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It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere in Yountville, [but go early for a foodie day]

It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere in Yountville,  [but go early for a foodie day]

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Enjoyed a getaway vacation last week with my girlfriend Cathy. I decided it was time to show her around the Napa Valley. Today’s blog will be all about our adventures wine tasting and eating our way through the vineyards. It truly is my “happy place.”
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What a day it was. Cathy and I started out touring her own vegetable garden in Alamo. I was impressed by her ability to make every space a pleasure to look at. Cathy is an interior decorator by trade. She had her own successful business for many years in the Bay Area. Her and her husband raised their kids in Alamo and we met while our boys were in Junior High at Stone Valley Middle School. And she is a chef and foodie like me, so it is awesome that we’ve stayed in touch over the years.

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Back to the adventure…First we stumbled upon Saintsbury located in the Carneros Valley. We learned that the tasting fee was $35.00 each and would take an hour. We had big plans for the day and couldn’t spare the time, so onward we went.

Around the corner was Etude Winery. They are also a bit on the snobby side trying to charge us for the one person tasting fee even though Cathy was purchasing two bottles of their 2016 Chardonnay. After I explained that I was a food blogger, our pourer graciously took off the $25.00 fee. It was a beautiful day and we were very surprised to see a huge spread of salads, various cheeses, bread, and an enormous meat platter for very hungry Backroads bicyclists. These people come from all over the world to experience what the wine country has to offer. Great fun!


After tasting at Etude (I had a couple of sips cause I was the designated driver), and seeing their glorious wild poppy garden and listening to the swallows nesting in their mud houses, we stopped off at Bistro Don Giovnanni. There we imbibed in glasses of pinot grigio from luna vineyards in Napa, and their Fritto Misto w calamari, rock shrimp, fennel, onions green beans w a spicy aioli. We had a big day planned, so we opted to save our appetite for later. Cathy had never been to this restaurant and she was delighted by our Italian server and their generous hospitality. They even offered us coupons for tastings at the new winery nextdoor!


After our luxurious break, we went on ahead to the cute town of Yountville. After parking in the shade, we walked along the main street where we talked to the women at the information center. They had lots of ideas for us of wineries to drive to, but I was content to show Cathy what Yountville had to offer. First we checked out The Spa at the Estate Villagio Inn where we were offered a tour of the spa. It was fun smelling their lotions and seeing what spa packages they had to offer. We learned they are currently under renovations to upgrade their accommodations.

Next we stepped into the extraordinary JCB Tasting Salon . Jean-Charles Boisset’s tasting experience was over the top. They offered us a Gala Brut Champagne and the No 50 Brut Blanc de Blanc, Burgundy and a $200 bottle of wine tasting since it was already open. Fabulous! We were spoiled rotten by Daniela who also took us on a private tour of the luxury JCB Salon Prive’ located next door. It has an opulence about it that the decorator in Cathy adored.

Onward to Bardessono Hotel and Lucy Restaurant . It’s normally a $50.00 charge to open a bottle of wine from home, but our generous waiter erased that fee and allowed me to bring in a picnic. The wine, cheese, nuts and fruit were just what we needed to relax in the outdoor patio. Cathy was ready for their cosmopolitan cocktail to make a splash and bring on the warm Yountville evening. She liked it so much, she ordered a second!

A walk through the gardens at The French Laundry was our last stop. Here we spotted a few butterflies, artichoke plants, strawberry plants and rows and rows of glorious organic greens. I would love to enjoy a meal there someday since Thomas Keller the owner and Executive chef of tfl is my idol.

 

It was a day to remember for sure, and I can’t wait to experience Napa and St Helena again soon. You should too. Is there a secret get away place you want to tell me about? I want to hear all about it in the comments below. Sign up for my blog by including your email, and I promise to never leave you out of my upcoming food and travel blogs. Here’s my latest on Carmel California.

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Have a Little Art, Wine and Plenty of Pastries in Carmel California

Have a Little Art, Wine and Plenty of Pastries in Carmel California
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This is my artist friend Margery and mutual friend Heidi who owns Hippievibetribe.com a bohemian clothing an accessory online store

 My husband and I took  a day trip to Carmel last weekend to see a dear friends’ art show at Anthony “Tony” Vanderploeg’s  Amsterdam. Margery Ammond and I have been friends for many years. She and I met at the neighborhood book club. We spent many hours together pouring over books, as Margery has always been an avid reader. Turns out, Margery is also a fabulous artist.

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Margery Ammon with the owner of the Gallerie Amsterdam Tony Vanderploeg

But that wasn’t a surprise to me. About 15 years ago, my siblings and I purchased a beautiful painting of Margery’s that was a scene from the Senanque abbey near Gordes France. This portrait oil painting has a huge field of lavender flowers with an abbey in the background. Simply exquisite! My Mother keeps the colorful mural over her fireplace, since lavender flowers are her favorite.

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This is Margery’s painting. Such a beautiful piece of art

As you can see Margery’s new pieces are just as gorgeous. This time she paints pictures of butterflies along with gorgeous flowers from her garden. Outstanding work. In the past, she has focused on paintings of vineyards in Napa, and Healdsburg, scenes of Mount Diablo, gorgeous landscapes of Lake Tahoe and also earlier pieces of still lifes of fruit and silver.

I have a huge appreciation for people with these amazing creative skills as I can’t draw a stick figure. But that’s okay, we all have our strengths. Mine happen to be more culinary oriented. And I can’t forget when Margery generously donated her quality pots and pans to me since she bought a new stove which required a whole new set of cookware. So thoughtful of her!

Margery also displays her art in Truckee California at Art Obsessions, in Canada, and in Europe as well. I’m sure you will fall in love with her art like I have. She enjoys painting as a hobby and works very hard on her craft 4 days a week. She loves what she does and it shows. She paints for the joy of seeing vibrant colors on a blank canvas. We met for lunch today to get caught up since she doesn’t attend the book club meetings anymore. She’s too busy painting! Margery‘s smile radiates through the room and she brings joy to everyone around her. How lucky I am to have met her and to have gotten the chance to see her latest art show.  

If you make a trip to Carmel, be sure to check out the Carmel Bakery. Ken and I stumbled into this special place along our walk through the streets in that cute little town. Since my husband and I had to cut our visit short, we grabbed an ice cream cone and few pastries for the car ride home. This bakery was EVERYTHING! I practically bought one everything that I laid my eyes on. The cherry turnover was delish, as well as the raspberry strudel pastry that my husband devoured before I could get a bite. Of course, I had to taste their gingerbread cookie too. A little disappointing actually. Not as gingery as I would have liked plus it was somewhat dry. The hot chocolate didn’t blow me away,  but it was good and chocolatey nonetheless. I bought my hubby the cheesy pretzel since he loves bread and he gobbled it up right away.

You won’t want to miss out on a day trip to Caramel where you can enjoy lots of art galleries (65 total), get in a winery or two, or grab a coffee from the local bakery before heading out of town. It’s a happening place and worth the two hour drive down the coast.We didn’t make time to visit a winery, but walked by Albatross Ridge and I was sooo tempted.If I didn’t need to help with the driving, I would have been all in.

We even took my son’s dog Hank for a walk on the beach.Caramel is a  dog friendly town, it seems everyone has a puppy. Hank was hoping I would drop my ice cream cone, so he could have a lick or two. That wasn’t going to happen because I’m a mocha almond fudge freak. I’m obsessed.And I didn’t even have to share because my husband doesn’t like chocolate! Score. More for me!

Leave me a comment below about your favorite artist, ice cream flavor or recent adventure. I’d love to hear all about it. Get out there and make it a great day!

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A Foodie Day in Emeryville and a Visit to Pixar

A Foodie Day in Emeryville and a Visit to Pixar

Met a friend for lunch at Emeryville’s Koja Kitchen for Korean-Japanese fusion food inside the Public Market, then the two of us joined another friend for a tour of Pixar. The  Market was quiet because it was early, but it was similar to the Ferry building in San Francisco, or also Napa’s OxBow Public Market. If you like food, wine and beer and ART you must get yourself to Emeryville.

 

Let’s begin with the various businesses at the Public Market. I found fourteen choices of places to dine, drink or just hang out with a loved one for a cup of coffee at Peets. I passed since I had already had my espresso w steamed milk while driving to this destination, but Peets is definitely my favorite coffee house. Lucky me I had time for a quick pedicure at The Lounge Nail Spa since I arrived an hour early. How convenient was that?

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Pauline admiring the Coco art on the back of an employee’s Jeep in the parking lot.

Pauline is my brother in law Hanson’s niece (that’s a mouthful!) and she had asked if we could spend a day at Pixar a few months ago. Pauline is a HUGE Disney fan and has never had a tour before until today. This was my second opportunity to visit Pixar since several months ago when I took a tour with my niece Jasmine.  Here are a couple of pics from our day together.

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Jasmine saluting w Woody

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This is the building where all the future ideas are being developed. There are seven movies now in the works

Pixar is studded with art from the very famous award winning Movie Coco, The Incredibles and many other Disney favorites. It’s truly an animators playground, of which is why Pauline loves it there. She has a degree in animation, yet chooses to work with children in San Francisco as a teacher since in her words, “it is more rewarding.”

 

We had a blast walking through the Pixar campus even spotting a famous director. Very cool. The gardens are gorgeous with huge trees and purple blooming irises. One of my favorites since I have them in full bloom in my garden as well.

 

I am fortunate to have connections and visiting privileges to this iconic institution. You can feel the creative energy inside and out of the buildings and know very special things are coming from the brilliant minds of the people who work there. Coming soon is Toy Story 4 and I will be lining up to see that feature film being released in June 2019. My son Andrew had the action figures Woody and Buzz Lightyear back in 1995 when the movie won 3 oscars.

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Well, I thought this blog was going to be all about the restaurants that I stumbled upon at the Public Market. I guess I can get a little excited about Disney/Pixar movies too and get sidetracked. Thou you won’t want to miss checking out these dining experiences either. C Casa, Fish Face poke Bar, Hot Italian, Mayo & Mustard, and Mr Dewie’s Cashew Creamery dairy, soy and gluten free just to name a few. And don’t miss trying Paradita Eatery a Peruvian restaurant and stop by Oui Oui! for a light and airy macaron right after. You will want to bring co workers with you to try The Periodic Table’s huge list of local brews, then Shiba Ramen for an authentic fast casual really delicious Japanese ramen bowl.

Of course, many would opt for a vegan dish and would choose an eggplant curry from  Wazwan Indian Cuisine. Or if you are in the mood for sushi, try We Sushi who started out as a food truck.

It was a dream come true to come across this destination before spending the day at Pixar. Our lunch was healthy, reasonably priced, quick and tasty at Koja Kitchen and we had just enough time to make it for our 2PM Pixar tour. I really can’t think of a better way to spend the day.

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Maybe you have a favorite new hot spot to hang out in? Are you a Disney fan? Here’s a blog from my recent trip to Disneyland. If so leave your ideas in the comment section below. And thanks for reading this. It means a lot.

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Sneak peek from recent Disneyland Adventure

 

 

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Sip Happens… It’s Okay to WINE

Sip Happens… It’s Okay to WINE
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Lynie and me at Bob’s Wine Class

Took a spectacular wine class last weekend at the local community center in my town with my neighbor Lynn. Lynn also happens to be my husband’s cousin, so that makes her extra special. She got me excited about signing up for the class a few months ago, and boy am I glad I did. I’m usually a food blogger. But wine goes well with food, right?

In today’s blog, I will be sharing the highlights about what you need to know about wine and sharing my favorite risotto recipe. Bob Becker a certified Sommelier and Wine professional gave the wine analysis presentation along with his wife Darla. Lynie and I and several other wine enthusiasts learned that Americans drink 900 million gallons of wine a year!  It was interesting to find out that there were only 40 wineries back in 1970. And today, there are 9000 wineries in the US! We like our wine. In fact, Bob said that Americans drank 3.7 billion bottles of wine in 2017!

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My nieces Keri and Jamie last December at Rombauer in St Helena

I had no idea how complicated wine tasting could be. We went through the Seven Components that make up the structure (there happens to be 1200 components in a glass of wine): Aroma, Alcohol, Sugar, Acid, Tannin, Texture, and Body were what we covered.These characteristics helped us learn how to identify the glasses we had in front of us. During our lifetime, we create a memory bank of aromas that our brain remembers when drinking wine. The three types of Aroma are Natural/Floral like a Viognier, a Bouquet aroma (the wine is 4 or 5 yrs old) and was made w molecular equilibrium like raisin or leather aroma, or Wine Maker Infused because of the wine barrels. There are American, French and Hungarian wood barrels.

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Lynie getting serious while waiting for Bob’s presentation

American barrels might smell like vanilla, dill or coconut. Where as the French barrels have a caramel, spice or nutmeg aroma. The Hungarian may taste like cinnamon or cloves and the winemakers add wood chips to get these flavors when they burn the barrels. True story. They can only flavor wine in a barrel three times before these barrels are discarded. When Bob worked at Hess in Napa they had 3,500 barrels at one time and each barrel cost approximately $1,600 each. That’s a lot of moolah.

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Bob’s wife Darla and a few happy participants

Then we learned the five step tasting method: Sight, Swirl, SniffSip and Summarize. Sight– When looking at your wine, look for clarity.  Is it crystal clear? How old is it? White wines get darker after 4 yrs because they start oxidizing. What climate was it grown in? Red wines get lighter as they age. The color pigments fall to the bottom and at 4-6 yrs old the reds have a different color at the outer edge rim part of the glass. Are you confused yet?

Actually we were just getting started tasting the various wines sitting in front of us. It was so fun. When one Swirls, you are aerating the wine releasing esters of aroma molecules that enter the nose. Fun fact! Right handers swirl their wine glass counterclockwise and left handers clockwise. Apparently, legs are those streaks that trickle down the side of any wine glass after you swirl it. They tell nothing about wine. It means the cabernet grapes had thick skin. The slower the legs the more alcohol.

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Lynie and I had to identify various Smells like coconut, pear, lemon, cloves, raspberry, pineapple, diesel and mildew (cause from a moldy cork) that were located in small bottles on the table. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to remember each of these. Smell is the gateway to flavor. For example, New Zealand’s wines have more of a lychee aroma. A Spanish wine over 10 years old will smell like leather. A Viognier white wine may taste like white peaches, apricots or a green apple aroma. And we learned that no two people smell things alike. Who knew?

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My dad Ron and my friend Susan at Rombauer a few years ago. Of course I was trying to be a matchmaker again

It was so interesting to find out that everyone has a dominant nostril when Sniffing wine. The professionals hold their glass within an ⅛ of an inch of the rim to properly sniff. They tilt the glass and use only one nostril. Fascinating!  

Now I know I was supposed to take notes on Sipping and Summarizing too, but there is nothing written here. I wonder if the wine was kicking in…

Bob also talked about ways to recognize bad wine. For instance, if you make a reservation for an earlier time, the restaurants may be serving wine from the day before that doesn’t taste quite right. And if you are paying $12-16 dollars for a glass of wine, it should taste good. Call the waiter and have them open a new bottle in front of you so you know it isn’t old. Great tip!

We talked about Infrared Thermometers that help tell the wine’s exact temperature. We now know that lying a bottle on its side helps prevent air getting in and that we should keep the bottles in a cool dark 55 degree room. Wine cellars can cost $87,000 to build! Interestingly enough, don’t store your wine in a home fridge because they vibrate in there and that changes the flavor of the wine prematurely. It’s also too cold and dry in your home fridge. For those of you that only drink a glass or two a night, buy a coravin. These help suck the wine into your glass and keep the cork in place to keep the wine fresh. These are just a few of the many interesting wine tasting tricks in Bob’s class.

Bob was clear about serving wine from a clear glass with a stem that is thin with a narrow rim like these or these.  The thinner the glass the better the wine tastes. I know these rules are boring you, but I’m excited to have my next dinner party and show off all of my new wine tips.
Thank goodness red wine has beneficial health benefits too. Although it’s best to not over drink. Make sure to drink a wine that is older than 10 years quickly and don’t decant it. The oxygen destroys the flavor immediately. 

Also- Bob pointed out that screw tops are perfectly fine, they are fabulous at preserving wine and are better than corked wines. Five out of every 100 wine bottles have bad corks!

The characteristics of a well made wine are: Expressiveness, Complexity, Pleasing Texture, Balance and Lingering Finish. When you swallow, how long does the flavor stay on your palate? Does it burn the back of your throat going down? This may mean it has a high alcohol content. Side note: Bob mentioned Screaming Eagle Wine founded by female winemaker Jean Phillips. He and Darla had the pleasure of enjoying her wine for $1,200 a bottle! No kidding.

One of the most interesting facts about the class was realizing that wine is full of SUGAR. These bottles show how much sugar is in each wine. Sparkling wine like Cava/Spain, Prosecco/Italy, and Roederer/France has less sugar and go with many foods. It’s against the law to add sugar to wine. Just before the wine is bottled, the vintners dump raw grape juice into the bottle. The yeast eats the sugar and ethyl alcohol is produced.

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At the end of the class Bob revealed what we were drinking. It was fun to find out more about these wines. My favorite was either #4 or #5 because I was picking up a coffee aroma and I love coffee.

#1 A Sauvignon Blanc from Smart Cookie Vineyards

#2 Chenin Blanc from Beringer

#3 A Zinfandel from Quackenbush

#4 Pisano RPF Uruguay Tannat 2013

#5 Apothic Red 2015
I could go on and on with more wine tips, but why not take a class like Bob’s? His email is Beck711@comcast.net. He also does private parties. Or you could go wine tasting at Page Mill Winery in Livermore and meet my hiking friend Debbie.She knows her stuff. Lots of cool things to do in Livermore.

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Wine Wheel that helps while wine tasting

In Bob’s  words “If you wine a little bit, you’ll feel a lot better.” Well, I can tell you that my husbands cousin Lynie and I definitely felt a lot better after taking his class. I hope you have enjoyed this write up and have picked up a thing or two about wine.

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And finally, I will end with a quote from Benjamin Franklin. “In wine there is wisdom, in beer freedom, in water there is bacteria. I think I’ll plan a day trip to the Napa Valley, Livermore or Healdsburg. Anyone want to go? Hit me up! Leave me a comment below and tell me your favorite wine tip.

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My fav chef Michael Chiarello even has his own wine. Pic taken a few years back at Bottega restaurant in Yountville at Marketplace

 

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“Geeking it out” at Universal Studios Hollywood

“Geeking it out” at Universal Studios Hollywood
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The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter w the family

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My nieces Jamie and Keri and her mom Kathleen

If it looks like the Smyth’s, the VanWinckel’s and Louie families are practically the only people at Universal Studios, your probably right. When this family vacations at these parks, we don’t mess around. Up early and out the door before the doors open, so our group could be first in line to get in to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. A few of my nieces were over the top excited about The Forbidden Journey and also about getting their wand at Ollivanders. It’s quite the experience, seeing my nieces walk around getting objects to move if they pointed their wand in a certain direction if they stand in the correct spot. Just like magic. The marketing people here are genius getting parents to spend $49.00 on a wooden wand. It’s kind of a big deal though, and I’m not an expert on this experience since I am just now being exposed to Harry Potter. Neither of my son’s were into the books, so I plead innocence here. No judgement, cause we all have our geek out moments, after all.

 

I hadn’t been to this park in about 25 years, so a lot has changed. They still have a Studio Tour in which you get on a tram and drive around and see King Kong, Fast & Furious among others. Get on this tram when your toes are screaming “sit down!”

 

Of course there were Transformers, Shrek Characters, and Sponge Bob Square Pants out and about for the youngsters to appreciate. Good times for all.

 

We all had fun riding the Revenge of the Mummy ride, Transformers The Ride- 3D, and watching Waterworld the number 1 stunt show. We avoided the Jurassic Park Ride because it was too cold to risk getting soaked. My son Curtis’s favorite memory of the park was the Jaws ride. He must have been only 7 or 8 when we brought him on that ride. Poor kid was traumatized for years after seeing jaws fly out of the water. Looking back, we should have protected him from that terrifying experience.

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In any case, there was lots to do and plenty of places to eat like Cletus’ Chicken Shack, Krusty Burger, Trish’s Mini Donuts, Ben & Jerry’s Ice-cream and Popcornopolis which offers caramel, cheese and churro flavored popcorn. Delish!

 

Here’s my version and recipe for Cinnamon Rolls

Overall, the Universal Studio “geek out” vacation experience was a success. We put on several more miles on our sore tootsies, but every step was worth it. Especially since I’m able to laugh and make special memories with my loved ones. If you haven’t been, plan your next adventure in Southern California at Universal Studios. You’ll be glad you did.

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From the left my sister in law Terri Ann, My sister in law Kathleen,brother in law Rodney, and nieces Keri, Jamie, Laura, Michelle, Keri’s boyfriend Sam and me

 

Here’s a glimpse of our Disneyland trip the day before.

 

 

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How we [ate and drank]our way through the Food and Wine Festival in Disneyland

How we [ate and drank]our way through the Food and Wine Festival in Disneyland

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Had a wonderful time vacationing with several family members two weeks ago in Disneyland and Universal Studios in Southern California. The Disney trip is an annual trip that my sister in law Kathleen organizes (there’s 4 nieces, two sister in law’s and my brother in law) and we were all lucky enough to eat, drink and play our way through the California Adventure Food and Wine Festival together. My boys and husband never want to go. I think they are crazy to miss out on all the fun.

Of course I took tons of pics of the food, the kiosks and what they offered and I was able to sneak a photo with Daniella Malfitano who was getting ready for a cooking demonstration. We tried just about everything from Fried Artichoke Carbonara to their Popcorn Lemonade Cocktail made with Agave Silver Tequila. The Mac and Cheese dish was a big hit and I thoroughly enjoyed the Roasted Asparagus Caesar with crunchy buttery croutons.

My niece Jamie was excited to see her College town Chico written up as where the first American Pale Ale was created in 1980. Both of my sisters and another niece Marie also graduated from Chico state so I’m a huge fan. I didn’t know that Sonoma California had the first microbrewery in 1977 made from old dairy tanks. And as of 2018, there are over 900 craft breweries operating in my home town state of California.That’s a lot of BEER. In case you want to see a previous post on the local brewery Calicraft Check out a previous blog.

 

Plenty of Mimosa Flights were enjoyed by my niece’s Laura and Michelle and they especially loved the Pineapple Juice and Chandon Brut Sparkling Wine.We indulged in the cheese from the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company , Vella Cheese Company located in Sonoma, and the FisCALini Cheese Company located in Modesto because who doesn’t love cheese.  In fact, I hope to serve a cheese platter on Easter which is this weekend! Maybe I can pick up a few varieties and serve them with my Blenheim apricot jam, candied walnuts, dried fruit and some garlic and olive oil baked sourdough toast. 

This Festival presented by CA Grown had Beverage Seminars, family friendly demonstrations and programs with Jr Chef competitions daily. There’s truly something for everyone at the Disney California Food and Wine Festival.

We were so excited to learn about the upcoming Pixar Pier featuring an high speed Incredicoaster and a Paint the NIght Parade with characters Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack. I can’t wait. Coming to theaters in June is the latest Incredibles 2. I will definitely be making plans to see that movie.

Well these are just a few of the highlights from my trip. I promise to focus my next blog on our adventures at Universal Studios. I hope you enjoy the fun and entertaining food blog and that I’ve inspired you to bake and cook for your family and friends.

Also- In case you like to garden there is a huge Tomato plant sale coming up in April. Details below.

tomato plant sale

And here are the many varieties of tomatoes being offered. Get there early because this is a popular event that you won’t want to miss!

http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/files/279701.pdf

I get my vegetable plants there every year. And here is a previous blog on composting.  Maybe I will see you there!

 

Teri

 

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What You Need to Know about dining and shopping in Walnut Creek (Italian Recipes too!)

What You Need to Know about dining and shopping in Walnut Creek (Italian Recipes too!)

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Was fortunate enough to spend the day with my dear friend Denise last week to celebrate her birthday. Denise and I met over 15 years ago in a meditation class at St Isidore’s. She is a woman of many talents, yet I love her for her intimacy with God and the Church. Denise is a go getter always involved with the latest philanthropy project. What I love about her is that she is somewhat of a spiritual advisor, helping me get through tough times. I have my faith, but it is nice to have a friend to lend an ear and offer guidance when I need it. I adore her and her husband Don and son Brian and thoroughly enjoy our lunches together.

Neiman Marcus Restaurant is where we decided to meet to celebrate her special day. It’s fun to walk around the store and oogle over their displays. It’s almost Easter so there are exhibits of Godiva’s chocolate eggs and stuffed bunnies everywhere which totally gets you in the mood to shop. The children’s section looks perfectly adorable showing little stuffed zebras and miniature pianos something for every child.

Denise and I arrived at about the same time and greeted each other before having a seat in the cafe’. She was smart to have the ($10 per car) valet park her car so she didn’t have to walk far. I like to get a walk in any chance I can and was able to find the only free 3 hour parking garage with a parking place available. Score!

Neiman’s offers a hot cup of consume when you are seated which was a nice touch. We also were treated to hot popovers with strawberry butter. They weren’t served hot and the butter wouldn’t melt, so our gracious waitress brought us new ones straight from the oven. I was hoping to order their crab salad, but was disappointed to learn they didn’t offer that dish anymore. Instead I had the sauteed salmon filet served w a ginger scallion brown rice w edamame, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccolini in a shoyu-chile vinaigrette. It was cooked perfectly, hearty, colorful and delicious. Denise went for their cabbage soup since she wasn’t very hungry and we were able to take a photo of it after they so consciously wiped the bowl for us. I had mentioned my friend was celebrating a birthday, so expected them to bring out something. Instead they proceeded to make us feel like we needed to order a dessert (which we did). Denise was excited to try their warm chocolate chip cookies. After all that, our waitress also brought out a complimentary banana cake with whipped cream. But we were charged $5.50 for the cookies! It was a little sneaky of them to go about a birthday dessert this way if you ask me, but we were dining at Neiman Marcus and they are known for their high prices. We each had a glass of wine because of the occasion and loved having a quiet lunch together. Over all, we had very nice service, the food and wine was good but a little pricey, the total meal was $70.91 not including tip. The important part about the day was that Denise enjoyed herself and I believe we achieved that. It truly is a one of a kind dining experience and I will go back for special occasions.

A little walk around Walnut Creek was what came next as we proceeded to The Red Box a local women’s and men’s clothing store. Denise has been working with Mojde Esfandiari the owner for their upcoming spring fashion show and luncheon. This event is raising money for the Danville Women’s Club to help kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford college get scholarships. It promises to be a wonderful event and I am planning on going. Modje’s clothes are one of a kind, unique collection of apparel, shoes and handbags many of them European. I wanted one of everything and will definitely go back to try on a few things. It’s nice to know that people like Modje with her clothing line and Denise with her time, are giving back to the community in these charming ways.

 

 

One more highlight of the week was entertaining our great nieces Terra 51/2 and Tamra 3 yrs old. Their mommy Tammy and husband Tim are due to have the baby any day, so my husband and I were happy to lend a helping hand for the afternoon. The girls loved being read to, enjoyed running around at the park and snacking on our picnic on a ideal day like last Sunday. Luckily, the weather was warm and we were able to walk to a nearby park. Of course our home is full of love when we get to care for our nieces and nephews kids. How fortunate Ken and I are to have large extended families living nearby.

 

I will leave you with a nice meal you can make for your own family. Our great aunt Nita and uncle Ted in Point Arena taught me how to prepare polenta many years ago and it has become a staple weeknight meal. They are unfortunately not with us anymore, but their recipe lives on.Here’s a blog from our time spent with them a few years back.

Italian Meatballs, Marinara and Cheesy Polenta

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Meatball ingredients:

 

1 ½ lbs 90/10% fat Ground Beef

6 large cremini mushrooms sliced

1 red or yellow bell pepper chopped

½ white onion chopped

3 cloves minced roasted garlic or fresh

½ C Marsala

1 t herb de Provence

½ t ground bay leaf

1 t Kosher salt

1 t ground pepper

1 t ground parsley

½ C parmesan cheese

¾ C dry toasted bread crumbs (I used toasted leftover biscuits)

½ C Milk

½ C Ketchup

½ C BBQ sauce (I used Korean)

1 egg whisked

Directions:

Saute’ onions, pepper, garlic until soft about 7 minutes. Add Marsala wine and reduce until evaporated. Cool.

In a large bowl, fold  raw ground beef, cooled veggies and remaining ingredients until mixed well. Scoop onto a sheet pan lined with foil. Bake in a preheated 400 degree convection oven uncovered for about 25 minutes until browned.

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Marinara Sauce

 

Ingredients:

 

1 large 28 oz Can Whole Tomatoes (Puree in blender)

1 14 oz can tomato sauce

3 T tomato paste

2 T Olive oil

1 small onion chopped

½ C chopped fresh basil/ or 1 t dried

3/4  C red wine

1 T sugar

3 garlic cloves sauteed in oil for 2 minutes

1 t salt

½ t pepper

¼ t crushed red pepper

 

Directions:

Saute onions, garlic in med size frying pan in oil. Place remaining ingredients including onions and garlic (except for wine) in a blender and puree until mixed. Pour contents into a  large pot and cook for 10 minutes. Add wine and reduce for another 10-15 minutes. You will be adding meat balls to this pot, so make sure there is plenty of room.

When meatballs are cooked, add them to marinara sauce and cook for another 15 minutes on the stove on medium heat.

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Prepare Polenta:

Ingredients:

4 C chicken or vegetable broth

1 C water

1 ½ C Cornmeal

½ C parmesan cheese shredded

½ C fontina cheese shredded

1 t kosher salt

½ t black pepper

2 T butter

1 T Olive Oil

¼ C heavy cream or milk

 

In a large pot heat chicken broth, water, salt and pepper over med high heat until it comes to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and slowly add cornmeal to the boiling liquid while stirring constantly. Cook for about 10 minutes then add cream, oil, butter and shredded cheeses.

 

To serve, scoop out a hefty portion of polenta into a large round pasta bowl. Ladle over a good portion of marinara sauce and 4 to 5 meatballs per serving depending on how hungry you are. Sprinkle with parsley or additional cheese.

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Enjoy! If you liked this recipe please leave a comment below and follow my blog for more interesting stories and family recipes. You’ll be glad you did. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to try these recipes and spoil the ones you love.  

 

 

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