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Category Archives: Food Scene

106 Degree Heat Wave, Filoli Gardens, French Dip and Ice Cream kind of Day

106 Degree Heat Wave, Filoli Gardens, French Dip and Ice Cream kind of 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.

Me and my friend Marie at Filoli in front of the Sunflower and Vegetable Garden

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.

Marie and I at Filoli Gardens. This pool was built after the owner had a stroke to help him recover

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.

Marie in front of the squash and sunflower patch

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.

Chilled Cucumber Gaspacho at The Village Bakery in Woodside California

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!

Grilled Chicken Caesar, French Dip, Cucumber Gaspacho at Village Bakery

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!

Me and Marie at Salt & Straw at THE LOT City Center Bishop Ranch in San Ramon California

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday Menu

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

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

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

Dessert table at tfl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

50g or ½ C. Cocoa Powder

40g or ⅓ C. Powdered Milk

150g or ¾ C. Granulated Sugar

10g or 2 T Instant Coffee powder Or Espresso

½ T Kosher Salt

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

360ml or 1½ C. Whole Milk

2 T Rum

480ml or 2 C. Heavy Cream

1 tsp Tahitian Vanilla Extract

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Taking it to the Streets in Rome for Pizza and Chocolate

Taking it to the Streets in Rome for Pizza and Chocolate

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Pasta Carbonara freshly made at Il Maritozzo Rosso Restaurant in Rome

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

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Me and Ed at Il Maritozzo Rosso Restaurant in Rome

 

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

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

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My husband Ken holding a delicious cup of Venchi Gelato

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

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The best damn bite

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

Teri

 

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Wine Down After Walking the Camino and a Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Wine Down After Walking the Camino and a Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Part II of my hike through Spain. Here’s a link to Part I, in case you missed it. 

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Sylvia.Peregrina and me at a cafe in Spain

Where do I begin? Well, I have to give a few shout outs to Silvia Peregrina who I watched from afar for a few days before approaching her. You see she happened to be walking the Camino at the same time as our group. Turns out, she is a tour guide and had a big group with her. My friend Nancy and I noticed her one morning as she walked beside us singing an American tune by Bruce Springsteen with her ear buds on. She wore a cowboy hat and stood out among the others on the trail. She was happy and had a lot of energy. When we finally met, I asked her if I could take a photo of her and write about her. She said I could, and also was very helpful in giving us good places to stop and eat along the way.

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Us at dinner in Portomarin. And Wine!  from left:Jeanne, Marianne, Sharon, Me, Beth(Nancy taking the photo)

 We were excited to find a special bocadillo restaurant that served humongous sandwiches. Sylvia also recommended A Paso De Formiga Restaurant which was all about Ants. We ate at Restaurante O Mirador    on the first night of our hike walking from Sarria to Portomarin. A few of us shared a bottle of Albarino white wine, blistered padron peppers, fish entrees and pizza. I think we were just getting in the groove and relaxing a bit. After all, I basically got off a plane one night and began walking the Camino the very next morning. And we got up EARLY. 

 

It’s hard to really describe what’s it’s like to get up and walk for 6 or 7 hours every day for 6 days straight. There is something about Walking the Camino that you just can’t understand until you do it yourself. We read books, watched movies and read blogs trying to prepare for what this experience would be like. The best part was sharing the many hours chatting with my friends Nancy, Jeanne and Beth and getting to know them better. We had nothing else to do while walking through the Spanish countryside. Of course, the farm animals kept us guessing. We saw herds of sheep running through the streets of Sarria while stopping at a cafe to use the ladies room and grab an espresso. Next thing you know, we would come across a local farmers market getting set up for the day with cages of chickens, bunnies, sausages, bacon, and seasonal vegetables.

 

We were entertained by the roosters who would crow early in the morning to greet us and enjoyed listening to the variety of bird calls. There were many dogs in backyards who would run to the fence to say hello. I was amazed when I saw an older kitten drinking from his mother on the side of the road. He looked about the same size as the momma cat and I wondered about that. It was funny to see a chicken running around near a cat and a dog, like they were just another member of the family. There were herds of cattle grazing on fields of bright green as far as the eye could see. The people were friendly and hospitable to us and it was fun to see the locals, many of them little old men walking to town.  Spain is incredibly beautiful.

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Me and Nancy walking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain

I haven’t mentioned the cathedrals and churches we encountered on our walk, but there were many. I am Catholic, yet I don’t consider myself as devout as most. I’m religious, but don’t consider myself as faithful as some friends of mine. This trip, I was the only person who was interested in going into these beautiful buildings. I would light candles and say prayers for my friends and family that are in need. I’m grateful for my faith that my parents gave me, especially my mother who was raised Catholic. My Dad never fully converted from being Lutheran, but always went to Mass with us when I was young. All that went away when my father stepped out on us and left when I was 14 years old. My Mother never felt accepted because she divorced my dad and the church frowned on that. We grew up going to Catholic School in the 1970’s when divorce wasn’t popular. 

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Different Routes getting to Santiago

 

I digress… I enjoyed seeing these ancient cathedrals. After a long, hard second day, we came upon Iglesia San Tirso that we hoped to get a stamp from (We had books that we stamped to prove we walked the camino), but the doors were locked. As we walked down the stairs a man with a guitar case approached us with keys in his hand. We were so grateful to have made it in time to see this beautiful place in Palais de Rei. I was surprised to find my friend crying as we walked out. I immediately began to cry too, thinking I should be feeling her feelings as well. It was moments like these that made our trip. We looked out for each other. When Nancy needed a band aid for a cut, I always had one. When someone needed Advil to relieve a headache or sore feet, one of us would share our stash. I always had extra food to share in case any one got hungry. It was brief moments like these that helped us women stay strong throughout our journey.

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One of the many older gentlemen we passed by who would be sitting along the road in Spain

I will put this away for now. I’m writing from a Casino in the wine country while my father is sleeping in the room next to me and I’m waiting for my older sister to come to bed. We are making new memories here at Twin Pines as much as I can’t stand these places. Good night and hope to share more stories and pictures very soon.

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Fashionistas at the airport heading to Milan and Bergamo for a bike ride

But first I’d like to share our family recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole which we serve at every holiday. It’s perfectly sweet and oh so good!

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Sweet Potato Casserole. Our families favorite side dish

Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients

3 C.  Roasted or boiled mashed Sweet Potatoes .See article to choose your favorite variety

⅓ C Brown Sugar

⅓ C Skim Milk

2 T Unsalted Butter or Margarine melted (plus more for buttering dish)

1 t Vanilla

½ T Kosher Salt

1 t. Ground Cinnamon

1 t. Ground Ginger

½ t Ground Cloves

 

2 Egg whites whipped in a separate bowl

1 t lemon juice

 

Topping:

⅓ C Packed Brown Sugar

¼ C Unbleached all purpose Flour

2 T Unsalted Butter chilled and cut into pieces

½ C Chopped Pecans

1 t Ground Cinnamon

1 t Ground Ginger

1 t ground Cloves

 

Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Roast 3 large sweet potatoes I like garnet or jewel variety. Or peel and boil them until soft. Cool.

In a stand mixer place cooked cooled sweet potatoes and mix on low. This will help them cool down a bit.  Add Milk, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt and mix until combined. 

 

In a separate bowl, whip up egg whites and a teaspoon of lemon to soft peaks. It’s best to have the bowl super clean with no residue of oil residue which would inhibit the eggs from getting to their fullest volume. 

 

Fold egg whites into sweet potato spice mixture until combined. Place mixture into a buttered 13X9 casserole dish. Set aside. This dish will serve 6 -8 people.

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Pictured her unbaked Sweet Potato Casserole. A well loved dish

 

Topping Instructions:

 If you have a Cuisinart Food Processor this step is very easy. Place all topping ingredients brown sugar, flour, chilled butter, chopped pecans and spices into food processor. If you don’t have one, place all topping ingredients except pecans into a medium sized bowl and cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter until topping is well combined and butter is the size of small peas. Add chopped pecans and sprinkle topping over sweet potato mixture.

 

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes until casserole is golden and bubbly. Your house will smell amazing and your family will ask you year after year to make this delightful dish. It is especially good served with roasted turkey or roasted chicken.

Side note: I usually double this recipe and use two 13 X 9 pans because we have about 25 people that come to our holiday parties. And we never mind having left overs if there happens to be any left. I should mention I first learned of this dish through my sister Julie’s sister in law Maryann Weigant who made this special recipe for us many years ago. I added more spices because I love to spice things up!
Thanks again for spending time with me and reading my blog. Feel free to sign up to receive and read more blogs and recipes. Every time I write a new one, it will arrive in your in box for you to enjoy at your convenience.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Delicious pastries at Frankfurt Airport

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Now, back to my story

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Buen Camino!

 

 

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