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Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Celebrating My Birthday

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Celebrating My Birthday

It’s been quite the birthday week. Day trips to Yountville, lunches at my favorite restaurants in Danville with friends, relaxing pedicures, a wine tasting experience in Livermore with a niece and sister, and a fun birthday celebration for a girlfriend which included an overnight stay at the Harkey House in Yuba City with my husband. I’m a lucky girl and I am grateful every day for the friends and family who are in my life. I can’t forget mentioning having my sons over for a home cooked meal. They brought me my favorite See’s Candy and pastries from an Asian bakery in Concord. Just wow.

My sister Sue and her daughter Marie in Livermore at Murietta’s Well

I’m not always running out for special dinners and wine tasting. Just yesterday, I unloaded a truckful of good soil from Macalveys Nursery in Martinez. I carefully dug up old annuals first and replaced them with the new soil. It’s too hot to plant anything new and we are on water rationing here in California because of the drought. Instead, I will toss some wildflower seeds into the beds and see what comes up in the fall after the rain. 

My garden has been an extra handful this year. I selected special seeds in March and began growing them under lights and on heat mats in the garage. I grew several varieties of tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkin, peppers, zinnias and more. After planting them in raised beds or in broadcloth cages (to protect them from gophers), many of them were eaten by the ground squirrels. We’ve never had a problem with these critters before even though we live next to open space. It’s been WAR. 

My husband Ken bought an airsoft gun after no success with the traps. I learned how to use it today, but still haven’t managed to shoot one. I know. It sounds horrible and I usually love squirrels, but when they eat all the leaves from my new Meyer lemon tree, the leaves from the new almond tree and many of my perennials, they’ve got to go. Many of the vegetables I’ve had to cover up with crates to keep them from being eaten. I don’t mind sharing, but this has been devastating seeing all of my crops and plants taken from me.If you have any ideas for me, I’m all ears. Thank goodness I don’t have to live off my land, or I would starve.

I was invited to go to lunch at Bistro don Giovani’s in Yountville with my friends and neighbors Luann and Sandra. I was blown away by Luann’s offer to take me out for my birthday, as we have gone wine tasting before, but never to celebrate our birthdays. They have expanded their outdoor patio and have added fans and heat lamps for the evenings. The meal was delightful and the service outstanding. We had the calamari with shrimp, fennel and green beans for an appetizer and I couldn’t have been happier. Luann ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc which the three of us shared. Raviolis, focaccia, a peach, marcona almond, goat cheese salad and chocolate cake with vanilla gelato dessert were also shared by all of us.

Bistro Don Giovani in Yountville with Sandra and Luann

Just down the lane from the restaurant is Ashes and Diamonds Winery. The ladies weren’t ready to head back to the Bay Area yet, so we ordered another bottle of wine and sat under the umbrellas to chat. I should mention that they don’t sell just a glass of wine. Either you order the tasting menu, or a bottle of wine. The least expensive bottle was the 2019 Blanc which was $45.00. I paid for the wine and tip since my friends picked up the tab at the restaurant. How often do you get to hang out with girlfriends for hours? This was a treat. We got caught up, drank tons of water and had olives and crackers before Sandra drove us home. 

Me and my girlfriend Marie before our lunch date

Another very special day was spent with my friend Marie. She and I met 43 years ago while working at Mr. Steak. She took me for a pedicure at Bollinger Nails Salon in Danville. She was surprised to see how fidgety I get when someone touches my feet. I guess you either love it or tolerate it. I love the final look and being able to look presentable while wearing sandals.

Next we ate at my favorite restaurant Esin. The owner is a pastry chef and always has exquisite desserts to choose from. Their food is always excellent. We started with their marinated citrus olives and French bread with olive oil. I ordered their salmon tartare with avocado appetizer and chips and Marie had the Caesar salad with grilled chicken. We ended the meal sharing the lemon meringue pie with a toasted marshmallow whipped topping and raspberry sauce. This meal was perfect in every way and mostly because I had one on one time with my best friend. Priceless.

My husband Ken sitting on porch at Harkey House Bed and Breakfast

Staying at the Harkey House was delightful. We checked in at 4:30PM after spending the day with my friend Kathi at her 60th surprise birthday party in Lincoln California. I brought two cakes that I decorated the night before. There was a chocolate with candied orange, chocolate frosting and whipped cream with raspberries and a yellow cake with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. My poor husband had to balance the white cake on his lap the entire way to the party. Kathi was surprised and even cried from all the excitement. It was a nice day, but we were happy to sneak in a quick nap at the B&B before going to dinner.

My friend Kathi’s 60th surprise birthday blowing out candles on the cakes I made

There weren’t many choices of places to eat by the time we woke up from our naps. We landed at Sutter Buttes Brewing in Yuba City just 10 minutes from the B&B. Yuba City was once a thriving bustling town. It’s not fancy by any means, but we were pleased with the Harkey House and the pub food and porter beer for dinner.

The weather there was very hot, almost 100 degrees, but we found the restaurant cool and inviting inside. The waitress was friendly and happy to help us and we didn’t feel rushed even though they stopped serving at 9PM.

We slept great at the Harkey House and were welcomed downstairs for an elaborate breakfast at 8:30AM. The owners Lee and Bob have been running the place for forty years. We sat out on the back patio with another younger couple from Santa Cruz who were lovely. It was a relaxing atmosphere and we sat around for at least two hours enjoying each other and eating until we were stuffed. They made us each mini individual herb quiches,tomato salsa, a jalapeno and egg omelet, Canadian bacon, corn souffle, Oregon grape jam with lavender scones, orange juice, watermelon, fresh strawberries and coffee. Lee would come out to check to see if we needed anything and share a story or two. She also gave me a few new suggestions of books to read for my book club. They were Visionary Women by Andrea Barnet, Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher, The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia and What Happened to You, by Bruce Perry,M.D. She let us take a huge Sutter Valley grown white peach home with us and we ate it in the car. What hospitality!

Satisfying breakfast plate served at Harkey House in Yuba City

On the way home we stopped at a fruit stand where I bought a berry jam, strawberry jam, green beans, jalapenos, tomatoes, and lemon cucumbers because I can’t go by one of those places without stopping. 

When I arrived home, I had exactly 30 minutes to bring treats to the chickens and get ready for a day with my niece Marie and sister Sue. The three of us ended up at Murrieta’s Well Winery. We enjoyed their exquisite tasting menu with a few olives, nuts and crackers. This place had live music, a shaded outdoor patio and great service. You are surrounded by rolling hills, oak trees and vineyards.

Reservations were needed at Range Life in Livermore just down a little ways from Murietta’s Well. Luckily my niece Marie knows all the fancy foodie places. It must run in the family. Again we sat on their small outdoor patio under a large oak tree. They had fans and plenty of shade to keep us cool since it was hot and possibly 90 degrees.

My Sister Sue, me and niece Marie at Range Life in Livermore

I’m trying to recall everything we ate. I think the tasting at the previous place might have skewed my memory. We started with the Monterey King Salmon Crudo with blackberries, nardello pepper and cipolla verde, the Melon and Shishito’s, and Caesar salad with gem lettuce and an amazing pangrattato, tiny bread crumbs with parmigiano. This place is Michelin Star rated and I totally see why. Of course we had to try the fritto of cucuzza squash blossoms stuffed with chanterelle aioli. It’s summer in California on a plate. Everything is served family style and it’s a good thing because the Klingeman Ham Chop with polenta, valley corn, cabbage and a nectarine relish was enormous. You just want to order everything. I brought a bottle of wine to help with the cost and it served its purpose. Drink and eat. Drink and eat. That’s my life. I can’t leave out the one serving of 72% Mababu Askinosie Chocolate Sorbet with cacao nibs which could possibly be the best bite of chocolate I’ve ever had. Immediately I’m looking up the bean to bar Missouri based chocolate company and following them on Instagram.Here’s another famous chocolate shop in Portland Oregon.

I’m pretty sure we didn’t need more dessert, but we still went to Lotties Creamery in Danville on the way home. If nothing else, it sobered us up a little before driving home. We each had the vanilla salted almond toffee ice cream on a waffle cone. So delish.

Ham Chop with polenta, cabbage and nectarines from Range Life in Livermore California

Can I just say that this has possibly been the best birthday month I’ve ever had. I believe Covid has made people take more time to be with the people we love. I haven’t stopped celebrating even though it’s already almost August. Next week my younger sister Julie is meeting me at San Damiano Retreat for our traditional “buddy lunch.” It’s our little secret spot up on a hill in Danville. We make eachother lunches and sit in the most peaceful and spiritual place where we chat and get caught up on sister talk. It’s the best.

And my hiking group friends are taking me to lunch at Round Hill in Alamo next week also. I tried to put off being the center of attention and wanted to wait until September when there will be two other birthdays. Why is it that I don’t like birthday attention? I guess I will take a closer look at that.

My best news is that a very close friend is finally home from the hospital after having a serious life saving surgery. I’m overjoyed she is okay and now home with her family to heal.

Thanks for stopping by. It means a lot. Off to the farmers market for fresh fruit and vegetables and to get greens for my chickens.

Thank you Luann and Sandra for the Birthday cake at Bistro Don Giovani
 

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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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The #1 Tip to Bake Your Favorite White Cake With Less Fuss and a Orange Poppyseed Pancake Recipe with Ricotta

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Yesterday I invited my longtime friend Marie over for a baking day. She wanted to learn how to bake her son Ryan’s favorite vanilla cake. I made one last Fall for his brother Aaron’s engagement party and it was a huge hit.

Marie and I go way back. She and I met at Mr. Steak Restaurant in Concord California and worked as hostesses then waitresses at the age of 16. After working a shift, we would sit together at the back table and eat Teriyaki chicken, baked potatoes and hot fudge sundaes. We have stayed close over the past thirty years supporting one another while raising our kids. She is “Auntie Marie” to mine and I’m “Auntie Teri” to her boys. It’s a wonderful thing.

This recipe is as simple as they come adding a few extra ingredients to a box cake mix. The result is a light and airy texture with a robust vanilla flavor. The time it takes to mix is minimal which is always a plus for a busy individual who wants to spend less time in the kitchen. The recipe to my favorite chocolate cake is here on a previous blog. http://letsmakemudpies.blogspot.com/2014/07/chocolate-plus-raspberries-caaake.html?m=1

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Here is the recipe:

I box vanilla cake mix (follow recipe and add these extra ingredients)

1 extra egg white

1 box instant vanilla pudding

½ C sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Assemble cake as directed and add the extra egg white, the box of vanilla pudding and ½ C sour cream. Mix well. Prepare 2 8 or 9 “ round stainless steel pans (glass okay) by lying a piece of parchment on the bottom of the pan. If you don’t have parchment, spray with a non-stick spray or coat lightly with Crisco.

Pour batter into pans making sure to divide evenly. Bake as directed on box, usually around 17-25 min.

Let the cakes cool in the pans.

When cool frost with a white buttercream frosting.

White Buttercream Frosting

2/3 C Water plus 3 T

¼ C Wilton Meringue Powder

12 C Confectioners’ sugar (3 Lbs.)

1 1/4 C Vegetable Shortening

3 T Light Corn Syrup

¾ t Maldon Salt (found at Sur la Tab or William Sonoma)

¾ t imitation rum extract

½ t imitation clear butter flavor

1 t vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine water and meringue powder and whip w electric mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Add 4 C sugar ½ C at a time beating at low speed until combined. Add shortening and corn syrup and add remaining sugar slowly until incorporated. Add salt and flavorings, beat on low until smooth. Makes @ 7 Cups.

Recipe may be doubled or halved depending on size of cake.

Here’s a fun blog about wine tasting in the Livermore Valley and an Orange Poppyseed Ricotta Pancake recipe.

Letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Orange poppyseed pancakes with ricotta.

Enjoy!

Tell me about your favorite cake and the story behind it. Did it make you feel loved? Does your family have a traditional birthday cake every year that is requested? Please comment below.

 

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