Category Archives: #St Helena

A Hidden Sanctuary in St Helena Plus a Sip and Paint Class

A Hidden Sanctuary in St Helena Plus a Sip and Paint Class

Last month, we celebrated our oldest son Curtis’ birthday in Napa and St. Helena. It was a fun filled relaxing day and a day to remember. We had had an excursion like this one once before on Thanksgiving at the Sonoma Mission Inn a few years ago. It was so much fun, that I decided to plan another staycation for Curtis’ special day. If you are interested in how we celebrated Andrew’s birthday you can check it out here. Unfortunately, Curtis couldn’t join us that day.

My husband and I picked up our son’s Curtis and Andrew who happen to also live in Walnut Creek at 10:00AM. We stopped off at Stanley Lane Smokehouse for sandwiches to eat in the car on our way to the Alila Spa in St Helena. Stanley Lane Smokehouse Deli is family owned and is a fun place to visit in the Fall. They have a gorgeous flower garden as well as corn mazes, pumpkins and gourds for sale. They had a pig on the property also. How exciting! I was able to buy a bottle of white wine there (I only had red with me), so that we could save money on drinks during the day. We like to drink together, especially in the wine country so I always bring along a few bottles of wine from home.
Alila Spa in St Helena

Alila Napa Valley Spa was very accommodating. They were able to get all four of us into appointments at the same time, and I had only sent an email the evening before. It doesn’t hurt telling people you are a food and travel blogger either. I had been given a tour of the property after enjoying lunch at Acacia House Restaurant and Bar a few months before. It’s a great spot to have a day away from the stress of the Bay Area. 

The spa offered a few different treatments, and we enjoyed being pampered. There were apples, granola and lemon, lavender cookies as well as cucumber water and green tea to keep us hydrated. After showers, we asked if we could sip the wine we brought by the pool. I even remembered plastic glasses and brought sparkling apple cider for my husband Ken who doesn’t drink alcohol.
Here I am waiting for my spa treatment at Alila Spa in St Helena

Andrew and I were excited to be invited to a sip and paint event by the pool given by an artist named Andrea RJ Cazares. You can find her on Instagram under @AndrewCazaresArt or A few other guests joined us and we had a ball getting one on one instruction painting on canvas. The wine was yummy too. Curtis and Ken talked by the pool and kept themselves occupied until it was time to meet us for cocktails at Acacia House Restaurant also on the property. I learned about this place while scrolling on Instagram. Chef Chris Constentino gave free cooking lessons online during the pandemic and kept me entertained. He became famous when winning Top Chef Masters, and donated the $140,000 winnings to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. How cool is that?
Artist Andrea, me and my son Andrew showing off our creative canvases after our sip and paint experience at Alila Spa
Affogato and biscotti at IL Posto

IL Posto “The Place” Napa was where we decided to dine since we love Italian Food. I had been there once before after dropping my Dad off at the Veterans Home in Yountville. I’m up that way often and love stopping somewhere for an appetizer and a sip of something if I’m not driving. You can find the locals here because they know founder Justin Graffigna makes great food. We had a substantial amount of food and wine including affogatos (espresso and vanilla ice cream) for dessert. The bill was just under $300.00 and it included a $50.00 tip for our waiter. 

On the way home, Ken drove us to Stanley Ranch for one last cocktail. We didn’t want the night to end. I didn’t order anything else, but the boys imbibed. The Bear is the name of the Restaurant on the gorgeous Auberge Resorts Collection in Napa Valley. I like to sit at the bar and watch the bartender make drinks. It’s more fun and there is a certain vibe which you don’t get if you sit at a table. Try it. You’ll never go back.

Stanly Ranch is near the Stanley Lane Smokehouse where we bought our sandwiches earlier in the day, just down Stanley Lane. This place is a “must see” in the Napa Valley. Cyclists stop in for a Sightglass Coffee, freshly squeezed juice or a pastry made by Chef Harry at Gavel. They also sell unique gifts there. The property offers a Luxury Hotel, tours of the grange by farmer Nick Runkle which is where they grow the produce for the restaurant, Spa treatments, a wellness center where they offer classes, a wedding venue and more. I learned about their rare heirloom crimson flowered fava beans by farmer Nick who purchased them from Cottage Gardens of Petaluma. And if you are a gardener, you must make a trip there as well. It’s incredible.
My handsome husband Ken and son’s Curtis and Andrew at Alila Napa Valley in St Helena

Ken and I will often take a drive to Napa and enjoy lunch at Stanly Ranch, sometimes last minute. Solage in Calistoga, and Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley are also very special places to visit. Two weekends ago we brought our good friends the Cowies out for the day to enjoy the good food and wine. I will write about that adventure later.

Thanks for joining me on today’s latest blog. I’m very lucky to have my boys in the Bay Area still and love hanging out with them. It was a memorable day and I’m grateful for being able to afford these luxurious “staycations.”

Do you have a favorite restaurant or place you go to get away? Please share in the comments below.


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Biking in Napa for Calamari and Hazelnut Dacquoise

Biking in Napa for Calamari and Hazelnut Dacquoise

Spent the day in Yountville and Napa with my friend Ana bike riding and eating at some of my favorite restaurants. The rain in Northern California has been non stop, but we had a break in the weather that day and biked until our hearts were content. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at Bistro don Giovanni, dessert and beverages at Auberge du Soleil, then a quick stop at the Cia Copia and OxBow Public Market to complete the perfect day.


Ana and I were originally going to ride bikes to Danville for lunch at SideBoard a neighborhood cafe. When I heard they closed, I shifted our bike ride to the Napa Valley so I could check out Farmstead Restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena.


We set out North on our bikes after parking in the town of Yountville. We brought our own bikes even though you can easily rent them. I stopped to ask for directions at a bed and breakfast in town and the clerk Googled and even printed me a map towards our destination.

Unfortunately, after several attempts and ending up off the beaten path on to rocky surfaces, we decided to ride South towards Napa instead on the designated Napa Valley Vine Trail. It was refreshing to finally be on a flat safe surface in a clear direction.



We had been riding for over an hour and a half and we needed food in our bellies. Luckily, Bistro Don Giovanni was nearby, so we rode our bikes there. Well, not directly there, since I thought we could sneak in through a vineyard. That wasn’t going to happen since there were barbed wires surrounding the property. Through the mud we rode, until we finally found a newer property that had a paved road. Phew! Boy were we glad to see that.


Eventually we drove through a quaint older Napa neighborhood and onto Hwy 29 for a block to get to the restaurant. Ana and I were fortunate that they still had an available table to seat us. The food was exceptional as usual. We shared their short rib, cipollini onion, asparagus pappardelle special and fried calamari with green beans, fennel and onions. So tasty. Ana had a Merlot from Whitehall to drink and I ordered a Cabernet from Frank Vineyards. Food always tastes better after a long bike ride and Ana had never had fresh pasta from California before. Here’s a Chef’s Salad Recipe I made.


Obviously, we took a shortcut back to the bike path on the way back to Yountville, but had a good laugh about our earlier excursion through the vineyards.


Next was a quick ride through the small town since we weren’t quite ready to abandon the bikes. We saw the brand spanking new Villagio Hotel  conference/wedding venue which is spacious and gorgeous. Atelier Fine Foods was catering a Yountville Chamber of Commerce networking mixer at JCB Salon Prive’ with focaccia and a huge platter of cheese, olives, charcuterie and of course wine. We didn’t stick around long enough to imbibe.

Outstanding cheese and charcuterie platter on its way to a Yountville Chamber of Commerce Mixer. I want to be a member !


Back to the car with the bikes we went, and headed for our Farmstead Restaurant. The only problem I have with taking friends to Napa is getting side tracked by all of the other phenomenal choices to experience. This time I stopped at Auberge du Soleil off the Silverado trail which is a part of Relais & Chateaux. This property sits high on a hill and looks over the Napa Valley. The view is spectacular and the restaurant is Michelin rated.



Anna and me standing in the entry way to Auburge du Soleil

Since we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on food, we took a seat at the bar. They have a wide selection of fancy cocktails, beer on tap, and wines of course, but we ordered the non-alcoholic Ipanema: A refreshing drink consisting of ginger ale, fresh muddled lime and sugar. Since we weren’t hungry, we settled on their famous Auberge Torte au Chocolat : A hazelnut dacquoise (a fancy name for a almond hazelnut and meringue cake), gianduja mousse and vanilla gelato. I’m pretty sure it was the BEST dessert I’ve ever had. The good news is they sell them and will ship this chocolatey decadence all over the world. And one piece cost $17.00 which we shared, but it was worth every penny. Pastry chef Paul Lemieux has a lot to be proud of and I will happily follow him on Instagram.

The mouthwatering chocolate hazelnut cake at Auberge du Soleil


Feeling generous, Ana bought 9 of their freshly made cookies so we could bring my Mother and Step Father some goodies. I have to say, the oatmeal cherry were my favorite, but the peanut butter and chocolate chip ones were delicious too. Yes, we ate most of them before we got to the car!

Losing our appetite for Farmstead, we headed home. Again I took a detour and stopped at the Culinary Institute of America Napa. I took Ana upstairs to the cooking school where there was a class that was assembling dumplings.We also walked through the fascinating Chuck Williams Culinary Art Exhibit featuring over 4000 artifacts of specialty cookware used by great chefs in Europe.

Delicious pastries at Frankfurt Airport. I bet OxBow has similar goodies to indulge in.

Next to the Cia Copia is OxBow Public Market where there is practically every kind of food and drink available to consume. We walked around Whole Spice Company, Napa Valley Distillery, Fieldwork Brewery, Annette’s Chocolates and many more foodie destinations. At least Ana will know where to go when she entertains her out of town guests in a few weeks.


Let’s just say, Napa Valley has captured my heart. I’m never disappointed by the hospitality and generosity they offer their tourists and people like me. Sometimes the wine country is calling me and I have to escape the Bay Area. Is it calling you? You will come back feeling rejuvenated from all of the good food, great wine and clean country like charm it offers. Can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time I will actually make it to Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.


If you enjoyed my blog, please share on Facebook, Twitter or email a friend. Maybe they will be ready for a change of pace and join you for a special day in the Napa Valley Wine Country.



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Eat, Pray, Love During this time of Thanksgiving

Eat, Pray, Love During this time of Thanksgiving

Here we are in November and Thanksgiving is almost upon us. Yet, there have been two devastating wildfires: #WoosleyFire in Southern California and Butte County #CampFire wildfires in Northern California that have kept everyone scrambling to get to safety. I’m sad for the families that have lost their homes and loved ones and pray they get the help they need.  It’s times like these that I’m extra grateful for my family.


I was lucky enough to spend Tuesday last week with my Mom, her husband Tom, and their renter Ana in St. Helena. I was happy to drive them to the wine country and show them around for a few nibbles and sips of wine. Ana, originally from Croatia has been working as a traveling nurse at a nearby hospital. She will only be here for a few months and wants to see as much as possible. My Mom and Tom and I were available to spoil her, and since it was her birthday we made the day extra special.


Great day on patio of Trinchero Winery


First we drove to Trinchero Family Estates in St. Helena. The property is decked out with the finest rock walls, luxurious textiles and sprawling vineyards. The view from their patio where there is bocce ball and a huge copper fire pit is nothing short of breath taking. Of course, they served plenty of wine to Tom and Ana while we strolled the meticulous grounds.


Mom and me at Trinchero Estate

Lunch came next at the famous Rutherford Grill down the street. If you like good food, and excellent service you won’t want to go anywhere else. Plenty of warm out of the oven focaccia with their fruity herbed olive oil, olives, peppers, roasted almonds and cheese is always ordered as a starter. I’m a huge fan of their French dip, but was a little disappointed when we learned they don’t serve a complimentary birthday dessert. I’m going to keep that in mind next time there is a birthday to celebrate and we are choosing a restaurant. 😦

Next was Grgich Hills where we were hoping Ana could chat with the Croatian family. Unfortunately they weren’t on the property 😦 so we moved on. The town of St. Helena was calling us and we didn’t want to miss out on spending as much time there as we could.



My Mom found a cute linen shop where they embroider personalized items for purchase. My Mom and I come from a long line of seamstresses on the Portuguese side and she was mesmerized by this place. Of course we had to stop at WoodHouse Chocolate since we needed a little something sweet for the birthday girl. They had artful displays of chocolate turkeys and pumpkins to get us thinking of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. But a tried and true dark chocolate espresso truffle was all I needed to get on with the day. Tom bought Mom and Ana English toffee with almonds another favorite of mine. Here’s my recipe.

Our family journey ended with a stop at Lucy’s Bar at the Bardessono Restaurant in Yountville. I love sitting out in their heated fireside patio where we can enjoy another cocktail, or in my case a hot chocolate with whipped cream since I was driving. My guests loved every second of it and especially enjoyed walking through the town of Yountville and not forgetting to get a pastry at Bouchon. Being a food and travel blogger has been fun and rewarding and especially memorable having time with my Mom. She has been ill for the past five years, but is doing extremely well.


During this Thanksgiving holiday, I’m especially grateful that my Mom and Tom are well enough to travel with me to places like St Helena and Yountville. I hope you are enjoying your loved ones too. I’m keeping those who have lost their homes and family members in the fires in my prayers. If you have it in your hearts to donate to the Disaster Relief efforts within the Red Cross, anything you can give is helpful. Or here is the latest article on ways to help. And thank you to @tylerflorence for feeding those in need. Here is a preview of his latest movie Uncrushable on last years’ wildfire in the Wine Country.

Thanks for reading my blog. I’m happy to share my recipes and excursions with you. Follow me by subscribing and you will automatically receive my next blog posts in your email.  

Well, it is almost Thanksgiving. I have so much to be grateful for. It is wonderful to spend time with friends and family on this joyous occasion. I first ate this recipe when I attended Thanksgiving at my sister Julie’s house @ 10 years ago. Her wonderful sister in law Mary Ann brought this dish to share and my family won’t ever be having another Thanksgiving holiday without it.
Your family will LOVE it too!

Sweet Potato Casserole


3 C. Mashed sweet potatoes( roast in oven for 1 hour@350 degrees or boil)


1/3 C. Brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


1/3 C. Skim milk


2 T. Margarine/ butter


1 tsp vanilla


½ tsp Kosher salt


2 egg whites (Whipped until frothy)




½ C. Packed brown sugar


¼ C flour


2 Tbsp chilled butter


1/3 C. Pecans chopped

1/2  teaspoon cinnamon


 Prepare by  whipping egg whites until stiff. Then take the first six ingredients and mix thoroughly in stand mixer. Fold egg whites into sweet potato mixture and spread evenly in a 13X9 glass dish.

Make the topping by putting all of the ingredients into a cuisinart and blend, or cut ingredients w a pastry blender by hand. Sprinkle topping over sweet potatoes evenly.


350 degrees for 30 min

Serves @ 6 people.





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