Being a writer has its challenges, especially for someone like me. Just finding the time to sit and write is tough, since I’d rather be out and about with family and friends. So you can imagine that I am behind on my blogging. Insert open mouth emoji here. But for today, I will cut myself some slack and reflect on my birthday lunch with my niece Marie at Wente Vineyards from last July.
Not only am I behind on writing, but I’m behind on my quilting. Baby Luna our newest great niece, is already 3 months old and I’ve barely begun piecing material together. Luckily, it has been hot and babies don’t need too many quilts this time of year.
I’ve also needed to spend time in my garden clearing out dead plants. We had huge sprinkler problems when we were away in July and lost quite a bit of our annuals and perennials. In addition to that, many of my 20 tomato plants that I planted in March are in need of harvesting. I try to pick them biweekly at least, and then of course you have to cook with them, preserve them in jars, or freeze them before they go bad.
And lately we have been quite the entertainers, having guests over for dinner multiple nights of the week. Made ricotta and spinach ravioilis inspired by our Tuscany trip. It’s never boring at the Smyth house that’s for sure.
Also there’s the huge crates of European plums that Andy from Andy’s Orchard gave me a week ago to make jam with. I have Reine des Mirabelles and Green Gage (Reine Claude) which are tricky to make jam with. (Another blog to write!) Yesterday, our friends The Roth’s blessed us with a huge box of Gravenstein apples which I can’t wait to process into sauce, pies and cakes. It’s exciting to think of all the goodies that should be coming out of my kitchen right now. It’s just that all these activities take time and energy and I don’t have a live in sous chef these days. My husband would rather be watching soccer games in his free time.
And then there’s training for walking The Camino de Santiago in Spain which I need to be in shape for in October. How can a girl choose which activity to get involved with first? I’m super ecstatic right now because my girlfriend Sandra who wanted to meet in an hour, just cancelled and rescheduled for tomorrow. Yeah! More time to write and my husband won’t be home until after his soccer practice around 9:30PM. A bonus…
Back to the birthday lunch story. A few months ago, my sister’s daughter Marie invited me to have lunch with her where she works at the newly renovated Wente Winery Restaurant called “Vineyard Table” in Livermore. The veranda dining room is elegant and perfect for a lunch date in the country. Make sure you check the hours before driving there because the restaurant is closed on concert days. Yes! They have summer concerts and lots of wine tasting.
If you’ve never been to Wente, it’s quite the Farm to Table experience serving only the best wines for a delicate palate. Marie and I met there for lunch at the Arroyo Road property and were brought Wente’s classic small lot Brut to celebrate the occasion. We were immediately put in the right mood to have a good time as we always do when we get together. She is so sweet and generous offering to take me to lunch at this spectacular oasis.
I was excited to see the new menu and we started by ordering the roasted olives, my absolute favorite. Next came the Shrimp a la Plancha- caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes from the garden, chili sauce, shrimp scampi, green Goddess dressing with sourdough toast. We shared Diane’s Garden Bowl- Red quinoa, sunflower seeds and feta cheese atop a bed of fresh greens with a balsamic vinaigrette. We were stuffed, but somehow scarfed down the warm salted caramel laden plate, chocolate ganache tart in pastry, seasonal raspberries, and sliced strawberries with dulce whipped cream. This dessert is perfect way to end any meal. We would have ordered espresso, but Marie was on her lunch hour and needed to make some calls.
It was a treat to be greeted by the President of Wente Family Estates Amy Hoopes who stopped by our table to let me know how valuable Marie was to their company. Sadly enough, Marie has since moved on to a better opportunity, but will always cherish her Wente family.
After our fabulous lunch, we had a tour of the whimsical half acre garden previously an old cabernet franc vineyard. For the past 20 years, Master Gardener Diane Dovholuk has been amending the soil and composting with kitchen scraps and green waste from Chef Josh’s restaurant just steps away. They were growing heirloom tomatoes, peppers, corn, zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers, hollyhocks, grapes of course and much more.
The highlight for me was getting a glimpse of the rattle snake that they were transferring to another part of the property in a huge Rubbermaid garbage can by way of a small truck. They found him in a corner of one of the wine cellars trying to stay cool.
I’m fortunate to have Marie in my life. My niece loves food, beer and wine almost as much as I do, possibly more. And I’m not complaining about the precious stone fruit and apples that I’ve been gifted. Everyone has to manage their time and I need to be more patient with myself. We are already in mid September, the weather is changing and life goes on.
Thanks for spending this time with me and reading my foodie stories. Wente’s hashtag is #MAKETIME. How more relevant to today’s post can you get? Follow my blog for more adventures in food, travel and recipes.
Here’s the write up on the day Marie and I had in Healdsburg California together.
Ohhh! And here is my recipe for Apple Crumb Pie!
Apple Crumb Pie
1 Pastry Recipe. See recipe for pie crust in previous blog post. Make this first and set dough in fridge for half an hour to rest while you slice apples.
Ingredients for apple pie:
5 Cups of Gravenstein or Granny Smith Apples peeled and sliced into acidulated lemon water
1 Lemon juiced into a large bowl of water big enough to hold sliced apples
1/2 C Granulated Sugar
1 t ground Cinnamon
1 t ground Ginger
½ t Maldon Salt
1 T Tapioca Flour
1 T Apple Cider Vinegar
4 T Unsalted Butter (to dot on top of apples before crumb topping is put on.)
½ C Granulated Sugar
¾ C All Purpose Flour
½ C Cold Unsalted Butter cut into chunks
¼ t Maldon Salt
½ C Whole Almonds
1 t ground Cinnamon
1 t ground Ginger (or Cardamon is nice too)
Peel,pare and slice apples into a large bowl of lemon water.
Make crumb topping next. I put all ingredients sugar, flour chunks of cold butter, salt, almonds, cinnamon and ginger in a food processor. Pulse until mixture is mixed well and butter is incorporated into dry ingredients. (You can use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into sugar and flour and spices if you don’t have a food processor.) Set aside.
For the apples:
In a separate small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt, tapioca flour.
When apples are sliced take out of lemon water and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Put in a large dry bowl and sprinkle with apple cider vinegar. Then pour dry ingredients into sliced apples and stir.
Have pastry shell crimped and ready to go before you add apples and sugar mixture. (I always sprinkle a little granulated sugar on the prepared pastry before adding fruit. It helps the crust from getting soggy.) Pour sugared apples into unbaked prepared pie crust.
Sprinkle crumb topping onto apples dotted with the extra 4 T unsalted butter. Butter always makes everything taste better.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pie on a sheet pan in the center of the oven and bake for 45 min to an hour until apples look done and topping is a little brown. Cover with foil if the crust starts to brown too quickly.
Yesterday I tried to hurry up the baking process by using the convection oven and turning temp down to 400 degrees. I think this just dries out the pie and it’s worth being late to the party and baking at normal 400 degree oven. Never rush a good thing.
Serve alongside vanilla Ice cream of your choice. I like Kirkland brand sold at Costco. Caramel sauce can be a nice addition, especially during the Fall months.
Thanks again for reading my recipe. I’m grateful for the love and hope I’ve inspired you to bake something special.