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My True Chocolate Obsession: From Bean to Bar

My True Chocolate Obsession: From Bean to Bar
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Décor at the Ace Hotel Portland Oregon next to Stumptown Coffee

Spent the week in Portland researching Chocolate Shops recently. Out gracious concierge at The Nines Hotel gave me some great places to check out while my husband was at work. Today’s blog will focus on the chocolatiest hot spots in Portland including Creo Chocolate, Woodblock Chocolate, and Cloud Forest Chocolates.

 

To be truthful, I actually spent the morning at Stumptown Coffee writing my last blog because it was one of the only places open early. This cool place had Ace Hotel in an adjoining room that guests could drink their latte’s and read the news or work on their computer. Since I had to drive my husband to work by 8AM, I needed a place to hang out before venturing out into the city. This was the perfect place to write and enjoy my two shots of espresso and steamed milk. Delicious. My usual preferred method of blogging consists of a happy hour where I order a Shock Top Beer with fresh orange and an appetizer. The words start flowing and my fingers start typing.

 

Creo Chocolate is a family owned and operated bean to bar factory with internationally award winning hand crafted chocolate. Their beans are sourced from the Los Rios region of Ecuador and they use 2 main ingredients: cacao beans and evaporated cane juice. They offer Twicks Bars (yes that’s what I said) made from milk chocolate, shortbread and caramel. I had to have one and it was decadent. The Batch Bar looked equally delicious make with dark chocolate, coconut almond praline and caramel. I saw truffles galore made by their chocolatier Jeremy Karp who makes many chocolates with fun names like Vietnamese iced coffee, Dark chocolate meltaway, Coconut almond delight, Spicy passion, Garden mint, Yuzu gimlet, Earl grey, Raspberry dark, Dulce de leche, Hazelnut crunch and  try my favorite Raspberry dark chocolate. I wish I had bought one of each! They sold malt balls, Cacao Seasoning Rub, Hazelnut Chocolate Spread, and have a variety of sipping chocolate mixes like Mayan Spice, and Mint, Midnight Truffle. And of course they had chocolate bars like 62% Dark Orange, Dark Raspberry, 73% Dark Toasted Coconut which I had to have, 64% Oreo Crunch, a Dark Milk and a Coffee and Cream bar Yum. Honestly, chocolate is almost a spiritual experience. I know how much work goes into growing, harvesting, fermenting, packaging and preparing each and every sustainable bar.

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Minty sipping Chocolate at Creo Chocolate in Portland Oregon

 

I decided to try their mint sipping chocolate drink served with a side of seltzer water and whipped cream. It was exquisite! I savored every drop. One of my hiking friends Sharon drinks a hot chocolate every day at Peet’s Coffee to get in her calcium for the day. I think she would approve of Creo’s sipping hot Chocolate.

Creo had a chocolate tour happening while I was there which would have been fun, but I had places to go and people to see. I did enjoy reading Food Lover’s Guide to Portland by Liz Crain while drinking my cocoa drink. I even read about Hood River Oregon which I had been to the day before. Also purchased a few chocolate bars to take homelike their Toasted Coconut and Dark Chocolate Mint.

 

Next up was WoodBlock Chocolate. Can I mention that there are samples everywhere? Yes. If you are in the mood to taste chocolate, this is your kind of place. This place sold chocolate covered hazelnuts, 70% dark chocolate bunnies, gianduja which has a hazelnut flavor, a 60% dark milk chocolate made with Peruvian cacao that tastes like caramel, and much, much more.

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#Guittard #Woodblock Callebaut #Creo #chocolate sampling at Garden Club Party

 

It was here that I got inspired to have a chocolate tasting party for my garden club. After all, WoodBlock offers effleurage. (The process that uses solid fats to capture fragrance exuded by flowers, exotic spices and botanicals) The tasting involves chocolate that has been flavored with coffee beans, herbs, teas and flowers like hibiscus. This party was held last Wednesday and everyone that attended had a good time. We tasted chocolate with hops, hibiscus tea, masala chai tea, peppermint and coffee. It was so much fun. I was hoping more garden club members would have sampled the Petrus Cherry and Chocolate Stout Beer and Boatswain Chocolate Stout Beer with the dark chocolate samples together, but only one of the ladies imbibed. It was a warm evening and we sat outside on the patio, the perfect place for a cold beer and chocolate  tasting. A few years ago I hosted an edible flower class with cocktails.  That was fun too.

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Decidedly my favorite chocolate bar ever made by Creo Chocolate

I was introduced to a beer called Gigantic which is a chocolate IPA made with Wood Block Chocolate. They call it “The Weapon of Mass Seduction” and It’s a chocolate oatmeal oyster stout. What will they think of next? They offer Stumptown Coffee called Hair Bender, or the direct trade House Blend which would be my go to if I hadn’t already sampled and sipped more chocolate than I needed to.

I tried Woodblock’s chocolate caramel with sea salt which was chewy and mouth watering and walked away from the coffee milk chocolate truffle with cacao nibs. The most interesting part of my day here was meeting their pastry chef. I learned she was incorporating chocolate into their biscuits. They had already run out f them or I would have ordered one. This sounded intriguing since I had just been to Pine State Biscuits a few hours earlier for a hot biscuit with whipped butter and Marion berry spread. They also have apple butter, strawberry jam, Bee Local Honey and house pimento. We need a place like this where I live, that’s for sure.

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#PineStateBiscuits

 

My last stop, but not the least was venturing over to Cloud Forest Chocolate. I got to hear the scoop about Sebastian Cisneros the owner and his story behind the Ecuadorian cacao and his obsession with chocolate. I sampled the Bee Chocolate Bar made with bee pollen from Oregon’s Bee Local and Jacobsen Salt also located in Portland. It’s made with organic cacao butter, organic milk solids, organic cane sugar, bee pollen, organic cacao beans, vanilla seeds and sea salt. The look is this bright yellow color with dark brown stripes running through it. Very cool looking and super tasty. Unlike any other chocolate you have had before.

 

I was intrigued by their Holy Wood Bar made with a dark chocolate from the Bolivian Amazon and infused with an aromatic Palo Santo wood found in Ecuador.

Google says ” Palo Santo is a mystical tree that grows on the coast of South America and is related to Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. In Spanish, the name literally means “Holy Wood”. It is part of the citrus family and has sweet notes of pine, mint and lemon. I had to try the sample of course and take one home for later. There were several other bars to choose from including one made with sesame seeds and matcha.

 

Cloud Forest serves a maple drinking chocolate, a classic hot chocolate with Ecuadorian cacao (see a theme here?), a seasonal magnolia and pistachio marshmallow hot chocolate, aqua de cacao (a water based unsweetened chocolate drink served with Old Blue Honey), Snow Honey Chrysanthemum tea from China, Mulberry tea from Thailand, plus more and all the coffee lattes a girl could want. I think they were coming up with bigger ideas in the coming months to offer classes to the public.

 

“Craque” is Cloud Forest’s candied cacao and used to sprinkle on desserts and ice cream. I might try to duplicate this treat since I bought cacao nibs from WoodBlock.  I purchased the vanilla seeds instead and a few chocolate bars for family. Their chewy caramel with cacao nibs was unforgettable, something I will consider making at home as well.

Did you know that Google gives a thumbs up to bloggers who have subscribers who read all the way to the very end of the post? It’s true. So thank you for being a loyal reader and following me. It means a lot.

Do you have a favorite chocolate company? Have you been on any tours or taken any chocolate classes? Well, after my trip to Portland, I’m even more obsessed with chocolate. It’s my go to snack when I need a pick me up in the middle of the day. Good thing I have a chocolate stash which I consume on a daily basis. And I’m not embarrassed to admit that I never leave the house with out some chocolate in my purse.

Thanks again for supporting me and my love for food blogging. Hope to see you next time when I explore Cannabis and how Blue Star Donuts is taking the plain breakfast treat the next level.

 

 

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Forks and Corks at Chez Panisse and Strawberry Pie Recipe

Forks and Corks at Chez Panisse and Strawberry Pie Recipe
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Me and my son Andrew at Chez Panisse in Berkeley

Had the best lunch today with my son Andrew in Berkeley. We ate at the #ChezPanisse Café, Alice Waters’ farm to table restaurant, open since 1980. It’s commonly referred as one of the best restaurants in the country. We visited The Local Butcher Shop which is where many of local chefs like Alice purchase their protein. Then we went to see the inspiring organic and sustainable Edible Schoolyard garden located at King Middle School a few blocks from the famous Chez Panisse Restaurant. At the end of this post you will find my strawberry pie recipe if you hang around long enough.

I was fortunate that my son had time to have a leisurely lunch with me. I decided to treat us both and give him (and me) the 5 star dining experience. Sometimes it’s nice to have one on one time to really appreciate your loved one. Andrew appreciates good healthy food more than most and today’s lunch was exceptional.

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Spring Flowers to brighten your day from my garden

I had been to Chez Panisse twice before when celebrating special occasions. The first visit was a dinner with my Mom Diane and my Step Dad Tom. They took my husband and I out for my birthday. The second time, I spoiled my friend Marie for her birthday and took her there for lunch. The attention to detail on every level is top notch. I’m speaking about the professional staff who greet you at the top of the stairs and graciously seat you. Of course, it’s best to have a reservation since it is very popular. Andrew and I were fortunate enough to get a table calling the day before. The atmosphere was delightful, people imbibing in a glass of wine (in my case) or beer (for Andrew) to go along with lunch to enhance the experience. Because you never feel pressured to eat quickly here and why not relax a little?

 

The menu is packed with seasonal fresh produce from local farms, fruit from orchards, ranches and the best fisheries that practice principles of sustainability. Chef Nathan Alderson is the Cafe’s culinary artist. Here is the menu we were presented when perfectly seated.

 

It’s actually a dream of mine to work at Chez Panisse. Still recovering from toe surgery, so I’m taking it easy these days. Easter is coming up and everyone is asking if I will host again. I’m not feeling 100% and I’m of the opinion that it’s okay to let others carry the burden of the holiday party once in a while. After all, I’ve been entertaining ever since Ken and I got married almost 30 years ago.

 

My Mother hosted Easter when the weather was good. For several years she had chickens and a bunny which the grandkids loved. And she has a picture perfect garden with a pond, big trees and a nice brick patio. But my mom hasn’t been well for about 5 or 6 years now and it’s not an option. I don’t like feeling pressured to host even though I love to cook and bake. I’m ready for the younger generation to step up and “take the reigns.’ After all, they have the young ones who like to hunt for eggs and like waiting for the Easter bunny. Luckily, my brother Rick and his wife Aly graciously offered to have Easter at their home. Hopefully, we can all be together this year.

 

So, enough of my ranting. Chez Panisse is a great Berkeley destination if you like good food. We were greeted at the top of the stairs with a beautiful flower arrangement with ranunculus, jasmine, and quince branches with gorgeous pink blossoms.

 

The lunch menu was full of seasonal vegetables like fennel, cauliflower, beets, carrots, parsnips and garden lettuces. We started with their fennel and citrus salad,  plate of rosemary olives, Spanish anchovies and parsnip-carrot soup with crème’ fraiche and chives. Delish.

 

Then I ordered the halibut with snap peas, spinach and Meyer lemon beurre blanc, and Andrew ordered the pork loin. After a bit, the waiter explained that they needed to substitute the pork with a roasted chicken breast, which was served with  roasted asparagus and shoestring potatoes. Andrew absolutely loved it. He said he could cry after taking the first bite. He said it was his second best meal of his life, the first being in Europe.

 

Later, the waiter brought us the coconut panna cotta with tangerine-passion fruit coulis and a cardamom cake with blood orange caramel and Chantilly cream on the house. Our generous waiter also gave me Mary Jo’s email who is the pastry chef at Chez Panisse. Of course I tried to look her up on Instagram immediately to follow her. And I will definitely be reaching out to her to see if she needs an assistant.

 

 

With full satisfied bellies, we walked into The Local Butcher shop and bought a pork chop so my son could finally get the pork he was looking forward to. This place had everything you could think of from chicken, sausages, deli meats, bacon, smoked ham hocks, hot dogs, pates, duck, turkey, rabbit, quail, varieties of lard, stocks and bone broth.

 

This butcher shop focuses on providing local proteins: Such as Wolfe Ranch in Vacaville, Devils Gulch in Marin County, Paine Farm in Sonoma, Farmer Joy in Petaluma, Tomales Bay Pastures in Marshall and many more. They offer sausage making classes, a poultry butcher class, a stock making class, duck confit classes and much more. I would check out their website for more information on dates and classes.

Next, Andrew and I we on to the Edible Schoolyard at King Middle School which I’ve heard so much about, a few blocks from Chez Panisse. Kids learn about gardening, cooking, composting, edible education programs, and the program is committed to forging a just, sustainable food system. We saw rows of organic kale, arugula, leeks, borage and much more.

 

 

“To spend time in an Edible Schoolyard is to realize how much more is going on here than teaching kids how to garden or cook. Kids begin to learn about food in all its dimensions – as an edible medium of culture, science, ecology, and even social justice. The Edible Schoolyard is an eloquent and practical answer to some of the most pressing questions facing us as a society.”

MICHAEL POLLAN Journalist and Author

Here the children learn about fungi, bacteria, and how food scraps become rich organic compost in six weeks. Andrew and I saw cuttings of fruit trees that had been grafted and placed into pots. Last year, I took a class last year on grafting trees and learned a lot. Unfortunately, my apple tree didn’t survive, but plenty of Alice Waters’ students trees were thriving. There was even a greenhouse with new plantings that the students grew from seeds.

 

I was impressed by the curriculum of pressing cider, learning about global warming, making kale pesto, the study of bees and pollinators, and the process of orienting kids into a kitchen and what happens there.

 

We even came across a friendly neighborhood cat who looked content supervising our visit. It was even more exciting to walk by a plant share kiosk in front of someone’s house. People leave extra plants that they don’t need and share them. I could place one of these stations in front of my house since I have many plants that reseed everywhere. They call it the “give and take garden” and I’m in love with the concept. After all, I started out gardening when my friends gave me cuttings of perennials from their gardens.

 

Overall, it was a fabulous day spending time with my son and exploring Berkeley. We loved Chez Panisse, The Local Butcher Shop, and The Edible Schoolyard. I hope you and your loved ones are getting out and trying something new. It’s exciting to be inspired by what’s going on in the community.

 

Are you inspired to cook when you see fresh produce at your market? What dish are you looking forward to making this Easter? I saw an adorable cake on Instagram by TheTipsyCakery that I could try making with my four year old niece Josie.

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Isn’t this the cutest cake by thetipsycakery? Found on Instagram

Please subscribe to my blog to get the latest posts. And thank you for reading. It means a lot. Happy Easter!

Here’s my recipe for Strawberry Pie

 

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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.

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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.

 

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 embibe.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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, Anette’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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Measurable Thrill in Oakland and a Blackberry Pie you Won’t Forget

Measurable Thrill in Oakland and a Blackberry Pie you Won’t Forget

Our family celebrated my son Curtis’ 34th birthday in the Berkeley Oakland area last month and we had a ton of fun. We ate and drank at Limewood, Mad Oak Bar, and at Mua Restaurant all evening long and truly enjoyed spending time together. It’s rare my husband and I get to take our boys Curtis and Andrew 27 out on a Friday night, so we took advantage of the opportunity. I’m hoping today’s blog will inspire you to check out Oakland and all it has to offer. Plus I will include my recipe for my home made Blackberry Pie.

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Our Hansome men Curtis and Andrew out celebrating Curtis’ 34th birthday at Limewood Bar Claremont Hotel Berkeley

 

I always do a ton of research before exploring a new area, yet trying to make reservations online isn’t my cup of tea. I never want to box myself into a time in case our plans change last minute. That’s why we started off at the Claremont Hotel and their Limewood Bar. Also Curtis didn’t wanted to miss the Warriors  game, so we were happy we could keep track of the score while eating dinner.

 

The Claremont is a special place because my husband and I stayed there on our wedding night over 29 years ago. It is a gorgeous historic place and I knew my boys would love experiencing the food and nightlife there.

 

My husband Ken was our designated driver so Curtis, and Andrew and I could enjoy ourselves and imbibe in fancy libations, but we first had to eat. We ordered the crispy Brussel sprouts made with fish sauce caramel, peanuts and cilantro, olives, ahi tuna with potato chips, the roasted chicken and lentils and their braised beef cheek in tagliatelle. The food was presented nicely and everything was delicious.

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Me and my number one son Curtis at Mua Restaurant checking out the art. My dad named him Montana since he was born on superbowl sunday 1985.

 

Andrew ordered a Guinness beer, Curtis had a cocktail and I had a glass of Cabernet. We asked the bartender where he suggested we go next and he recommended the Penthouse Bar Mad Oak. This place was very hip and popular. They had a rooftop bar that was packed with a fun crowd. They also had the Warriors basketball game showing on a large wall. We found a spot to sit at the roof top bar and enjoyed our drinks. Curtis had the vodka cocktail that was on special, while Andrew and I stuck with our beer and wine. We weren’t hungry yet, so we sat and talked and enjoyed the clear night and open air bar.

 

Next we went to Mua Restaurant not far from the last stop. We were lucky to find parking close by and an available table. We ordered more drinks, guacamole and chips, the half pound burger with fries, the “Mac n Cheese” made with butternut squash and cream and who knows what else. The night is a blurr and I can hardly remember much else. All I know is that we didn’t get home until 1:30 AM after dropping off our boys.

Mad Oak roof top Bar in Oakland

 

I can’t remember the last time we partied like this with our kids. It doesn’t happen on a regular basis, but we are excited to spend time with them, especially around their birthdays. I highly recommend spending the evening in Oakland and checking out the Limewood Restaurant and Bar, the Mad Oak Bar and Mua Restaurant.

 

Next you will find my favorite Blackberry Pie recipe. It’s the perfect dessert to go with your Valentine’s day dinner. It’s my husband’s favorite pie, so I had to have my friends over today and show them how to make it. We had a blast and you will too.

 

Be sure to share this blog with your family and friends on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook or via email to a friend. And follow me for more fun recipes and travel posts.

 

Blackberry Filling for Pie

 Ingredients: 

6 Cups of Frozen Blackberries (3 bags of O Organics from Safeway or fresh if in season)

1 Cup granulated sugar

Juice and zest of 1 orange

½ t grated nutmeg

Pinch of Maldon Salt Flakes

 

¼ C Hanson’s Sonoma Organic Vodka Mandarin Flavored

2 T Cornstarch

 

3 T Tapioca Flour

3 T Unsalted Butter cut into chunks

 

1 whisked whole egg (used to brush on top of pastry)

 

1 T granulated sugar

1 T demerara sugar

 

Directions: 

Pour 6 Cups of blackberries into a heavy medium sized pot. Add sugar, nutmeg, orange juice and zest and salt and cook until bubbly.

Mix mandarin vodka and cornstarch in a small bowl and add to the pot of boiling blackberries. Cool.

Make pastry. Check out my previous post here: pastry recipe .

 

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This is Nancy’s blackberry pie. She chose to use fresh blackberries and bake them without cooking first. Looks so pretty

After mixture is cooled and pastry is rolled out and placed into pie dish, mix 3 T of Tapioca Flour into blackberries and pour into pastry lined pie dish. Dot with chunks of butter. Top with remaining rolled out pastry, crimp sides with your thumb and pointed finger to make a nice edge. Cut out a tiny whoel (I made a heart shape) in center of pie.

 

Brush with egg and sprinkle with both sugars.

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place filled blackberry pie onto a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour or so until crust is golden brown.

 

Let pie cool completely so that blackberries have time to gell and set. This is the hardest part. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!

Teri:)

 

 

 

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Travel Day to Mt. Diablo Summit and Fond Memories shared at Turtle Rock Ranch and [Ranch Dressing Recipe]

Travel Day to Mt. Diablo Summit and Fond Memories shared at Turtle Rock Ranch and [Ranch Dressing Recipe]

Took my friend Ana who is originally from Croatia to the summit of Mount Diablo last week. Ana is a traveling nurse and is staying at my mom’s cottage while working at John Muir. She doesn’t have a car and relies on a few of us to take her to fun Bay Area attractions on her days off. It is fun for me since I like exploring new places and enjoy going back to my favorite retreats. This week it happened to be Mount Diablo State Park.

Hello from the top of Mt. Diablo on a rainy day

Ana had heard of this special place from her friend who loves to hike and lives in Santa Cruz. He told her you must check this place out, so it was on her bucket list of #thingstodo in the Bay Area.

At first, we were limited on time so I drove us to Las Trampas where we hiked with another friend Mica. Mica is from Czech Republic and is here studying computer science. I met her recently and decided she and Ana should meet. So after several attempts, we were able to find an open morning to hike together. Mica had a previous engagement, so we cut our visit short.  

 

Hello from the Las Trampas Hills

Anna’s heart was set on driving up to the summit of Mount Diablo, so off we went after dropping  Mica off at her car. They enjoyed a nice chat about their home countries and how much they love living in California.  I spent much of my teenage years working on top Mount Diablo at Turtle Rock Ranch and told Ana some stories about my time working there.

When I was 14 years old or so, my older sister Susan and I were asked by our neighbor Jim Sumpter if we wanted part time summer jobs working in his snack shack at Turtle Rock Ranch. Of course we were excited at the opportunity and agreed to help him out. Every Saturday and Sunday morning @ 8AM, Mr Sumpter would pick us up in his truck. We would make a few stops to buy ice, meats and candy at wholesale stores in Concord before heading up the mountain.

Turtle Rock Ranch was a recreational playground which companies, schools, churches held their summer picnics. It was my first real experience with catering large groups of people remembering the Innkeeper Linda making salads in huge plastic garbage bins. We served the most delicious BBQ ribs, and chicken alongside all the fixings liked baked beans, potato salad, green salad and bread.

But most of all, I remember working in the snack shack where we gave out sodas, chips, Fudge Bar and Crunch Bar Ice creams, Cracker Jack Caramel Popcorn, Hershey’s Chocolate Bars, long red licorice ropes, frozen snow cones and much much more. All people had to do was give us a ticket and we would give them their cold drink or treat. And the best part was being able to eat whatever we wanted.

At the end of the night, after a long day of working on our feet in the Concord summer heat, Mr sumpter would drive us home. Many nights we would see tarantulas crossing the windy street, yet I never came across one myself. Jimmy’s father passed away on Thanksgiving two years later and the Ranch was closed. We no longer worked there and by then had better paying jobs. I worked at Mr. Steak Restaurant as a hostess, then a waitress and my sister worked at Top Notch a local stationary store, then a clothing store in the Sun Valley Mall.

Early Thanksgiving Seamon family reunion November 2018

My family loved the Sumpter family. Not only were we neighbors, but trusted friends. My other would allow their adult son Jimmy to drive us to school in the morning and pick us up in the afternoon. Jimmy lived with his parents and grandmother and had survived polio as a child. Since my father had abandoned us in June of 1980 the summer of my freshman year, we didn’t have a way to get to school in the morning. Jimmy was considered disabled, but was able to drive, and loved taking us to school in his fancy Camaro. I know, nowadays no one would ever trust a neighbor to be near their kids, but Jimmy and his parents were like family to us.

My mother relied on him a lot, and my sisters and I were happy to not have to ride the bus or ride our bikes to school which was a mile away, in the cold winter weather. We even spent our afternoons after school in Jimmy’s parents’ garage where he sold candy out of the trunk of his car. I know, it sounds unreal, but it’s true.

Jimmy began by selling jelly beans to the neighbor kids. We would congregate there, tell stories and hang out. Nothing bad ever happened there. Eventually, we got tired of jelly beans, and he began selling all sorts of candy, cold sodas and ice cream out of the freezer in his garage.

Our teen days were fun, full of hard work and making money. We loved working at the ranch on the weekends and hanging out at Jimmy’s after school. We ate and ate, spent our savings on candy, soda and ice cream, but loved every second of it. Eventually, my mom sold the house on Grove Way, because she couldn’t afford the taxes. I remember telling Jimmy’s mother when she was ill in the hospital, that we would look after her son Jimmy after she was gone. She died soon after.

Even though my mom, sister and brother moved to Orinda and eventually Walnut Creek, we would stop by Jimmy’s house to visit. He stuttered, chain smoked and had a huge bird who kept him company. The Kellenhofer’s who lived next door cooked, cleaned and cared for him. I can still remember the mounds of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and bottles of Coke which lined his fridge. He had a horrible diet and ate at fast food restaurants by going through the drive through much of the time.

Ranger Bruce Erickson who works at the Summit store and was knowledgeable about the current sate of Turtle Rock Ranch

But, I digress. I have many memories of Turtle Rock Ranch on Mount Diablo. Ana loved visiting the summit and I hope she enjoys her time while living in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, Turtle Rock Ranch is closed, the house is uninhabitable and the ranger Bruce Erickson said that they use the land for storage of dead trees, equipment, etc… I’m grateful for all the good memories I have from working on Mt. Diablo and I’m happy I was able to give Anna a little glimpse of my childhood.

 

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Hungry for chicken salad with ranch dressing?

TERI’S RANCH DRESSING

INGREDIENTS

    • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
    • 1/2 cup  buttermilk or (milk with 1 teas vinegar)
    • 3 T sour cream
    • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
    • 2 cloves garlic sauteed whole in avocado oil for 2 min on med heat
    • 1 T finely chopped shallots
    • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2 T finely chopped fresh chives
    • 1 T finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
    • ¼  teaspoon  black pepper
    • 2 T freshly chopped dill

 

DIRECTIONS:

Combine mayo, buttermilk, sour cream and mustard in a small bowl. Sautee cloves of garlic and shallots in a small fry pan for 2 minutes on med heat in 1 T avocado oil. Chop garlic and shallots and remaining herbs. Add to mayonnaise mixture and season with salt and pepper.

I pick fresh lettuce, arugula, pak choi, spinach, beet greens, radish greens, kale and Swiss chard from my garden to make a salad. I leave it simple and only add a bit of feta or whatever soft cheese you prefer. Pour cold dressing onto the sides of the bowl full of greens. Gently toss and serve immediately. 

Thank you for following my blog and for reading my story. It’s fun for me to share my life , recipes and experiences with you. Please leave my a comment below about your favorite first job, your latest hiking adventure or whatever you please.

 

 

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Fa-la-la meets Ooh-la-la in the Haight

Fa-la-la meets Ooh-la-la in the Haight

Can we talk about how cool San Francisco is during the holidays? A week or so before Christmas, I took my 15 year old niece Kendall there so we could spend some time together. Little did I know I would be exposed to one of the coolest neighborhoods, the Haight District.

Our experience began after deciding to take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) into San Francisco. Kendall asked me if we could go to her favorite store Dolls Kills. Of course, I wanted her to find the perfect Christmas gift, so I called an Uber driver to take us to the Haight from Bloomingdale’s.

Taking Uber wasn’t unfamiliar, since I had used it the weekend before in LA with my sister in law. In less than 10 minutes, we were in the Haight district of which I knew nothing about.

My niece seemed to know her way around, so I followed her lead. We began at Love On Haight where my niece was searching for the best fitting pair of pants. She found a few but wasn’t convinced it was what she wanted. I was having fun looking at their sale racks, but ultimately we were ready to move on. Already I was feeling the vibe of the grooviness of it all. I was surprised to see free glitter at the counter (Ooh-la-la) ready for the next customer to add some to their face, in case they felt the need to sparkle.

Mannequin at Dolls Kills Store
Clothing at Dolls Kills

Shoes at Dolls Kills Store

Next we walked into Dolls Kill  clothing store. I was blown away by the platform shoes, the nastiness of mannequins dressed in men’s scandalous sparkly jockey underwear, and florescent pink fur coats and even see through purses. I did buy my niece a cute pair of black pants that she could wear to her wild concerts as she is a true concert goer. I also bought some glitter circles for my other niece Jasmine Kendall’s cousin, who loves makeup looks among other things. Check out Jasmine’s Custom Tracker  journal on Amazon that she developed to help people struggling with anxiety, mental illness, money management and weight loss.  

Jasmine’s Custom Tracker Journal

Book sold on Amazon and can be personalized by Jasmine


We were so happy to see a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream store and stopped in for a coffee ice cream shake for me and chocolate chip cookie dough scoop for Kendall. It was just what we needed to keep our shopping experience going.

An Outfit found at Piedmont Boutique

Piedmont Boutique was bright and eccentric. The perfect place to find the extraordinary outfit in case you want to stand out. I’m pretty sure I saw a few things in there that were X Rated, but nevertheless, we were having a great time.

Great Beer options at #MagnoliaBeer&Pub
Lots to choose from here at Magnolia Beer & Pub

Magnolia Pub & Brewery offered plenty of draught beers, IPA’s, Pale Ale’s and Dry Stouts, but I was traveling with a 15 year old minor and she wasn’t cool with me having a stop there. Meyer Lemon and Strawberry Kombucha were house-made for the healthy enthusiacs. Thursday’s they offer crispy, juicy fried chicken, so I will definitely be back.

Beautiful wall art at #FirebirdYarns

We walked by store fronts with smoke paraphernalia which is totally legal here in California, a candy store which you will probably want after smoking weed, Ceiba an outrageous fashion, music and art store, and a totally awesome new yarn shop named Firebird Yarns where we waited for our next Uber ride. After all, it was getting dark and even though it felt fairly safe and I wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood.

It was still early, so we walked around Union Square where we took in the spectacular Christmas tree and bright flickering lights and windows adorned with wreaths on the Macy’s building, saw the perfectly decorated humongous tree inside Neiman Marcus and watched the cutest puppies and kittens in the windows. A visit to American Eagle was next so Kendall could pick out a pair of jeans that she could wear to school. At least, we got one practical gift that her mom might be on board with.


This is my niece Kendall helping me in the kitchen make English Toffee

The rest of the day wasn’t as memorable given we had an hour drive back home on BART during commute time. We were fortunate enough to get seats and had time to stop off at Chick-fil- A  a fast food place for a quick bite for the car ride home. Overall, I was excited to see my niece, to connect with her on her level, which is all they really need at this stage of their development. And the bonus was that I got to experience an area of San Francisco that I had never been to. How cool was that?

So if you are bored and need a fun day out, take a drive to the colorful Haight District of San Francisco. You will be glad you did. My niece and I enjoyed our time together and we will remember it for years to come.

Like my blog? Want to share it or follow along? I’d be honored. Until the next time…

Teri:)

 

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Nice to Meat You Napa and a Corned Beef Recipe to die for

Nice to Meat You Napa and a Corned Beef Recipe to die for

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.

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My two boys Andrew and Curtis

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.

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Curtis’ Bloody Mary

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.

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My son Andrew and me in front of Archer Hotel Napa

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!

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Fabulous cocktails at Charlie Palmer’s Steak Lounge in Archer Hotel

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.

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The four of us Smyth’s at the Meritage Resort

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

Ingredients:

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

Dijon Mustard

Brown sugar

1 teas dry ground cloves

 

Directions:  

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.  

Gratefully yours,

Teri:)

 

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