Started off the Holiday season right this year with a trip to Napa on Thanksgiving day with my husband and our boys. We avoided the much dreaded week in the kitchen prepping, brining and baking. This day instead would be a day to remember for holidays to come leaving no messy kitchens behind.
It all started because I missed my boys. Curtis will be 34 in January and Andrew just turned 26. They don’t live at home anymore, so finding a day where we could all be together was key. And spending the day with them and my husband was just what I needed. They were excited about the idea and my husband was willing to be the designated driver, so we were good to go.
There was something seductive about running out to the wine country and avoiding the obligatory family get together. After all, we’ve only ever done this one other time about 11 years ago where we escaped to San Francisco for the day. Curtis attended Sonoma State at the time, and it seemed easier to pick him up from school and take him out for the day. We had a grand time at O’Reilly’s Holy Grail restaurant which has since closed its doors, unfortunately.
Our trip to Napa was even more exciting since we had never been to any of these hotels, restaurants, or bars. My husband forwarded me an email the week before about places that were open for business on Thanksgiving day. So I had a tentative plan in mind which we adhered to throughout the day.
We started off at the Meritage Resort and Spa grabbing a cocktail and a bite to eat at Crush Lounge. Curtis had a bloody mary (after all, it was only 11AM), I had a cosmo and Andrew enjoyed an aged scotch. We snacked on calamari, fish tacos and a burger and fries before engaging in a friendly game of bowling. Yes. You can believe it. It was hilarious seeing my kids and husband throw the ball down the lane after a drinkypoo. We settled on a Star Wars theme, all of us choosing a character. I was C3po, my son Curtis Luke Skywalker, Andrew- Chewy, and Ken Han Solo. We ended the game early because I was doing better than everyone. And let’s face it, you only have fun bowling when you are winning.
Next stop was BANK Cafe and Bar at the Westin Verasa Napa. They were serving a fabulous meal for $85.00 per person at the La Toque Restaurant, but we weren’t ready for a huge sit down meal. We were just getting started… The bar offered small bites to share and just about anything else you would want from a full bar, but we settled on a licorice flavored sambuca liquor w a coffee bean for me, a Mr Goldsmith #2 cocktail for Curtis which involved Blue Ice Vodka, sage honey syrup, St. George Pear Liqueur, and lemon, and a glass of Cabernet by Faust Napa Valley for Andrew. Barely hungry, we ordered the hand chopped steak tartare with maldon salt on crostini. The flowers in the lobby were stunningly beautiful and I couldn’t help not taking a short video of them.
Onward and upwards to the Archer Hotel and Charlie Palmer’s Restaurant Steak Lounge, but first taking an elevator to the Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar. It was closed because of the holiday and rainy weather, but definitely worth checking out in the future. The atmosphere was hopping and the bartender gave us the royal treatment. I sat this one out, not needing another beverage, but the boys ordered cocktails. Curtis had the Napa 75 which was made with Hangar One Vodka, yuzuri, lemon verbena, and louis pommery while Andrew was made something special with whiskey, I can’t remember what. All I remember is that it had a foamy egg white thing on top and cute hearts adorning the top of the drink. I also learned how these bartenders taste each cocktail before giving to the customer. They use a straw to dip in the drink and take a taste to see if it is “just right.” Brilliant!
Napkins Bar and Grill was where we ended up for our Thanksgiving meal. This restaurant was just down the street from the last bar, in fact we could have walked. But free parking was available along the street so we took advantage of that. Curtis ordered the signature citrus habanero wings and a cocktail with fig as a garnish. I forgot to make a note of this one, but who really cares at this point? I was craving guacamole and chips, Ken had the smoked pork chop, and Andrew ate the Loaded Niman Ranch Burger with crispy onions. The place was lively and colorful and we were feeling good.
Lastly we read that Alba was going to have live music, so we voted to go to one last bar before heading back to the East Bay. We drove to the River Terrace Inn and sat at the bar. I honestly didn’t catch what the boys ordered, but I tried Crispin Hard Cider for the first time. It was cold and light, a perfect ending to my day in Napa. The live music was just “okay”, but we were happy to stay out and celebrate together just a little longer.
I can genuinely say that skipping out on the traditional family Thanksgiving was fun and adventurous. The four of us were able to connect on many levels, which wouldn’t have happened if we had stuck to the original plan of going to my sister’s with 15 other family members. There is something seriously attractive about spoiling your kids on a holiday like Thanksgiving. They wouldn’t mind me saying that they felt special and appreciated. Who could ask for more? Isn’t that what we are all looking for? Unconditional love and acceptance especially while sipping cocktails is what the holidays are all about.
And we still made it for dessert at my sister’s after all. We celebrated in the best way and were able to mingle with the folks and cousins while enjoying a Sara Lee frozen cherry cheesecake. Yep. That’s the dessert I contributed to the meal this year. It wasn’t all that bad either. Best of all, I came home to a clean kitchen. There’s something to be said for that.
Happy Holiday’s from my home to yours. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box next year and ditch the relatives for a change. It’s a fun gig once every 10 or 11 years and your kids will thank you.
Lastly, I served corned beef to my book club friends last week and they loved it so much that they asked for my recipe. I first made this dish when I was 21 years old. My grandmother Leone and I were shopping at the grocery store and when I chose a flank steak, she advised me I had the wrong piece of meat if I wanted to make corned beef. Luckily, she helped me pick out the correct package of meat. That day, we prepared that dish together and it was a huge success. My love of corned beef has grown ever since and I always think of my grandmother when making it.
My recipe has evolved over the years, as I have become a better cook. Here’s my latest recipe:
Best Corned Beef
2 carrots peeled and left whole
2 stalks of celery and left whole
I white or yellow onion peeled and sliced in half
½ C fresh fennel
3 whole garlic cloves
½ t dried chili pepper
1 T fresh oregano leaves and stems
1 T fresh parsley leaves and stems
3 bay leaf
⅓ C pickling spice (plus packet from corned beef)
6 whole black peppercorns
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 small can Coke Zero
1 t worcestershire sauce
1 T mushroom dark soy sauce (found in Asian sect)
1 can or bottle of Stella beer or Guinness works well
2 C. Chicken Stock
11/2 C water
Mustard Brown Sugar Glaze
1 teas dry ground cloves
Put all ingredients except Glaze ingredients into a crock pot. Add package of corned beef with pickling spice packet. Put on high for 6 hours.
Right before company arrives, remove corned beef from crock pot and place in an oven safe dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Strain the liquid into another large pot and toss out the cooked vegetables. Put the quartered cabbage into the pot and boil until soft. Remove cooked cabbage and serve along side corned beef. I also make mashed potatoes instead of the boring plain boiled ones. I roast carrots, zuchinni, cauliflower and cremini mushrooms and serve as side dishes.
Corned Beef Glaze
Mix ½ C Dijon Mustard or regular yellow mustard, 3 T Brown Sugar, and 1 teas ground cloves in a small dish. Coat top of corned beef with sauce and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes.
Or if you don’t have a crock pot, use a heavy stock pot Dutch Oven like Le Crueset, use this instead of crock pot. Bring to a boil on the stove, then bake at 325 degrees for 6 hours. Continue with topping instructions above.
If you enjoyed this blog, please comment below on somewhere you would like to visit. I’m needing a few good ideas for my upcoming adventures. Do you have a favorite get away vacation you would like to share with the readers? Please feel free to leave a comment.
And once again, thank you for taking the time to stay with me through my travels.