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Sunday Fun Day with Good Friends Wine Tasting in the Shenandoah Valley

Sunday Fun Day with Good Friends Wine Tasting in the Shenandoah Valley

   It’s Tuesday. These days I rarely know which day it is. My husband and I spent last weekend in Eldorado Hills and Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley with our friends the Cowies and Castiglione’s.  It was refreshing to have social time again especially with some of my favorite people. It was nice to introduce good friends to our other good friends who happen to live in the same town. In today’s blog I will reflect on our weekend away and tell you what I’ve been up to lately.

 

The last four months have been interesting. Every day, I wake up, check on the latest news, water my vegetable garden, check email, have my coffee and a bit of breakfast, and do whatever chores are needed to get done. I’m not currently working, but I have worked harder in the past four months than I ever have. It seems there is always more laundry, more cleaning,  flour to mill and bread to bake, fresh pasta to make, or a new cookie or Rice Krispie treat recipe to try. 

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Two of the masks I made for friends to protect themselves from Covid19

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Covid masks made for the little people in my life

I’ve also made a dozen or more masks for family members, using up material I have had for years. It is rewarding to up cycle many fabrics that I’ve saved, knowing I could find a way to use them eventually.

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My strawberry plant blossoms. Just one of the many plants I am growing in my victory garden

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Just a few of my baby seedlings poking up through the soil

I’ve started an enormous vegetable garden, growing many varieties mostly from seed months ago. Not knowing whether we would have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, because of Covid 19, I decided to grow a victory garden. I’ve had edible gardens in the past, but never like this one. It is rewarding  checking on the size and color of the tomatoes and picking them off the vine when ripe. Many of them don’t make it into the bowl, but get popped right into my mouth. So tasty.

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Many varieties of flowers from my March garden in Walnut Creek. Photos taken by a friend Linda Kwong

So when our friends Elaine and Craig Cowie invited us to their new home in Eldorado Hills, we jumped at the idea. They have postponed the visit at least three times, because the Bay Area has been on lock down. My husband and I have been good about not going out unless we wear a mask, and we social distance if we see one of our friends or family. We felt safe about going North since there aren’t as many cases of Covid there. The population is less, and it’s not as crowded there.

 

We have known the Cowies for over 30 years. We met them after moving to our second house in Concord California. They lived directly across the street, so we had many dinner parties with them.  Also included into the mix were the Faulkenberry’s.  The Cowies and Faulkenberry’s  have been friends since college at Chico State. Our son Curtis took Taekwondo classes from Ray Faulkenberry when Curtis was in elementary school and we’ve loved them ever since.

 

Every year, the three families  have stayed connected taking turns having dinner together, even after we moved to Walnut Creek. We’ve had great times together watching our kids grow up, attending weddings and sharing meals over the years. We were happy to finally meet again, this time at the Cowies new home in El Dorado Hills. They moved there in February, after selling their home in Concord, to live closer to their daughter Leslie, son in law Kyle and two precious grand kids.

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Two couples enjoying the day at Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard.

Leaving the chores, the garden and kitty cat behind, Ken and I happily drove North and were graciously greeted by Elaine and Craig when we arrived. We unpacked the car with all the goodies and clothes and enjoyed the tour of their new home. I was excited to learn their floor plan was similar to our other friends the Castiglione’s, our friends from our current Walnut Creek neighborhood who have also recently relocated to  Eldorado Hills. Kayla and I have been in the same book club for over 20 years. I was happy to set up a day for the two couples to meet. We decided to get the six of us together on Sunday while wine tasting. Unfortunately, the Faulkenberry’s couldn’t stay overnight and join us having to get home to their puppies and cats.

 

We relaxed by the pool on Saturday while snacking on chips and mango salsa, fresh fruit skewers and pinot grigio. When the Faulkenberry’s showed up, I visited with their daughter Meg, who is a writer and social media expert. She wrote a book called Summer Rain. She had all kinds of great tips about how I should use Twitter to share my blog and many more new websites to check out like Blue Host, Hootsuite Wattpad, Booksie, 750words.com, Quotev.com and who to follow on Tik Tok. She should be teaching classes on these social media tools.

The weather was warm and yet there was a nice breeze which kept us cool. Elaine and Craig made fish tacos for dinner which we gobbled down and I made two apricot dishes for dessert. The first dessert was an apricot pie. I picked these ripe and juicy Patterson apricots from a farm in Tracy a couple of weeks ago. I also made two gluten free apricot turnovers with Teff flour and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour. These were special. I had heard about the Teff flour from The Sourdough Podcast, so when I stumbled across it at Lunardi’s Grocery Store I quickly swept it into my cart. I had a little sticker shock when I got to the register. It was over $7.00 for a small bag, but was worth the price. It is high in fiber, high in protein, has more calcium than any other grain and is the only ancient grain containing Vitamin C. Teff flour has a subtle hazelnut earthy taste, is cultivated in Eastern Africa and is found in Ethiopian flatbread called injera. I enjoyed these hand pies more than the apricot pie made with all purpose flour.

 

After the Faulkenberry’s left Saturday night, we got on our “jammies ” or pajamas and watched a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Ken and I had never seen it before, so it was nice to find a new funny night time splurge. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. It was so fun. 

 

Before bed I assembled my Overnight Baked French Toast recipe and placed it in the fridge. I make it with two loaves of cinnamon bread,  cut it into thick slices and pour a custard over the top to soak overnight. In the morning, you spread on a brown sugar,  butter and maple syrup mixture on top of the soaked bread and bake in the oven for one hour. I made a fresh blueberry sauce ahead of time, before we left for our trip.  I served the sauce along with maple syrup on the baked French Toast. I was introduced to this recipe from my friend Carolyn Regan. She made it when we went on a St Mary’s religious retreat in Guerneville many years ago. It is the perfect breakfast served with Italian sausage or bacon.

 

Sunday morning, Ken finished off preparing the breakfast and baked the French Toast while I stayed in bed a little longer. Most people know I love to sleep. At 9 AM, we ate breakfast and got ready to drive to the wineries. My husband Ken drove since he doesn’t drink. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to drive through the countryside.

 

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Ken and I outside at Iron Hub Winery

Our first stop was Iron Hub Winery and Vineyard. The views here were simply spectacular. They only charge $10.00 for a tasting and if you buy a bottle of wine, they give you a tasting for free. The pours were tiny, but we tried two whites and four reds. There was hardly anyone there with the exception of one other family of three tasting at the end of the outside bar.

We had an appointment at Cooper Vineyards at 12:15 and met up with our friends Kayla and John Castiglione. The six of us sat outside in a shaded patio where we shared stories and drank more delicious wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of all of us this time. We will have to go back again the six of us.  The Cowies are members there, so our wine tastings were free. That’s a bonus. The 2017 Barbera Riserva was the group favorite and the server generously gave us another pour.

The last place we ventured into was Jeff Runquist Winery where John and Kayla were members. We enjoyed the beautiful and welcoming tasting room, especially the fresh wild flowers of black eyed Susan, clarkia, yarrow, daisies and queen Anne’s lace in vases in every corner. We tried their Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc,  Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. At the end of the tasting, we said goodbye to John and Kayla and sat outside for a quick picnic before driving back to El Dorado Hills. It was lovely and the perfect day with friends. It was nice to see John and Kayla exchange numbers with Elaine and Craig. Especially since they are practically neighbors, living less than 10 minutes from one another.

 

We had hoped to check out the Amador Flower Farm in Plymouth, but it was getting late and we still had to drive back to the Bay Area. The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. We thanked Elaine and Craig for the generous hospitality and good food, packed up our things, cleaned and changed the sheets and were off. Our drive home was uneventful and I had plenty of time to get home and water the garden before dark. It’s nice to know our friends won’t be lonely since they now have a new couple (The Castiglione’s) to play golf with or have dinner with.

Today, I’m back to my cleaning, cooking, gardening, baking and writing. It’s good to be home, back to my meowing kitty and small homestead. I’m grateful for friends, their generosity and love. We have so much to be grateful for, even during a pandemic.

Stay healthy. Thanks for reading and following my blog. I promise to add a recipe next time I write.

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One last photo to bless you with. This photo was taken at Ben Runquist Winery’s tasting room

 

 

 

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My First Poem

I loved you when 

 

I loved you when you were just a tiny human when your parents would drop you off at my house in your car seat

 

I loved you when you wanted to have sleepovers

 

I loved you when you decorated Christmas cookies with us

 

I loved you when you sang at the top of your lungs “Wannabee” by the Spice Girls a zillion times on the way to Disneyland

 

I loved you when I took you to choir lessons at St Isidore’s Church after school 

 

I loved you when I picked you up from grammar school and drove you to gymnastics practice with Andrew and Keri

 

I loved you when we gave you a birthday celebration with all of your friends and family at the gymnastic studio

 

I loved you when you wanted a yearbook and your dad wouldn’t buy you one

 

I loved you when you needed someone to sit by your side at the dentist 

 

I loved you when we made kitty blankets for the Tri Valley Animal Shelter

 

I loved you when I picked you up after school to volunteer for Children’s Hospital’s Family House to cook meals for the families of children that were ill

 

I loved you when the dozens of times we got lost and I didn’t have a GPS or written directions driving to a philanthropy and you were always patient with me

 

I loved you when you needed a hairdresser to comb out the tangles in your hair and give you a haircut

 

I loved you when at Christmas time, I gave you a beautifully painted pot from Mexico to plant your succulents in

 

I loved you when we spent hours shopping for the perfect dress for the many National Charity League events

 

I loved you when we made happy birthday and thank you cards for the senior citizens and we chatted for hours

I loved you when we volunteered at the Ice Cream Social and you met the 100 year old man who wanted two scoops of ice cream instead of one

 

I loved you when I brought you to Kaiser Hospital and made sure you were up to date on your immunizations and made sure you had adequate birth control

 

I loved you when Iron Horse Middle School called me because they couldn’t reach your dad. They told me you fell while playing on the monkey bars. I drove you to Kaiser where we learned you broke your arm. You didn’t want to get out of the car, but finally did and needed surgery immediately

 

I loved you when we spent the day in Capitola and Santa Cruz buying shoes because your feet hurt

 

I loved you when I had Emily at the Livorna Swim Club teach you how to swim

 

I loved you when we made macaroni and cheese with your girlfriend in my kitchen

 

I loved you when I made you a quilt for your bed and months later it was burnt up in a fire

 

I loved you when we went to the movies together

 

I loved you when I picked you up from the San Ramon Library

 

I loved you when you got transferred to San Ramon Valley High

 

I loved you when you helped out Roxanne Stone the school secretary every morning at 7AM after your dad dropped you off 

 

I loved you when you got into Treble Clef and Concert Choir at San Ramon Valley High School

 

I loved you when you and Andrew would endlessly sing “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch in the back seat of the car

 

I loved you when you took off without me in San Diego while riding a scooter at a very young age

 

I loved you when we played in the butterfly garden at Marine World and when we let the parakeets stand on our heads while we fed them at the San Diego Zoo

 

I loved you when we played on the beach in Santa Cruz and went on the “Giant Dipper” roller coaster with my Dad and Andrew at the Boardwalk

 

I loved you when we sat in Berkeley at the coffee shop and you were inspired by and watched the homeless woman do her nails and wrote a book about it

 

I loved you when we volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in Bay Point painting houses

 

I loved you when we read books before bedtime and I would rock you on my lap and give you a special blanket to sleep with

 

I loved you when we played with and brushed the dogs and cats at TVAR

 

I loved you when we drove to Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek and you, Andrew and I picked out our dog Baxter after just going there for popcorn during Christmas break

 

I loved you when you were the only one who noticed I had been crying after my cat Woody died and you wanted to know if I was okay

 

I loved you when we ate peanut butter on apples for snack after school and you didn’t ever finish your drink

 

I loved you when we played with the kids at the Concord Child Care Center at the swimming pool and they hung all over you and you never wanted to volunteer there again

 

I loved you when you gave out baskets of food to the hungry at Monument Crisis Center during Thanksgiving

 

I loved you when I watched you and Andrew thrive in a summer drama program through Contra Costa Christian Theater acting in “High School Musical.” And you wanted to drop out, but didn’t

 

I loved you when you and your boyfriend Sean bought a kitten

 

I loved you when you graduated from High School around all of your family and friends

 

I loved you when you took on leadership roles in your Vista Oak NCL. Your graduation video was so inspiring that it is still used as a template for all upcoming seniors that need to write a speech

 

I loved you when you worked at the front counter at the Hospice Thrift Store 

I loved you when you went to Camp Concord in Lake Tahoe with your cousins Vince and Marie

 

I loved you when you married your cousin Vince at auntie Sue’s house in Belmont

 

I loved you when you cared for your cousin Kendall when she cried at night

 

I loved you when you danced with your Dad when he and Aly got married and you got a new Mom

 

I loved you when we spent hours at the beauty salons having our nails done

 

I loved you when Uncle Kenny took you to Oak Hill Park to take photos of you

 

I loved you when you liked auto shop and worked on cars

 

I loved you when you welcomed your baby sister into our family and loved her

 

I loved you when you fell in love with Darius and brought him to family events

 

I loved you when you began making YouTube tutorials on how to do skin care and make up

 

I loved you when you became famous on Twitter after helping a jobless man become employed

 

I loved you when you said you were married on Twitter even though you never shared it with me

 

I loved you when you took me to the Facebook and Instagram Campus in Menlo Park and showed me where you worked

 

I loved you when we spent the day in Carmel chillin on the beach, going to art museums, chocolate shops and beer tasting after my foot surgery

 

I loved you when we toured Pixar Studios in Emeryville and how Pocahontas was your favorite princess

I loved you when you and Andrew would sing “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne at the top of your lungs while riding in the back seat of my car

I loved you when you wanted to be a part of my life and family

 

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Health Scare and How I learned about the Covid19 Pandemic and a Multigrain Bread Recipe

Health Scare and How I learned about the Covid19 Pandemic and a Multigrain Bread Recipe

Today is the day. Today is the day I break my silence. I haven’t written for a few months. It’s been one thing after another that has gotten in the way of my writing. Let me explain. 

 

In mid December, my husband became ill with kidney stones and life changed. I spent sleepless nights worrying about him, driving him to ER rooms for xrays, pain medications,and fluids. Then they scheduled a surgery the same day to put in stents in his kidneys which led to his bladder shutting down the next day and another trip to the ER, this time in Oakland. The doctor immediately gave him a catheter which relieved the pressure from the blockage.

 

He needed a lithotripsy appointment which would blast the stone into smaller pieces so he could pass them. But that appointment couldn’t be scheduled because the office that does the procedure wasn’t open for two weeks during the Christmas holiday. My poor husband didn’t attend any holiday parties because he was embarrassed about having a catheter. You can’t blame him, but it made Christmas extra sad. Eventually after 5 days Ken removed the catheter himself after watching a YouTube video and from directions from his urologist. Ken could sleep better and had less pain after the catheter was removed.

 

More CT scans and a trip to Antioch Kaiser on a Sunday to get a sonogram on his kidney. This was our new life. Many phone appointments with his medical doctor, urologists but not his surgeon because he was off for the holiday break. Let me just say, don’t get sick during the holidays.

 

Finally, the Friday after the new year, the lithotripsy appointment was scheduled for January 8th at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland which is one of the few hospitals that provide this procedure in California. Later they got him an appointment sooner on January 7th since Ken had plans to travel for work in late January and we were begging his doctors.

 

A week later, Ken passed the stones at work while I was in Disneyland at a pre-planned trip with the family. A week or so later, he went back into the urologist to have the stents removed after more xrays to make sure the stones were passed. 

 

Let’s just say I have taken a new appreciation to having good health. We’ve always eaten well as I usually cook every night. Ken has had a family history with kidney problems and has had them in the past. We weren’t unfamiliar with this illness, but we never thought we would have to go through this.

 

As I said earlier, Ken had to travel to Texas in late January and was gone for most of February with the exception of two weekend visits. During this time, I spent a lot of time on Twitter following what was happening in Wuhan China. People were dying from the Covid 19 Global Pandemic in masses. Crematories were working 24/7 according to some. 

 

Around this same time, I found Macrovoices.com podcast on Twitter and began listening to Erik Townsend who would interview people about finance and macroeconomics. Listen to the January 30th, 962 Hot Topic #6: Covid Pandemic Update episode with Chris Martenson PHD from Peak Prosperity.com.

 

I learned about the asymptomatic transmission about people that can shed the virus without being detected which makes it hard to contain.These people test positive for the disease, but have no symptoms.

 

In any case, in the past few months I have been shopping and preparing for the worst. I bought a huge bag of flour (which is the way I usually buy flour), lots of eggs, extra milk, extra sugar, etc… I even bought dry milk, and dry eggs in case we can’t get these commodities.

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My seedlings getting thinned out and transplanted into larger cell packs. I’m growing tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkins, squash, beans, sweet peas, shallots, garlic, onions, and more

I’ve also spent hours and hours planting seeds for my vegetable garden knowing we could have a food shortage in the future. I listened to John Barry on Peakprosperity.com who wrote the book Author of “The Great Influenza.” He also writes a survival blog and that has inspired me to get prepared for the worst.

 

I bought a generator in case we lose our electricity so we can charge our cell phones and keep our food cold. I’ve been making bread to feed my family since it is something that I can do to keep my family healthy. I use bread flour, whole wheat flour, spelt, flax meal, rye flour, oats and sunflower seeds to make a loaf of bread and will share the recipe later.

 

The new normal is we are on lockdown here in the East Bay Area of California and we don’t know how long it will last. We don’t have a vaccination yet, and we do not have immunity to this disease. We don’t have pharmaceuticals that are effective in treatment. We are told to wear masks if we are out in public and to wash our hands often. Most restaurants and stores are closed. Only essential businesses are open like grocery stores and hardware stores. Most people are working from home and schools are closed. 

 

I have been scared that my parents will get sick since they are older and have compromised immune systems. My father lives in a skilled nursing facility which is at risk since these diseases spread easily there. We haven’t been able to visit him recently, but we can call him to check in.

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Here I am with my dad when I last saw him on Jan 18th.

 

My mother’s immune system has been compromised for 6 years because she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease. It’s scary for all of us since if my parents do get the Covid 19, we won’t be able to be with them at the hospital and they could die alone. 

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Here I am with my Mom in front of my favorite tulip tree in our yard. Photo taken several years ago.

So today is the day I’ve decided to speak out about my life these last few months. I’m grateful my husband is better and my kids are healthy.  I hope all of you stay safe. 

Here is my Multigrain Bread recipe for you. This recipe makes 2 loaves.

Multigrain Bread

Ingredients:

½ C Rolled Oats plus more for top of loaves

1 ⅓ C Cooked Wheat Berries

½ C Flax Meal

1 C Soaked Bulgar Wheat

2 ¾ C Whole Wheat Flour

2 ½ C Bread Flour or All Purpose Flour

1 C Rye Flour

2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt

 

2 pkg Active Dry Yeast

½ C warm water

2 teas honey

 

6 T Softened Butter

1 ¼ C plus 2 T Warm Water

3 T Honey

1 T Molasses

½ C Guinness Beer or beer of your choice room temperature

1 Egg white plus 1 teas water mixed to brush on loaves before baking

⅓ C Sunflower Seeds plus more for top of loaves

 

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Crumb of my multigrain loaf perfect with butter and apricot jam.

Instructions:

Measure out all dry ingredients (Oats, flax meal, whole wheat flour, Bread flour, Rye flour, and Kosher Salt) into an extra large mixing bowl. Set aside.

 

Cook Wheat berries as directed on package. Cool.

 

Soak Bulgar wheat in 1 Cup warm water (drain)

 

Mix ½ C warm water (NOT hot) with honey and 2 packages of Active Dry Yeast and mix until dissolved. Will get bubbly.

 

In a large measuring cup, measure out 1 ½ warm water, honey, and beer together.

 

Add cooked wheat berries, soaked Bulgar and yeast mixture to a large bowl with dry ingredients. Can use a large stand mixer with dough hook instead.

 

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients slowly adding softened butter in as well.Add sunflower seeds and knead or process on mixer for a few minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes. 

Continue to mix or knead for an additional 10 minutes adding extra All Purpose Flour if dough is too sticky.

Place dough into a large buttered bowl covered in plastic wrap and let rest for 1 ½ hours in a warm place. 

Cut dough in half, roll into two rectangles, then fold over and place into two buttered loaf pans.

 

Brush with egg white and water. Sprinkle oats and sunflower seeds on top of loaves.

 

Let rise again for 1 hour.

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake loaves in center of the oven for 45 minutes to one hour or until golden brown. 

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Multigrain Loaf

Serve warm with butter and apricot jam.

Enjoy!

 

 

Thanks for reading my blog. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or have something to share. 

 

 

 

 

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Secret Persimmon Recipe

Secret Persimmon Recipe
Persimmon Bars with Lemon Glaze

Persimmon Bars

I made this recipe and brought them to a holiday party several years ago after receiving a huge bag of fuyu persimmons from my neighbor. This party was a reunion for my friends who I worked with at Andronicos Cooking School in Danville California, which has since closed. We taught many wine maker dinners and lunch and learn classes to the community. I mostly worked as a sous chef, served wine and cleaned the dishes, but we all had the best time together. I was inspired to post this blog today because my friend Rose asked me for a copy of the recipe. This one is for you Rose.

Once you make this recipe you’ll never go back to your old and boring persimmon recipes.

Persimmon Bar Ingredients:


3 or 4 ripe Fuyu or Hachiya persimmons

1½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp baking soda

1¾ C Unbleached All purpose flour

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 C granulated sugar

Zest of one lemon. I use a vegetable peeler and pulse lemon peel with sugar in a food processor until your lemon peel has been incorporated into sugar.

½ C Canola or vegetable oil

1/2 C. dried apricots or dates chopped

1/2 C. dried plums or prunes chopped

1/2 C fresh blueberries

1 C chopped walnuts

Walnuts, egg, oil, lemon zest sugar and persimmon puree


Glaze

1 C confectioners’ sugar

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Persimmon Bar Directions:


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13X9 dish knocking out excess flour or use parchment paper in a Pampered chef Bar Pan. Cut off and discard green stems of persimmons and puree the persimmons in food a processor or blender until combined. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds and skin.

In a separate small bowl blend persimmon puree, lemon juice and baking soda blend well. The baking soda reacts with the lemon juice and persimmon and it bubbles up.

In a food processor blend lemon 🍋 zest and 1 C granulated sugar.

In a large bowl combine persimmon puree lemon mixture, oil, lemon sugar, vanilla and egg.


In a separate bowl, sift together flour, spices and salt.

Flour and spices

Add flour mixture alternately to persimmon mixture starting and ending with the flour mixture until combined. Stir in walnuts, apricots or dates, blueberries and plums/prunes.

Spread batter onto baking pan and bake until golden and a wooden toothpick comes out clean about 24 minutes.

Glaze instructions:

In a small bowl mix lemon 🍋 juice and confectioners sugar until smooth. Drizzle over bars while warm. Cool on a wire rack and cut crosswise into 8 strips, then lengthwise into fourths, for a total of 32 bars. Bars keep in an airtight container for 3 days.Enjoy!


I made this recipe and brought them to a holiday party several years ago. This party was a reunion for my friends who I worked with several years ago at Andronicos Cooking School in Danville California, which has since closed. I was inspired to post this blog today because my friend Rose asked me for a copy of the recipe. This one is for you Rose.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine Dec 2004

In case you are wanting another recipe full of tons of ginger, try my Ginger Chai Cupcakes 

And follow my blog by signing up with so you receive more great tasty recipes. 

 

 

 

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Don’t Panic, It’s Organic Ginger Chai Cupcakes

Don’t Panic, It’s Organic Ginger Chai Cupcakes

It’s that time of year again for baking. It’s December and you know what people do in December? They bake! I was talking to my friend Marie who also loves to bring holiday cheer to her neighbors every year by bringing them a plate full of treats. I randomly will bring my neighbors cookies and sweets, but not necessarily at Christmas time because I believe they feel pressure to bring me sweets also. I’m kind of picky and really only eat certain cookies and candies this time of year. So, I hate for anything to go to waste, especially since my husband doesn’t eat too many sweets. This is why I had to make my favorite dessert: An organic Ginger Chai Cake with cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with toasted coconut. This recipe will blow you away and you will crave it every year and not just during the holidays.

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I had a recipe for ginger cake with a dark stout beer and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I know I had it sitting on the counter last week because I wanted to make it. This is why I like to put my special recipes on my blog because I always know where to find them. If your recipes are anything like mine, you don’t want to take the time to look in every folder, and recipe file to find something. This can take forever! In my case I spent the whole morning looking through all of my recipes from Andronicos Cooking classes, Draeger’s Cooking classes and various clippings that I have saved over the years from all the magazines that I have read.

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#Calderas Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter Beer and Molasses used for Ginger Chai Cake

Instead, I went to the trusty internet and quickly downloaded David Lebovitz’s Ginger cake recipe which he credited Claudia Fleming’s recipe for Stout Gingerbread Cake. I can never follow a recipe exactly. I follow both of them on Instagram and am constantly inspired to bake. I have to be a rule breaker and add or remove ingredients, just because. It’s fun to see how flavors mix and add ingredients that you are fond of. So I omitted the cardamon and added the Chai Tea, Chocolate, Coconut Chocolate Porter Beer, Maldon Salt, Vanilla pod, Cocoa Powder and used a different technique to incorporate the ingredients. I’m boiling the oil, beer, molasses and spices together like my friend’s Gingerbread recipe which I blogged about last year. By boiling the spices with the oil or butter, the flavor is more intense in the recipe. 

 

I’ve recently been inspired by chai flavors. My niece Beverly told me to go to Bouchon Bakery and order their Chai Tea, because she is a HUGE fan. I also love Bouchon Bakery in Yountville and will frequent there if I get the chance. I usually walk out with their Hot Chocolate and a pastry of some sort.  So this recipe is inspired by Beverly, Bouchon and the Caldera Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter that I purchased from Whole Foods. The guy restocking the beer fridge talked me into this chocolate beer since he thought it would go perfect in my ginger cake. He was right! It turned out delicious and I’m excited to share the recipe with you so you can also have a ginger chai cake recipe anytime you  wish.

 

But first, a shout out to One House Bakery in Benicia where I get to meet a friend for lunch on Friday. This place is incredible. I was there last week after attending a Tea with my hiking friends. I bought a loaf of their sourdough bread and used it to make a stuffing for a baked turkey. Who doesn’t love stuffing? I cut up the loaf in pieces and dried them before adding chicken stock, sauteed onion, celery and garlic along with a lot of fresh parsley and poultry seasoning. So yummy.

 

As I promised, here is the recipe for Ginger Chai Cake.

 

Ginger Chai Cake

Ingredients for Cake:

1 Cup (180ml) Canola Oil (Or Bland tasting oil like Vegetable or Grapeseed)

1 Cup (250ml) Molasses

1 Cup (250ml) Dark Beer (I used Caldera’s Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter)

½ C (100mg) Granulated Sugar

½ Cup (90g)  Brown Sugar

1.5 Tablespoons ground Ginger

1.5 Tablespoons ground Cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground Cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground Nutmeg

½ teaspoon Maldon Salt

¼ C chopped Candied Ginger or fresh peeled and grated (i make my own by boiling in equal parts sugar and water until soft) Trader Joe’s carries this ingredient.

½ Tablespoon Baking Soda (Added after mixture has come to a boil)

2 Chai Tea bags (I used Mighty Leaf Organic Coconut Assam)

 

3 large whole eggs, room temperature

1 vanilla pod, scraped

 

1 C. Sweetened Coconut. Bake on a sheet pan for 8-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven until brown. (Use to top cupcakes after spreading cream cheese frosting over cooled cupcakes or loaf.)

2 C. (280g) All Purpose Unbleached Flour

1.5 teaspoons Baking Powder

¼ C Dick Taylor’s Bulk Shredded Chocolate (Or your favorite cocoa powder. Chopped Dark chocolate would work as well.)

¼ C additional cocoa powder to coat muffin dish after smothering with butter flavored Crisco or spray with Non Stick Spray

1 T Butter Flavored Crisco to coat muffin pan (or use cupcake liners)

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#GingerChaiCupcakes with Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting

 

1 recipe Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting 

 

Instructions for Cake:

 

  1. Preheat Oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees C). Use a loaf pan lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non stick spray and another baking pan or  cupcake pan with paper baking cups or liners. Makes quite a bit of batter.

 

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat beer, oil, molasses, granulated sugar, brown sugar, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground Cloves, ground nutmeg, salt, and chopped candied ginger until boiling. Take off heat and Steep 2 pouches of Mighty Leaf Organic Coconut Assam Chai Tea for 10 minutes. Remove Tea Bags. Add Baking Soda and stir. Mixture will bubble. Set aside and cool.

 

  1. Measure and mix Flour and Baking Powder in a separate bowl until combined.

 

  1. Crack 3 large eggs into a bowl and add vanilla seeds.

 

  1. When molasses mixture is cool, add it to dry flour mixture with eggs and vanilla and stir until combined. 

 

  1. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan, muffin pan, or cupcake liners filling ¾ full. 

 

  1. Bake until toothpick comes out clean about 18-22 minutes. Or for 45 min to an hour if using a loaf pan. Cool. Remove from pan and frost with Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting.

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Vanilla Pod Cream Cheese Frosting

 

Ingredients:

1.5 C Cream Cheese softened

½ C. Unsalted Butter softened

2 C. Confectioners Sugar

1 Vanilla pod scraped (Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out vanilla seeds) Or use 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1 T Heavy Cream

½ teaspoon Maldon Salt

 

Directions for Cream Cheese Frosting:

 

Place softened cream cheese and butter in stand mixer and blend until combined. While Mixer is off add confectioners sugar a little at a time and mix until blended. (you can sift it first, but I never do). Add vanilla, salt and heavy cream until the frosting is a nice consistency. After cake or cupcakes are cool, put frosting in a decorator bag with a large tip and pipe onto cake. Sprinkle with toasted coconut for decoration. Option: chop more candied ginger and decorate top of frosted cake or cupcake.

 

Enjoy!

 

If you make the Don’t panic, it’s organic #GingerChaiCake, please leave a comment below and let me know how you like them. Share the recipe with your friends and loved ones. They will love you forever.

 

 

 

 

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Wine Down After Walking the Camino and a Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Wine Down After Walking the Camino and a Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Part II of my hike through Spain. Here’s a link to Part I, in case you missed it. 

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Sylvia.Peregrina and me at a cafe in Spain

Where do I begin? Well, I have to give a few shout outs to Silvia Peregrina who I watched from afar for a few days before approaching her. You see she happened to be walking the Camino at the same time as our group. Turns out, she is a tour guide and had a big group with her. My friend Nancy and I noticed her one morning as she walked beside us singing an American tune by Bruce Springsteen with her ear buds on. She wore a cowboy hat and stood out among the others on the trail. She was happy and had a lot of energy. When we finally met, I asked her if I could take a photo of her and write about her. She said I could, and also was very helpful in giving us good places to stop and eat along the way.

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Us at dinner in Portomarin. And Wine!  from left:Jeanne, Marianne, Sharon, Me, Beth(Nancy taking the photo)

 We were excited to find a special bocadillo restaurant that served humongous sandwiches. Sylvia also recommended A Paso De Formiga Restaurant which was all about Ants. We ate at Restaurante O Mirador    on the first night of our hike walking from Sarria to Portomarin. A few of us shared a bottle of Albarino white wine, blistered padron peppers, fish entrees and pizza. I think we were just getting in the groove and relaxing a bit. After all, I basically got off a plane one night and began walking the Camino the very next morning. And we got up EARLY. 

 

It’s hard to really describe what’s it’s like to get up and walk for 6 or 7 hours every day for 6 days straight. There is something about Walking the Camino that you just can’t understand until you do it yourself. We read books, watched movies and read blogs trying to prepare for what this experience would be like. The best part was sharing the many hours chatting with my friends Nancy, Jeanne and Beth and getting to know them better. We had nothing else to do while walking through the Spanish countryside. Of course, the farm animals kept us guessing. We saw herds of sheep running through the streets of Sarria while stopping at a cafe to use the ladies room and grab an espresso. Next thing you know, we would come across a local farmers market getting set up for the day with cages of chickens, bunnies, sausages, bacon, and seasonal vegetables.

 

We were entertained by the roosters who would crow early in the morning to greet us and enjoyed listening to the variety of bird calls. There were many dogs in backyards who would run to the fence to say hello. I was amazed when I saw an older kitten drinking from his mother on the side of the road. He looked about the same size as the momma cat and I wondered about that. It was funny to see a chicken running around near a cat and a dog, like they were just another member of the family. There were herds of cattle grazing on fields of bright green as far as the eye could see. The people were friendly and hospitable to us and it was fun to see the locals, many of them little old men walking to town.  Spain is incredibly beautiful.

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Me and Nancy walking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain

I haven’t mentioned the cathedrals and churches we encountered on our walk, but there were many. I am Catholic, yet I don’t consider myself as devout as most. I’m religious, but don’t consider myself as faithful as some friends of mine. This trip, I was the only person who was interested in going into these beautiful buildings. I would light candles and say prayers for my friends and family that are in need. I’m grateful for my faith that my parents gave me, especially my mother who was raised Catholic. My Dad never fully converted from being Lutheran, but always went to Mass with us when I was young. All that went away when my father stepped out on us and left when I was 14 years old. My Mother never felt accepted because she divorced my dad and the church frowned on that. We grew up going to Catholic School in the 1970’s when divorce wasn’t popular. 

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Different Routes getting to Santiago

 

I digress… I enjoyed seeing these ancient cathedrals. After a long, hard second day, we came upon Iglesia San Tirso that we hoped to get a stamp from (We had books that we stamped to prove we walked the camino), but the doors were locked. As we walked down the stairs a man with a guitar case approached us with keys in his hand. We were so grateful to have made it in time to see this beautiful place in Palais de Rei. I was surprised to find my friend crying as we walked out. I immediately began to cry too, thinking I should be feeling her feelings as well. It was moments like these that made our trip. We looked out for each other. When Nancy needed a band aid for a cut, I always had one. When someone needed Advil to relieve a headache or sore feet, one of us would share our stash. I always had extra food to share in case any one got hungry. It was brief moments like these that helped us women stay strong throughout our journey.

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One of the many older gentlemen we passed by who would be sitting along the road in Spain

I will put this away for now. I’m writing from a Casino in the wine country while my father is sleeping in the room next to me and I’m waiting for my older sister to come to bed. We are making new memories here at Twin Pines as much as I can’t stand these places. Good night and hope to share more stories and pictures very soon.

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Fashionistas at the airport heading to Milan and Bergamo for a bike ride

But first I’d like to share our family recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole which we serve at every holiday. It’s perfectly sweet and oh so good!

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Sweet Potato Casserole. Our families favorite side dish

Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients

3 C.  Roasted or boiled mashed Sweet Potatoes .See article to choose your favorite variety

⅓ C Brown Sugar

⅓ C Skim Milk

2 T Unsalted Butter or Margarine melted (plus more for buttering dish)

1 t Vanilla

½ T Kosher Salt

1 t. Ground Cinnamon

1 t. Ground Ginger

½ t Ground Cloves

 

2 Egg whites whipped in a separate bowl

1 t lemon juice

 

Topping:

⅓ C Packed Brown Sugar

¼ C Unbleached all purpose Flour

2 T Unsalted Butter chilled and cut into pieces

½ C Chopped Pecans

1 t Ground Cinnamon

1 t Ground Ginger

1 t ground Cloves

 

Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Roast 3 large sweet potatoes I like garnet or jewel variety. Or peel and boil them until soft. Cool.

In a stand mixer place cooked cooled sweet potatoes and mix on low. This will help them cool down a bit.  Add Milk, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt and mix until combined. 

 

In a separate bowl, whip up egg whites and a teaspoon of lemon to soft peaks. It’s best to have the bowl super clean with no residue of oil residue which would inhibit the eggs from getting to their fullest volume. 

 

Fold egg whites into sweet potato spice mixture until combined. Place mixture into a buttered 13X9 casserole dish. Set aside. This dish will serve 6 -8 people.

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Pictured her unbaked Sweet Potato Casserole. A well loved dish

 

Topping Instructions:

 If you have a Cuisinart Food Processor this step is very easy. Place all topping ingredients brown sugar, flour, chilled butter, chopped pecans and spices into food processor. If you don’t have one, place all topping ingredients except pecans into a medium sized bowl and cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter until topping is well combined and butter is the size of small peas. Add chopped pecans and sprinkle topping over sweet potato mixture.

 

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes until casserole is golden and bubbly. Your house will smell amazing and your family will ask you year after year to make this delightful dish. It is especially good served with roasted turkey or roasted chicken.

Side note: I usually double this recipe and use two 13 X 9 pans because we have about 25 people that come to our holiday parties. And we never mind having left overs if there happens to be any left. I should mention I first learned of this dish through my sister Julie’s sister in law Maryann Weigant who made this special recipe for us many years ago. I added more spices because I love to spice things up!
Thanks again for spending time with me and reading my blog. Feel free to sign up to receive and read more blogs and recipes. Every time I write a new one, it will arrive in your in box for you to enjoy at your convenience.

 

 

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Family plus Wine, a Surplus of Stone Fruit and Apple Crumb Pie Recipe

Family plus Wine, a Surplus of Stone Fruit and Apple Crumb Pie Recipe

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 drinking wine and eating apple pie 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. 

#MAKETIME with your family. Especially your niece

Me and my niece Marie in the new wine bar at Wente Family Estates

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.

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Congratulations Ben and Hajara! Baby Luna is precious

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.

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My gorgeous niece Marie, Wente Brut and roasted olives with mozarella

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.

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#MAKETIME Amy Hoopes holding flowers from my garden and my niece Marie in the newly refurbished Veranda room at Vineyard Table Restaurant at Wente in Livermore.

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. Trip to Spain blog here.

 

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

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As you can see, I wasn’t 100 percent accurate on removing the apple skins for my Apple Crumb Pie. I’m okay with that

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.)

 

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My ready to pop into the oven Cinnamon Gravenstein Apple Crump Pie

 

Crumb Topping

 

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)

 

Instructions:

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.

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My half eaten Cinnamon Apple Crumb Pie

 

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.

 

 

Teri

 

 

 

  

 

 

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Fanatical about Pecorino in Tuscany and Candied Ginger Biscotti Recipe

Fanatical about Pecorino in Tuscany and Candied Ginger Biscotti Recipe

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Incredible cheese platter served at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

 

I’ve been researching all the cool places my husband and I went to while in Tuscany last month. It’s been fun revisiting these photos and reading my diary of our time in a villa in Castiglione di Fiorentino with Famiglia Buccelletti 

We couldn’t have had a better experience. Weeks before our visit we communicated via email with Renee who perfectly planned excursions along with our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon with #OrindaTravel. Worth mentioning is Ristorante Da Muzzi where we shared an enormous steak cooked over a fire. My husband also loved his pasta shaped like a snail which was served with a tomato cream sauce. The waiter was a little annoyed when I asked for the bill, but I can ignore those moments after tasting their Brunello di montalcino Castello Banfi 2013. It went perfectly with the medium rare steak which they cut off the big hunk of meat before grilling. Awesome. 

 

Besides our amazing Villa, we were directed to Podere il Casale where we had a tour of their farms meeting the many sheep, donkeys, chickens and pigs. Then they took us on a tour of their dairy and shared how they make their sheep and goat’s milk cheeses, specializing in pecorino. I’ve never tasted a bite of cheese better than this in my life. The pecorino was sweet and salty and chewy and hit the taste buds in your tongue in ways I can’t begin to describe. Just go and experience it for yourself. 

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Here are our new friends Julia and Tanna adoring the gorgeous view at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

We met two adorable young professional women Julia and Tana who had joined us on the farm tour for the day. We ate, drank great wine, laughed and shared stories of our time in Tuscany. This farm was their last stop before heading to the airport and flying home, so they were making the most of this experience. 

 

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eggplant parmesean at Podere il casale in Tuscany

 

We ordered one of everything practically, including the eggplant parmigiana appetizer served on toast with ricotta cheese and anchovies. Delish! And our poor waiter could barely understand our order. Eventually, he brought the cheese platter which he didn’t realize our friends had ordered and that was my favorite. It was presented spectacularly with flowers like lavender and herbs, marmalades and fresh organic honey. This restaurant at Podere il Casale is an experience to remember. I highly recommend it. It’s a must see when traveling to Tuscany. Here is a glimpse of their cheese making process.

 

We had to order all three desserts. They served a goat milk pudding with caramel sauce, an apple cake with ginger and vanilla sauce, and homemade biscotti to die for. Just scrumptious! Here’s my biscotti recipe.

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Here I am with the goats at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

The view is stunning, the setting picturesque and the story of their farm is similar to and reminded me of Apricot Farms on Instagram and “The Biggest Little Farm” Movie. They sell olive oil, wine, cheese, pasta, sugo, pesto and spreads and much much more. You feel like a queen sitting in an outdoor patio drinking wine and relaxing with new friends. Of course, I’ve invited these ladies back to California to stay with us in case they want to go wine tasting in Napa. Since Julia lives in Chicago and Tana lives in Vegas, I’m not sure how soon they will organize a trip. My single son’s Curtis and Andrew can show them around town and we hope they will come.

 

Every day was different because we drove to new towns such as Montalcino, Montepulciano, Siena, and Florence. We ate absolutely everything (the scale doesn’t lie) and walked through piazzas, bottegas (shops), and drank to our hearts content.

 

I’m still learning how to upload movies and photos from Googe Drive. It’s a process writing these blogs. After all , I took over 2000 photos and videos in the two weeks we were in Italy.

Thanks for stopping by and please follow me. I’m honored that so many friends ask me for recommendations on places to stay in Italy, including my doctor at Kaiser Permanente who is going to Tuscany next month. Thank you Dr Young for taking great care of me.

Next time I can share more of our trip, or write about my recent day at Wente Vineyards and restaurant with my niece Marie. We walked through the organic gardens which were chock full of fresh vegetables like green beans, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. Plus we saw a rattlesnake! It was a sight to see and he wasn’t happy about being put into a large Rubbermaid garbage can to be relocated over the hills in Livermore California. Poor guy.

Enjoy time with loved ones. I’m on my way to my book club which will be held in my friend  Bonnies’ lovely garden patio. It’s truly right out of Sunset Gardens Magazine. Can’t wait. We read Ruth Reichl’s Save me the Plums and I absolutely loved it. Until next time…

 

Teri:)

 

 

 

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From Vine to Bottle in Livermore California and Ricotta Poppyseed Pancakes Recipe

From Vine to Bottle in Livermore California and Ricotta Poppyseed Pancakes Recipe

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Gorgeous grapes at Rubino in Livermore

 

Rounded up a friend last Wednesday to go wine tasting in Livermore. Maggie and I have talked about doing this for over a year and had it planned on the calendar for at least two months. She and I visited Steven Kent, Ruby Hill and Rubino and didn’t leave town until 1PM because I had a previously scheduled lunch date with neighbors.

 I have the nicest neighbors! Cindy, Joan and Nancy treated me to California Pizza Kitchen. It was the perfect lunch. I had half turkey club sandwich and a salad. My girlfriends even brought me gifts! A hand made knit scarf and cute blank stationary cards made by Joan, an adorable house plant from Nancy and pasta making tools and copies of favorite family recipes from Cindy and her Italian mother in law. It was already the best day possible and I have gratitude for these women in my life.

 

Back to the day in Livermore… Maggie and I met over 6 years ago at our neighborhood garden club. Again, how lucky I am to live in this great neighborhood!  You could say we bonded over garden walks, compost and Portlands’ chocolate tastings meeting. She and her husband have also lived in the neighborhood for 20 plus years. She is a red wine lover and wanted to take a day trip with me since she follows me on Instagram and sees the adventures I take.

 

She had called the day before to make appointments, but didn’t have much luck. I explained how I will usually “wing it” and drive around until I find an interesting location or side street that looks inviting. That system works in Napa, St. Helena and Healdsburg, but not so much in Livermore. We learned that they have 55 wineries there, and only 10 are open on Wednesdays. I guess my poor planning bit me in the bum that day, but we made the best of it. After all, how many wines can one taste anyway?

 

Maggie happened to have two free tastings at Steven Kent from a dinner auction item, so we started there. Instead of a flight, I asked for a pour of their 2016 SVS Cabernet Sauvignon from their Casa de Vinas Vineyard. Instead, our attendant would only pour me a little at a time. I thought this was a little strange, but I went along with it. Maggie wasn’t interested in the white varieties and only asked for the red varietals.

 

We learned Steven Kent Mirassou is a sixth generation member of America’s oldest winemaking family. Starting Steven Kent Winery in 1996, he specialized in Bordeaux grapes crafting small lot vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

The tasting room was dark, small and empty except for us and one other couple. We weren’t exactly welcomed with warm open arms either. We didn’t stay long hoping we would find a better experience elsewhere.

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Me and Maggie tasting wine at Ruby Hills Winery in Livermore

 

Maggie had done some research and knew that Ruby Hills Winery was open. Neither of us had tasted there before. I had been to the club years ago when my niece Jasmine and I attended a National Charity League Senior Presents program there. It was a special place, so I was excited to check out their winery. 

 

We weren’t disappointed although our Google Maps took us up over the hill in the middle of nowhere before we realized we were going in the wrong direction. I don’t think the WiFi was working, so we got a little lost. That isn’t an uncommon thing for me, unfortunately. The Ruby Hill building is enormous and grand with many country decorations inside adorning the walls. They sold jewelry, dark chocolate caramels from Something Sweet Chocolates, Rubino Estates Winery Orange Blossom and Wild Thistle Honey and of course wine. They also had a nice deli counter with many types of cheese, hummus, prosciutto, salami crackers and chips. I appreciate this gesture so people can enjoy their wine with food in case they are hungry.

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Hand made dark chocolate caramels with sea salt sold at Ruby Hills Winery

 

We were treated with the utmost care and respect at Rubino and I would highly recommend it. Our sommelier was friendly, helpful and easy going. She allowed Maggie to taste the reds of her choice from both the Estate Flight at $15 per person and the Jewel Flight at $20.00 per person. And she took off the tasting fee since she purchased two bottles of the 2014 Intesa for $34.00. Maggie really knows her wine and spits after she tastes. I tried a splash of just the 2015 Jewel Zinfandel which received 92 points from Wine Enthusiast and that was enough for me. 

 

We read about the Mello Cielo Vineyard Experience for groups which includes a tasting, then two hour tour on their vintage wine bus. Then a visit to Ruby Hill’s modern on-site production facility where one can see the winemaking process from vine to bottle. Our garden club members may take advantage of this opportunity. A few wanted to join us on our Livermore day out, but I only learned about it the day before. The private tour will require a minimum of eight people and a maximum of 14. There are two tours available daily, 11:15AM and 2:15PM and reservations should be made a week in advance. The price is $35.00 for non-members. Club members are only $30.00 and are allowed to bring one guest. Looks like a good time.

 

Mia took care of us at Rubino Estates Winery open since March of 2013, and is conveniently located around the corner from Ruby Hills, open since 2007. Both Wineries are owned by the Callahan’s, the Lloyd’s and the Brown’s.  They call this the Cal-Ital Winery only an hour South of Napa Valley. They feature exciting Italian varietals such as Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo as well as the classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Mia’s family is from Sicily, so we had a nice time chatting about my recent time in Tuscany.

 

Maggie enjoyed Rubino’s wine tasting experience and we agreed to each bring home a bottle so that her tasting was free. I refrained from drinking, since I was the designated driver.

 

Rubino sells cheese at their deli counter with flavors such as Black pepper, Tennessee Whiskey, Basil Asiago, Espresso, Balsamic, Raspberry, Rosemary Olive Oil, and Chipotle that pair with each wine. Fantastic! The tasting room is 8,000 square feet and it’s nestled in between 150 acres of vineyards. Bocce ball courts are open Monday through Friday first come first serve. 

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Maggie and I didn’t take advantage of the food or bocce entertainment this time since we wanted to get back before the Bay Area commute traffic took hold on Highway 680. But we did stop off at a nursery to check out the flowers which seemed appropriate being that we are garden lovers.  I bought a small lemon verbena because the one I had last year died in the frost. It’s a beautiful fragrant leaf and nice in iced tea or lemonade.

My day with Maggie was delightful and adventurous. Maybe next time we will bring the rest of the garden club clan with us to experience the great wines of the Livermore Valley.

Here’s my recipe for Orange Poppyseed Pancakes with Ricotta. It’s perfect for a Sunday Brunch with family and friends.

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Orange poppyseed pancakes with ricotta.

Orange Poppyseed Pancakes with Ricotta

Serves 4 people

Ingredients:

1 C unbleached All PurposeFlour

½ C Almond Flour

¼ C Granulated Sugar

1 t Kosher Salt

1 t baking powder

 

½ C plus 2 T Ricotta Cheese

3 whole eggs separated

1 ½ C Milk 

½ C Heavy Whipping Cream

1 t Rum Extract

1 t Orange Extract

1 T Orange Zest

⅛ C Poppy seeds

Unsalted butter used for skillet

Confectioners sugar for dusting 

Pure maple syrup

 

Directions:

In a blender, place 3 egg yolks (whites to go in a stand mixer), milk, cream, ricotta, extracts. Blend on low until combined. 

In a small bowl mix all purpose flour, almond flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Pour into blender and mix with wet ingredients on low and batter is smooth.

In the stand mixer, using a wire whisk, mix the room temperature egg whites and a tiny pinch of salt until small peaks form. 

Add the whipped egg whites to blender in three increments mixing well, but not for too long.

Using your large nonstick skillet, melt 1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter on medium heat. Pour or ladel about 1/2 C of the batter onto the hot skillet and sprinkle with about ½ t poppy seeds and cook for about 2 minutes or until edges are golden. Flip carefully and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes more until pancake is cooked thoroughly. No one likes a wet on the inside pancake.

I fold mine like a crepe, folding it onto itself twice like an omelette. Eat right away or keep in a low oven in a baking dish. Serve with fresh fruit peaches, strawberries or blueberries or whatever is in season and pure maple syrup. Mine were perfect all by themselves and didn’t need adorning other than a shake of confectioners sugar.

Enjoy!

Thank you for reading and sharing my blog. Hope I’ve inspired you to take get away day and enjoy a glass of wine or two. And here’s a glimpse of what Venice Italy was like.

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The best part of visiting #Venice is riding on a gondola

 

 

 

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Sparkling Wine Summertime Fling in Yountville and Pastries at Bouchon

Sparkling Wine Summertime Fling in Yountville and Pastries at Bouchon

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My Dad Ron, niece Marie, me and Sister Susan at Ad Hoc’s Sunday Brunch

I’m struggling about what to write about since I have loads of ideas and travel, foodie experiences still to share. My husband and I went to Italy 3 weeks ago and I’ve got so many stories, it’s hard to know exactly where to begin.  I will make it easy and write about my experience in Yountville last weekend with my dad Ron, older sister Susan and niece Marie. It had been some time since I had visited my dad at the Veterans home, at least six weeks and I was missing him. My sister organized the day and went along for the fun day at Ad Hoc Restaurant, Domaine Chandon and Bouchon Bakery.

 

We began our journey to the wine country at 10AM last Sunday. We didn’t have reservations anywhere, yet we weren’t too concerned as there are so many great choices when you brunch or dine in #Yountville. It was a hot summer day and my dad can’t tolerate the heat, so we were thankful we found a lunch spot indoors.

 

We had heard about Ad Hoc and Addendum which serves crispy fried chicken on picnic tables out behind Ad Hoc Thomas Keller’s famous restaurant. I’ve eaten at several places in the area, but had never experienced eating at one of the most famous chef’s restaurants in the world. So you can imagine my excitement when the hostess offered us a table outside.

 

After seeing my Dad stumble in, the hostess offered us a table available inside, because my father would not have handled the 85 degree August day well. The hostess had explained to me that the menu was limited and that they offered a brunch tasting menu that was served family style for $40.00 per person. I was excited to eat there and would have agreed to anything. I should also admit that I said I was a food blogger. Maybe that information helped us get a table because the place was packed. 

 

My Dad was giving me the stink eye after reading the menu. You see, his favorite restaurant is Sizzler so he can order steak and lobster. The rest of us family members loathes that food and ambiance since we want the best farm to table experience in Napa Valley, not a tough, hard to chew steak.

 

And not to mention, he doesn’t eat with his teeth! He has dentures and takes them out when dining so he can taste his food. Most of the time we are sitting across from him watching him like a hawk so he doesn’t choke. Poor guy is 81 years old and should be able to eat wherever he wants.

 

So you could see how this brunch tasting menu Spinach Salad, Chorizo Hash and K + M Peruvian Chocolate Tart wasn’t anything to get excited about. We decided to order the fried chicken which was $26.00 extra and only 4 small pieces, but it kept my dad satisfied since he wouldn’t touch the salad or the hash. We also ordered a bottle of Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour, Brut Rose’ from their extensive wine list for $72.00, since ordering four glasses of sparkling wine is more economical and usually equal to that price.

 

The waiter was generous and brought us bread from Bouchon Bakery with olive oil and balsamic vinegar after I asked. The service was top notch, yet the food was blah. I hate to write a bad review of Thomas Keller’s restaurant Ad Hoc, but we weren’t blown away by their overpriced food. My dad hates bell peppers, so the waiter took that into consideration and provided him hash with red bliss potatoes, mushrooms and onion confit. The dish had a tomatillo sauce on the side which probably is why dad ignored all of it. Back when we were growing up, my mother would sneak bell peppers into his meals and that could have contributed to the demise of their marriage. We expected orchard figs in spinach salad, and not one of us got even one1 There was toasted pecans, garden watermelon radishes which came from the gardens across from The French Laundry which thrilled me, and it was tossed with honey vinaigrette. The fried chicken was worth every bite, even though two of the peices were wings. We learned Addendum has limited hours, so be sure to checkout their website if you plans include mouth-watering fried chicken.

 

Don’t get me wrong, we were ecstatic that they could accommodate us and happy to have experienced this fine restaurant. I didn’t get to check out the rest of their menu, but saw that they did offer steak for $60.00. Looking back, we should have ordered Dad the steak, and everyone would have been happy. After all, how can one complain when you are in wine country on a sunny Sunday, summer day?

 

Our waiter spoke highly of the K + M Chocolate Tart with peanut butter mousse and chocolate pearls. It looked pretty, and tasted fine. I’m not a peanut butter lover, so I swiftly scooped off the peanut butter buttercream and dove in with my fork. Dark chocolate is my favorite, so I took a bite, but this tart didn’t meet my expectations. I bet if I had ordered an espresso I would have enjoyed it more.

 

$400.00 later, and much poorer, we took Dad back to his room at the Veteran’s Home. He was ready for his nap yet my sister, niece and I weren’t ready to call it a day. Domaine Chandon was right next door to my Dad’s place, so it seemed the best choice for our next tasting.

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My Sister Susan and her daughter Marie chilling with Domaine Chandon in Yountville California

 

Marie works for Wente Vineyards and was able to score a professional discount on Chandon’s Reserve Pinot Noir Rose’. We spotted great seats on chairs in the lawn area overlooking the mountains in the distance. We sat for hours chatting about the food in Italy and my niece’s pasta making adventure with her relatives near Bologna. We exchanged stories, recipes and good times while sipping on our cold sparkling wine. 

 

Next up was Bouchon Bakery where we bought hot chocolate, French bread, French macarons, chocolate chip cookies and a single currant scone for my breakfast the next day. If you haven’t been there yet, it’s a must see, must taste extravaganza. They sell everything from baguettes to shortbread,  caramel popcorn, or try their chocolate almond toffee. Here’s my recipe for English Toffee. (They also sell French Macarons which I learned how to make yesterday with my neighbor’s daughter Caroline. I will share the recipe some time soon.) We were happy with our loot and were ready to have my sister drive us the hour back to the Bay Area with our goodies.

 

All in all, a good day was had by everyone. Brunching in Yountville with my family has always lifted my mood and filled my heart. I’m lucky to share these experiences with my loved ones and glad we live fairly close. I guess I will have to share more about my Italy trip on my next blog.

 

When was your last brunch date? Have you participated in any Italian cooking classes? Please share in the comment section below and follow along by signing up to recieve my future blogs.

 

Thank you for stopping by my blog. I hope I’ve inspired you in some way to step out and take a foodie trip. And here’s proof that I can make focaccia Pizza

Have you ever had last minute company on a warm summer evening? We invited our friends Noelle and her husband Mark to dinner last night. We were planning on going to a local Rolling Stones Concert in Broadway Plaza, but decided to stay close to home instead. Sure enough, our good friends John and Karen tusting texted me asked if they could stop by with a gift for me. I said, “Sure!” I was excited when John and Karen brought me Alice Waters’ cookbook Chez Panisse Vegetables. This was a cherished cook book by John’s “foodie” uncle, but he had since passed and they didn’t have a use for it.

Lucky me. I met Alice many years ago when working a a sous chef at Draeger’s Cooking School in Blackhawk California. She was signing books for “The Art of Simple Food” cook book. I have been to her Berkeley Restaurant Chez Panisse a few times since and am in love with her and her food. I had the best salad of my life while eating there and it was the best organic greens, lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper. That’s it! But it was fabulous.

And not only did we have Noelle and Mark for dinner, but Johnny and Karen decided to join us. They picked our ripe peaches, grilled them and helped assemble the salads. Mark brought the tortellini and we served it with my Bolognese sauce and Parmesean cheese. We also had a bacon, lettuce, cheese and tomato salad with another home made vinaigrette. I probably made too much food, but no one leaves hungry when they come to our house. I served vanilla meringues with vanilla ice cream, passion fruit curd, lemon curd and white chocolate for a light dessert. Sent them all on their way at the end of the night with bags of peaches and left over meringues. The perfect evening.

Here is my recipe for the perfect summer salad dressing.

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#Strawberry Balsamic Summer Salad Dressing

 

Strawberry Balsamic Dressing 

Makes 4 Cups

Ingredients:

⅓ C. White Balsamic Modena Vinegar (Trader Joes) or Champagne Vinegar

2 T. Dijon Mustard (Grey Poupon)

⅔ C. Grape Seed Oil (or a mild flavored oil like canola) plus 1 T divided to cook onions, shallots and garlic.

1 small shallot minced (2 T)

2-3 garlic cloves minced (1-2 T)

White onion minced (2 T)

1 T Raw Honey

2 T Plum Jam (John Tusting’s is the best- but any kind will          do)

1 container of fresh washed and stemmed organic strawberries (about 1 ½ Cups)

2 whole peeled Pink Grapefruit 

¼ C fresh lemon juice

¼ t Paprika

Pinch Sea Salt

½ t Black Pepper

 

Instructions:

In a small pot on medium heat add 1 T grape seed oil, minced garlic, shallot, onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat. Add Raw honey to pot until melted. Cool.

 

In a large blender add vinegar, oil, mustard, hulled strawberries, plum jam, pink grapefruit, lemon juice,  paprika, salt, pepper, cooked garlic, shallots, onions and honey and blend until combined. Refrigerate.

 

This dressing can be used in a variety of salads. 

We used it on top of mixed greens, candied sliced almonds, burrata cheese and grilled organic peaches from our tree. 

 

Enjoy!

 

Teri:)

 

 

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