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Category Archives: Food blogger

Cocktails at Brasswood, Margarita at Acacia House and Hiking in Napa Valley

Cocktails at Brasswood, Margarita at Acacia House and Hiking in Napa Valley

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.

Lise and me at Bothe Valley State Park last week

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. 

Extensive beer menu at Brasswood Bakery and Cafe

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.

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Flowers from Tesoro Florist at Acacia House

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!

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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. 

Whipped Lebneh and salmon row with potato chips at Acacia House

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?

Fun art display in the Spa at Alila

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.

 

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How to Drink Your Way Through Disneyland

How to Drink Your Way Through Disneyland

Hello again. A quick update about what’s going on at Smyth Family Farm. My mom is turning 80 tomorrow, and we are celebrating at Blackhawk Grille in Danville. This is the restaurant that I worked as a pastry chef at. I will be bringing three cakes for my mom tomorrow: A white cake with elderflower liqueur, strawberry jam, and fresh strawberries and whipped cream, a lemon cake doused with limoncello and simple syrup, meyer lemon curd, whipped cream and a lavender white chocolate buttercream. Last but not least will be the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I picked up the white tulips that I will try to decorate the lemon cake with. I am inspired by the wedding cake I saw last weekend at Kevin and Lora Mahlman’s wedding. Incredible. We’ll see if I can pull it off. More photos at the end of this blog.

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Whipped Cream and cut up strawberries to fold into the center of the white cake.
My husband Ken, me and my girlfriend Marie and her husband Ron at their son’s wedding last weekend.

Also, we have another surge of Covid spreading across the Bay Area where I live. My son Andrew was exposed at his Blackhawk Choir concert last weekend, where 10 of the singers came down with covid. My good friend Denise, had to cancel a trip to Napa because she was exposed at a women’s group meeting where she volunteers. I’m super sad that she and her husband are leaving the state. It’s one of the many who are exiting California. This past year has been full of loss whether it be from sickness or moving out of the area. I’m not happy about it, but I understand. 

Here is my continued blog from the Disneyland trip I took in February 2022. Here is part one, if you missed it.

Day two of Disneyland adventure.

Woke up at 6:15 and got ready in our nice hotel. It’s convenient to stay at the Grand Californian because it’s close to the park. Kathleen, Keri and Jamie and I met up with the Louies in the lobby. We took off to Guardians of the Galaxy. It replaced the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in 2017. It is much more fun now. I wasn’t crazy about dropping hundreds of feet, but Guardians of the Galaxy is different and brilliantly done.

Toy Story Midway Mania ride was next. We love taking aim at moving objects and try to score more points then our riding buddy. The Pixar Movie Toy Story came out when my youngest son Andrew was three years old. He loved Andy, Buzz Lightyear, and the Woody character and would watch the movie over and over again. There is something about being in Disneyland that reminds you of being a child, and or bringing fond memories back of raising your kids.Loved the ride. I’m not great at scoring points, but it’s fun to try.

Incredicoaster was next on the list. All day, Kathleen is monitoring all of our lightning passes which were previously called Fast Passes. She is monitoring her phone and the Disneyland App to see when she can book our next pass. These lines are much smaller and it saves a ton of time. Only two passes are allowed per individual per day, which is why Kathleen asks us to purchase two park passes per day. It’s a lot of money, but totally worth using your time wisely at Disneyland. There is a strategy to her madness. She researches blogs and internet tips for months preparing for this trip. I don’t think Disneyland knows we are purchasing two tickets each. It’s illegal, and we would be kicked out of the park if they find out.It’s a risk we are willing to take to make our experience even more pleasurable.

Incredicoasteris located at Pixar Pier and is the fastest ride reaching a high speed of 55 miles per hour. You will be greeted by JackJack, Edna, Elastigirl, Violet and Dash, the characters from The Incredibles Movie. I’m not usually a huge roller coaster person. When I was 12, my dad made me ride the Tidal Wave Ride at California’s Great America previously called Six Flags. It was built in 1976. It terrified me. Since then, I have overcome my fear and have more fun taking pleasure in these roller coasters.

We bought a “Nom Nom” Cookie which I need to try to make myself at home. They are served warm and are an incredible cookie. Of course we share them because it’s too much cookie for one person.

Some of us purchased a latte or coffee to go with our treats.

Soaring Around the World was just as much fun the second time. It’s fun to get on this ride and sit in the first row. Your feet hang down and you feel like you are flying in the open sky. Not too far from here was Monsters Inc. We got on a “taxi ride” where we were entertained by Mike and Sully rescuing a human child. I’m not as familiar with this movie because my kids didn’t get into it. I’m also not as familiar with Tangled and other princess movies since I had two boys. I’ve had to rely on my nieces to introduce me to some of these films.

We tried getting on the Cars ride next, but there was a 30 minute wait. We never wait that long for a ride. On to see Ariel and her Under Sea Adventure from The Little Mermaid with my sister in law Terri-Ann. Ariel has always been Keri and Jamie’s favorite princess growing up. Over the years, we would get to visit each princess and take pictures with them. Of course, they are all special, but Ariel was always the family’s most loved princess. All of the others in our group went on Goofy’s Sky School Ride.

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My nieces Jamie and Keri at Carthay Lounge

All of those rides can make a girl thirsty, so we were grateful that Kathleen made reservations in advance at the Carthay Circle Lounge. I ordered the Soba noodles with salmon edamame and a ginger soy vinaigrette. Sooo good. The VanWinckel’s ordered the shrimp spring rolls and more. I enjoyed a double pear martini. It is made with Double Cross and Absolut Pear Vodka, Pear Nectar and fresh lime complemented with a baby pear and mint leaf. Just delightful! Keri had a Sparkling Mare. This is made with Saint-Hilaire Sparkling Wine, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur and Aperol Orange Aperitif. Jamie ordered the Negroni I think. I’m trying to figure it out by looking at the menu and her drink from my photos. It was a few months ago and I have a horrible memory. Having drinks with these girls is a lot of fun. I get to sit back and watch the sisters interact and not have a care in the world. These drinks cost between $15 and $18.50 each. We are there for a limited time since Kathleen has us on the go, but not before the girls order their second cocktail which I believe included tequila. Interestingly enough, no one gets too inebriated. We all relax and have a good time.

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Star wars Ride

The most anticipated attraction at Disneyland is Star Wars: Galaxy Edge called Rise of the Resistance. It is four rides built into one and about 15 to 20 minutes long. It’s epic and you won’t want to miss it.

After all the excitement, it was time to slow down and have a drink and pizza poolside at the Grand California. We sat in the hot tub to soak our tired feet and had long conversations. We’ve all missed our family gatherings since Covid started, so there was a lot to catch up on.

My drawing. I have no idea which character this was.

Next we all met at Animation Academy located at California Adventure Park. This 23 minute long hands-on attraction allows you to draw with the cartoonist. They teach you how to draw a Disney character. The whole experience is fun and challenging, especially for me since I can’t draw. So it was evident that I would lose my marbles and laugh uncontrollably when I heard Keri laugh. It was one of those awkward moments when you think you will be kicked out of class. Maybe it was the cocktail? I’ll stick with that.

We ate dinner at the Lamplighter Lounge, which again needed to be booked in advance. The Lobster Nachos are always a hit so the Van Winckel’s  always order two. I find them a little over rated. I don’t find them to be very “lobstery”, but I go with the flow.

Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Fireworks, It’s a Small World, Oga’s Cucina for drinks (An Absolute MUST), and the Pirates of the Caribbean finished up our day.

That finishes up day two of our Disneyland 2022 trip.

I will post day three and four next time.

Thanks for joining me and reading my blog. I hope I’ve inspired you to take a trip to Disneyland.

Wish me luck completing and pulling off the birthday cakes for tomorrow. They are already in the freezer just waiting for the decorating final touches. I will post photos of them and my mom’s special day next week.

Here are the cakes I made for Mom’s 80th. The recipe for the white cake is in this link.

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Strawberry Jam. White Cake and a great premade frosting to whip up.
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Creating the White Cake with strawberry Jam and whipped cream.
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It’s good to make a whipped cream edge so the jam doesn’t escape.
 

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A Break From Life at the Farm and a Cocktail Themed Vacation in Disneyland

A Break From Life at the Farm and a Cocktail Themed Vacation in Disneyland

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Best fried chicken served at Plaza Restaurant Disneyland

A lot has happened since my last blog in the beginning of February. I was fortunate enough to get invited to the family Disney trip again. I went last weekend with two of my sister in-laws, four of my nieces, one nephew, his wife and their significant others. It was a nice distraction from the sadness that I have been feeling about losing four of my pet chickens.

I am sharing my Disneyland experience with you since it is not like any other. Exactly a week ago, at 7AM, my husband Ken drove my sister in law Kathleen and her two daughters Keri and Jamie to the Oakland Airport.He saved us a lot of trouble and cost not having to drive ourselves and drag our luggage from the extended parking lot near the airport. We were surprised to see the huge line going through security. Luckily, all of us have Pre TSA and were able to fly right past them in our own special line. The process of qualifying for the Pre TSA is paying extra money and showing your passport and ID ahead of time in a screening process. It’s totally worth it, in my opinion.

We stopped off for mimosas, waffles, oatmeal and fruit at the Escape Lounge which is affiliated with American Express. It is all free to members and their guests. This is a special way to begin your vacation and I feel fortunate to be traveling with my sister-in -law who is a member.

We boarded the flight without any complications and landed at the Santa Ana Airport at 11:00AM. We were given strict instructions to not remove our masks during the flight so we wouldn’t be exposed to the CoronaVirus.Since I was staying in the same room as Kathleen, I needed to be safe. After we landed, my niece called an Uber driver to take us to the Grand Californian Hotel next to Disneyland. This hotel is gorgeous. It has every amenity you can think of: Pools, jacuzzi’s, a spa, a fireplace, a bar, restaurants, a grocery store, and more. My sister in law always pays for the hotel for the family. She is extra generous to me, her daughters and to the Louie family. I wouldn’t normally be able to afford this kind of luxurious vacation. I love going with her and her daughters and my other sister in law and her family because it is extra special family time. It’s worth mentioning here that we haven’t had many family get togethers the last two years because of Covid. Before Covid, we would celebrate birthdays and see each other at least once a month.

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Decor inside Disney’s Grand California Hotel

We dropped off our luggage at the hotel even though our rooms weren’t ready. Check in time is usually at 4PM, and the front desk will text you when the room is ready. Until then, the bellhop will store your items in a secure place. Next we entered Disneyland park and went to our pre scheduled reservation at the Plaza Restaurant. The four of us shared the fried chicken platter served with mashed potatoes, green beans and a buttery biscuit and we ordered a huge piece of the dark chocolate cake (shown above). It was a large amount of food and plenty for the four of us to share. My niece Jamie grabbed two corn dogs from the Little Red Wagon next to where we were sitting for us to share. These corn dogs have the best cornbread covering. It’s enormous! I tend to purchase a lot of the food since I know it helps Kathleen with the cost of the trip. We were asked to download the Disney app ahead of time to be prepared to purchase items from the stores, bars and so we could get our lightning pass tickets. These were previously called fast passes. You pay extra for these and get a limited amount of them per day. Again, Kathleen managed all of our rides on her app the entire vacation. She was on top of it, always looking to see if a ride was open or closed. She also prepares much of the itinerary before we arrive, by booking all of the restaurants and bars for each meal. This is all new. Disneyland has changed a lot since the pandemic began. They had to close down for a year. 

Thunder Mountain Railroad was our first roller coaster ride of the day. Buzz Lightyear was our next ride. Of course we didn’t stand in long lines because Kathleen is smart and has a strategy of when to go on which ride most efficiently. We stopped for a pickle for Jamie because it’s her favorite snack of all time. They are big and juicy and hard for her to resist. Personally, I’m a sweet pickle kind of girl and usually only eat them when I’m making tuna salad sandwiches. 

Off to California Adventureland Park where we went on Soarin’. This ride is especially fun and involves a fantastic airborne hang gliding flight which takes you through the wonders of the world. Web Slingers located in the Avengers Campus was the next obvious choice since it is the new Marvel Spider Man Adventure interactive screen ride where you wear 3 D glasses. There is a huge wall outside of the ride where spider man flies around doing aerial somersaults for the audience and people walking by. It’s very cool and popular for the little ones. I’d also mention how funny it is to see many of the children wearing costumes while in the parks. It’s hilarious to me when you see a toddler sound asleep in a stroller wearing a complete Spider-Man costume including the mask. Many of the little girls are wearing princess dresses and have their hair pulled tightly up into a bun with a tiara on their head. You really feel like a kid walking around seeing the magic all around you and remembering how you felt when you were a child in Disneyland. It’s so exciting.

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Spider man at Disney California Park

The girls were ready for some shopping time. They thought that they could order clothes and have them delivered to their hotel, but that option wasn’t available this time. Kathleen uses her Disney credit card all year long and gets points to use towards the restaurants and merchandise at the stores. It’s a win win for my nieces who appreciate wearing all of Disney’s attire. Kathleen actually purchased matching Disney sweatshirts for the four of us to wear during the trip. She thinks of everything, and I love being spoiled by her.

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Girls gotta have fun
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Thirsty girls in Disneyland

We were thirsty, so we ordered drinks from the phone app from Pym Tasting Lab. They give you a time to pick them up and you tell them when you arrive. Our drinks were ready and we sat and drank four outstanding cocktails. I had the “Molecular Meltdown” a Garage milk stout with vanilla ice cream and marshmallows. Keri and Jamie and Kathleen had the X-Periment drink with Patron Silver Tequila, mango and habanero syrups,  and mango flavor filled boba. These were so good that we went back for more throughout the weekend. 

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Cocktails at Pyms Tasting Lab at Disneyland

Goofy’s Sky School roller coaster was up next because Incredicoasters ride was down. I didn’t remember going on Goofy’s Sky School before. It was twisty and turny and jerky. Not my favorite, so I skipped it the next time the group wanted to go on it. Matterhorn was our next ride. I was terrified of this rollercoaster when I was young, but decided to go for it and go with the flow. It was fun. It’s even more fun at night.

I talked the group into the Winnie the Pooh ride. He’s my favorite Disney character. I love the music on this ride. Rabbit, Piglet, Tigger, Roo, Owl are cute and colorful and fun. I’ve always read these stories to my kids and provided videos for my oldest son Curtis to watch when he was a little guy while I cleaned houses. 

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My oldest son Curtis as a baby

We ate at the Blue Bayou Restaurant for dinner. They offer only a few choices and have a New Orleans cajun style menu. We shared the steak and salmon which they cooked perfectly. It’s also right next to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and it is a little dark but has many hanging lights. It’s very relaxing after a long day of running through the parks. Of course Kathleen had dinner reservations for us that she made ahead of time.

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My Sister in law Terri Ann and me on the Winnie the Pooh Ride

Keri, Jamie, Kathleen and me were all very excited to check out the new Star Wars ride “Rise of the Resistance.” It was an epic attraction and worth the purchase. Space Mountain was where we headed to next. This ride brings back so many memories for me because my son Curtis hated this ride when he was about 5 or 6 years old. He spitted and said it was “stupid, stupid, stupid!” We shouldn’t have tried to go on it with him. He has been scared of roller coasters ever since and this is why he doesn’t come with us to Disneyland. I don’t think he would enjoy all of the walking either. Turns out, we walked 22,000 steps that day according to my niece’s Apple watch. We landed at the pool bar called GCH Craftsman next to the Grand Californian Hotel where we were staying. We met my sister in law Terri Ann, her daughter Laura and Laura’s girlfriend Fiona at the pool bar. Eventually, my nephew Peter and his new wife Alex joined us. It was nice to connect with more of the family. I had a chocolate sundae since I don’t like to drink too late into the evening. It wasn’t that great as far as chocolate sundae’s go. The whipped cream tasted fake and it wasn’t sweet and there wasn’t enough chocolate sauce in it. But I’m a chocolate snob, so there’s that.

It was back to the hotel room to catch some zzz’s. I like to shower before bed, so I can be clean when I get into clean sheets. I’m not a morning person, so I get as organized as I can by laying out my clothes and having everything ready for when the alarm goes off.

I will have to continue this blog at another time. I have three more days to write about plus details about my sister in laws strategy to get in as many rides as possible each day. And cocktails! Lots more cocktails! I will leave you with this funny photo taken several years ago in Cancun when all three of our families the Van Winckels, The Louies, and the Smyth’s went on vacation together. Thanks for reading, and follow my blog for more recipes and stories of my travels.

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Cancun shenanigans
 

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Brewery Hopping in Santa Rosa

Brewery Hopping in Santa Rosa

So excited to find the time to sit and write. I finally have the house to myself and can concentrate on this next post. Today I will share the beer tasting experience that my son Andrew and I had last Friday. We explored Santa Rosa and made it to four breweries: Russian River Brewing Co, Wilibees Cellar Bar and Market, Third Street AleWorks, and FogBelt Brewing Company. The last blog I wrote was in July when my husband and I went to Freestone California for Bread and Cheese.

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Me and my son Andrew at Russian River Brewing Company

First stop was Russian River Brewing Company. What a joy to finally make it there. The vibe was fun and exciting. This is the brewery that makes Pliny the Elder and usually has a line wrapped around the building to get in. Andrew and I were lucky to find a place at the bar which is where I like to sit anyway. That’s where all the action is. 

Since I was the designated driver, I drank ½ a glass of the O.V.L Stout. It’s a dry Irish beer with notes of chocolate and roasted malts. It went very well with their salami, ricotta, mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes. It was huge, so I saved the other half to share with my husband Ken. 

Beer at Russian River Brewing Company
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Plenty of beer to choose from at Russian River Brewing

Andrew had a flight of something and a medium Mediterranean style pizza which he devoured.The service was excellent and our bartender was happy and helpful. We loved our experience so much that we bought 2 six packs of beer to go. The first six pack was a mix of their Intinction which is a Sauvignon Blanc wild Ale style beer, a Merlot one, a Pinot Noir one and a few others that our bartender suggested. They are sold in these cool glass bottles with special corks and are priced $17.85 plus tax! One was for Andrew’s best friend AJ and his wife Noelle, because they are having a one year wedding anniversary party next week at St Drake’s Barrel House in San Leandro. We bought him 6 bottles of Pliny the Elder and we think they will be very happy to receive this. We also splurged on two T shirts for both of my kids. It will be a nice memory of our day together in Santa Rosa.

Wilibees Wine and Spirits in Santa Rosa
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Beer flight at Wilibees. Only $10.00

 We didn’t even have to move our car for the next beer experience. We had spotted this place while making a U turn to park. It is called Wilibees and it was quite the place. Andrew was excited to see the variety of their hard liquor, especially the fancy Scotch and whiskey bottles. They sell all of the necessary  ingredients for the perfect cocktail as well as everything else you might find at a liquor store. Wilibees has a deli counter, and tap room where they offer a variety of IPA’s Ales, Ciders, Pilsners, and Hard Seltzer. Some of the Breweries are Hen House, Laughing Monk, Old Caz, Humboldt, Belching Beaver, Eel River, Sudwerk and Old Possum. They have happy hour every day from 4Pm until 6Pm where selected beers are only $4.00 each. 

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Andrew’s happy place at Wilibees in Santa Rosa

Andrew ordered a flight of beer which included Orange Creamsicle from Third Street Ale Works, a Cherry cider from Humboldt, and a couple others that the bartender recommended. We met the owner Vikram “Sonny” Badhan and had a nice conversation about his business. He mentioned he has another Wilibees location in Petaluma which we will have to check out on our next outing up North. I sampled the Cherry Cider as well and enjoyed our time hanging out together. I was surprised that it wasn’t busier since it was a Friday afternoon, but they said the day before was standing room only because the Giants were playing. This place was warm and inviting and we will be back.

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Third Street AleWorks in Santa Rosa. The oldest Brewery in Sonoma County

Walking distance, only a block away was Third Street Ale Works Brewery. We sat at the bar where we could enjoy the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. They also offered us the back patio, if we wanted to eat outside. I wasn’t hungry yet, but Andrew ordered another Orange Creamsicle beer and their Cubano sandwich. It had roasted pork, sliced ham, a pickle, pepperoncini, dijon aioli and jack cheese served on a soft French roll. Boy can he eat! We didn’t feel as comfortable here as the lady at the counter seemed rushed and discontent. She really tried to squeeze out a smile at some point, but it wasn’t authentic. The owner/manager Kerry Macleod was super friendly and had plenty of stories about his wife growing up in Petaluma. He knew the history of the breweries in the North Bay and wanted to share them with us. 

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The Cubano sandwich at Third Street Ale Works in Santa Rosa

Third Street Ale works also sold 4 pack cans of beer to go which has been popular since the pandemic. They offered Truffle Shuffle, Blarney Sisters, Throwing Darts West Coast IPA, Apricot Pastry Kettle Sour, Jacked Up West Coast IPA, Bodega head IPA, Annadel Pale Ale, Orange Creamsicle, Your Happy Place Hazy IPA, Fresh Perspective Hazy IPA, Mr. Mosaic Double IPA, Beer is Life Hazy IPA, and Believe a Hazy IPA. Aren’t these names fun?

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Beer options at FogBelt Brewing in Santa Rosa

Our last Brewery was Fog Belt Brewing Company and only a 10 minute drive to.This place was hopping! By then it was after 6PM or later when we arrived. We sat at the bar again and found the last two chairs available. We really weren’t that hungry or thirsty by then since we had been at it all day, but Andrew tasted two of their wet hops which are only available this time of year. We ordered the pretzel bites to go which came with a beer cheese dip and a beer mustard dip so I could have something to munch on during the ride home.We loved this brewery. It was small inside, but the atmosphere was exciting and hella busy. We bought canned beers to go since Andrew had his fill for the day and I wasn’t going to drink anymore either. Wet Hop Farm Fresh Pale Ale, Wet Hop Redwood Hill IPA, and their Wet Hoptober Oktoberfest Lager. The hops are from Blossom and Bine Farm in Santa Rosa. #localhopsforlocalbeer

All in all, I would say Andrew and I had the perfect day. It was fun to get out of town and check out the breweries in Sonoma County. I hadn’t been to Santa Rosa in years. My Dad’s sister, Aunt Harriet and cousins have lived there since I was a child. We would visit Harriet when my son Curtis attended Sonoma State, but that was many years ago. And Aunt Harriet died from pneumonia at least 10 years ago. 

I hope you can get out there and enjoy a new city in your area. There are so many places to explore and so many beers to try. I guess I will have to have a beer tasting party now that I’ve got a fridge full of beer. My favorite has always been a wheat beer with a slice of orange or grapefruit. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I love learning about growing hops and would love to grow my own someday. 

Thanks for reading my blog and I hope to get on a roll here and post more often. All I can say is that having chickens and growing your own food has been a ton of work. I truly enjoy it and will make a point of sharing more of my travels again soon.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my blog by leaving your email so you can receive my recipes and stories as I post them. I promise to leave a recipe here soon, but for now I need to spend time with my husband on this gorgeous Fall Sunday afternoon.

 

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Day Trip for Bread and Cheese in Freestone California

Day Trip for Bread and Cheese in Freestone California

Spent time up north a few weeks ago at my favorite bakery and cheese shops. I had been there once before with my girlfriend Marie, but this time Ken came with me. I love day trips, and this day out in the country about an hour and and 45 minutes away was perfect.

These are the cheeses I selected. Sooo gooood.
Many fantastic cheeses to choose from at Freestone Artisan Cheese

We headed North West and stumbled upon Valley Ford Creamery first. Ken was reluctant to stop, because it wasn’t our true destination. These are the excursions that I love the most, because you find new fun places to visit. I was excited to see they offered tuna melts, fried cheese curds, grilled cheese served with house pastrami and kimchi, crispy fried chicken and salads. There were beer, wine and cheese flights for sale which I have never heard of. And of course, I missed out on the ice cream cause I didn’t want to spoil our lunch. I ran around and purchased a salami sandwich on ciabatta and various cheeses to go as well as a bag of ice to keep everything cold. The atmosphere was fun and I will definitely go back. Oh. And I saw they sold chocolate and two kinds of biscotti- Dark chocolate and pecan, and almond anise biscotti. Here is my recipe for biscotti

It was delightful to stop at a tiny roadside stand called B-Side Farm. It’s the second time I have come across places to buy fresh flowers along a country road. If you want to buy something, you put the cash or check into a metal cash box and write what you took. Great idea. I grow flowers also, so I realize the skill and patience and love that goes into gardening and farming. Sometimes things don’t grow the way we want them to. I chose two flower arrangements, one for me and one for my mom. They were so beautiful and I was able to put the gorgeous flowers into our water bottles so they wouldn’t dry out.

Offerings at Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone California

Next up was Wild Flour Bread. This place is so popular that they have lines out the door. We were lucky to find they hadn’t yet run out of everything. We purchased their Gouda Flat Bread made with aged gouda, onion and herbs. We also bought Dragon Bread made with jalapeno oil, garlic, cornmeal and polenta. The cookies were all sold out, and they no longer make scones because they can’t find enough employees to make them. So sad. And you must know that they are open limited hours, so check before you make the drive. Of course, everything is sold as “take out” since we are still in the middle of the pandemic. Now the Delta variant is spreading to many parts of the United States, and even though we have been vaccinated, we may become infected. Enough about that.

Off we went to explore Freestone Artisan Cheese which is just around the corner. And yes, by this time we were starving. This place is everything. They have many cheeses for sale along with fancy olive oils from Capay Valley. I picked up the Point Reyes Toma Truffle, the 2019 Arbequina Olive Oil here. I was able to meet the owner Omar Mueller who gave me a map which directed me to many more foodie places to eat at the next time we visit. (I need to find that map!) I got a Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Juice for my husband and a bottle of their sparkling wine, a 2015 Blanc Des Blancs from the Santa Maria Valley in Northern California. It was much cooler there than the East Bay where we live and we were happy to be able to sit at the table behind the shop. We broke open the loaf with gouda, and ate the salami sandwich from Valley Ford Creamery and had a lovely time eating and enjoying the flower and herb garden around us .Isn’t life grand? We saved the cheese for later when I would make pizzas with the basil pesto curds. Curds are like mozzarella and go great with bread.  I made toast with the farmers cheese and served with my apricot jam on the Dragon jalapeno bread and fresh scrambled eggs from the chickens. So yummy.

Thank you for reading my blog and stopping by. I hope you are staying cool in this end of July heat. Until next time.

 

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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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Heart Full of Love and Gratitude in Mendocino and Cheese Zombie Recipe

Heart Full of Love and Gratitude in Mendocino and Cheese Zombie Recipe

Stole my husband away from the Bay Area a few weeks ago to celebrate his birthday. Ken has been working from home since the March lockdown and hasn’t had a vacation since our trip to Tuscany last July. So you can imagine how excited he was to learn of my escape plan to  The Albion River Inn close to Mendocino, our favorite place. Today’s blog will be about our adventure, exploring the town and local businesses. I will also share my cheese zombie recipe that my friends keep asking for.

Ken and I masking it up in Mendocino

Mendocino is special because it is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon 31 years ago. We hadn’t been back to the Albion River Inn for many years and we wanted to escape the poor air quality in Walnut Creek. California has had the worst fire season ever. Even Oregon and Washington are struggling to contain wildfires also, causing smoke all across the West Coast. Yesterday, we had our first clear blue sky in many weeks. It was so bad that no one could go outside for fear having the effect of smoking 20 cigarettes. Ugh. We escaped to Yountville in August to get away as well.

After a restful night at our bed and breakfast, we drove to Mendocino. The Albion River Inn provided hot coffee, homemade granola, fresh fruit and yogurt, and freshly squeezed orange juice brought directly to our room and left on the doorstep of our little cottage. We slept like angels listening to the ocean and breathing fresh salty air all night long.

Pandemic herbal recipehttps://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Not much of the town was open, but there were a few quaint places to check out. The streets and stores were adorned with the most beautiful wildflowers. We found a natural food store  Corner of the Mouth Co op. I bought local whole wheat flours, buckwheat, teff, cracked freekeh, and organic barley so I can bake healthy breads and pizzas. They even had an herbal section where they sold a pandemic tea for $49.00 a pound. Let’s hope we never need it. I spotted dried organic hop flowers, horehound, holy basil, hibiscus flowers, lobelia, linden leaf, maca root powder, marshmallow root, green teas from India, China, Japan, Nepal, Argentina, Ecuador, South Africa, USA, Poland, Cameroon, Hungary and more. Wild yam root, yarrow, turmeric, white willow bark, wild cherry bark, wormwood, valerian root and much much more. I saw many kinds of dried mushrooms including reishi which has healing powers. These herbs and mushrooms fascinate me since they have been used as medicine for many years.

The herbal book section at The Corners of the Mouth Store in Mendocino

We stumbled upon a small family owned business called Garden Bakery where we had fresh chicken tacos and empanadas, and a blueberry cream cheese pastry for lunch. I saw an Oreo cookie baked inside a chocolate chip cookie too! They only took cash, so we had to go back to the car. We hardly carry cash anymore. Totally worth it.

The Mendocino Garden Shop had plenty of seeds for me to buy. Have you noticed the seed shortage? More people are planting gardens since the pandemic, so it can be hard to find seeds. I also bought cover crops like crimson clover, rye grass, and fava beans to add to my soil. These fix nitrogen that have been depleted from our summer vegetable gardens.Other cover crops that I didn’t buy were Red Fescue, Daikon Radish, Bell Beans, Common Vetch, Red Oats, Journey Peas, Blue Wild Rye Grass, Meadow Barley, White Dutch Clover. If you are interested in learning more about cover crops, you can listen to John Kempf and this YouTube video. It is so interesting. Some other soil diversity experts are Chris Nichols, Jeremy Wilson, David Johnson, Grant Simms, Joel Williams, Russell Hedrick from North Carolina and Andrew Man from Alberta. If you want to grow great crops, listen to these experts.

The flowers in Mendocino are outstanding! I loved seeing the hollyhocks, sunflowers, naked pink ladies (belladonna lily), and more in bloom. It is enchanting and romantic to be where we began our marriage.

Another thrill was finding the Highlight Gallery where we enjoyed seeing exceptional fine art, watercolors and oil paintings. Erin Dertner is one of the local artists who provided us with gorgeous watercolors that adorned our walls for many years. We met Phil Chomak who happened to overhear me speaking to the sales lady at the gallery. He is one of Erin’s good friends and was able to tell us how she recently relocated to Santa Rosa. We were given her biography which revealed her philosophy, “There is no better life than to study the world with paintbrush in hand and a heart full of love and gratitude.” We love art galleries. Here is the one of the artsy blogs I wrote when we went to see my friend Margery Ammond’s art in Caramel a few years back.

Me and Ken at the Albion River Inn Restaurant
Our table view of the fog coming in

Getting to run away with my husband to Mendocino was one of the best vacations we have ever had. The time away and clean ocean air was just what we needed to get rejuvenated and reconnected. I highly recommend eating at the Albion River Inn Restaurant too. We were spoiled with free champagne, an incredible Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and anchovies, meatballs and mac, and a seafood chowder with crispy croutons. The table was set outside with the most beautiful view of the sea and coastline. Charming lights were lit and strung above us and whimsical heat lamps were nearby to keep us warm. It will be an evening I will always remember.

Our romantic setting at the Albion river Inn’s Restaurant

Thanks for spending time with me today. I hope I’ve inspired you to bake, garden, or vacation with a loved one. I’m grateful for the time you have shared with me here and outside these homebound walls.

While rifling through my recipes, I encountered this family favorite. Cheese Zombies! I first experienced tasting one of these in high school in 1978. They were sold at brunch and provided by the cafeteria ladies. I’ve since learned my girlfriend Kim Johnson’s Russian grandmother Helen Ballock who worked for the Mount Diablo School District in the 1960’s came up with this recipe and it was inspired by her husband’s Piroshkis. The government had a cheese surplus, so she invented the Cheese Zombie. Kim’s grandfather immigrated from Russia to the United States in 1926.  I may have to make Piroshki’s next since Kim shared her family’s traditional recipe with me. 

These delicious warm balls of cheesy dough make the perfect snack. I hope you will give them a try.

Cheese Zombie with chili

MOUNT DIABLO SCHOOL DISTRICT ZOMBIE RECIPE

This recipe makes 2 ½ pounds of dough or 15 large filled zombies or 24 smaller zombies

2 C warm water

2 T Active Yeast

6 C Bread Flour

¼ C Sugar plus 1 T for activating the yeast

½ C room temperature unsalted butter

1 ½ t Kosher salt

⅛ C Poppy seeds or White or Black Sesame seeds

1 whole egg whisked

1 t black Hawaiin Sea Salt or whatever special salt you have

Whichever filling you desire:Cheese, sausage, etc… I used canned chili and cheese.

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and 1 T granulated sugar. Stir and let bubble up for about 5 or 10 minutes.

Using a dough hook, slowly begin adding some of the flour (about 2 cups) a bit at a time, incorporating the sugar and salt also while the mixer is on low. Add the room temperature butter to the dough in stages to make sure all butter is incorporated equally.

Let dough rest for 5 minutes, before adding more bread flour until most of the flour has been added. The dough should be mixed on medium high for about 10 minutes or until it is soft and pliable to the touch.  Set dough aside to rest for about another 5 or 10 minutes.

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Cheese Zombies filled with Nicasio Cheddar and sprinkled with sesame seeds and black sea salt

Divide the dough into 1pound portions and roll into long logs. Cut each log into 5 equal pieces.

Roll out each piece with a rolling pin, using extra flour as needed to keep from sticking and place your favorite filling in the center of the dough, being careful to pull dough up from the sides to cover filling. Pinch to close carefully, so the filling can’t escape while baking. Place zombies pinched side down on a well greased or use parchment paper on a sheet pan. Brush with one whole egg.Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds and Hawaiin Sea Salt. Let rise until doubled in size.

Bake in a 375 degree preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Fillings:

Use 1 ½-2 oz of cheese per zombie. 

Traditionally, Velveta Cheese was used, but I prefer a sharp white cheddar.

Other filling suggestions are:

Pepperoni, pizza sauce and cheese, ham and cheese, green chilies, ground beef, sausage, roasted vegetables, or scrambled eggs.

Cheese Zombies http://www.letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

I’m told these zombies were inspired by the Russian Piroshikis. My friend Kim Johnson told me her grandmother worked for the Mount Diablo School District in the 1960’s. The government had a cheese surplus, so she invented the zombies to use up the cheese. Kim’s grandfather would fill his dough with meat. Great history lesson there.

I’m a huge fan of these lunchtime or anytime treats. It’s comfort food during these hard times.

Ken and me on the balcony at the Albion River Inn near Mendocino
 

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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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