table at Single Thread Farm Restaurant, but one needs to plan in advance for that occasion. Someday, I will make it back there and maybe stay in one of their executive suites at their Inn. I’m dreaming I know.
Marie with her birthday Snickers dessert at #Vallete Restaurant
Stunning full bar at Valette in Healdsburg
Valette was just as fancy serving Marie a special birthday cocktail and a nice pasta dish for her hungry appetite. Next time I want to try the Chef Vallete’s “Trust me” Tasting Menu offering up to $15.00 per course and ordering a minimum of five courses which sounds interesting. Lastly, they surprised her with a “It’s Not a Snickers Bar” dessert made with cocoa nib tuile, peanut powder and Volo dark chocolate ganache. Bob Valette the owner even stopped by to join us for a brief chat.
Overall, I can’t imagine our day being any better during our visit to Healdsburg. And to think this was a spontaneous get together because we were thinking of each other at the same time! So if you happen to think of one of your relatives, give them a call and you could make an impromptu road trip like we did. It’s as easy as one, two tea!
Me at journeyman Meats
Thanks again for reading my blog and subscribing so you get to read about my travels. Lots of good food places and wineries to choose from any day of the week.
Here’s a Buttermilk Chive Recipe that is to die for.
Buttermilk Chive Biscuits
Buttermilk chive biscuits served along side country gravy and fried chicken
2 C. Unsifted Unbleached All Purpose Flour
2 ½ teas Baking Powder
½ teas Kosher Salt
½ teas Baking Soda
⅓ C cold Unsalted Butter Grated
¾ C Buttermilk or sour Milk (add 2 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice to Milk)
2 T Chopped Fresh Chives
Extra 3 T melted butter for brushing on biscuits
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sift flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Cut in the grated cold butter and chives until mixed well being careful to not over mix.
Stir in the buttermilk with a fork and pour onto plastic wrap or parchment paper and form a ball. Put plastic wrap on top of ball. Use a rolling pin to flatten out disk. Then lift plastic wrap and fold dough onto itself a few times creating layers in the dough flattening out with rolling pin.
Roll out to ½ inch thickness. Using a round cutter, or a glass cut out small rounds and place in a pie dish with melted butter. Brush each biscuit with more melted butter. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until brown.
I cut them in half and spread them with more butter and some of my home madeapricot jam.
My buttermilk chive biscuits w butter and apricot jam
Happy Father’s Day to you and I hope you are celebrating the great men in your life this weekend.
Décor at the Ace Hotel Portland Oregon next to Stumptown Coffee
Spent the week in Portland researching Chocolate Shops recently. Out gracious concierge at The Nines Hotel gave me some great places to check out while my husband was at work. Today’s blog will focus on the chocolatiest hot spots in Portland including Creo Chocolate, Woodblock Chocolate, and Cloud Forest Chocolates.
To be truthful, I actually spent the morning at Stumptown Coffee writing my last blog because it was one of the only places open early. This cool place had Ace Hotel in an adjoining room that guests could drink their latte’s and read the news or work on their computer. Since I had to drive my husband to work by 8AM, I needed a place to hang out before venturing out into the city. This was the perfect place to write and enjoy my two shots of espresso and steamed milk. Delicious. My usual preferred method of blogging consists of a happy hour where I order a Shock Top Beer with fresh orange and an appetizer. The words start flowing and my fingers start typing.
Creo Chocolate is a family owned and operated bean to bar factory with internationally award winning hand crafted chocolate. Their beans are sourced from the Los Rios region of Ecuador and they use 2 main ingredients: cacao beans and evaporated cane juice. They offer Twicks Bars (yes that’s what I said) made from milk chocolate, shortbread and caramel. I had to have one and it was decadent. The Batch Bar looked equally delicious make with dark chocolate, coconut almond praline and caramel. I saw truffles galore made by their chocolatier Jeremy Karp who makes many chocolates with fun names like Vietnamese iced coffee, Dark chocolate meltaway, Coconut almond delight, Spicy passion, Garden mint, Yuzu gimlet, Earl grey, Raspberry dark, Dulce de leche, Hazelnut crunch and try my favorite Raspberry dark chocolate. I wish I had bought one of each! They sold malt balls, Cacao Seasoning Rub, Hazelnut Chocolate Spread, and have a variety of sipping chocolate mixes like Mayan Spice, and Mint, Midnight Truffle. And of course they had chocolate bars like 62% Dark Orange, Dark Raspberry, 73% Dark Toasted Coconut which I had to have, 64% Oreo Crunch, a Dark Milk and a Coffee and Cream bar Yum. Honestly, chocolate is almost a spiritual experience. I know how much work goes into growing, harvesting, fermenting, packaging and preparing each and every sustainable bar.
Minty sipping Chocolate at Creo Chocolate in Portland Oregon
I decided to try their mint sipping chocolate drink served with a side of seltzer water and whipped cream. It was exquisite! I savored every drop. One of my hiking friends Sharon drinks a hot chocolate every day at Peet’s Coffee to get in her calcium for the day. I think she would approve of Creo’s sipping hot Chocolate.
Creo had a chocolate tour happening while I was there which would have been fun, but I had places to go and people to see. I did enjoy reading Food Lover’s Guide to Portland by Liz Crain while drinking my cocoa drink. I even read about Hood River Oregon which I had been to the day before. Also purchased a few chocolate bars to take homelike their Toasted Coconut and Dark Chocolate Mint.
Next up was WoodBlock Chocolate. Can I mention that there are samples everywhere? Yes. If you are in the mood to taste chocolate, this is your kind of place. This place sold chocolate covered hazelnuts, 70% dark chocolate bunnies, gianduja which has a hazelnut flavor, a 60% dark milk chocolate made with Peruvian cacao that tastes like caramel, and much, much more.
#Guittard #Woodblock Callebaut #Creo #chocolate sampling at Garden Club Party
It was here that I got inspired to have a chocolate tasting party for my garden club. After all, WoodBlock offers effleurage. (The process that uses solid fats to capture fragrance exuded by flowers, exotic spices and botanicals) The tasting involves chocolate that has been flavored with coffee beans, herbs, teas and flowers like hibiscus. This party was held last Wednesday and everyone that attended had a good time. We tasted chocolate with hops, hibiscus tea, masala chai tea, peppermint and coffee. It was so much fun. I was hoping more garden club members would have sampled the Petrus Cherry and Chocolate Stout Beer and Boatswain Chocolate Stout Beer with the dark chocolate samples together, but only one of the ladies imbibed. It was a warm evening and we sat outside on the patio, the perfect place for a cold beer and chocolate tasting. A few years ago I hosted an edible flower class with cocktails. That was fun too.
Decidedly my favorite chocolate bar ever made by Creo Chocolate
I was introduced to a beer called Gigantic which is a chocolate IPA made with Wood Block Chocolate. They call it “The Weapon of Mass Seduction” and It’s a chocolate oatmeal oyster stout. What will they think of next? They offer Stumptown Coffee called Hair Bender, or the direct trade House Blend which would be my go to if I hadn’t already sampled and sipped more chocolate than I needed to.
I tried Woodblock’s chocolate caramel with sea salt which was chewy and mouth watering and walked away from the coffee milk chocolate truffle with cacao nibs. The most interesting part of my day here was meeting their pastry chef. I learned she was incorporating chocolate into their biscuits. They had already run out f them or I would have ordered one. This sounded intriguing since I had just been to Pine State Biscuits a few hours earlier for a hot biscuit with whipped butter and Marion berry spread. They also have apple butter, strawberry jam, Bee Local Honey and house pimento. We need a place like this where I live, that’s for sure. Here is my blog and recipe for apricot jam.
My last stop, but not the least was venturing over to Cloud Forest Chocolate. I got to hear the scoop about Sebastian Cisneros the owner and his story behind the Ecuadorian cacao and his obsession with chocolate. I sampled the Bee Chocolate Bar made with bee pollen from Oregon’s Bee Local and Jacobsen Salt also located in Portland. It’s made with organic cacao butter, organic milk solids, organic cane sugar, bee pollen, organic cacao beans, vanilla seeds and sea salt. The look is this bright yellow color with dark brown stripes running through it. Very cool looking and super tasty. Unlike any other chocolate you have had before.
I was intrigued by their Holy Wood Bar made with a dark chocolate from the Bolivian Amazon and infused with an aromatic Palo Santo wood found in Ecuador.
Google says ” Palo Santo is a mystical tree that grows on the coast of South America and is related to Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. In Spanish, the name literally means “Holy Wood”. It is part of the citrus family and has sweet notes of pine, mint and lemon. I had to try the sample of course and take one home for later. There were several other bars to choose from including one made with sesame seeds and matcha.
Cloud Forest serves a maple drinking chocolate, a classic hot chocolate with Ecuadorian cacao (see a theme here?), a seasonal magnolia and pistachio marshmallow hot chocolate, aqua de cacao (a water based unsweetened chocolate drink served with Old Blue Honey), Snow Honey Chrysanthemum tea from China, Mulberry tea from Thailand, plus more and all the coffee lattes a girl could want. I think they were coming up with bigger ideas in the coming months to offer classes to the public.
“Craque” is Cloud Forest’s candied cacao and used to sprinkle on desserts and ice cream. I might try to duplicate this treat since I bought cacao nibs from WoodBlock. I purchased the vanilla seeds instead and a few chocolate bars for family. Their chewy caramel with cacao nibs was unforgettable, something I will consider making at home as well.
Did you know that Google gives a thumbs up to bloggers who have subscribers who read all the way to the very end of the post? It’s true. So thank you for being a loyal reader and following me. It means a lot.
Do you have a favorite chocolate company? Have you been on any tours or taken any chocolate classes? Well, after my trip to Portland, I’m even more obsessed with chocolate. It’s my go to snack when I need a pick me up in the middle of the day. Good thing I have a chocolate stash which I consume on a daily basis. And I’m not embarrassed to admit that I never leave the house with out some chocolate in my purse.
Thanks again for supporting me and my love for food blogging. Hope to see you next time when I explore Cannabis and how Blue Star Donuts is taking the plain breakfast treat the next level.
Spent the day in Yountville and Napa with my friend Ana bike riding and eating at some of my favorite restaurants. The rain in Northern California has been non stop, but we had a break in the weather that day and biked until our hearts were content. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at Bistro don Giovanni, dessert and beverages at Auberge du Soleil, then a quick stop at the Cia Copia and OxBow Public Market to complete the perfect day.
Ana and I were originally going to ride bikes to Danville for lunch at SideBoard a neighborhood cafe. When I heard they closed, I shifted our bike ride to the Napa Valley so I could check out Farmstead Restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena.
We set out North on our bikes after parking in the town of Yountville. We brought our own bikes even though you can easily rent them. I stopped to ask for directions at a bed and breakfast in town and the clerk Googled and even printed me a map towards our destination.
Unfortunately, after several attempts and ending up off the beaten path on to rocky surfaces, we decided to ride South towards Napa instead on the designated Napa Valley Vine Trail. It was refreshing to finally be on a flat safe surface in a clear direction.
We had been riding for over an hour and a half and we needed food in our bellies. Luckily, Bistro Don Giovanni was nearby, so we rode our bikes there. Well, not directly there, since I thought we could sneak in through a vineyard. That wasn’t going to happen since there were barbed wires surrounding the property. Through the mud we rode, until we finally found a newer property that had a paved road. Phew! Boy were we glad to see that.
Eventually we drove through a quaint older Napa neighborhood and onto Hwy 29 for a block to get to the restaurant. Ana and I were fortunate that they still had an available table to seat us. The food was exceptional as usual. We shared their short rib, cipollini onion, asparagus pappardelle special and fried calamari with green beans, fennel and onions. So tasty. Ana had a Merlot from Whitehall to drink and I ordered a Cabernet from Frank Vineyards. Food always tastes better after a long bike ride and Ana had never had fresh pasta from California before. Here’s a Chef’s Salad Recipe I made.
Obviously, we took a shortcut back to the bike path on the way back to Yountville, but had a good laugh about our earlier excursion through the vineyards.
Next was a quick ride through the small town since we weren’t quite ready to abandon the bikes. We saw the brand spanking new Villagio Hotel conference/wedding venue which is spacious and gorgeous. Atelier Fine Foods was catering a Yountville Chamber of Commerce networking mixer at JCB Salon Prive’ with focaccia and a huge platter of cheese, olives, charcuterie and of course wine. We didn’t stick around long enough to imbibe.
Outstanding cheese and charcuterie platter on its way to a Yountville Chamber of Commerce Mixer. I want to be a member !
Back to the car with the bikes we went, and headed for our Farmstead Restaurant. The only problem I have with taking friends to Napa is getting side tracked by all of the other phenomenal choices to experience. This time I stopped at Auberge du Soleil off the Silverado trail which is a part of Relais & Chateaux. This property sits high on a hill and looks over the Napa Valley. The view is spectacular and the restaurant is Michelin rated.
Anna and me standing in the entry way to Auburge du Soleil
Since we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on food, we took a seat at the bar. They have a wide selection of fancy cocktails, beer on tap, and wines of course, but we ordered the non-alcoholic Ipanema: A refreshing drink consisting of ginger ale, fresh muddled lime and sugar. Since we weren’t hungry, we settled on their famous Auberge Torte au Chocolat : A hazelnut dacquoise (a fancy name for a almond hazelnut and meringue cake), gianduja mousse and vanilla gelato. I’m pretty sure it was the BEST dessert I’ve ever had. The good news is they sell them and will ship this chocolatey decadence all over the world. And one piece cost $17.00 which we shared, but it was worth every penny. Pastry chef Paul Lemieux has a lot to be proud of and I will happily follow him on Instagram.
The mouthwatering chocolate hazelnut cake at Auberge du Soleil
Feeling generous, Ana bought 9 of their freshly made cookies so we could bring my Mother and Step Father some goodies. I have to say, the oatmeal cherry were my favorite, but the peanut butter and chocolate chip ones were delicious too. Yes, we ate most of them before we got to the car!
Losing our appetite for Farmstead, we headed home. Again I took a detour and stopped at the Culinary Institute of America Napa. I took Ana upstairs to the cooking school where there was a class that was assembling dumplings.We also walked through the fascinating Chuck Williams Culinary Art Exhibit featuring over 4000 artifacts of specialty cookware used by great chefs in Europe.
Delicious pastries at Frankfurt Airport. I bet OxBow has similar goodies to indulge in.
Next to the Cia Copia is OxBow Public Market where there is practically every kind of food and drink available to consume. We walked around Whole Spice Company, Napa Valley Distillery, Fieldwork Brewery, Annette’s Chocolates and many more foodie destinations. At least Ana will know where to go when she entertains her out of town guests in a few weeks.
Let’s just say, Napa Valley has captured my heart. I’m never disappointed by the hospitality and generosity they offer their tourists and people like me. Sometimes the wine country is calling me and I have to escape the Bay Area. Is it calling you? You will come back feeling rejuvenated from all of the good food, great wine and clean country like charm it offers. Can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time I will actually make it to Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.
If you enjoyed my blog, please share on Facebook, Twitter or email a friend. Maybe they will be ready for a change of pace and join you for a special day in the Napa Valley Wine Country.
Our family celebrated my son Curtis’ 34th birthday in the Berkeley Oakland area last month and we had a ton of fun. We ate and drank at Limewood, Mad Oak Bar, and at Mua Restaurant all evening long and truly enjoyed spending time together. It’s rare my husband and I get to take our boys Curtis and Andrew 27 out on a Friday night, so we took advantage of the opportunity. I’m hoping today’s blog will inspire you to check out Oakland and all it has to offer. Plus I will include my recipe for my home made Blackberry Pie.
Our Hansome men Curtis and Andrew out celebrating Curtis’ 34th birthday at Limewood Bar Claremont Hotel Berkeley
I always do a ton of research before exploring a new area, yet trying to make reservations online isn’t my cup of tea. I never want to box myself into a time in case our plans change last minute. That’s why we started off at the Claremont Hotel and their Limewood Bar. Also Curtis didn’t wanted to miss the Warriors game, so we were happy we could keep track of the score while eating dinner.
The Claremont is a special place because my husband and I stayed there on our wedding night over 29 years ago. It is a gorgeous historic place and I knew my boys would love experiencing the food and nightlife there.
My husband Ken was our designated driver so Curtis, and Andrew and I could enjoy ourselves and imbibe in fancy libations, but we first had to eat. We ordered the crispy Brussel sprouts made with fish sauce caramel, peanuts and cilantro, olives, ahi tuna with potato chips, the roasted chicken and lentils and their braised beef cheek in tagliatelle. The food was presented nicely and everything was delicious.
Me and my number one son Curtis at Mua Restaurant checking out the art. My dad named him Montana since he was born on superbowl sunday 1985.
Andrew ordered a Guinness beer, Curtis had a cocktail and I had a glass of Cabernet. We asked the bartender where he suggested we go next and he recommended the Penthouse Bar Mad Oak. This place was very hip and popular. They had a rooftop bar that was packed with a fun crowd. They also had the Warriors basketball game showing on a large wall. We found a spot to sit at the roof top bar and enjoyed our drinks. Curtis had the vodka cocktail that was on special, while Andrew and I stuck with our beer and wine. We weren’t hungry yet, so we sat and talked and enjoyed the clear night and open air bar.
Next we went to Mua Restaurant not far from the last stop. We were lucky to find parking close by and an available table. We ordered more drinks, guacamole and chips, the half pound burger with fries, the “Mac n Cheese” made with butternut squash and cream and who knows what else. The night is a blurr and I can hardly remember much else. All I know is that we didn’t get home until 1:30 AM after dropping off our boys.
Cool art at Mua Restaurant
Mad Oak roof top Bar in Oakland
Mad Oak roof top Bar in Oakland
I can’t remember the last time we partied like this with our kids. It doesn’t happen on a regular basis, but we are excited to spend time with them, especially around their birthdays. I highly recommend spending the evening in Oakland and checking out the Limewood Restaurant and Bar, the Mad Oak Bar and Mua Restaurant.
Next you will find my favorite Blackberry Pie recipe. It’s the perfect dessert to go with your Valentine’s day dinner. It’s my husband’s favorite pie, so I had to have my friends over today and show them how to make it. We had a blast and you will too.
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Blackberry Filling for Pie
6 Cups of Frozen Blackberries (3 bags of O Organics from Safeway or fresh if in season)
1 Cup granulated sugar
Juice and zest of 1 orange
½ t grated nutmeg
Pinch of Maldon Salt Flakes
¼ C Hanson’s Sonoma Organic Vodka Mandarin Flavored
2 T Cornstarch
3 T Tapioca Flour
3 T Unsalted Butter cut into chunks
1 whisked whole egg (used to brush on top of pastry)
1 T granulated sugar
1 T demerara sugar
Pour 6 Cups of blackberries into a heavy medium sized pot. Add sugar, nutmeg, orange juice and zest and salt and cook until bubbly.
Mix mandarin vodka and cornstarch in a small bowl and add to the pot of boiling blackberries. Cool.
This is Nancy’s blackberry pie. She chose to use fresh blackberries and bake them without cooking first. Looks so pretty
After mixture is cooled and pastry is rolled out and placed into pie dish, mix 3 T of Tapioca Flour into blackberries and pour into pastry lined pie dish. Dot with chunks of butter. Top with remaining rolled out pastry, crimp sides with your thumb and pointed finger to make a nice edge. Cut out a tiny whoel (I made a heart shape) in center of pie.
Brush with egg and sprinkle with both sugars.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place filled blackberry pie onto a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour or so until crust is golden brown.
Let pie cool completely so that blackberries have time to gell and set. This is the hardest part. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.
Started off the Holiday season right this year with a trip to Napa on Thanksgiving day with my husband and our boys. We avoided the much dreaded week in the kitchen prepping, brining and baking. This day instead would be a day to remember for holidays to come leaving no messy kitchens behind.
My two boys Andrew and Curtis
It all started because I missed my boys. Curtis will be 34 in January and Andrew just turned 26. They don’t live at home anymore, so finding a day where we could all be together was key. And spending the day with them and my husband was just what I needed. They were excited about the idea and my husband was willing to be the designated driver, so we were good to go.
There was something seductive about running out to the wine country and avoiding the obligatory family get together. After all, we’ve only ever done this one other time about 11 years ago where we escaped to San Francisco for the day. Curtis attended Sonoma State at the time, and it seemed easier to pick him up from school and take him out for the day. We had a grand time at O’Reilly’s Holy Grail restaurant which has since closed its doors, unfortunately.
Our trip to Napa was even more exciting since we had never been to any of these hotels, restaurants, or bars. My husband forwarded me an email the week before about places that were open for business on Thanksgiving day. So I had a tentative plan in mind which we adhered to throughout the day.
Curtis’ Bloody Mary
We started off at the Meritage Resort and Spa grabbing a cocktail and a bite to eat at Crush Lounge. Curtis had a bloody mary (after all, it was only 11AM), I had a cosmo and Andrew enjoyed an aged scotch. We snacked on calamari, fish tacos and a burger and fries before engaging in a friendly game of bowling. Yes. You can believe it. It was hilarious seeing my kids and husband throw the ball down the lane after a drinkypoo. We settled on a Star Wars theme, all of us choosing a character. I was C3po, my son Curtis Luke Skywalker, Andrew- Chewy, and Ken Han Solo. We ended the game early because I was doing better than everyone. And let’s face it, you only have fun bowling when you are winning.
Next stop was BANK Cafe and Bar at the Westin Verasa Napa. They were serving a fabulous meal for $85.00 per person at the La Toque Restaurant, but we weren’t ready for a huge sit down meal. We were just getting started… The bar offered small bites to share and just about anything else you would want from a full bar, but we settled on a licorice flavored sambuca liquor w a coffee bean for me, a Mr Goldsmith #2 cocktail for Curtis which involved Blue Ice Vodka, sage honey syrup, St. George Pear Liqueur, and lemon, and a glass of Cabernet by Faust Napa Valley for Andrew. Barely hungry, we ordered the hand chopped steak tartare with maldon salt on crostini. The flowers in the lobby were stunningly beautiful and I couldn’t help not taking a short video of them.
My son Andrew and me in front of Archer Hotel Napa
Onward and upwards to the Archer Hotel and Charlie Palmer’s Restaurant Steak Lounge, but first taking an elevator to the Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar. It was closed because of the holiday and rainy weather, but definitely worth checking out in the future. The atmosphere was hopping and the bartender gave us the royal treatment. I sat this one out, not needing another beverage, but the boys ordered cocktails. Curtis had the Napa 75 which was made with Hangar One Vodka, yuzuri, lemon verbena, and louis pommery while Andrew was made something special with whiskey, I can’t remember what. All I remember is that it had a foamy egg white thing on top and cute hearts adorning the top of the drink. I also learned how these bartenders taste each cocktail before giving to the customer. They use a straw to dip in the drink and take a taste to see if it is “just right.” Brilliant!
Fabulous cocktails at Charlie Palmer’s Steak Lounge in Archer Hotel
Napkins Bar and Grill was where we ended up for our Thanksgiving meal. This restaurant was just down the street from the last bar, in fact we could have walked. But free parking was available along the street so we took advantage of that. Curtis ordered the signature citrus habanero wings and a cocktail with fig as a garnish. I forgot to make a note of this one, but who really cares at this point? I was craving guacamole and chips, Ken had the smoked pork chop, and Andrew ate the Loaded Niman Ranch Burger with crispy onions. The place was lively and colorful and we were feeling good.
Lastly we read that Alba was going to have live music, so we voted to go to one last bar before heading back to the East Bay. We drove to the River Terrace Inn and sat at the bar. I honestly didn’t catch what the boys ordered, but I tried Crispin Hard Cider for the first time. It was cold and light, a perfect ending to my day in Napa. The live music was just “okay”, but we were happy to stay out and celebrate together just a little longer.
The four of us Smyth’s at the Meritage Resort
I can genuinely say that skipping out on the traditional family Thanksgiving was fun and adventurous. The four of us were able to connect on many levels, which wouldn’t have happened if we had stuck to the original plan of going to my sister’s with 15 other family members. There is something seriously attractive about spoiling your kids on a holiday like Thanksgiving. They wouldn’t mind me saying that they felt special and appreciated. Who could ask for more? Isn’t that what we are all looking for? Unconditional love and acceptance especially while sipping cocktails is what the holidays are all about.
And we still made it for dessert at my sister’s after all. We celebrated in the best way and were able to mingle with the folks and cousins while enjoying a Sara Lee frozen cherry cheesecake. Yep. That’s the dessert I contributed to the meal this year. It wasn’t all that bad either. Best of all, I came home to a clean kitchen. There’s something to be said for that.
Happy Holiday’s from my home to yours. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box next year and ditch the relatives for a change. It’s a fun gig once every 10 or 11 years and your kids will thank you.
Lastly, I served corned beef to my book club friends last week and they loved it so much that they asked for my recipe. I first made this dish when I was 21 years old. My grandmother Leone and I were shopping at the grocery store and when I chose a flank steak, she advised me I had the wrong piece of meat if I wanted to make corned beef. Luckily, she helped me pick out the correct package of meat. That day, we prepared that dish together and it was a huge success. My love of corned beef has grown ever since and I always think of my grandmother when making it.
My recipe has evolved over the years, as I have become a better cook. Here’s my latest recipe:
Roasted brussel sprouts and zucchini, roasted cauliflower, corned beef, roasted mushrooms and butternut squash, and mashed potatoes
Steamed cabbage, corned beef with mustard clove glaze and veggies
Best Corned Beef
2 carrots peeled and left whole
2 stalks of celery and left whole
I white or yellow onion peeled and sliced in half
½ C fresh fennel
3 whole garlic cloves
½ t dried chili pepper
1 T fresh oregano leaves and stems
1 T fresh parsley leaves and stems
3 bay leaf
⅓ C pickling spice (plus packet from corned beef)
6 whole black peppercorns
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 small can Coke Zero
1 t worcestershire sauce
1 T mushroom dark soy sauce (found in Asian sect)
1 can or bottle of Stella beer or Guinness works well
2 C. Chicken Stock
11/2 C water
Mustard Brown Sugar Glaze
1 teas dry ground cloves
Put all ingredients except Glaze ingredients into a crock pot. Add package of corned beef with pickling spice packet. Put on high for 6 hours.
Right before company arrives, remove corned beef from crock pot and place in an oven safe dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Strain the liquid into another large pot and toss out the cooked vegetables. Put the quartered cabbage into the pot and boil until soft. Remove cooked cabbage and serve along side corned beef. I also make mashed potatoes instead of the boring plain boiled ones. I roast carrots, zuchinni, cauliflower and cremini mushrooms and serve as side dishes.
Corned Beef Glaze
Mix ½ C Dijon Mustard or regular yellow mustard, 3 T Brown Sugar, and 1 teas ground cloves in a small dish. Coat top of corned beef with sauce and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes.
Or if you don’t have a crock pot, use a heavy stock pot Dutch Oven like Le Crueset, use this instead of crock pot. Bring to a boil on the stove, then bake at 325 degrees for 6 hours. Continue with topping instructions above.
If you enjoyed this blog, please comment below on somewhere you would like to visit. I’m needing a few good ideas for my upcoming adventures. Do you have a favorite get away vacation you would like to share with the readers? Please feel free to leave a comment.
And once again, thank you for taking the time to stay with me through my travels.