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Category Archives: Dessert

A Day in the life of a Food Blogger in Calistoga

A Day in the life of a Food Blogger in Calistoga

Being a food blogger and travel writer is fun and rewarding, but it also comes with a great responsibility. I feel obligated to share all the places I’ve explored, so you the reader, can feel like you have been there. I like to “shout out” the businesses that treat me well, because not everybody is treated with respect. I will share last Friday’s excursion to the wine country, and hopefully give you the inspiration to make a trip there yourself.

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Bar necessities at Solage Resort in Calistoga

Last week my friends Luann and Sandra came along with me to see the sights and visit the businesses along the Silverado Trail. We left around 10AM after I picked up my friends in the neighborhood. I always give options to stop at bakeries and coffee shops along the way. These girls wanted to go straight for the Napa Wine. 

Luann and Sandra in front of Silverado Resorts Market and Bakery

I ventured off HWY 29 and took the Napa/Lake Berryessa  exit, so we could begin our adventure along the Silverado Trail. In case you aren’t familiar with this area, it is an oasis of wineries splashed through everywhere you look. You can’t close your eyes and sneeze, or you might miss one. Lucky us, I saw a sign for Silverado Resort and I went directly there. What a piece of paradise we stumbled upon! They had a spa, (which I could have really taken advantage of), a golf course, tennis courts, a grill, an outdoor patio next to a cute market called Silverado Market and Bakery that sold fresh sandwiches, pastries, coffees, cold drinks, wine and beer. I never leave the house when I visit the wine country without a cold bottle in an ice bucket of pinot grigio, glasses, tablecloth and napkins. Always ready for a picnic if the opportunity arises. 

So I purchased a sesame seed bagel filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese and chose a passion fruit mousse pastry with mango and kiwi for us to share. I walked back to the care for the wine, glasses and napkins and we set up a nice little brunch to get our day started. It was perfect. Of course, we could have chosen a hot pizza from their outdoor pizza oven, or even gone to their grill which would have been okay as well. We relaxed, got caught up on great conversation, and had a delicious snack.

Next we encountered William Hill Estate and Winery. We walked up to their grounds and were immediately greeted and offered a splash of their prize winning white chardonnay. I gave my taste to Luann and Sandra since I was driving. They didn’t have time to seat us, or show us around, but we were told we could walk the grounds and look around. This place is so pretty, you feel like you are in heaven. There are flowers everywhere, lounge chairs looking over the fields of grapes, fields of yellow mustard, cool barrel rooms loaded with precious wine, a gorgeous conference room for private tastings and more. 

After taking a few photos at the last place we came across Reynolds Family Winery. Cameron Reynolds showed us around and offered to give us a tasting for $70.00 where we could lounge in their covered patio overlooking the pond. We decided against the outrageous prices, but walked around and enjoyed the art inside, drooled over their lavender bushes, took in the vibe of the cool leather couches, fresh flowers and jazz music,  and spied on the gorgeous spring bouquets of fresh flowers that were awaiting the next day’s members only grand opening outside. These laces are really a site to see. Sandra purchased a candle, and we were off to the next destination.

Sandra and Luann at Black Stallion Winery in Napa
Beautiful extraordinary succulents adorning an outdoor bar
Indoors at Black Stallion Winery. Limited hours because of Covid

Black Stallion Estate Winery was HUGE, with a large statue of a black horse on a water feature in the circular driveway. There were arches covered in white wisteria, cool water fountains and gardens of their Cabernet Sauvignon nearby. Sally Holmes roses were blooming and their granite rock studded fireplace adorned with a vase of pussy willows inside was spectacular. The staff wasn’t overly friendly and they weren’t open to the public yet for tastings, but I was able to purchase a cold bottle of their 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley to share with my friends at lunch.

Black Stallion Winery

We had about an hour before our lunch reservation, so we took a side road and drove into Bann Inn at Oak Knoll. This place was something to take note of if you want to stay in the Napa Valley. They were providing lunch to guests in the gardens, but stopped to show us around a little. We didn’t stay long, only long enough to get a few photos and business cards so we can go back. Their fresh flowers of white roses, pink and white lilies, and blue hydrangeas placed carefully in gold lined dishes were stunning. I think I need to steal that idea. It’s style is that of San Francisco Chef Lalita Souksamlane. The décor of Traditional Design and shows off how luxurious Thailand can be.  Quite the show stopper of a Bed and Breakfast.

Next up, yes, there’s more, we ventured into Clos du Val which happened to be my favorite place so far. This winery was spectacular through and through. Everything about it said “classy”. The young man offered my friends a taste of their Gran Val Carneros, Napa Valley 2018 Estate Chardonnay. He had on a dragon shirt which reminded me of when my 8th grade son Curtis had to have a dragon shirt to wear to a dance. I think someone bought a bottle of wine and we said goodbye to the swarming swallows which had nested in their vine covered buildings. The insides were just as pretty all decked out in wood and grey planks, more leather pillows and benches, phenomenal art ,large stands of trailing succulents, round marble tables and colorful pillows made with tapestry. I didn’t even taste the wine, but I want to be there right now. 

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Clos Du Val Winery comfy couch and table
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Another spectacular view inside Clos Du Val Winery in Napa
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The Italian guy w the Dragon shirt posing with my girlfriends at Clos du Val Winery in Napa

I made reservations for lunch at Solbar Resort which I’ve always wanted to visit. We didn’t get there until 2:30PM, and we were told that they didn’t offer the lunch menu at that time. That was NOT what I wanted to hear since we were starving and I had looked at their lunch menu the night before and was dying for one of their salads. But at that point, we were tired and needed food, so their bar menu would have to suffice. Did I mention I’ve always wanted to go to this place? I’ve passed it dozens of times while taking my Dad to Twin Pines Casino. It is his favorite place, and I would joke that if we won at the casino, we would stay overnight at this Solage Resort. 

Lunch consisted of an avocado dip, with goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, a spicy oil, fresh mint, greens and chia seeds served with tortilla chips. We also ordered the sweet chili sauced chicken drumsticks and wings,  and spicy gulf shrimp lettuce wraps with glass noodles, pickled carrots, avocado, and nampla sauce. I brought my cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that I had bought earlier and the waiter graciously let us open it and serve ourselves. Honestly, it was the best setting, sitting out on their outside patio furniture, next to the pool, relaxing, eating pistachios that I had brought (never leave home without food), and sipping wine. We stayed there for at least 2.5 hours, ordered a butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce, Macallan whiskey,  toffee pearls, and whipped Chantilly, and a lemon cake with whipped mascarpone cheese and vanilla poached strawberries dessert to share. I could have ordered a coffee, but the girls were treating me to lunch, so I didn’t dare.

Their cheese plate of artisanal cheese, honeycomb, fruit compote, sea salt crackers, marcona almonds, mustards and charcuterie which walked by our table looked incredible. A must have next visit.

I can’t even believe I didn’t know about their spa amenities. I overheard the girls saying they thought they were in heaven after walking through the white walled, tall ceilings, white couches, white pillows and silver side tables waiting area. Of course, you better wait to schedule your treatment here because Covid has restricted the amount of people who can enter the outside bar/pool/mineral spa area. The cold ice water display toted it contained calcium, potassium, sodium, silica and trace elements. Also added to it was a ton of ice cubes, orange slices, strawberries and mint. There are signs everywhere saying it’s a “digital detox in progress” area and to “please be quiet.” Couldn’t we all use that in our lives?

And on our way back to the car, we couldn’t believe the display of colorful pink roses and purple lavender lining the Silverado Trail facing the parking lot. Just heavenly! Have I used the word heaven enough in today’s blog? I think so.

So I hope I’ve inspired you to take a day trip and explore Calistoga, and the wineries along the Silverado Trail. It’s a piece of paradise you won’t want to miss. And bring along a couple of really good friends that you haven’t seen in a while. You not only have made their day, but they have made yours.

Thanks for reading and stopping by. I hope you ask me a question or two or leave a comment below. Is anyone else in need of a body treatment? Who wants to go with me next time? 

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My version of Solage’s butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce and chocolate candy pearls from Kollar Chocolates

Here is my butterscotch pudding recipe that I think you can’t live without. I don’t think I can compete with Solage’s pastry chef, but I gave it a try yesterday and it turned out pretty tasty. It could have used a dollop of whipping cream to lighten it up, but I gave most of my heavy cream to my son Andrew. He was celebrating his 6 month anniversary of dating his girlfriend Shannon yesterday, so how fun for them to have extra cream in the fridge. Lol. Andrew loves to cook, so I bet he made her something amazing. In any case, here’s the recipe:

 Boosey Butterscotch Pudding

Ingredients:

1 C Dark Brown Sugar (Or if using light brown sugar add 1 teaspoon of molasses)

6 T Water

1 teas Maldon salt

2 C Heavy Cream

2 C Whole Milk (I used Macadamia milk and added 1 T powdered Milk cause I was out of milk)

6 T Corn Starch

7 large Egg yolks

6 T Unsalted butter softened, cut into chunks

2 teas Alexander Murray Scotch Whiskey 18 yr old (Can substitute w rum extract or more vanilla)

1 teas vanilla paste

1 vanilla bean sliced down the middle

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Ingredients for my butterscotch pudding. Used fresh egg yolks from my chickens

Directions:

Melt the brown sugar, salt and water in a large pot over medium/medium low heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, NOT stirring and not letting it burn. You can turn the heat down if necessary. Set aside to cool.

In a separate small bowl, mix the cornstarch with a little of the milk and stir until combined. Add the egg yolks and mix until smooth.

Add the cornstarch mixture to the rest of the milk, add the cream and whisk until combined. 

Return the brown sugar pan back to the heat. Add the milk/cream mixture and vanilla bean to the partially cooled brown sugar whisking constantly. It may seize up, but keep stirring and it will come together as you cook and whisk it. Bring it to a boil over medium low heat and cook until thickened. Keep scraping the sides and bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula.

Once the pudding is thick enough, take it off the heat, and put it through a fine mesh strainer. 

Add the room temperature butter, vanilla paste and whiskey to the pudding and stir until combined. Pour into a large bowl or into individual sized serving dishes and refrigerate until cool.

Next make the sea salt caramel sauce. Follow the recipe from this previous  blog.

Top the cooled caramel into the cooled butterscotch pudding dishes. Top with chocolate or toffee pearls from Kollar Chocolates or your favorite confectionery. Serve a dollop of whipped cream on the top of the pudding. It seriously needs this or it’s too sweet.

This recipe makes enough for 13 individual sized servings.

 

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Year in Review and Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Recipe

Year in Review and Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Recipe

Here’s the latest on what’s going on in my life lately, and I will share a delicious Millionaire Shortbread Bar recipe. My husband is still working from home. It has been a year and a month since the pandemic hit and the world changed. I will attempt to describe how things have been during this challenging time and how life has changed, maybe for the better.

Here are my girlfriends waiting for me to come say hi.

First of all, I have chickens. They are five months old now and quite a handful. I’ve enjoyed spending mornings and evenings with them just hanging out with them in their chicken run. They like to be cuddled and love it when I’m around bringing them treats. They have been my saving grace while stuck at home.

Last week’s hike up Bollinger Canyon “Devils Hole” Part of Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in California

As far as the community goes, I hike occasionally with friends, and love every minute of it. In fact, I should be out there on Las Trampas with them now, but decided to hang back and write a blog instead. We don’t entertain as much, but when we do, we really love having people over. I love to cook and bake, so sharing meals has been a passion and a gift I love to give to others. 

Some people are more careful than others as far as Covid 19 goes. One friend wouldn’t hike until she was fully vaccinated, yet others are more comfortable getting together in groups. When my hiking friends celebrate birthdays, we meet at a park, bring our own food and visit. It is lovely to interact and see people more. 

Yesterday, I met two hiking friends in Benicia for lunch. Suzette initiated it and also invited Marianne to join us. We ate inside in a large dining room and I felt fairly comfortable. Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since my second Pfizer vaccination. My husband gets his second Moderna vaccination today. Lunch at Ciao Bella was lovely and I’m grateful for days spent outside my house. 

Mostly, I’ve been working in my garden the last year. I experimented with growing corn, composting, vermiculture, and growing seeds and cover crops.  I chose not to hike today because I have about 20 more tomato and vegetable plants that I need to get into the raised beds. It stresses me out to have them waiting for me. I know. It sounds crazy, but these plants are like my babies. My hikes can wait.

After lunch yesterday, I drove to REI to buy new hiking shoes. I have so many holes in my current ones, that I have no choice but to get new ones. The whole experience was anxiety provoking. First, you are met at the door and asked to use hand sanitizer. Then there are arrows on the floor showing where you are allowed to walk. The nice greeter told me the shoes were located up the stairs, so I headed in that direction. Instead of picking up a shoe and choosing which one I wanted to try on, the whole area was roped off. An employee was guarding the shoes and asked me qualifying questions to see what kind of shoe I was looking for. 

Seriously, this guy was trying to visit with me and ask me personal questions while I was trying on shoes. So awkward. I just wanted to get the damn shoes and get out of there. It was strange to have this guy watching me try on every shoe. I kind of wanted a little privacy, you know? Maybe that’s weird. But anyway, I have bad feet and having the correct shoe is important, so it’s a serious matter for me. And I really didn’t want to tell the guy my kids ages. It always freaks people out when I tell them that I have a 36 year old son and a 28 year old son. Then I feel old because they are grown men now. Ugh. In any case, of course they never have my size, blah blah blah. Eventually, the two of them, yes now there was another salesman, brought me a pair that fit. Of course, they tried to get me to sign up for the club, so I could get a 10% discount and be able to return my shoes if there is a problem. No thank you. I hate sharing my email, so they can send me spam.

Of course, I had to check to see if Krispy Kreme Donuts drive through had any warm out of the fryer yummies. Nope. So I passed on that. 

So maybe it wasn’t that unusual of a shoe buying experience, but it feels weird getting out and leaving the house. Other than shopping for food, and getting my hair done, I rarely go anywhere. My husband Ken and I like to hike or go on bike rides into Danville. Sometimes we get food to go, but I usually cook. Last night, I heated up leftover beef pot roast, roasted carrots and potatoes for dinner. We watched a little TV and called it a night.

This morning, I will get the rest of the tomato plants into the ground before it gets too hot. It’s only mid April, but Northern California weather can change quickly and become hot and dry. In case you wondered where I buy my plants from, I go to the Contra Costa Master Gardeners website and buy from The Great Tomato Sale. Each plant is $4.00 each and they have a wide variety of peppers, herbs, squash and tomatoes. I always get extra, since they don’t all survive. I bought 17 tomato plants, lemon cucumber, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, basil, 3 types of kale, two types of lettuce, 6 pepper plants. We have critters that eat everything around here. My husband routinely traps moles, gophers, rats and mice. The owls and frogs sing to us at night. It truly is a magical place. Here’s a post about a farm in Tuscany

Here is one of my favorite treats that you can make ahead. They are rich and decadent and you only need a small piece to satisfy your sweet tooth. This recipe makes a lot, so you can share with neighbors and friends.

Millionaire Caramel Shortbread Bars

Shortbread Ingredients:

1C. Cold Unsalted Butter cut into chunks

¼ C (32g) Cornstarch

1 ¾ C (219g) All Purpose Unbleached Flour (could substitute rice flour to make gluten free)

1/3C (73g) Granulated Sugar 

⅓ C Light Brown Sugar

1 Lg egg yolk

¾ t vanilla extract

½ t Maldon Salt

Caramel Ingredients:

2 14oz cans sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated)

14T (198g) Unsalted butter cut into chunks

1 C (200g) Light Brown Sugar (Packed)

⅓ C (80ml) Light Corn Syrup

1 t vanilla extract

¼ t Maldon Salt

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:

2 C (340g) SemiSweet Chocolate Chips

½ C Heavy Cream

1 t Vanilla extract

½ t Sea Salt (to sprinkle over bars)

Shortbread Crust Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 degreesF (180degreesC).

Line a 17X11.5 Pampered Chef Bar Pan or Sheet pan with parchment paper. Can use a square baking pan. Bars will be thicker.

In a Cuisinart or large bowl Mix sugar, flour,cornstarch, butter, egg yolk, vanilla and salt until combined.

Press into the pan until even. 

Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes or until light brown.

Set aside to cool.

Caramel Directions:

In a medium size heavy pot, place 2 cans sweetened condensed milk, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and whisk continuously on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until caramel reaches 230 degrees with a candy thermometer. This process takes time. Don’t walk away or stop stirring. Add vanilla and salt and pour onto the shortbread crust. Spread evenly. Place in the fridge or let cool a bit before topping with ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

Heat heavy cream in a heavy small to medium size pot until almost boiling. Add chocolate and vanilla and stir until melted.

Pour onto caramel shortbread and spread evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt and cool in the fridge.

Cut the bars into squares and serve. This recipe can be made ahead and the bars will freeze for up to 3 months, but they won’t last that long. 

Enjoy!

Thanks for reading and I appreciate your feedback. How has this last year been for you? Have you had a similar shopping experience that you want to share? 

Teri

 

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Eating our way through Napa and smudging herbs

Eating our way through Napa and smudging herbs

    Hey everyone! It’s great to be writing again. I’ve had quite a few distractions since I‘ve last written. My son Curtis introduced me to Club House, a new app on my phone. It’s super interesting and worth looking into. I’ve also started listening to The Bible in a Year Podcast with Father Mike Schmitz. I was raised Catholic, but have never read the bible. It has been interesting so far. I’m also raising chickens, baking bread from scratch, making nutritious meals and entertaining occasionally. I spend a lot of time in the garden composting, weeding, seed sowing, planting vegetables and bulbs. The garden is popping right now with paperwhites, daffodils, snow drops, anemones, calendulas, rosemary, borage, lemon balm, mint, and much much more. I hike with friends, my sister or my husband regularly. It’s a passion. I love working on puzzles when I find the time to sit. There is always so much to do around the house. And don’t forget cookie baking. I also made a yummy gluten free crispy ginger cookies recipe this week. I can share that recipe too.

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Did I mention my trip to Napa with my girlfriend Marie? We started at the Model Bakery where we purchased scones, wheat bread, focaccia, and apple pies. Next to it was The Fatted Calf, and if we weren’t going to be gone all day, I would have gotten something to barbeque for dinner. They had every kind of meat, pork, duck, sausage, bacon, salami you could think of. Back to the bakery. Marie got an oatmeal raisin cookie too, and saved it for her husband Ron. We had them slice the bread and divide them up so we could both bring some home to our families. I’ve since made a grilled cheese with tuna salad on the wheat bread. Soooo gooood. Next we walked through Ox Bow Market. If you haven’t been there, it’s a must see. Of course we had to stop at the Napa Valley Distillery, Anette’s Chocolates and Hudson Greens and Goods. You can find Ritual Coffee, Napa BookMine, The Olive Press and our favorite Whole Spice. We then walked to town and had lunch at the Archer Hotel Roof Top where we enjoyed olives, crostini, beet salad and good wine. It was a glorious day and I’m thankful for a day with my friend Marie.

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Bakery Items at Model Bakery. Decided to go after seeing a post from a friend about their English Muffins

Today I planted seeds of dill, Thai basil, Genovese basil, sweet peas, snow peas, and microgreens. I attended a class on Smudging on Club House today and learned which herbal plants can be used to make these potent dried bundles. They can be used for practical reasons, or spiritual or ceremonial purposes. Antimicrobial Sages, yarrow, calendula, mullein, mugwort, cedar, juniper, English lavender, rosemary, sweet grass, palo santo, thyme, bayberry, oregano, frankincense, myrrh, peppermint, basil, lemon grass, clove, cinnamon,blue spruce, dill, bay leaves, and eucalyptus are many of the herbs used in making the smudges.I’m still learning about the health benefits of burning these herbs. Many tribes from the ancient ways and traditions believe these herbs are sacred, have special healing effects and cleansing essence. They can help low vibration energies.

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Blueberry scone from Model Bakery

I bake with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom whenever I make oatmeal cookies or gingerbread cake. These are my favorite warm spices. I wrote a blog and shared a gingerbread cupcake recipe. My son and his girlfriend Shannon made it together yesterday. It tasted terrific, but the cupcakes didn’t rise correctly, so I have to go back and make the recipe again myself. We still ate the moist crumbles with a white chocolate buttercream frosting. They were delicious.

It’s after 5PM already, and I have to bring in the chickens and make dinner for my husband. I’m planning on preparing a white fish with a pineapple mango salsa for dinner. It’s so yummy. I might have to share the recipe with you.

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Pecan Sticky Rolls

Brioche

Sponge= Pre dough

Ingredients:

2 ¼ t dry yeast

⅓ C warm Milk

1 egg

¼ C sourdough starter

1 C All Purpose Flour or Bread Flour

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a stand mixer and combine on medium to medium low speed until combined.

Sprinkle 1 Cup All purpose flour/ bread flour (I use ¼ C. Hard Red Wheat, ¾ C Bread flour over dough so it doesn’t dry out. Let rest and rise for 30-45 min.

The sponge adds flavor to the brioche and keeping quality.

Ingredients:

 ⅓ C Sugar

1 T Kosher Salt

Crack 4 eggs into a separate bowl (approx ¾ C.)

¾ -1 C softened butter

Directions:

Place sugar, salt, and eggs alternatively with 1 -1/12 C. more Flour into stand mixer.

Using the dough hook, slowly incorporate all these ingredients adding the softened butter a Tablespoon at a time at the end until all of it is added.

Mix on medium to med high speed for 7-9 minutes until you hear the slap sound when the dough hits the bowl.

Transfer to a clean buttered bowl. Cover and let sit until it doubles in volume about 1- 2 hours.

Deflate and redistribute the dough by gently lifting edges of dough a little from the bottom, turning the bowl as you lift the dough.

Place the dough into the refrigerator for 4-6 hours or overnight.

At this point you can divide the dough in half and keep the other ½ of the dough covered in the fridge.

Pecan Sticky Buns

Pecan Sticky Buns

Smack the dough with a rolling pin  on a lightly floured flat surface into a 11/14 square or rectangle. Touch as little as possible. Dot in 3 0z softened butter onto dough. Fold over itself. 1/2 up and 1/2 down.

Roll out again. Dot with 3 oz softened butter. Fold over itself again. 1/2 up. 1/2 down. Place on a sheet pan and place in fridge for 1/2 hour to chill.

Sprinkle counter with four. Roll out dough with a floured rolling pin to 11/14 rectangle using plenty of four so it doesn’t stick. Crack 1 whole egg into a dish and whisk it until combined. Using a pastry brush, brush on egg wash onto dough. Sprinkle 4 T sugar and 1 teas cinnamon onto dough evenly leaving an inch or two at the edge free of cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle 1/2 C toasted chopped pecans onto dough. Use more egg wash so it seals when you roll up. Roll up away from you, making sure to seal the edges. Set on a sheet pan and set in freezer for 45 min. so dough will slice easier.

Prepare a round baking dish with 1 stick of softened butter and sprinkle 1/2 C light brown sugar on top of butter.

Cut roll of dough into 1 1/2 ” slices or 7 pieces. Put 3 pecans on each slice and place pecan side down into prepared pan.. Place cinnamon rolls next to each other and let rise again for 1 -1 1/2 hours at room temperature. You can leave in fridge over night and place on counter for 1 hour before baking.

Bake in a 325 degree preheated convection oven or 350 degrees oven for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven invert onto a dish and cool.

Enjoy!

Thanks for joining me here. I appreciate your comments and feedback if you have questions about my recipes or the smudging. 

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Great friends in front of Napa’s fine art sculptures. I love hearts

Teri

 

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The French Laundry Part 2 and a Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe You Will Come Back To Every Time

The French Laundry Part 2 and a Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe You Will Come Back To Every Time

The famous blue door to The French Laundry. We dined right next to it

I’m stuck sitting in my house all day because the smoke and ash from the West Coast wildfires are making the air unhealthy to breathe.The fires have charred over 2.5 million acres and it’s only mid September. I can’t imagine anything else that could go wrong in 2020. America and the world have been dealing with the Covid pandemic. We have missed weddings, funerals, concerts, and everything about our previous lifestyle and all this began a little more than six months ago. But August 23, 2020 will go down in history as being one of my favorite experiences ever, dining at The French Laundry in Yountville, California.

I’ve been following Thomas Keller (ChefThomasKeller)  and the Three Star Michelin Restaurant The French Laundry (tfl) on Instagram for years. I’ve walked through the gardens across the street from the restaurant every time I visit my dad at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville. I’m inspired by the organic produce they grow and look to see what flowers I can identify by name. Not only have I worked as a pastry chef, I’ve also been an avid gardener for over 30 years. So getting the chance to dine at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, was a dream come true.

In January, my sister Sue booked a reservation in May for four to celebrate her daughter Marie’s 30th birthday. Marie takes after her auntie and is one of the biggest foodies there is. She knows her wine too, especially after working for Wente Winery for a few years.There is a great story of our day together in a previous blog if you want to check that out. When Covid hit in March, the restaurant had to close and pivot to outdoor dining reopening on July 8th. Our reservation was rescheduled for August 23rd, which happened to be my sister’s birthday. Perfect right? I was excited to be included in this fancy affair and couldn’t wait for August to come fast enough. 

When the day finally arrived, we started it off the right way by having brunch at my house first. Here’s the beginning of the story tfl Part 1. I didn’t want to go wine tasting at Robert Biale on an empty stomach, so I whipped up a few dishes to keep our tummies full.

The Bees home in the tfl gardens
Saying hello to my chicken friends

Before our reservation, we had to get coffee and hot chocolate and buy something at Bouchon, the famous French Bakery also owned by Thomas Keller. We then took a walk through the gardens, said hello to the chickens and the bees and took photos like we were having the best day of our lives. And we were. We even touched up our makeup and hair in the car so we would be ready for what was to come.

The time had come. It was 5:15PM, so my husband Ken dropped us off (a designated driver is always a good idea), took a few photographs and we walked up to the back entrance. We were greeted and welcomed with a smile. We gave our name and were escorted to our table. Just so you know, I don’t get to eat at places like this every day. I appreciate restaurants and bars and how they make us feel and that’s why I write about them. 

My niece Marie, Sister Sue and friend Sue Baker waiting for our experience https://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Our waiter was handsome and had an English accent. Very charming. We were smitten with him. My niece is single so of course I wanted to see if he was available since I am a matchmaker. I bet you didn’t know that about me. Well, he was taken, so that was that.

 Marie brought a Del Dotto Rose sparkling wine and I brought a Red wine to avoid extra costs. Our waiter was nice enough to decanter the Italian Amarone Della Valpolicella Terre Molin red wine and open the sparkling wine to start. It was delightful. Light and plenty of bubbles. The perfect way to start the evening.

Then the tastings started coming. There was an amuse bouche of a cheese ball served in a cone dipped in white and black sesame seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds I think. We were also given hand made, perfectly cut out, flower shaped crackers filled with special cheeses that  came from the cheese maker Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Farm in Petaluma California. 

And lucky me, Chef Keller graced our table. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Chef’s are like rock stars to me. I had to give him my business card with my blog on it and share that I almost applied to a job to be his assistant 8 months ago, before I chickened out. Maybe I will get the courage to apply there someday. He was warm and professional and everything I had hoped for. He is an author of three cookbooks: Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc At Home, and the latest one Under Pressure Cooking Sous Vide, none of which I have. Hint. Hint. He also launched a magazine called Finesse in Dec 2010 that featured different themes of importance to Chef Keller such Design, Community, Preservation and Evolution. I must check these out. For $15.00 a month you can register for his Online Masterclass and learn how to poach perfect eggs, make pasta by hand and confit vegetables. Pretty cool.

Birthday Menu

I should have taken better notes because I’m trying to decipher the menu and compare it to the photos I took of the dishes. I can recall a special pastry that we were served along with their extraordinary butter made by Diane St. Claire, found only in Vermont by a dairy called Animal Farm. Chef Keller even had a cow named after him. I bet the pastry was made from heirloom grains provided by Glenn Roberts owner of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. The miller also grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats, Italian farro, legumes and antebellum corn. I’ve been experimenting with these grains and making bread by grinding grains with a Mocksmill that I purchased when there was a flour shortage. 

This dining experience is special because of the close relationship the chef has with the farmers like Sadie Kendall at Kendall Farms in Atascadero who makes creme fraiche, seafood purveyors like Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts,or Ingrid Bengis Seafood for her lobster,  scallops and crab. Chef Keller buys only the best ingredients for culinary excellence and discriminating appetites such as special spices and olive oils from  Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco. You get the idea.

I won’t go into every bite with you here, but I will include the menu so you can look it over yourself. It’s totally worth every penny to have an experience like we had.

Dessert table at tfl

In my opinion, the best part of the meal was the dessert. We were presented with a birthday cake “Gateau Marjolaine” a hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate ganache and praline buttercream for the birthday girls that had fireworks coming out of it. No joke. Incredible. My niece was blown away and so were the rest of us. 

Did I mention Sue Baker, my sister’s best friend paid for Marie to have a special glass of wine selected from the wine cellar to celebrate her and to make her experience even better? How sweet was that? I can’t forget to address that my sister Sue paid for all four of us to dine at The French Laundry. It’s seriously unbelievable and added to the excitement of the day. Thank you Sue. So generous.

Our waiter and the box of chocolates
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Back to the desserts, because of course these were my favorite treats and the most indulgent part of the evening. They kept coming and coming. There were caramels, and a strawberry flavored one too. We tried a peach French macaron (My recipe here) and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I ate a white sesame cake with yuzu glazed strawberries, served with cream and cosmos flower petals.

Our service was undeniably the best I’ve ever had and our waiters had the precise attention to detail, skill and expertise that you would expect from a three star restaurant. They anticipated our every desire. Only better. I’m pretty sure someone stood near our table the whole evening just in case there was something we needed.

I wish I had taken better notes because I can’t begin to describe what was served in a tiny coffee cup. I also couldn’t stop eating the fluffy white dessert with chocolate crumbles. You realize we had been eating for four hours at least nine or ten decadent servings of everything a person could ever want and yet, I couldn’t stop myself from eating every single bite. Then they brought out the chocolates and we could try as many as we wanted. OMG. To die for. Don’t tell anyone. I took a few home in my purse so I could save them for later. Delicious. Works of art. 

To make the day even better, the staff guided us through the kitchen for a tour. The kitchen is spotless and shiny like no other. Copper pots lining the walls, bins of tiny white and red onions probably coming straight from their garden across the street. 

tfl kitchen
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We laughed and giggled all the way back to the East Bay telling Ken all about the upcharge option of wagyu beef, and the stunningly, impeccably cared for grounds and the gently lighted ambiance when the sun went down.

Dining at the French Laundry has been the most relaxing and memorable foodie experience ever. We were treated like royalty by the most courteous staff. It was truly remarkable.

I hope you enjoyed my blog on The French Laundry. Meeting Chef Thomas Keller made my evening, but dining with my family and loved ones will be something I will always cherish. Thanks for stopping by.

The four of us at the end of our tour at tfl
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Follow my blog for more stories and recipes. 

CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

50g or ½ C. Cocoa Powder

40g or ⅓ C. Powdered Milk

150g or ¾ C. Granulated Sugar

10g or 2 T Instant Coffee powder Or Espresso

½ T Kosher Salt

100g or about 5 large Egg Yolks (Yolks ONLY)

360ml or 1½ C. Whole Milk

2 T Rum

480ml or 2 C. Heavy Cream

1 tsp Tahitian Vanilla Extract

Directions:

In a medium size heavy saucepan, place the cocoa powder, the powdered milk, granulated sugar, instant coffee, rum, salt and stir with a wire whisk. Stir in the egg yolks. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla extract into the pan. Whisk ingredients and cook over low to medium heat until the thermometer reaches 158 degrees F or 70 degrees C.

Mixing the egg yolks into dry ingredients
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For the next 25 minutes (set your timer), move the pan off and on over the heat keeping the temperature between 158-162 degrees F or 70-72 degrees C and constantly stirring. Stay with your ice cream base the entire 25 minutes.

Cooked chocolate custard
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Remove the pan off the heat, once the 25 minutes is up. Strain the custard through a wire mesh into a large bowl to remove any clumps.Cover with plastic wrap touching the custard directly onto the plastic to prevent a skin from forming on your custard.

Put the chocolate ice cream base into the refrigerator overnight or for at least four or 5 hours to chill. Pre chill the 2 quart bowl preferably overnight. (I leave mine in the freezer all year long, always returning to the freezer after my ice cream is made.) When ready to churn, take the frozen ice cream container out, add the chocolate ice cream base and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions approximately 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume. Remove it from the ice cream machine and place in a container with a lid and freeze until firm. 

This is my latest favorite dessert. It is fairly easy to make and keeps well in the freezer. Never lasts long in my house… Here is a video of me making the chocolate custard that is uploaded from my Instagram page.


 

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The French Laundry (tfl) Part I

The French Laundry (tfl) Part I
n the garden at The French Laundry

Spent last Sunday in Napa and Yountville celebrating my niece Marie’s 30th birthday and my sister Sue’s birthday. We were joined by Sue’s best friend Susan Baker, her college roommate from 40 years ago. Today’s blog is all about our day together having brunch at my house, tastings at Biale Winery and dinner at the world famous three Star Michelin restaurant The French Laundry.

I was concerned about drinking on an empty stomach, so I decided to whip up a few things to keep our tummies happy. The day before, I prepared an organic milled spelt, bulgur, heritage grain Olan wheat flour by Capay Mills, sun dried tomato and salami bread and kept it in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. Baked it fresh that morning, so it would have time to cool before cutting into it. I served this wonderful high protein bread with two cheeses: havarti dill, and Nicasio Reserve from Marin County California and my homemade Blenheim apricot preserves. We splurged and opened a bottle of sparkling wine and made bellinis with my canned peaches from my garden and garnished with lemon verbena from the garden.

I also served a potato Spanish tortilla and a peach crumble with vanilla ice cream and homemade caramel sauce. So yummy. I probably over did it. But this was going to be a special day and I wanted to start it out right.

We left for the winery later than expected with full bellies and smiling masked faces all piled into my Lexus. My husband Ken agreed to drive us, so we could enjoy the day. 

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My niece Marie and sister Sue at the French Laundry Gardens

We had a nice experience tasting wines at Robert Biale Vineyards. Since Susan has a membership, we were spoiled with impeccable service and attention. We relaxed looking at the vineyard, chatting and sipping some of the best Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Biale’s rare blends some of the best in the Napa Valley. We happened to be the only people there because of the wildfires and smoke permeating the area. We were lucky there was a breeze and the air quality didn’t bother us. It was much worse in the Bay Area where we traveled from. We sat for hours admiring the planters filled with prolific fuchsia pink and yellow perennials lantana, pink dianthus and red and yellow dahlias. Just gorgeous.

My niece Marie, my sister Sue and me at The French Laundry Garden

We were blessed to be able to get a reservation at The French Laundry 6 months ago for a May celebration. Covid closed down many restaurants in March, April and May, but we were fortunate enough to claim one for August so we could acknowledge Marie’s 30th birthday. Her dream came true that day, and I was ohh soo grateful to be included in her special day. I can’t forget to mention the quick stop at Bouchon Bakery where we indulged in hot chocolate, espresso, fresh French bread and pastries, not wanting to spoil our appetites for what was to come. Bouchon sells Paris-Brest, Macarons, fresh fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, cupcakes, pain aux raisins, yuzu citrus croissants, chocolate almond croissants, cream cheese Danish, french baguettes filled with ham and cheese, smoked salmon sandwiches on seeded rolls,tomato and brie sandwiches, cookies, chocolates and candies like almond toffee.

It’s hard to know where to begin on describing my experience at the French Laundry. The four of us began by walking through the gardens across the street from the restaurant. They are incredible. They keep bees hives, tiny new starts of herbs in a tunnel, rows of lettuce, peppers, squash, onions, tomatoes and more. We visited the chickens who seem happy eating their fill of discarded squash. I’m curious about owning chickens and am ready to try keeping them in my home garden.

My husband took photos of us perfecting our makeup, like we were getting ready to get married or something. We were so excited and had waited so long to have this day finally happen. It had been cancelled a few times because of Covid and we were worried it would be cancelled again because of the fires and smoke in Napa County. The tables would be set up outside because no one is allowed to eat indoors for fear Covid could spread. We were fortunate to have the money and resources to afford the $350.00 per person fine dining experience. My sister Sue treated us by scheduling the date and paying many months ago. How incredibly lucky I was to be included in this special day, since originally my sister had another person in mind for the ticket.

More photos were taken at the entrance, then my husband drove off to find his own dinner nearby. Kind of sad we couldn’t include him in the event, but he wouldn’t have wanted to participate nor have wanted to spend the money on this extravagant meal.

I’m going to end here and write my next blog about the remainder of the day. I hate to see my blogs getting too long. Look forward to my next write up continuing on about our French Laundry experience part II.

First I will share my Peach Crumble and Sea Salt Caramel Recipe.

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Peach crumble made with fresh Alberta peaches from the garden. Used buckwheat, oatmeal, almonds, brown sugar, butter, baking powder and salt. Served with ice cream and home made caramel sauce

Peach Crumble with Sea Salt Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

4 or 5 medium to large size peaches peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick

2/3 C Brown Sugar

⅓ C Granulated Sugar ( Plus 2 T more sugar for peaches

2 T Tapioca Flour or arrowroot to add to peach mixture later)

½ C. Buckwheat flour

¼ C All Purpose Flour

¼ C Oats

½ C Unsalted Butter room temperature or cold cut into chunks Plus 1 T extra to coat pie dish

½ t Kosher Salt

½ t ground cinnamon

½ t ground ginger

¼ t ground cloves

1 Baking pie dish or use several individual oven safe serving size bowls 

1 Cuisinart Food Processor or Kitchenaid Mixer 

Instructions:

Crumble Topping

In a Cuisinart food processor, Kitchenaid Mixer or large bowl combine all dry ingredients: Brown Sugar, White Sugar, Buckwheat Flour, All Purpose Flour, Oats, Salt and spices: Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves.

Pulse 5 times to mix thoroughly. Add butter pieces and pulse again until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.

Peel peaches by boiling first and placing in an ice bath to loosen skins. Dry and cut peaches, remove pits and cut into ¼ inch thick slices and place in a medium size bowl. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of sugar mixed with 2 T tapioca flour onto peaches. 

In a buttered pie dish, place cut pieces of peaches that are covered with sugar and tapioca flour. Add crumble topping on top of peaches. Set the pie dish on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35-50 minutes or until dessert is hot and bubbly.

Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Dessert can be refrigerated at this time and reheated and served later.

Serve alongside vanilla ice cream and sea salt caramel sauce.

Sea Salt Caramel

Ingredients and Instructions

320g or 11 oz Heavy Cream

200g or 7 oz Light Corn Syrup

60g or 3 oz Granulated Sugar (Plus an additional100g or 3.5 oz for later)

Heat these ingredients together in a medium size pot and set aside keeping it hot.

In another medium size pot, on medium low heat sprinkle 100g or 3.5 oz of granulated sugar little by little melting and cooking sugar slowly NOT stirring, until caramel turns amber color. 

Slowly add hot cream mixture to amber caramel stirring and cooking until temp reaches 105 degrees C or 220 degrees F. The longer you boil, the thicker the caramel.

Add 4g Sea Salt, Maldon, or Fleur de Sel and cool. Caramel will thicken as it cools. 

Recipe credit to Pastry Chef and author Dominique Ansel

I’ve used buckwheat flour to add complexity to the recipe and to make it healthier. You can substitute your favorite flour or use flax meal or almond flour.

Enjoy!

Thanks for joining me today. Leave me questions or comments below.

 

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Sunday Fun Day with Good Friends Wine Tasting in the Shenandoah Valley

Sunday Fun Day with Good Friends Wine Tasting in the Shenandoah Valley

   It’s Tuesday. These days I rarely know which day it is. My husband and I spent last weekend in Eldorado Hills and Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley with our friends the Cowies and Castiglione’s.  It was refreshing to have social time again especially with some of my favorite people. It was nice to introduce good friends to our other good friends who happen to live in the same town. In today’s blog I will reflect on our weekend away and tell you what I’ve been up to lately.

 

The last four months have been interesting. Every day, I wake up, check on the latest news, water my vegetable garden, check email, have my coffee and a bit of breakfast, and do whatever chores are needed to get done. I’m not currently working, but I have worked harder in the past four months than I ever have. It seems there is always more laundry, more cleaning,  flour to mill and bread to bake, fresh pasta to make, pies to bake, or a new cookie or Rice Krispie treat recipe to try. 

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Two of the masks I made for friends to protect themselves from Covid19

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Covid masks made for the little people in my life

I’ve also made a dozen or more masks for family members, using up material I have had for years. It is rewarding to up cycle many fabrics that I’ve saved, knowing I could find a way to use them eventually.

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My strawberry plant blossoms. Just one of the many plants I am growing in my victory garden

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Just a few of my baby seedlings poking up through the soil

I’ve started an enormous vegetable garden, growing many varieties mostly from seed months ago. Not knowing whether we would have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because of Covid 19, I decided to grow a victory garden. I’ve had edible gardens in the past, but never like this one. It is rewarding  checking on the size and color of the tomatoes and picking them off the vine when ripe. Many of them don’t make it into the bowl, but get popped right into my mouth. So tasty.

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Many varieties of flowers from my March garden in Walnut Creek. Photos taken by a friend Linda Kwong

So when our friends Elaine and Craig Cowie invited us to their new home in Eldorado Hills, we jumped at the idea. They have postponed the visit at least three times, because the Bay Area has been on lock down. My husband and I have been good about not going out unless we wear a mask, and we social distance if we see one of our friends or family. We felt safe about going North since there aren’t as many cases of Covid there. The population is less, and it’s not as crowded there.

 

We have known the Cowies for over 30 years. We met them after moving to our second house in Concord California. They lived directly across the street, so we had many dinner parties with them.  Also included into the mix were the Faulkenberry’s.  The Cowies and Faulkenberry’s  have been friends since college at Chico State. Our son Curtis took Taekwondo classes from Ray Faulkenberry when Curtis was in elementary school and we’ve loved them ever since.

 

Every year, the three families  have stayed connected taking turns having dinner together, even after we moved to Walnut Creek. We’ve had great times together watching our kids grow up, attending weddings and sharing meals over the years. We were happy to finally meet again, this time at the Cowies new home in El Dorado Hills. They moved there in February, after selling their home in Concord, to live closer to their daughter Leslie, son in law Kyle and two precious grand kids.

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Two couples enjoying the day at Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard.

Leaving the chores, the garden and kitty cat behind, Ken and I happily drove North and were graciously greeted by Elaine and Craig when we arrived. We unpacked the car with all the goodies and clothes and enjoyed the tour of their new home. I was excited to learn their floor plan was similar to our other friends the Castiglione’s, our friends from our current Walnut Creek neighborhood who have also recently relocated to  Eldorado Hills. Kayla and I have been in the same book club for over 20 years. I was happy to set up a day for the two couples to meet. We decided to get the six of us together on Sunday while wine tasting. Unfortunately, the Faulkenberry’s couldn’t stay overnight and join us having to get home to their puppies and cats.

 

We relaxed by the pool on Saturday while snacking on chips and mango salsa, fresh fruit skewers and pinot grigio. When the Faulkenberry’s showed up, I visited with their daughter Meg, who is a writer and social media expert. She wrote a book called Summer Rain. She had all kinds of great tips about how I should use Twitter to share my blog and many more new websites to check out like Blue Host, Hootsuite Wattpad, Booksie, 750words.com, Quotev.com and who to follow on Tik Tok. She should be teaching classes on these social media tools.

The weather was warm and yet there was a nice breeze which kept us cool. Elaine and Craig made fish tacos for dinner which we gobbled down and I made two apricot dishes for dessert. The first dessert was an apricot pie. I picked these ripe and juicy Patterson apricots from a farm in Tracy a couple of weeks ago. I also made two gluten free apricot turnovers with Teff flour and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour. These were special. I had heard about the Teff flour from The Sourdough Podcast, so when I stumbled across it at Lunardi’s Grocery Store I quickly swept it into my cart. I had a little sticker shock when I got to the register. It was over $7.00 for a small bag, but was worth the price. It is high in fiber, high in protein, has more calcium than any other grain and is the only ancient grain containing Vitamin C. Teff flour has a subtle hazelnut earthy taste, is cultivated in Eastern Africa and is found in Ethiopian flatbread called injera. I enjoyed these hand pies more than the apricot pie made with all purpose flour.

 

After the Faulkenberry’s left Saturday night, we got on our “jammies ” or pajamas and watched a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Ken and I had never seen it before, so it was nice to find a new funny night time splurge. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. It was so fun. 

 

Before bed I assembled my Overnight Baked French Toast recipe and placed it in the fridge. I make it with two loaves of cinnamon bread,  cut it into thick slices and pour a custard over the top to soak overnight. In the morning, you spread on a brown sugar,  butter and maple syrup mixture on top of the soaked bread and bake in the oven for one hour. I made a fresh blueberry sauce ahead of time, before we left for our trip.  I served the sauce along with maple syrup on the baked French Toast. I was introduced to this recipe from my friend Carolyn Regan. She made it when we went on a St Mary’s religious retreat in Guerneville many years ago. It is the perfect breakfast served with Italian sausage or bacon.

 

Sunday morning, Ken finished off preparing the breakfast and baked the French Toast while I stayed in bed a little longer. Most people know I love to sleep. At 9 AM, we ate breakfast and got ready to drive to the wineries. My husband Ken drove since he doesn’t drink. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to drive through the countryside.

 

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Ken and I outside at Iron Hub Winery

Our first stop was Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard. The views here were simply spectacular. They only charge $10.00 for a tasting and if you buy a bottle of wine, they give you a tasting for free. The pours were tiny, but we tried two whites and four reds. There was hardly anyone there with the exception of one other family of three tasting at the end of the outside bar.

We had an appointment at Cooper Vineyards at 12:15 and met up with our friends Kayla and John Castiglione. The six of us sat outside in a shaded patio where we shared stories and drank more delicious wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of all of us this time. We will have to go back again the six of us.  The Cowies are members there, so our wine tastings were free. That’s a bonus. The 2017 Barbera Riserva was the group favorite and the server generously gave us another pour.

The last place we ventured into was Jeff Runquist Winery where John and Kayla were members. We enjoyed the beautiful and welcoming tasting room, especially the fresh wild flowers of black eyed Susan, clarkia, yarrow, daisies and queen Anne’s lace in vases in every corner. We tried their Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc,  Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. At the end of the tasting, we said goodbye to John and Kayla and sat outside for a quick picnic before driving back to El Dorado Hills. It was lovely and the perfect day with friends. It was nice to see John and Kayla exchange numbers with Elaine and Craig. Especially since they are practically neighbors, living less than 10 minutes from one another.

 

We had hoped to check out the Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, but it was getting late and we still had to drive back to the Bay Area. The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. We thanked Elaine and Craig for the generous hospitality and good food, packed up our things, cleaned and changed the sheets and were off. Our drive home was uneventful and I had plenty of time to get home and water the garden before dark. It’s nice to know our friends won’t be lonely since they now have a new couple (The Castiglione’s) to play golf with or have dinner with.

Today, I’m back to my cleaning, cooking, gardening, baking and writing. It’s good to be home, back to my meowing kitty and small homestead. I’m grateful for friends, their generosity and love. We have so much to be grateful for, even during a pandemic.

Stay healthy. Thanks for reading and following my blog. I promise to add a recipe next time I write.

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One last photo to bless you with. This photo was taken at Ben Runquist Winery’s tasting room

 

 

 

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Taking it to the Streets in Rome for Pizza and Chocolate

Taking it to the Streets in Rome for Pizza and Chocolate

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The most delicious mortadella sandwich made at Roscioli Restaurant in Rome called Pizza Bianca.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Life has gotten in the way of my writing and it’s time to stop letting things get in the way. Family illnesses during the Holidays have made me not feel like not writing and sharing my blog. I’ve been a hot mess! Luckily, things are better now and for this I’m grateful. On and upward as they say. Today is a new day. Thought I’d share a few stories and food photos about my time in Italy with my husband last Summer.

 

My husband and I had quite the year of travel in 2019, spending time in Rome, Venice, and Tuscany. We were away for two weeks celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and my birthday. We had the best time together. One of my favorite memories was learning how to make spinach and cheese raviolis at a little villa called Casale in Val di Chio with Familia Buccaletti in Castiglion Fiorentino. Our cooking instructor Simona Giorgetti was wonderful. In addition to the raviolis, we made many gnudi, farfalle, tortellini, grissini’s and poppy and sesame seed crackers. Simona also brought a few other side Tuscan dishes such as Tuna butter and parsley pickle mayonnaise, cannelli beans made with sage, garlic and tomato, zucchini, carrots and green pepper with apple vinegar, garlic and olive oil, and a boiled chick pea dish served with onion, parsley, and  olive oil. After cooking for several hours we sat down and said “bon apetitto.”  We enjoyed our delicious humongous and shared a bottle of wine together. This experience was one of the many highlights of my summer vacation and we are hoping our new friend Simona will visit us in California some day.

 

While my husband and I were exploring Rome we had a small group food walking tour in Trastevere, Campo de Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto. Our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon at Bridges World Travel organized the entire trip for us and we were pleasantly surprised. On this Rome tour we enjoyed various pizzas, pastas, cheeses, and more. We tasted a mouthwatering mortadella sandwich with pistachio or truffle in the dough of the focaccia from Ruggeri A Campo De Fiore. It is specifically called Pizza Bianca.

At Sette Oche in Altalena Ristorante and Pizzeria we ate more delicious pastas and learned that the name of the restaurant in Italian means Seven Ducks on a Swing. Just adorable, and they happen have a children’s book about it. The Catinari Ristorante & Pizzeria was another great spot where our group sat on the patio and tried a few of their fried arancini rice balls. Yum.

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Pasta Carbonara freshly made at Il Maritozzo Rosso Restaurant in Rome

Another great restaurant we happened upon was Il Maritozzo Rosso and Cucina. Ken and I were so hungry and were told to go to this famous pizza joint in Trastevere, but when we got there, I wasn’t impressed. Instead, I saw this quaint place around a corner and we went in to check it out. The owner’s wife was just sitting down for clams since it was past lunch time. The place had already cleared out from the lunch crowd. The bar stools which we were happy to take a seat in were chairs made out of books. So clever. Then I noticed they taught cooking classes and the owner Ed graciously took the time to teach us how to make our own pasta carbonara. It was a blast first watching the chef fry the guanciale (pork), then incorporate the eggs and cream and cheese into the hot pasta. It’s always a good day when I can learn something new in the kitchen.

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Me and Ed at Il Maritozzo Rosso Restaurant in Rome

 

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Pesto and pine nut pizza and Truffle and cheese pizza at Grano Frutta e Farina Bakery

After a tour of the Vatican, my husband and I came across Grano Frutta e Farina Bakery where we had this amazing zucchine pesto and pinoli pizza and funghi porcini tartufo and cheese pizza. This meal had to be one of the best bites that we had the entire two week vacation. This place has dried fruits, candied fruits, pastries, fruit crostata’s, cookies,  plus lots, lots more. I even noticed they have cooking classes in case you want to try making bread or pasta. Simply divine and if I knew about it sooner, would have taken advantage of this opportunity.

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My husband Ken holding a delicious cup of Venchi Gelato

Can we talk about the gelato in Italy? Venchi is a special gelato shop of which there are many throughout Europe, and favorite for all those chocolate lovers. I fell in love with their melted dark chocolate cup coated in fresh coconut which melts in your hand while you are eating the creamy cold espresso gelato, so that you have the perfect last bites of the most delicious chocolate and coconut on a hot summer day in Rome. Why isn’t there a Venchi in my neighborhood? Seriously, I would be the happiest girl ever. If you love chocolate my English Toffee  recipe is to die for. It is being made here.

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The best damn bite

Thank you for following along and reading my blog. I’m happy to share these experiences with anyone who may love food as much as I do. Here’s my blog on Venice.

Teri

 

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Secret Persimmon Recipe

Secret Persimmon Recipe
Persimmon Bars with Lemon Glaze

Persimmon Bars

I made this recipe and brought them to a holiday party several years ago after receiving a huge bag of fuyu persimmons from my neighbor. This party was a reunion for my friends who I worked with at Andronicos Cooking School in Danville California, which has since closed. We taught many wine maker dinners and lunch and learn classes to the community. I mostly worked as a sous chef, served wine and cleaned the dishes, but we all had the best time together. I was inspired to post this blog today because my friend Rose asked me for a copy of the recipe. This one is for you Rose.

Once you make this recipe you’ll never go back to your old and boring persimmon recipes.

Persimmon Bar Ingredients:


3 or 4 ripe Fuyu or Hachiya persimmons

1½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp baking soda

1¾ C Unbleached All purpose flour

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 C granulated sugar

Zest of one lemon. I use a vegetable peeler and pulse lemon peel with sugar in a food processor until your lemon peel has been incorporated into sugar.

½ C Canola or vegetable oil

1/2 C. dried apricots or dates chopped

1/2 C. dried plums or prunes chopped

1/2 C fresh blueberries

1 C chopped walnuts

Walnuts, egg, oil, lemon zest sugar and persimmon puree


Glaze

1 C confectioners’ sugar

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Persimmon Bar Directions:


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13X9 dish knocking out excess flour or use parchment paper in a Pampered chef Bar Pan. Cut off and discard green stems of persimmons and puree the persimmons in food a processor or blender until combined. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds and skin.

In a separate small bowl blend persimmon puree, lemon juice and baking soda blend well. The baking soda reacts with the lemon juice and persimmon and it bubbles up.

In a food processor blend lemon 🍋 zest and 1 C granulated sugar.

In a large bowl combine persimmon puree lemon mixture, oil, lemon sugar, vanilla and egg.


In a separate bowl, sift together flour, spices and salt.

Flour and spices

Add flour mixture alternately to persimmon mixture starting and ending with the flour mixture until combined. Stir in walnuts, apricots or dates, blueberries and plums/prunes.

Spread batter onto baking pan and bake until golden and a wooden toothpick comes out clean about 24 minutes.

Glaze instructions:

In a small bowl mix lemon 🍋 juice and confectioners sugar until smooth. Drizzle over bars while warm. Cool on a wire rack and cut crosswise into 8 strips, then lengthwise into fourths, for a total of 32 bars. Bars keep in an airtight container for 3 days.Enjoy!


I made this recipe and brought them to a holiday party several years ago. This party was a reunion for my friends who I worked with several years ago at Andronicos Cooking School in Danville California, which has since closed. I was inspired to post this blog today because my friend Rose asked me for a copy of the recipe. This one is for you Rose.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine Dec 2004

In case you are wanting another recipe full of tons of ginger, try my Ginger Chai Cupcakes 

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Don’t Panic, It’s Organic Ginger Chai Cupcakes

Don’t Panic, It’s Organic Ginger Chai Cupcakes

It’s that time of year again for baking. It’s December and you know what people do in December? They bake! I was talking to my friend Marie who also loves to bring holiday cheer to her neighbors every year by bringing them a plate full of treats. I randomly will bring my neighbors cookies and sweets, but not necessarily at Christmas time because I believe they feel pressure to bring me sweets also. I’m kind of picky and really only eat certain cookies and candies this time of year. So, I hate for anything to go to waste, especially since my husband doesn’t eat too many sweets. This is why I had to make my favorite dessert: An organic Ginger Chai Cake with cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with toasted coconut. This recipe will blow you away and you will crave it every year and not just during the holidays.

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I had a recipe for ginger cake with a dark stout beer and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I know I had it sitting on the counter last week because I wanted to make it. This is why I like to put my special recipes on my blog because I always know where to find them. If your recipes are anything like mine, you don’t want to take the time to look in every folder, and recipe file to find something. This can take forever! In my case I spent the whole morning looking through all of my recipes from Andronicos Cooking classes, Draeger’s Cooking classes and various clippings that I have saved over the years from all the magazines that I have read.

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#Calderas Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter Beer and Molasses used for Ginger Chai Cake

Instead, I went to the trusty internet and quickly downloaded David Lebovitz’s Ginger cake recipe which he credited Claudia Fleming’s recipe for Stout Gingerbread Cake. I can never follow a recipe exactly. I follow both of them on Instagram and am constantly inspired to bake. I have to be a rule breaker and add or remove ingredients, just because. It’s fun to see how flavors mix and add ingredients that you are fond of. So I omitted the cardamon and added the Chai Tea, Chocolate, Coconut Chocolate Porter Beer, Maldon Salt, Vanilla pod, Cocoa Powder and used a different technique to incorporate the ingredients. I’m boiling the oil, beer, molasses and spices together like my friend’s Gingerbread recipe which I blogged about last year. By boiling the spices with the oil or butter, the flavor is more intense in the recipe. 

 

I’ve recently been inspired by chai flavors. My niece Beverly told me to go to Bouchon Bakery and order their Chai Tea, because she is a HUGE fan. I also love Bouchon Bakery in Yountville and will frequent there if I get the chance. I usually walk out with their Hot Chocolate and a pastry of some sort.  So this recipe is inspired by Beverly, Bouchon and the Caldera Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter that I purchased from Whole Foods. The guy restocking the beer fridge talked me into this chocolate beer since he thought it would go perfect in my ginger cake. He was right! It turned out delicious and I’m excited to share the recipe with you so you can also have a ginger chai cake recipe anytime you  wish.

 

But first, a shout out to One House Bakery in Benicia where I get to meet a friend for lunch on Friday. This place is incredible. I was there last week after attending a Tea with my hiking friends. I bought a loaf of their sourdough bread and used it to make a stuffing for a baked turkey. Who doesn’t love stuffing? I cut up the loaf in pieces and dried them before adding chicken stock, sauteed onion, celery and garlic along with a lot of fresh parsley and poultry seasoning. So yummy.

 

As I promised, here is the recipe for Ginger Chai Cake.

 

Ginger Chai Cake

Ingredients for Cake:

1 Cup (180ml) Canola Oil (Or Bland tasting oil like Vegetable or Grapeseed)

1 Cup (250ml) Molasses

1 Cup (250ml) Dark Beer (I used Caldera’s Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter)

½ C (100mg) Granulated Sugar

½ Cup (90g)  Brown Sugar

1.5 Tablespoons ground Ginger

1.5 Tablespoons ground Cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground Cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground Nutmeg

½ teaspoon Maldon Salt

¼ C chopped Candied Ginger or fresh peeled and grated (i make my own by boiling in equal parts sugar and water until soft) Trader Joe’s carries this ingredient.

½ Tablespoon Baking Soda (Added after mixture has come to a boil)

2 Chai Tea bags (I used Mighty Leaf Organic Coconut Assam)

 

3 large whole eggs, room temperature

1 vanilla pod, scraped

 

1 C. Sweetened Coconut. Bake on a sheet pan for 8-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven until brown. (Use to top cupcakes after spreading cream cheese frosting over cooled cupcakes or loaf.)

2 C. (280g) All Purpose Unbleached Flour

1.5 teaspoons Baking Powder

¼ C Dick Taylor’s Bulk Shredded Chocolate (Or your favorite cocoa powder. Chopped Dark chocolate would work as well.)

¼ C additional cocoa powder to coat muffin dish after smothering with butter flavored Crisco or spray with Non Stick Spray

1 T Butter Flavored Crisco to coat muffin pan (or use cupcake liners)

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#GingerChaiCupcakes with Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting

 

1 recipe Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting 

 

Instructions for Cake:

 

  1. Preheat Oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees C). Use a loaf pan lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non stick spray and another baking pan or  cupcake pan with paper baking cups or liners. Makes quite a bit of batter.

 

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat beer, oil, molasses, granulated sugar, brown sugar, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground Cloves, ground nutmeg, salt, and chopped candied ginger until boiling. Take off heat and Steep 2 pouches of Mighty Leaf Organic Coconut Assam Chai Tea for 10 minutes. Remove Tea Bags. Add Baking Soda and stir. Mixture will bubble. Set aside and cool.

 

  1. Measure and mix Flour and Baking Powder in a separate bowl until combined.

 

  1. Crack 3 large eggs into a bowl and add vanilla seeds.

 

  1. When molasses mixture is cool, add it to dry flour mixture with eggs and vanilla and stir until combined. 

 

  1. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan, muffin pan, or cupcake liners filling ¾ full. 

 

  1. Bake until toothpick comes out clean about 18-22 minutes. Or for 45 min to an hour if using a loaf pan. Cool. Remove from pan and frost with Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting.

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Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting

 

Ingredients:

1.5 C Cream Cheese softened

½ C. Unsalted Butter softened

2 C. Confectioners Sugar

1 Vanilla pod scraped (Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out vanilla seeds) Or use 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1 T Heavy Cream

½ teaspoon Maldon Salt

 

Directions for Cream Cheese Frosting:

 

Place softened cream cheese and butter in stand mixer and blend until combined. While Mixer is off add confectioners sugar a little at a time and mix until blended. (you can sift it first, but I never do). Add vanilla, salt and heavy cream until the frosting is a nice consistency. After cake or cupcakes are cool, put frosting in a decorator bag with a large tip and pipe onto cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut for decoration. Option: chop more candied ginger and decorate top of frosted cake or cupcake.

 

Enjoy!

 

If you make the Don’t panic, it’s organic #GingerChaiCake, please leave a comment below and let me know how you like them. Share the recipe with your friends and loved ones. They will love you forever.

 

 

 

 

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Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie More Time On the Camino Plus a Fall Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie More Time On the Camino Plus a Fall Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Can’t believe we did it! My friends and I walked the Camino de Santiago two weeks ago for a total of about 100 miles. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I am happy to share my experience. Walking for miles every day with friends without a care in the world is something I would do again and again.

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Nancy from #OrindaTravel Jeanne, me and Jeanne inside the wodden heart at our first hotel in Sarria.

First off a huge thank you to Nancy Solomon at Orinda Travel for organizing the trip. She and 5 other friends from my hiking group took part of this amazing experience. Two of the women flew from San Francisco, California and began their excursion in Lisbon Portugal for a few days before meeting the rest of us in in Sarria, Spain. These ladies Marianne and Sharon decided to bike the camino instead of walking with us, yet they met up with us in the evenings at dinner and we stayed at the same hotel. I’ve known Sharon for about 20 years. She and I live in the same neighborhood, have kids similar ages and we have hiked together many Tuesday and Thursday mornings which have been organized by her. I have not known Marianne for very long, but she is a member of the hiking group as well and wonderful.

My son Andrew drove Nancy and I to the San Francisco Airport where we met up with Nancy’s good friend of 30 years, Beth. Our other hiking member and friend Jeanne met up with the three of us at the Frankfurt Germany Airport since she was enjoying a holiday with her husband in France. We shared a chocolate dipped croissant and a huge chocolate frosting filled vanilla cookie at Herberer’s Traditional Bakery. Totally hit the spot and I was already a happy girl, now even happier.

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Delicious pastries at Frankfurt Airport

The flight was long about 11.5 hours from San Francisco California USA to Frankfurt Germany. Then the four of us flew to the Santiago Airport in Spain. I read, listened to my book club book on my Kindle, watched movies and slept. I drank a lot of water to keep hydrated and had to use the restroom about seven times, having to climb over Beth from my window seat since she was passed out. It felt nice to get up a few times to move my body, and I wore long compression socks since I read somewhere they prevent blood clots on long flights. I’m always using preventative measures to stay healthy, but I may have gone a little over board here. Swiss Air provided plenty of food, but airplane food is nothing to rave about. I loved looking down at the clouds and the many cities and towns below.

 

After arriving in Santiago, we were transferred by car for an hour and a half to the Pension Serrano Hotel. We met our friends Sharon and Marianne outside where they were riding their bikes around town. They told me to check out the goats down the lane who happily greeted me. I’m a goat lover, I hate to admit. Goats are cute and funny and I happen to follow many farmers on Instagram. 

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All six of Nancy Solomon’s World Travel Camino de Santiago trip at our first pulperia in Sarria Spain. From left:Me, Jeanne, Sharon, Beth, Jeanne, and Marianne

We had planned on having dinner at a Cantina Pulperia Luis in Sarria, but I think our driver told us to go elsewhere. Not important, but I think the food took a while, Nancy didn’t get her beer that she ordered so I shared a bottle of red wine called Habla Del Silencio that I bought. The wine is not expensive in Spain. I may have only paid $15 euro for a bottle where in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might get a glass for that price.  Not many of us were drinking alcohol this trip, but Nancy and I made up for it and enjoyed the flavors of Spain. I wasn’t a huge fan of their wine since we are spoiled living near Napa Wine Country, but it all worked out and no one went thirsty. Jeanne was recovering from some nasty illness which she was hospitalized for in France, and ordered plain rice through Google Translate, which finally came at the end of the meal. Instead they brought her a fish dish thinking that would be best for her stomach. Beth, Sharon, and Marianne drank sparkling water and Jeanne asked for and was brought a refreshing ginger ale.

 

We went back to the hotel and slept in until 6 or 6:30Am which was early for me. We would try to eat and get on the trail by 7:30 or 8AM sometimes walking in the dark. Luckily I had my head lamp which everyone made fun of, but I was not a beauty queen by any means. Not liking to be cold, I would wear my bulky comphy jacket, plus two or three layers under that in case it got hot, hiking boots and two layers of socks: wool socks and silk liners which is the key to not getting blisters according to all the blogs out there. I always wore my Truckee Love hat that my sister Susan gave to me for my birthday, a scarf around my neck, my trustee ugly fanny pack, and my travel money belt under the LuLuLemon stretchy tight yoga pants that I’ve had for years. Yep. I was a sight to see, but I was prepared. Well, I thought so, but I didn’t bring my rain jacket and it rained on us a little on the trail the first day. 

The rest of the week, I always had my thin rain jacket strapped around my waist. Sports Basement provided me all my gear that I needed as well as a quick trip to Target for essentials. Nancy had given us a long list of things we would need to bring to be comfortable on the camino. This list even included a silk bag incase we wanted to be ready for bed bugs! Yikes. But it’s always good to be prepared. I did get in the silk bag one night, only to jump out an hour or two later cause it was too hot, confining and uncomfortable. The damn thing cost me $75.00! I’d risk the bed bugs after all. In the end, we all survived and didn’t take home any extra critters. Thank God.

It’s worth mentioning I had some anxiety around this entire trip, especially before I left. I would ask myself, do I have everything thing I’ll need for hiking 🥾 60 miles? Would I get enough sleep, since that can be an issue for me. Will the path be marked well enough, or could we get lost? ( This did happen to us in Pedrouzo. Will explain more later.) Is it safe in Spain? Will there be enough food along the trail? Of course, I had my trusty snacks, chips, mini Pay Day candy bars, teriaki beef jerky, nuts, and my homemade oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies which became a special treat. And I always carry dark chocolate. This treat can get me through the afternoon if I get tired. Would I have the stamina to hike all day, six days in a row? Would my feet hold up, after all I had toe surgery 6 months ago to clean out the arthritis in the joint. My podiatrist Dr. Edlinger at Kaiser gave me an injection in my toe the week before my trip to prevent me from having pain. (This toe did fine. It was my left toe nail that cracked and gave me problems,) 😳 So even though I prepared physically for our walk on the camino, there was an emotional aspect that I had to somehow prepare myself for.

I liken it to the Avon 3 day walk that I did with my friends Sherri and Heidi 20 years ago. That event inspired me to go back to school and finish my college degree. If I could walk 20 miles a day for 3 days, I could do anything. Except now I’m 20 years older, 55 in case this gives you a perspective. I was also going to be away from my husband Ken for two weeks. I would miss him and would he manage the house, the pets our two 15 year old cats and get by okay without me? Unless he is traveling with work, we are together. What would I do if there was a family’s emergency with one of my parents? It was all these anxiety provoking questions that I needed to prepare myself for before leaving home. I was happy to have my friends with me. We bonded in the process and became even closer. I laughed, cried and shared stories with them along the camino. It was a trip I will never forget.

Now, back to my story

 

The Camino Frances “The French Way” was where we started our trek. Many people walk from other areas and take longer routes. Our route was originally supposed to be 60 miles, but that didn’t include getting lost, walking to the cafe’s and to our hotels in town. We figured we walked about 100 miles total in 6 days. We encountered many cathedrals and churches on our walk and ventured into many to light a candle or pray for loved ones. It was a spiritual experience for me even though I didn’t walk alone quietly like many pilgrims do. 

 

The trail was beautiful. We would see herds of sheep running through town, loose horses escaping their stables, cows being milked in their barn near their baby calfs and plenty of chickens, kittens, dogs and cats. Lining the path were lots of wildflowers like foxgloves, dandelions, arugula, calendula, yarrow, alyssum, lavender, pansies, and flowering purple crocus bulbs. Fields of corn were everywhere as well as rows of apple trees, eucalyptus trees, bay laurel, chestnut trees and live oak trees with acorns, apples and chestnuts spilling all over the trail. Rows of kale, cabbage, lettuce and more filled quaint back yards for all of us to see. Beautiful hydrangeas of every color would greet us as well as some shacks with entrepreneurs selling fresh fruit like raspberries, the traditional almond cake and drinks of course. One gracious woman sold rosemary lotions, oils and herbal teas with tinctures told to be healthy and good for us. Big beautiful orange and tri color pumpkin patches were abundant which reminded us that Fall was upon us as we began our journey on October 4th 2019. Pumpkin Bread recipe here.  I would do this hike again in a heartbeat.

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Me and Jeanne posing along one of the many Camino signs which the pilgrims follow to get to Santiago

 

There are many more stories to share about my time on the Camino de Santiago, so I will save more for later. It was a memorable time and I cherish the women and people I met along the way. Please follow my blog to read more about my trips and travels and the food I encounter along the way. “Gimmie” more of walking the Camino any day of the week. Also check out What’sDavedoing.com an App about the Camino and his blog .

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for following my Camino journey. I will be sharing recipes and posting more in the coming days and weeks ahead. Here’s  Camino Part II in case you want to read more. 

Buen Camino!

 

 

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