Have you ever had those days when you are so distracted that you get nothing done? That’s what kind of day I’m having today. Maybe it’s because it’s Monday, but I’m not sure. In any case, I need to write more and get some of my travel experiences recorded, yet I see a recipe and want to make it. Scottish shortbread was heavily on the list and so was a sticky toffee pudding recipe that I would have substituted dried figs for instead of the dates. Don’t those sound yummy? Ever since Queen Elizabeth II of England died last week, there have been Instagram and Facebook posts of the Royal family and their favorite foods. Chef Darren McGrady was a personal chef for Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and the Princes’ of Whales, William and Harry for fifteen years. I want to try his Scottish shortbread recipe.
I found these gorgeous figs at Rick and Ann’s Restaurant and shop in Berkeley a few weeks ago while celebrating my sister Sue’s birthday. I surprised her by including her niece Gavan who happened to be still home from college for a few days. My sister was surprised and we had a nice breakfast together. There is usually a wait at Rick and Ann’s, so get there early. You won’t be disappointed. Did I mention I hosted our family of 20 people and had a party for my sister the day before? It was a last minute change of venue, but I was happy to do it. I had been in Wyoming with my husband and his family the previous 10 days, so it was a big deal to pull it off. I tend to like working under pressure to get things done.
Next, after saying goodbye to Gavan, on a whim my sister and I called the world famous The Fairmont Spa at Claremont Hotel to see if they had any luxurious massage appointments available. We were parked right in front of the hotel after all, so it couldn’t hurt to take a chance. (Rick and Ann’s Restaurant is around the corner.)Our original plan was to go on a hike in the Berkeley hills and stop by a nursery on the way home. You can imagine our surprise when we learned they had two openings for us! Sue asked for the 80 min treatment and I wanted the 50 min one. Quickly we turned back around and drove into the hotel parking lot. Parking is free if you get your card validated at the restaurant.
This place is special to me because my husband and I spent the night of our honeymoon here over 33 years ago. It’s a historic place that has been around since 1915. I even have a photo of my grandparents there when they were a young couple. My sister and I haven’t had any body treatments there for many years, but had taken our mother there for a day on Mother’s Day. If it seems like an extravagant birthday present, it was. Since our birthdays are exactly a month apart, we always celebrate them together and make a big deal about them. Here is a peek at the last time I was at Limewood Bar with my sons Curtis and Andrew and husband Ken.
We walked all over the hotel before our appointments to see what was going on there. We wandered into the dining hall called East Bay Provisions where there was a party going on. There were beautiful flower arrangements on every table, so of course I had to take a photo of all of them.
We found the spa on the lower level and looked at the fun items in the gift shop before signing in at the counter. My sister treated me to a new silk eye mask to help me sleep better. (That’s what we do. We spoil each other.)I mentioned we were there to celebrate my sister’s birthday and they immediately made sure we had complimentary champagne flutes filled to the brim put into our hands the moment we put our robes on. How fun is that? We sat in the quiet lounge and read magazines and sat in the jacuzzi tub to relax our muscles before we were taken in for our therapeutic massages. It’s nice to be pampered. It was heaven to have a day away without any chores or responsibilities.
After showering and cleaning up a little, we met at the Limewood Bar and Restaurant for a drink and dinner upstairs. The hostess was able to secure us a spot on the terrace overlooking the breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay. The bartender made me a fun cocktail called the Oakland Bramble: Hendricks Gin, St.-Germain, lemon juice, muddled blackberries, soda water and mint. So yummy. Sue had a class of La Crema, Sparkling Brut Rose from Napa. We shared the kale and strawberry salad with ricotta salata and the rib eye steak with scalloped potatoes, confit of allium (garlic) and a demi glaze and Sue picked up the tab. How generous is that?
We met two new lady friends and asked them to join us. One of the ladies lived in Washington, and was in town to celebrate her girlfriends’ 60th birthday. We thought it was surreal that my sister had also turned 60 and we compared stories for the next hour or so. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day.
Should I make the sticky toffee pudding now? This wasn’t the plan to write about Berkeley today, but now that I have, I’m glad I did. Time to feed the chickens more grubs that I’ve discovered are in my compost bin. They love grubs! And I need to make a risotto for dinner because my younger son Andrew is coming for dinner. He wants to learn how to use the bread maker. Maybe he will want to help with the Sticky toffee pudding recipe, or the shortbread. Which should we try first? I will keep you posted and updated with recipes and photos.
Thanks for reading and hopefully signing up to receive more blogs and recipes. I will try to stay focused and next time write about the vacation in the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Jackson Hole Wyoming. It’s been a fun filled summer and I’m grateful for how fortunate I am every day.
It’s been a hot few days here in Northern California. It is currently 111 degrees and it’s only the beginning of September. A month ago, my friend Marie and I decided to celebrate her birthday today. We were hoping to go towards the coast to avoid the hot weather. I chose to spend the day with her at Filoli Historic House and Garden in Woodside which is located 30 miles south of San Francisco, nestled on a slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains and have lunch after. Here’s a tip:It’s best to purchase tickets ahead of time online. I brought my Aunt Teri here a year ago when there was a last minute change of plans because of a fire along the Highway and I had to buy the tickets in the parking lot on my phone.
She left her house at 7:40 AM and didn’t arrive at my place until 9:00 AM. Since school has started, we’ve had to factor in more time to get places and Marie lives further inland. We were excited to spend the day together and didn’t mind getting an early start.
We arrived at Filoli by 10:20 AM and practically had the whole place to ourselves. It wasn’t much cooler than the East Bay, but we were happy to see the statues, wrought iron gates and beautiful gardens. The property has a Georgian revival-style mansion and is considered to be one of the best remaining country estates of the 20th century. The gardens are from an English Renaissance era with stunning hydrangeas, rose of sharon (a hibiscus shrub), purple and red salvia, tiny cyclamen, pink amaryllis, roses, English lavender and a deep blue ‘Hidcote’ lavender in the summer, and camelias, orchids, magnolias and citrus blossoms in the winter just to name a few. The spring display features thousands of daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and blue violas.
I was excited to see the prolific newly renovated vegetable garden on display. They had everything you could think of. We walked down rows and rows of green beans, amaranth, squash, tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, herbs, Swiss chard and much much more. We barely got a glimpse of the cut flower garden that included massive sunflowers, bachelor buttons, zinnias, bright and tall yellow marigolds, echinacea “purple cone flower” in every color and waist high dahlias that were popping up everywhere.
Eventually we needed a rest on a bench in the shade under a massive Oak tree where flying insects began swarming into our eyes and mouths. I swallowed a bug, basically inhaled it and Marie had to put her sunglasses back on to keep them out of her eyes. Obviously, we didn’t sit there long. There were massive Elm trees, Oak-Madrone Forests, Redwood Groves, Chaparral and Irish Yews (evergreen conifers) from Muckross, olive trees, heirloom apple orchards and hundreds of acres of natural lands situated on the 654 acres of ancestral lands of the Ramaytush Ohlone people. There are 5 distinct ecosystems there and a 1 mile Estate Trail that we had to miss because of the heat.
We stumbled upon the gift shop where we could find shade and cool air. There I purchased sunflower seeds for Marie and I to plant in the Spring, wildflower honey, and a cute white and pink ‘marshmallow’ fuchsia plant for a new planter box that Marie’s husband made for her. Marie loves sunflowers, so these were the perfect gifts.
We didn’t walk around the gardens as long as we wanted to because it was very warm and we had lunch reservations a few blocks away. The Village Bakery Restaurant was a glorious next stop during our birthday celebration for Marie. We had developed an appetite and decided to sit inside even though both of us prefer to stay safe and eat outdoors if possible because of Covid. I had been there many years ago when my sister lived in Belmont. It is 10 times better now than it was years ago.
The waiter was quick to bring us cold water and offer us fancy libations like aperol spritz and various cocktails, but I was driving and Marie was happy with an iced tea with lemon.
We started with a chilled cucumber gazpacho served with a cherry tomato panzanella, extra virgin olive oil and mint. The waiter was kind enough to split it for us and give us individual servings. It was cool and refreshing with just the right amount of acid from the tomato and crunch from the crouton and the cucumber. Delicious! And since we were at a bakery, we had to order the Parker House Rolls with flaky Maldon sea salt and sweet butter. My favorite!
Next Marie ordered the Caesar salad with grilled chicken which practically melted in your mouth and I had to have their French Dip (Prime Rib thinly sliced, caramelized onions, gruyere on a toasted baguette) with au jus. These were simply divine. The restaurant began to get busier and busier and both of us became a little uneasy, so we decided to skip the dessert. The waiter again thought of everything, and brought Marie a large chocolate chip cookie “to go”. It should be mentioned that there is a 20 percent service surcharge already added onto the bill to help pay the staff in support of the San Mateo County employer mandate. Many restaurants are establishing these rules and I’m happy people in the food industry are beginning to be paid what they deserve.
Lastly, we stopped in San Ramon at The Lot City Center Bishop Ranch for ice cream at Salt & Straw. This is a fairly new shopping center with many restaurants, shops and a theater. I ordered the Marionberry Coconut Sherbet in a waffle cone and Marie picked the Chocolate Gooey Brownie in a waffle cup. The $5.95 each scoops are enormous and the waffle cones are $1.50 extra, but who’s counting? Not me, certainly. Locations are popping up all over California including San Francisco, Palo Alto and Burlingame and many in Los Angeles if you want to give them a try. They have seasonal flavors no one else has like Spiced Goat Cheese Pumpkin Pie, Plum & Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread, Wild-Foraged Berry Slab Pie, Pinot Poached Pear Sherbet and Honey Lavender. These are so interesting that you want to taste all of them!
I can’t imagine a more perfect day. Marie and I have been friends for over 43 years. (Tammie Berg -my bestie pal from high school. You have her beat with 44!)(Donna- It’s been 36 years!)(Denise -It’s been 20 plus years) (Kathi- It’s been 34 years) (Sherri- It’s been 27 years) But who is keeping track? Marie and I met in 1979 at Mr. Steak Restaurant while working as hostesses. We’ve been through a lot of years raising 5 boys and two husbands between us and keeping in touch regularly. I’m so happy we could take time away from our busy schedules to make it a special day. Here is our day together last year in Napa.
Thanks for following my blog and reading my stories. I will be sure to share a recipe here when the heat subsides. Until then, stay cool and enjoy life.
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.
It’s a new year, so let’s get it off to a good start by writing again. Truthfully, I’ve gotten out of my groove for some time. Covid hasn’t helped things, nor has farming and raising 8 chickens for the past year.
I’ve loved being in my garden. It has brought me peace and a great deal of exercise which I love. For a 50 something lady, I’m doing pretty good health wise. About 80% of my family got Covid during the holidays. That includes my husband, whom I live with. It hasn’t been easy staying away from him since he works from home and has for the past almost two years. We get along great, but not having time to myself to write has been an issue.
I also gave up my gym membership two years ago and that’s where I wrote each and every blog post. I would order a beer and an appetizer after a workout and get to writing. I miss that space, but am happy to spend more time in my garden and with my chickens.
My “girlfriends” Babe, Arthur, Mabel, Burtha, Mary Kate, Caramel Corn, Dolly and Bee Bee have been a huge blessing in my life. They bring me joy each and every day. I spend time talking to them, feeding them, cuddling them and driving to local grocery stores to pick up fresh greens and almost spoiled fruit and veggies. If the chickens aren’t interested in celery, or peppers, or whatever, I compost it. Nothing gets wasted here. Sometimes the tomatoes or corn are good enough to eat for us. In which case, it becomes a bit of work and a time commitment for me to separate everything, refrigerate it and feed it or compost it, etc… I love to juice celery, turmeric, beets, ginger, carrots, apples, kale and spinach for Ken and me and then give the pulp to the chickens. They basically get to have any leftovers that we can’t eat. Spoiled girls for sure.
Back to Covid. Right now the Delta and Omicron variants are here in the Bay Area. No one knew they were ill on Christmas eve. Maybe they were asymptomatic, but it was a superpreader event like no other. So far, everyone has survived. Everyone was vaccinated. Not all of us were boosted, which means their cases will be more severe.
I listen to podcasts at night when I can’t sleep and one of them is from Vincent Racaniello called MicrobeTV. He is known as the Earth’s Virology Professor and he has guests that chat with him and answer questions. It is very interesting to me. Probably not something I should be listening to in the middle of the night, but whatever. I learn a lot about Covid-19 and what’s going on.
Sometimes I listen to the Live Twitter feed of theCovid-19:Updates for the US. My favorite is listening to Governor Murphy in New Jersey who speaks every Monday or Wednesday about the numbers of deaths, whether schools are open, stories about the people who have passed away, etc… Last year, I listened to Governor Cuomo in New York, but he has since lost his job. I love learning. It’s a passion of mine.
I haven’t baked as much recently. My friend Marie and I got together last October and baked tiramisu together. I have a few recipes that I use and I promised her that I would post the recipe. I know. I’m a little late. Oh well…
Ohh. And I’ve been quilting too. I also attended a 5th birthday party for a special little girl in my life. The BEST day ever. I’ve made marajuana pound cake, apple cake with cannabis leaves which is GREAT for sleep, and cannabis butter from plants I grew last summer. Recipe coming soon.
I attended a Holiday concert with Blackhawk Chorus that my son Andrew and good friend Denise Clark performed in which was a blast.
I spent Christmas day with my 2 boys, my hubby, my older sister Susan and my dad Ron which was unexpected, but so much fun. We made a ham, scalloped potatoes au gratin, and a blueberry pie with a heart shaped crust and Marion Berry ice cream.
Back to the recipe.
You can purchase 30 small Savoiardi cookies instead of making ladyfingers. Or make a Chiffon Cake and use that instead.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 12X16 inch baking tray. Line with Parchment paper and brush again with butter.
In a mixing bowl, whip the egg yolks with ¼ C sugar until ribbon stage and light in color. Reserve. In another mixing bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining ¼ C sugar and continue to whip to medium peaks. Sift the flour again. With a rubber spatula, fold half of the flour mixture into the yolk mixture.. Fold in ½ of the egg whites. Then fold in ½ of the remaining flour mixture. Lastly, fold in the remaining ½ egg white mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, and with an offset spatula, carefully spread the batter evenly. Bake for 12-15 minutes until done and golden in color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. This can be made up to two weeks in advance, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil and stored in the freezer.
6 Egg Yolks
6 Egg Whites
1 C Sugar
¼ C Marsala
¼ C Italian Brandy
2 Lbs mascarpone cheese
2 sheets gelatin or 2 Oz unflavored Knox gelatin
¼ C cold water
2 ½ C Heavy Cream
1 C hot espresso or use 1 T dry espresso powder with water
3 T brown sugar
1 T sugar
1 teas lemon juice
1 teas vanilla extract
¼ C Kahlua
½ C grated Bittersweet chocolate (preferably Guittard or Ghirardelli)
½ C Cocoa Powder Dutch Processed
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Add the Marsala and brandy. Place over a ban marie/double boiler and cook until mixture reaches 160 degrees F. Continue to cook mixture for another 5 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick paste,( called sabayon). Remove from the double boiler and cool mixture over an ice bath or until room temperature. Whip the mascarpone cheese to soft peaks. Fold the cooled sabayon into the mascarpone until well incorporated. Place gelatin sheets in ¼ C cold water. After 5 minutes, pour mixture into a small pot and melt on medium heat. Cool. Fold melted gelatin into mascarpone sabayon mixture. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold egg whites into mascarpone mixture ¼ at a time. Place heavy Cream in a cold bowl and mix until whipped or “chantilly” stage.Fold into sabayon mixture.Mixture should be smooth and light. Use as layers in the tiramisu or as needed. Can be made up to four hours ahead.
Brew fresh espresso. (or go to Peet’s Coffee or Starbucks and buy 1 Cup). To one cup of espresso, add the brown sugar, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Stir until dissolved.
Assembly of Tiramisu:
Divide the sheet of ladyfingers into 2 (8X10Inch) sheets. Divide espresso syrup into 2 portions. Divide the mascarpone cream into 3 portions. To assemble, spread the first portion of the mascarpone cream at the bottom of a deep (8X10-inch) deep dish topped with 1 sheet of ladyfingers. (Or for fun use wine goblets) Pour one portion of espresso syrup on to the layer of ladyfingers until soaked using a brush. Repeat process. Sprinkle grated chocolate and cocoa powder on top of mascarpone. Lastly, top with remaining mascarpone cream, and cover with grated chocolate. Cover pan and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.
Note: If not serving right away, keep in freezer wrapped tight with plastic wrap and foil. (I’ve kept mine in freezer up to 3 months!) When ready to serve, transfer to fridge to defrost or take out of freezer and leave on the counter to defrost.Then top with whipped cream and chopped chocolate and a sprinkling of cocoa powder when serving.
Recipe was developed by combining Sullivan’s Sweets and Savories cookbook, Diablo Valley College’s Pastry Baking class tiramisu recipe, Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa and celebrity Italian chef Mario Batali’s recipe. You can double or triple the recipe to make a large amount to share with friends and family.
I had to stop and take a break to bring treats to my chickens “girlfriends.” Ken stopped by Lunardy’s on his way home from soccer and picked up a box of sprouts, broccoli, butternut squash and seeds, spinach, carrot tops, celery and lettuce. They were thrilled. Brought out the garbages, transferred the laundry to the dryer, texted a few friends, replied to Instagram posts and here I am.
And it goes without saying that we miss my Mother in Law Nilda Smyth who died last October a week before she turned 90. We love you Grandma Nilda.
Happy New Year everyone and hope to be writing again soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sponge= Pre dough
2 ¼ t dry yeast
⅓ C warm Milk
¼ C sourdough starter
1 C All Purpose Flour or Bread Flour
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.
⅓ C Sugar
1 T Kosher Salt
Crack 4 eggs into a separate bowl (approx ¾ C.)
¾ -1 C softened butter
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
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.
Thanks for joining me here. I appreciate your comments and feedback if you have questions about my recipes or the smudging.
I’m stuck sitting in my house all day because the smoke and ash from the West Coast wildfires are making the air unhealthy to breathe.The fires have charred over 2.5 million acres and it’s only mid September. I can’t imagine anything else that could go wrong in 2020. America and the world have been dealing with the Covid pandemic. We have missed weddings, funerals, concerts, and everything about our previous lifestyle and all this began a little more than six months ago. But August 23, 2020 will go down in history as being one of my favorite experiences ever, dining at The French Laundry in Yountville, California.
I’ve been following Thomas Keller (ChefThomasKeller) and the Three Star Michelin Restaurant The French Laundry (tfl) on Instagram for years. I’ve walked through the gardens across the street from the restaurant every time I visit my dad at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville. I’m inspired by the organic produce they grow and look to see what flowers I can identify by name. Not only have I worked as a pastry chef, I’ve also been an avid gardener for over 30 years. So getting the chance to dine at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, was a dream come true.
In January, my sister Sue booked a reservation in May for four to celebrate her daughter Marie’s 30th birthday. Marie takes after her auntie and is one of the biggest foodies there is. She knows her wine too, especially after working for Wente Winery for a few years.There is a great story of our day together in a previous blog if you want to check that out. When Covid hit in March, the restaurant had to close and pivot to outdoor dining reopening on July 8th. Our reservation was rescheduled for August 23rd, which happened to be my sister’s birthday. Perfect right? I was excited to be included in this fancy affair and couldn’t wait for August to come fast enough.
When the day finally arrived, we started it off the right way by having brunch at my house first. Here’s the beginning of the story tfl Part 1. I didn’t want to go wine tasting at Robert Biale on an empty stomach, so I whipped up a few dishes to keep our tummies full.
Before our reservation, we had to get coffee and hot chocolate and buy something at Bouchon, the famous French Bakery also owned by Thomas Keller. We then took a walk through the gardens, said hello to the chickens and the bees and took photos like we were having the best day of our lives. And we were. We even touched up our makeup and hair in the car so we would be ready for what was to come.
The time had come. It was 5:15PM, so my husband Ken dropped us off (a designated driver is always a good idea), took a few photographs and we walked up to the back entrance. We were greeted and welcomed with a smile. We gave our name and were escorted to our table. Just so you know, I don’t get to eat at places like this every day. I appreciate restaurants and bars and how they make us feel and that’s why I write about them.
Our waiter was handsome and had an English accent. Very charming. We were smitten with him. My niece is single so of course I wanted to see if he was available since I am a matchmaker. I bet you didn’t know that about me. Well, he was taken, so that was that.
Marie brought a Del Dotto Rose sparkling wine and I brought a Red wine to avoid extra costs. Our waiter was nice enough to decanter the Italian Amarone Della Valpolicella Terre Molin red wine and open the sparkling wine to start. It was delightful. Light and plenty of bubbles. The perfect way to start the evening.
Then the tastings started coming. There was an amuse bouche of a cheese ball served in a cone dipped in white and black sesame seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds I think. We were also given hand made, perfectly cut out, flower shaped crackers filled with special cheeses that came from the cheese maker Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Farm in Petaluma California.
And lucky me, Chef Keller graced our table. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Chef’s are like rock stars to me. I had to give him my business card with my blog on it and share that I almost applied to a job to be his assistant 8 months ago, before I chickened out. Maybe I will get the courage to apply there someday. He was warm and professional and everything I had hoped for. He is an author of three cookbooks: Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc At Home, and the latest one Under Pressure Cooking Sous Vide, none of which I have. Hint. Hint. He also launched a magazine called Finesse in Dec 2010 that featured different themes of importance to Chef Keller such Design, Community, Preservation and Evolution. I must check these out. For $15.00 a month you can register for his Online Masterclass and learn how to poach perfect eggs, make pasta by hand and confit vegetables. Pretty cool.
I should have taken better notes because I’m trying to decipher the menu and compare it to the photos I took of the dishes. I can recall a special pastry that we were served along with their extraordinary butter made by Diane St. Claire, found only in Vermont by a dairy called Animal Farm. Chef Keller even had a cow named after him. I bet the pastry was made from heirloom grains provided by Glenn Roberts owner of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. The miller also grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats, Italian farro, legumes and antebellum corn. I’ve been experimenting with these grains and making bread by grinding grains with a Mocksmill that I purchased when there was a flour shortage.
This dining experience is special because of the close relationship the chef has with the farmers like Sadie Kendall at Kendall Farms in Atascadero who makes creme fraiche, seafood purveyors like Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts,or Ingrid Bengis Seafood for her lobster, scallops and crab. Chef Keller buys only the best ingredients for culinary excellence and discriminating appetites such as special spices and olive oils from Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco. You get the idea.
I won’t go into every bite with you here, but I will include the menu so you can look it over yourself. It’s totally worth every penny to have an experience like we had.
In my opinion, the best part of the meal was the dessert. We were presented with a birthday cake “Gateau Marjolaine” a hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate ganache and praline buttercream for the birthday girls that had fireworks coming out of it. No joke. Incredible. My niece was blown away and so were the rest of us.
Did I mention Sue Baker, my sister’s best friend paid for Marie to have a special glass of wine selected from the wine cellar to celebrate her and to make her experience even better? How sweet was that? I can’t forget to address that my sister Sue paid for all four of us to dine at The French Laundry. It’s seriously unbelievable and added to the excitement of the day. Thank you Sue. So generous.
Back to the desserts, because of course these were my favorite treats and the most indulgent part of the evening. They kept coming and coming. There were caramels, and a strawberry flavored one too. We tried a peach French macaron (My recipe here) and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I ate a white sesame cake with yuzu glazed strawberries, served with cream and cosmos flower petals.
Our service was undeniably the best I’ve ever had and our waiters had the precise attention to detail, skill and expertise that you would expect from a three star restaurant. They anticipated our every desire. Only better. I’m pretty sure someone stood near our table the whole evening just in case there was something we needed.
I wish I had taken better notes because I can’t begin to describe what was served in a tiny coffee cup. I also couldn’t stop eating the fluffy white dessert with chocolate crumbles. You realize we had been eating for four hours at least nine or ten decadent servings of everything a person could ever want and yet, I couldn’t stop myself from eating every single bite. Then they brought out the chocolates and we could try as many as we wanted. OMG. To die for. Don’t tell anyone. I took a few home in my purse so I could save them for later. Delicious. Works of art.
To make the day even better, the staff guided us through the kitchen for a tour. The kitchen is spotless and shiny like no other. Copper pots lining the walls, bins of tiny white and red onions probably coming straight from their garden across the street.
We laughed and giggled all the way back to the East Bay telling Ken all about the upcharge option of wagyu beef, and the stunningly, impeccably cared for grounds and the gently lighted ambiance when the sun went down.
Dining at the French Laundry has been the most relaxing and memorable foodie experience ever. We were treated like royalty by the most courteous staff. It was truly remarkable.
I hope you enjoyed my blog on The French Laundry. Meeting Chef Thomas Keller made my evening, but dining with my family and loved ones will be something I will always cherish. Thanks for stopping by.
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CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
50g or ½ C. Cocoa Powder
40g or ⅓ C. Powdered Milk
150g or ¾ C. Granulated Sugar
10g or 2 T Instant Coffee powder Or Espresso
½ T Kosher Salt
100g or about 5 large Egg Yolks (Yolks ONLY)
360ml or 1½ C. Whole Milk
2 T Rum
480ml or 2 C. Heavy Cream
1 tsp Tahitian Vanilla Extract
In a medium size heavy saucepan, place the cocoa powder, the powdered milk, granulated sugar, instant coffee, rum, salt and stir with a wire whisk. Stir in the egg yolks. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla extract into the pan. Whisk ingredients and cook over low to medium heat until the thermometer reaches 158 degrees F or 70 degrees C.
For the next 25 minutes (set your timer), move the pan off and on over the heat keeping the temperature between 158-162 degrees F or 70-72 degrees C and constantly stirring. Stay with your ice cream base the entire 25 minutes.
Remove the pan off the heat, once the 25 minutes is up. Strain the custard through a wire mesh into a large bowl to remove any clumps.Cover with plastic wrap touching the custard directly onto the plastic to prevent a skin from forming on your custard.
Put the chocolate ice cream base into the refrigerator overnight or for at least four or 5 hours to chill. Pre chill the 2 quart bowl preferably overnight. (I leave mine in the freezer all year long, always returning to the freezer after my ice cream is made.) When ready to churn, take the frozen ice cream container out, add the chocolate ice cream base and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions approximately 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume. Remove it from the ice cream machine and place in a container with a lid and freeze until firm.
This is my latest favorite dessert. It is fairly easy to make and keeps well in the freezer. Never lasts long in my house… Here is a video of me making the chocolate custard that is uploaded from my Instagram page.
Spent last Sunday in Napa and Yountville celebrating my niece Marie’s 30th birthday and my sister Sue’s birthday. We were joined by Sue’s best friend Susan Baker, her college roommate from 40 years ago. Today’s blog is all about our day together having brunch at my house, tastings at Biale Winery and dinner at the world famous three Star Michelin restaurant The French Laundry.
I was concerned about drinking on an empty stomach, so I decided to whip up a few things to keep our tummies happy. The day before, I prepared an organic milled spelt, bulgur, heritage grain Olan wheat flour by Capay Mills, sun dried tomato and salami bread and kept it in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. Baked it fresh that morning, so it would have time to cool before cutting into it. I served this wonderful high protein bread with two cheeses: havarti dill, and Nicasio Reserve from Marin County California and my homemade Blenheim apricot preserves. We splurged and opened a bottle of sparkling wine and made bellinis with my canned peaches from my garden and garnished with lemon verbena from the garden.
I also served a potato Spanish tortilla and a peach crumble with vanilla ice cream and homemade caramel sauce. So yummy. I probably over did it. But this was going to be a special day and I wanted to start it out right.
We left for the winery later than expected with full bellies and smiling masked faces all piled into my Lexus. My husband Ken agreed to drive us, so we could enjoy the day.
We had a nice experience tasting wines at Robert Biale Vineyards. Since Susan has a membership, we were spoiled with impeccable service and attention. We relaxed looking at the vineyard, chatting and sipping some of the best Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Biale’s rare blends some of the best in the Napa Valley. We happened to be the only people there because of the wildfires and smoke permeating the area. We were lucky there was a breeze and the air quality didn’t bother us. It was much worse in the Bay Area where we traveled from. We sat for hours admiring the planters filled with prolific fuchsia pink and yellow perennials lantana, pink dianthus and red and yellow dahlias. Just gorgeous.
We were blessed to be able to get a reservation at The French Laundry 6 months ago for a May celebration. Covid closed down many restaurants in March, April and May, but we were fortunate enough to claim one for August so we could acknowledge Marie’s 30th birthday. Her dream came true that day, and I was ohh soo grateful to be included in her special day. I can’t forget to mention the quick stop at Bouchon Bakery where we indulged in hot chocolate, espresso, fresh French bread and pastries, not wanting to spoil our appetites for what was to come. Bouchon sells Paris-Brest, Macarons, fresh fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, cupcakes, pain aux raisins, yuzu citrus croissants, chocolate almond croissants, cream cheese Danish, french baguettes filled with ham and cheese, smoked salmon sandwiches on seeded rolls,tomato and brie sandwiches, cookies, chocolates and candies like almond toffee.
It’s hard to know where to begin on describing my experience at the French Laundry. The four of us began by walking through the gardens across the street from the restaurant. They are incredible. They keep bees hives, tiny new starts of herbs in a tunnel, rows of lettuce, peppers, squash, onions, tomatoes and more. We visited the chickens who seem happy eating their fill of discarded squash. I’m curious about owning chickens and am ready to try keeping them in my home garden.
My husband took photos of us perfecting our makeup, like we were getting ready to get married or something. We were so excited and had waited so long to have this day finally happen. It had been cancelled a few times because of Covid and we were worried it would be cancelled again because of the fires and smoke in Napa County. The tables would be set up outside because no one is allowed to eat indoors for fear Covid could spread. We were fortunate to have the money and resources to afford the $350.00 per person fine dining experience. My sister Sue treated us by scheduling the date and paying many months ago. How incredibly lucky I was to be included in this special day, since originally my sister had another person in mind for the ticket.
More photos were taken at the entrance, then my husband drove off to find his own dinner nearby. Kind of sad we couldn’t include him in the event, but he wouldn’t have wanted to participate nor have wanted to spend the money on this extravagant meal.
I’m going to end here and write my next blog about the remainder of the day. I hate to see my blogs getting too long. Look forward to my next write up continuing on about our French Laundry experience part II.
First I will share my Peach Crumble and Sea Salt Caramel Recipe.
Peach Crumble with Sea Salt Caramel Sauce
4 or 5 medium to large size peaches peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
2/3 C Brown Sugar
⅓ C Granulated Sugar ( Plus 2 T more sugar for peaches
2 T Tapioca Flour or arrowroot to add to peach mixture later)
½ C. Buckwheat flour
¼ C All Purpose Flour
¼ C Oats
½ C Unsalted Butter room temperature or cold cut into chunks Plus 1 T extra to coat pie dish
½ t Kosher Salt
½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground ginger
¼ t ground cloves
1 Baking pie dish or use several individual oven safe serving size bowls
1 Cuisinart Food Processor or Kitchenaid Mixer
In a Cuisinart food processor, Kitchenaid Mixer or large bowl combine all dry ingredients: Brown Sugar, White Sugar, Buckwheat Flour, All Purpose Flour, Oats, Salt and spices: Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves.
Pulse 5 times to mix thoroughly. Add butter pieces and pulse again until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
Peel peaches by boiling first and placing in an ice bath to loosen skins. Dry and cut peaches, remove pits and cut into ¼ inch thick slices and place in a medium size bowl. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of sugar mixed with 2 T tapioca flour onto peaches.
In a buttered pie dish, place cut pieces of peaches that are covered with sugar and tapioca flour. Add crumble topping on top of peaches. Set the pie dish on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35-50 minutes or until dessert is hot and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Dessert can be refrigerated at this time and reheated and served later.
Serve alongside vanilla ice cream and sea salt caramel sauce.
Sea Salt Caramel
Ingredients and Instructions
320g or 11 oz Heavy Cream
200g or 7 oz Light Corn Syrup
60g or 3 oz Granulated Sugar (Plus an additional100g or 3.5 oz for later)
Heat these ingredients together in a medium size pot and set aside keeping it hot.
In another medium size pot, on medium low heat sprinkle 100g or 3.5 oz of granulated sugar little by little melting and cooking sugar slowly NOT stirring, until caramel turns amber color.
Slowly add hot cream mixture to amber caramel stirring and cooking until temp reaches 105 degrees C or 220 degrees F. The longer you boil, the thicker the caramel.
Add 4g Sea Salt, Maldon, or Fleur de Sel and cool. Caramel will thicken as it cools.
Recipe credit to Pastry Chef and author Dominique Ansel
I’ve used buckwheat flour to add complexity to the recipe and to make it healthier. You can substitute your favorite flour or use flax meal or almond flour.
Thanks for joining me today. Leave me questions or comments below.
It’s Tuesday. These days I rarely know which day it is. My husband and I spent last weekend in Eldorado Hills and Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley with our friends the Cowies and Castiglione’s. It was refreshing to have social time again especially with some of my favorite people. It was nice to introduce good friends to our other good friends who happen to live in the same town. In today’s blog I will reflect on our weekend away and tell you what I’ve been up to lately.
The last four months have been interesting. Every day, I wake up, check on the latest news, water my vegetable garden, check email, have my coffee and a bit of breakfast, and do whatever chores are needed to get done. I’m not currently working, but I have worked harder in the past four months than I ever have. It seems there is always more laundry, more cleaning, flour to mill and bread to bake, fresh pasta to make, pies to bake, or a new cookie or Rice Krispie treat recipe to try.
Two of the masks I made for friends to protect themselves from Covid19
Covid masks made for the little people in my life
I’ve also made a dozen or more masks for family members, using up material I have had for years. It is rewarding to up cycle many fabrics that I’ve saved, knowing I could find a way to use them eventually.
My strawberry plant blossoms. Just one of the many plants I am growing in my victory garden
Just a few of my baby seedlings poking up through the soil
I’ve started an enormous vegetable garden, growing many varieties mostly from seed months ago. Not knowing whether we would have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because of Covid 19, I decided to grow a victory garden. I’ve had edible gardens in the past, but never like this one. It is rewarding checking on the size and color of the tomatoes and picking them off the vine when ripe. Many of them don’t make it into the bowl, but get popped right into my mouth. So tasty.
Many varieties of flowers from my March garden in Walnut Creek. Photos taken by a friend Linda Kwong
So when our friends Elaine and Craig Cowie invited us to their new home in Eldorado Hills, we jumped at the idea. They have postponed the visit at least three times, because the Bay Area has been on lock down. My husband and I have been good about not going out unless we wear a mask, and we social distance if we see one of our friends or family. We felt safe about going North since there aren’t as many cases of Covid there. The population is less, and it’s not as crowded there.
We have known the Cowies for over 30 years. We met them after moving to our second house in Concord California. They lived directly across the street, so we had many dinner parties with them. Also included into the mix were the Faulkenberry’s. The Cowies and Faulkenberry’s have been friends since college at Chico State. Our son Curtis took Taekwondo classes from Ray Faulkenberry when Curtis was in elementary school and we’ve loved them ever since.
Every year, the three families have stayed connected taking turns having dinner together, even after we moved to Walnut Creek. We’ve had great times together watching our kids grow up, attending weddings and sharing meals over the years. We were happy to finally meet again, this time at the Cowies new home in El Dorado Hills. They moved there in February, after selling their home in Concord, to live closer to their daughter Leslie, son in law Kyle and two precious grand kids.
Two couples enjoying the day at Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard.
Leaving the chores, the garden and kitty cat behind, Ken and I happily drove North and were graciously greeted by Elaine and Craig when we arrived. We unpacked the car with all the goodies and clothes and enjoyed the tour of their new home. I was excited to learn their floor plan was similar to our other friends the Castiglione’s, our friends from our current Walnut Creek neighborhood who have also recently relocated to Eldorado Hills. Kayla and I have been in the same book club for over 20 years. I was happy to set up a day for the two couples to meet. We decided to get the six of us together on Sunday while wine tasting. Unfortunately, the Faulkenberry’s couldn’t stay overnight and join us having to get home to their puppies and cats.
We relaxed by the pool on Saturday while snacking on chips and mango salsa, fresh fruit skewers and pinot grigio. When the Faulkenberry’s showed up, I visited with their daughter Meg, who is a writer and social media expert. She wrote a book called Summer Rain. She had all kinds of great tips about how I should use Twitter to share my blog and many more new websites to check out like Blue Host, Hootsuite Wattpad, Booksie, 750words.com, Quotev.com and who to follow on Tik Tok. She should be teaching classes on these social media tools.
The weather was warm and yet there was a nice breeze which kept us cool. Elaine and Craig made fish tacos for dinner which we gobbled down and I made two apricot dishes for dessert. The first dessert was an apricot pie. I picked these ripe and juicy Patterson apricots from a farm in Tracy a couple of weeks ago. I also made two gluten free apricot turnovers with Teff flour and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour. These were special. I had heard about the Teff flour from The Sourdough Podcast, so when I stumbled across it at Lunardi’s Grocery Store I quickly swept it into my cart. I had a little sticker shock when I got to the register. It was over $7.00 for a small bag, but was worth the price. It is high in fiber, high in protein, has more calcium than any other grain and is the only ancient grain containing Vitamin C. Teff flour has a subtle hazelnut earthy taste, is cultivated in Eastern Africa and is found in Ethiopian flatbread called injera. I enjoyed these hand pies more than the apricot pie made with all purpose flour.
After the Faulkenberry’s left Saturday night, we got on our “jammies ” or pajamas and watched a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Ken and I had never seen it before, so it was nice to find a new funny night time splurge. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. It was so fun.
Before bed I assembled my Overnight Baked French Toast recipe and placed it in the fridge. I make it with two loaves of cinnamon bread, cut it into thick slices and pour a custard over the top to soak overnight. In the morning, you spread on a brown sugar, butter and maple syrup mixture on top of the soaked bread and bake in the oven for one hour. I made a fresh blueberry sauce ahead of time, before we left for our trip. I served the sauce along with maple syrup on the baked French Toast. I was introduced to this recipe from my friend Carolyn Regan. She made it when we went on a St Mary’s religious retreat in Guerneville many years ago. It is the perfect breakfast served with Italian sausage or bacon.
Sunday morning, Ken finished off preparing the breakfast and baked the French Toast while I stayed in bed a little longer. Most people know I love to sleep. At 9 AM, we ate breakfast and got ready to drive to the wineries. My husband Ken drove since he doesn’t drink. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to drive through the countryside.
Ken and I outside at Iron Hub Winery
Our first stop was Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard. The views here were simply spectacular. They only charge $10.00 for a tasting and if you buy a bottle of wine, they give you a tasting for free. The pours were tiny, but we tried two whites and four reds. There was hardly anyone there with the exception of one other family of three tasting at the end of the outside bar.
We had an appointment at Cooper Vineyards at 12:15 and met up with our friends Kayla and John Castiglione. The six of us sat outside in a shaded patio where we shared stories and drank more delicious wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of all of us this time. We will have to go back again the six of us. The Cowies are members there, so our wine tastings were free. That’s a bonus. The 2017 Barbera Riserva was the group favorite and the server generously gave us another pour.
Cooper Vineyards tasting room and patio
Safety Instructions everyone must read and attend to while wine tasting at Cooper vineyards
The last place we ventured into was Jeff Runquist Winery where John and Kayla were members. We enjoyed the beautiful and welcoming tasting room, especially the fresh wild flowers of black eyed Susan, clarkia, yarrow, daisies and queen Anne’s lace in vases in every corner. We tried their Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. At the end of the tasting, we said goodbye to John and Kayla and sat outside for a quick picnic before driving back to El Dorado Hills. It was lovely and the perfect day with friends. It was nice to see John and Kayla exchange numbers with Elaine and Craig. Especially since they are practically neighbors, living less than 10 minutes from one another.
We had hoped to check out the Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, but it was getting late and we still had to drive back to the Bay Area. The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. We thanked Elaine and Craig for the generous hospitality and good food, packed up our things, cleaned and changed the sheets and were off. Our drive home was uneventful and I had plenty of time to get home and water the garden before dark. It’s nice to know our friends won’t be lonely since they now have a new couple (The Castiglione’s) to play golf with or have dinner with.
Today, I’m back to my cleaning, cooking, gardening, baking and writing. It’s good to be home, back to my meowing kitty and small homestead. I’m grateful for friends, their generosity and love. We have so much to be grateful for, even during a pandemic.
Stay healthy. Thanks for reading and following my blog. I promise to add a recipe next time I write.
One last photo to bless you with. This photo was taken at Ben Runquist Winery’s tasting room