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Cocktails at Brasswood, Margarita at Acacia House and Hiking in Napa Valley

Cocktails at Brasswood, Margarita at Acacia House and Hiking in Napa Valley

I’ve been trying to get motivated to write a new blog and it’s a struggle. I’m always inspired and excited after a fun day out experiencing the foodie experience, but too tired to get it on paper. When I’m home, I always find something else to do like work in my garden, cook, clean or bake. So here I am at the gym where I am not distracted from all of those duties.

Lise and me at Bothe Valley State Park last week

I will write about my day in Calistoga last Thursday with my friend Lise. She organized a hike at Bothe Napa Valley State Park with a bunch of our hiking friends. Many people had to cancel at the last minute because of Covid or other obligations, so it was just the two of us who went.

I loved this hike. Lise picked me up at 8:15AM because it has been extremely hot in the Bay Area lately. I usually am the driver, so it was a nice change to have someone else drive. We got to the park at 10AM and walked for 2.5 hours. It was relatively flat and easy to walk. There were many tiny frogs crossing the path as well as several varieties of butterflies everywhere. The birds were singing and the trail was along a rambling creek, so we heard the trickle of water while hiking. So refreshing, especially since we are in a continuous drought in California. We were hoping to swim in their pool, but it was only open on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There is a $10 fee to park.

This gorgeous place had beautiful red wild flowers called Indian Pink-Cardinal Catchfly- Silene laciniata and another spectacular green bush with bright pink flowers called Pink Fairies- Clark’s Pulchella Pirsh, neither of them I had ever seen before. After we hiked, we were hoping to visit Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, but it is only open on weekends. This place is a block or two from Bothe State Park and they are both sandwiched between Calistoga and St. Helena. 

Onward we went to Brasswood, which is a little south of the park where we hiked and it is on the way home, a huge plus. I have been to Brasswood once before with my boys Curtis, Andrew and Andrew’s girlfriend Shannon and my husband while wine tasting last year. It’s a lovely place and I was able to take time to explore the property more extensively this time. Lise and I walked into the restaurant and immediately sat at the bar. My friend wanted to finish the rest of her peanut butter, honey and tomato sandwich that she brought with her. I’m all about trying the latest and greatest each restaurant and bar has to offer. Lise agreed to order the beef carpaccio made with capers, watercress, sea salt, parmesan, lemon garlic aioli, evoo and crostini. It was delicious. We also ordered the focaccia served with squash blossom and fennel pollen butter. So yummy. I had a Fellini’s Muse cocktail that was made with Malfy Rosa grapefruit gin, fresh grapefruit, Fever Tree elderflower tonic, and an orchid ice cube. I can’t seem to get enough grapefruit lately. Lise had her first Arnold Palmer, which consists of iced tea and lemonade. She loved it! And last but not least, I had to order the Flying Goat Affogato for dessert. It was made with house-made vanilla ice cream and Flying Goat Coffee espresso. Incredible and the best way to end a meal. 

Not only does Brasswood have a restaurant, but it has a winery, gallery and bakery on the premises. They sell gifts like cocktail  cookbooks and glassware, a wooden chess set, clothing, coffee, colorful mugs, and special teas like herbal chai, Assam, Moroccan Mint, Earl Grey and Premium Green Tea from Napa Valley Tea Company. 

The Bakery has a large lunch menu offering several salads, sandwiches, pizza and house made potato chips. These are the rage these days. Top Brass Wines are $12.00 and sold by the can. One can equals two glasses of wine. Rose from Russian River Valley or a Charbono from Napa Valley that tastes like plum and black cherry. Or you can buy a 4 pack for $48.00. Also offered were wines by the bottle for between $48 up to $125.00 each. They provide cheese platters, charcuterie boards or lunch boxes available for pre-order for those who plan ahead of time. I also spotted homemade Sauces: marinara made with organic tomato, olive oil, garlic confit, oregano and black pepper; the arrabiata made with organic tomato, basil, garlic and Calibrian peppers; and a short rib sugo made with organic tomato, onion, sage, thyme, cremini and portobello mushroom and Brasswood Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Extensive beer menu at Brasswood Bakery and Cafe

Fresh berry tarts, cheesecake, and panna cotta were just a few of the deserts being offered, as well as many cheeses, cinnamon rolls, cookies and croissants. Believe it or not they sell popular beer and cocktails as well.  Manhattans, Martinis, a St Germain one and plenty of tequila drinks were just a few.

Don’t worry if you forgot to have breakfast. Brasswood has you covered. Chilaquiles, bagels with salmon, breakfast sandwiches and breakfast burritos will fill you up on an empty stomach. I swear. I’ve never seen so many food and drink options in one location.

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Flowers from Tesoro Florist at Acacia House

As if we needed anything more, we had to stop off at the Acacia House in St Helena. This place pulled out all of their magic tricks for us to make it an exceptional experience. Of course I tell everyone I’m a food and travel blogger and they turn up the volume on our visit. The bar was closing within 45 minutes, but they graciously took us in. I didn’t even need another drink, but here we were in Napa Valley. Right? Can you blame me? Josh the bartender hooked me up with their famous margarita. It was a $30.00 margarita, but totally worth it. They make a special foamy concoction to dress it up with called “salt air” and it’s fabulous. They wouldn’t give me exact amounts but it has versa whip, xantham gum, lime juice and water in it. Also adorned by fresh lime zest which is something you don’t see every day. Acacia House has the most amazing flower arrangements by Tesoro Florist. Lise had their Zero Proof Non Alcoholic Grapefruit Rosemary Spritz. This is made with Ritual Zero Proof Gin, grapefruit, rosemary simple syrup and sparkling water. Very special. We met a nice man at the bar named Efrain with Efrain Interiors. He is trying to set up a flower and champagne business in the area called Bubbles and Bloom. Fabulous!

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Josh surprised us with a dish of their chips and dip. It is served with whipped labneh (strained yogurt), salmon roe and chervil. We weren’t even hungry, but of course we had to eat it. I’ve been to this special place twice. One time I came for my birthday with my husband last year and one time I brought my older sister Susan. Each visit was extraordinary. 

Whipped Lebneh and salmon row with potato chips at Acacia House

Have I told you this unique wine country property/resort has a luxury hotel attached? Alila Napa Valley has a gorgeous spa and lodging. In fact, Sean showed us the presidential suite and took us on a personal tour of the property. This review will give you a better look at the accommodations. Fun fact: In 1907 this Acacia House was a physicians house. He treated people with Tuberculosis.

I splurged and bought myself and Lise a face serum called Be Here a Summer Solstice Serum at their Spa. It is made from a local farm in Saint Helena with antioxidant oxidant rich biodynamic olive oil, calendula, St John’s Wort, tulsi, German chamomile, Roman chamomile and wild yellow dock. I grow many of these herbs. Wouldn’t that be something to be able to make potions like this someday at Smyth Family Farm?

Fun art display in the Spa at Alila

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you how much I loved the great day hiking and enjoying the food and drinks of the Napa Valley. Thank you Lise for organizing the great hike. We even made it back in time to watch the Warrior play offs.If you are in need of respite and a fun day trip, head North and just see what you might find. Napa County in Northern California is a destination for everyone to enjoy. Thanks for following me and reading my blog. It’s pure joy sharing stories and recipes with you.

 

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A Break From Life at the Farm and a Cocktail Themed Vacation in Disneyland

A Break From Life at the Farm and a Cocktail Themed Vacation in Disneyland

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Best fried chicken served at Plaza Restaurant Disneyland

A lot has happened since my last blog in the beginning of February. I was fortunate enough to get invited to the family Disney trip again. I went last weekend with two of my sister in-laws, four of my nieces, one nephew, his wife and their significant others. It was a nice distraction from the sadness that I have been feeling about losing four of my pet chickens.

I am sharing my Disneyland experience with you since it is not like any other. Exactly a week ago, at 7AM, my husband Ken drove my sister in law Kathleen and her two daughters Keri and Jamie to the Oakland Airport.He saved us a lot of trouble and cost not having to drive ourselves and drag our luggage from the extended parking lot near the airport. We were surprised to see the huge line going through security. Luckily, all of us have Pre TSA and were able to fly right past them in our own special line. The process of qualifying for the Pre TSA is paying extra money and showing your passport and ID ahead of time in a screening process. It’s totally worth it, in my opinion.

We stopped off for mimosas, waffles, oatmeal and fruit at the Escape Lounge which is affiliated with American Express. It is all free to members and their guests. This is a special way to begin your vacation and I feel fortunate to be traveling with my sister-in -law who is a member.

We boarded the flight without any complications and landed at the Santa Ana Airport at 11:00AM. We were given strict instructions to not remove our masks during the flight so we wouldn’t be exposed to the CoronaVirus.Since I was staying in the same room as Kathleen, I needed to be safe. After we landed, my niece called an Uber driver to take us to the Grand Californian Hotel next to Disneyland. This hotel is gorgeous. It has every amenity you can think of: Pools, jacuzzi’s, a spa, a fireplace, a bar, restaurants, a grocery store, and more. My sister in law always pays for the hotel for the family. She is extra generous to me, her daughters and to the Louie family. I wouldn’t normally be able to afford this kind of luxurious vacation. I love going with her and her daughters and my other sister in law and her family because it is extra special family time. It’s worth mentioning here that we haven’t had many family get togethers the last two years because of Covid. Before Covid, we would celebrate birthdays and see each other at least once a month.

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Decor inside Disney’s Grand California Hotel

We dropped off our luggage at the hotel even though our rooms weren’t ready. Check in time is usually at 4PM, and the front desk will text you when the room is ready. Until then, the bellhop will store your items in a secure place. Next we entered Disneyland park and went to our pre scheduled reservation at the Plaza Restaurant. The four of us shared the fried chicken platter served with mashed potatoes, green beans and a buttery biscuit and we ordered a huge piece of the dark chocolate cake (shown above). It was a large amount of food and plenty for the four of us to share. My niece Jamie grabbed two corn dogs from the Little Red Wagon next to where we were sitting for us to share. These corn dogs have the best cornbread covering. It’s enormous! I tend to purchase a lot of the food since I know it helps Kathleen with the cost of the trip. We were asked to download the Disney app ahead of time to be prepared to purchase items from the stores, bars and so we could get our lightning pass tickets. These were previously called fast passes. You pay extra for these and get a limited amount of them per day. Again, Kathleen managed all of our rides on her app the entire vacation. She was on top of it, always looking to see if a ride was open or closed. She also prepares much of the itinerary before we arrive, by booking all of the restaurants and bars for each meal. This is all new. Disneyland has changed a lot since the pandemic began. They had to close down for a year. 

Thunder Mountain Railroad was our first roller coaster ride of the day. Buzz Lightyear was our next ride. Of course we didn’t stand in long lines because Kathleen is smart and has a strategy of when to go on which ride most efficiently. We stopped for a pickle for Jamie because it’s her favorite snack of all time. They are big and juicy and hard for her to resist. Personally, I’m a sweet pickle kind of girl and usually only eat them when I’m making tuna salad sandwiches. 

Off to California Adventureland Park where we went on Soarin’. This ride is especially fun and involves a fantastic airborne hang gliding flight which takes you through the wonders of the world. Web Slingers located in the Avengers Campus was the next obvious choice since it is the new Marvel Spider Man Adventure interactive screen ride where you wear 3 D glasses. There is a huge wall outside of the ride where spider man flies around doing aerial somersaults for the audience and people walking by. It’s very cool and popular for the little ones. I’d also mention how funny it is to see many of the children wearing costumes while in the parks. It’s hilarious to me when you see a toddler sound asleep in a stroller wearing a complete Spider-Man costume including the mask. Many of the little girls are wearing princess dresses and have their hair pulled tightly up into a bun with a tiara on their head. You really feel like a kid walking around seeing the magic all around you and remembering how you felt when you were a child in Disneyland. It’s so exciting.

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Spider man at Disney California Park

The girls were ready for some shopping time. They thought that they could order clothes and have them delivered to their hotel, but that option wasn’t available this time. Kathleen uses her Disney credit card all year long and gets points to use towards the restaurants and merchandise at the stores. It’s a win win for my nieces who appreciate wearing all of Disney’s attire. Kathleen actually purchased matching Disney sweatshirts for the four of us to wear during the trip. She thinks of everything, and I love being spoiled by her.

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Girls gotta have fun
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Thirsty girls in Disneyland

We were thirsty, so we ordered drinks from the phone app from Pym Tasting Lab. They give you a time to pick them up and you tell them when you arrive. Our drinks were ready and we sat and drank four outstanding cocktails. I had the “Molecular Meltdown” a Garage milk stout with vanilla ice cream and marshmallows. Keri and Jamie and Kathleen had the X-Periment drink with Patron Silver Tequila, mango and habanero syrups,  and mango flavor filled boba. These were so good that we went back for more throughout the weekend. 

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Cocktails at Pyms Tasting Lab at Disneyland

Goofy’s Sky School roller coaster was up next because Incredicoasters ride was down. I didn’t remember going on Goofy’s Sky School before. It was twisty and turny and jerky. Not my favorite, so I skipped it the next time the group wanted to go on it. Matterhorn was our next ride. I was terrified of this rollercoaster when I was young, but decided to go for it and go with the flow. It was fun. It’s even more fun at night.

I talked the group into the Winnie the Pooh ride. He’s my favorite Disney character. I love the music on this ride. Rabbit, Piglet, Tigger, Roo, Owl are cute and colorful and fun. I’ve always read these stories to my kids and provided videos for my oldest son Curtis to watch when he was a little guy while I cleaned houses. 

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My oldest son Curtis as a baby

We ate at the Blue Bayou Restaurant for dinner. They offer only a few choices and have a New Orleans cajun style menu. We shared the steak and salmon which they cooked perfectly. It’s also right next to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and it is a little dark but has many hanging lights. It’s very relaxing after a long day of running through the parks. Of course Kathleen had dinner reservations for us that she made ahead of time.

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My Sister in law Terri Ann and me on the Winnie the Pooh Ride

Keri, Jamie, Kathleen and me were all very excited to check out the new Star Wars ride “Rise of the Resistance.” It was an epic attraction and worth the purchase. Space Mountain was where we headed to next. This ride brings back so many memories for me because my son Curtis hated this ride when he was about 5 or 6 years old. He spitted and said it was “stupid, stupid, stupid!” We shouldn’t have tried to go on it with him. He has been scared of roller coasters ever since and this is why he doesn’t come with us to Disneyland. I don’t think he would enjoy all of the walking either. Turns out, we walked 22,000 steps that day according to my niece’s Apple watch. We landed at the pool bar called GCH Craftsman next to the Grand Californian Hotel where we were staying. We met my sister in law Terri Ann, her daughter Laura and Laura’s girlfriend Fiona at the pool bar. Eventually, my nephew Peter and his new wife Alex joined us. It was nice to connect with more of the family. I had a chocolate sundae since I don’t like to drink too late into the evening. It wasn’t that great as far as chocolate sundae’s go. The whipped cream tasted fake and it wasn’t sweet and there wasn’t enough chocolate sauce in it. But I’m a chocolate snob, so there’s that.

It was back to the hotel room to catch some zzz’s. I like to shower before bed, so I can be clean when I get into clean sheets. I’m not a morning person, so I get as organized as I can by laying out my clothes and having everything ready for when the alarm goes off.

I will have to continue this blog at another time. I have three more days to write about plus details about my sister in laws strategy to get in as many rides as possible each day. And cocktails! Lots more cocktails! I will leave you with this funny photo taken several years ago in Cancun when all three of our families the Van Winckels, The Louies, and the Smyth’s went on vacation together. Thanks for reading, and follow my blog for more recipes and stories of my travels.

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Cancun shenanigans
 

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Day Trip for Bread and Cheese in Freestone California

Day Trip for Bread and Cheese in Freestone California

Spent time up north a few weeks ago at my favorite bakery and cheese shops. I had been there once before with my girlfriend Marie, but this time Ken came with me. I love day trips, and this day out in the country about an hour and and 45 minutes away was perfect.

These are the cheeses I selected. Sooo gooood.
Many fantastic cheeses to choose from at Freestone Artisan Cheese

We headed North West and stumbled upon Valley Ford Creamery first. Ken was reluctant to stop, because it wasn’t our true destination. These are the excursions that I love the most, because you find new fun places to visit. I was excited to see they offered tuna melts, fried cheese curds, grilled cheese served with house pastrami and kimchi, crispy fried chicken and salads. There were beer, wine and cheese flights for sale which I have never heard of. And of course, I missed out on the ice cream cause I didn’t want to spoil our lunch. I ran around and purchased a salami sandwich on ciabatta and various cheeses to go as well as a bag of ice to keep everything cold. The atmosphere was fun and I will definitely go back. Oh. And I saw they sold chocolate and two kinds of biscotti- Dark chocolate and pecan, and almond anise biscotti. Here is my recipe for biscotti

It was delightful to stop at a tiny roadside stand called B-Side Farm. It’s the second time I have come across places to buy fresh flowers along a country road. If you want to buy something, you put the cash or check into a metal cash box and write what you took. Great idea. I grow flowers also, so I realize the skill and patience and love that goes into gardening and farming. Sometimes things don’t grow the way we want them to. I chose two flower arrangements, one for me and one for my mom. They were so beautiful and I was able to put the gorgeous flowers into our water bottles so they wouldn’t dry out.

Offerings at Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone California

Next up was Wild Flour Bread. This place is so popular that they have lines out the door. We were lucky to find they hadn’t yet run out of everything. We purchased their Gouda Flat Bread made with aged gouda, onion and herbs. We also bought Dragon Bread made with jalapeno oil, garlic, cornmeal and polenta. The cookies were all sold out, and they no longer make scones because they can’t find enough employees to make them. So sad. And you must know that they are open limited hours, so check before you make the drive. Of course, everything is sold as “take out” since we are still in the middle of the pandemic. Now the Delta variant is spreading to many parts of the United States, and even though we have been vaccinated, we may become infected. Enough about that.

Off we went to explore Freestone Artisan Cheese which is just around the corner. And yes, by this time we were starving. This place is everything. They have many cheeses for sale along with fancy olive oils from Capay Valley. I picked up the Point Reyes Toma Truffle, the 2019 Arbequina Olive Oil here. I was able to meet the owner Omar Mueller who gave me a map which directed me to many more foodie places to eat at the next time we visit. (I need to find that map!) I got a Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Juice for my husband and a bottle of their sparkling wine, a 2015 Blanc Des Blancs from the Santa Maria Valley in Northern California. It was much cooler there than the East Bay where we live and we were happy to be able to sit at the table behind the shop. We broke open the loaf with gouda, and ate the salami sandwich from Valley Ford Creamery and had a lovely time eating and enjoying the flower and herb garden around us .Isn’t life grand? We saved the cheese for later when I would make pizzas with the basil pesto curds. Curds are like mozzarella and go great with bread.  I made toast with the farmers cheese and served with my apricot jam on the Dragon jalapeno bread and fresh scrambled eggs from the chickens. So yummy.

Thank you for reading my blog and stopping by. I hope you are staying cool in this end of July heat. Until next time.

 

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Using Our Victory Garden to Deal With Sadness During Covid and an Ahi Tuna Poke Recipe

Using Our Victory Garden to Deal With Sadness During Covid and an Ahi Tuna Poke Recipe

Spent the morning planting herbs. Last week, I went to Sloat Nursery and bought basil, parsley, cilantro, marjoram and kale. My girlfriend Marie gave me a generous gift card for my birthday. I also bought seeds for my Fall vegetable garden. Tending my garden helps me cope with the challenging times Covid brings. Also sharing my favorite Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke

I’ve really taken the Victory Garden thing seriously this year. Because of Covid and the possibility of a food shortage, I planted seeds in March. I am growing 3 types of zucchini, 3 types of pumpkins, strawberries, lettuce, kale, peas, beans, chard, several tomato plants, several corn varieties, cucumber, sunflowers, fennel, cantaloupe, butternut squash, acorn squash, and more. It brings me joy to share these organic crops with the neighbors and our family.

 

I’m harvesting peaches now. I should be canning them instead of writing, but I’ve put my blog on hold for way too long. Last month we picked loads of Santa Rosa plums from our backyard tree. Besides sharing with neighbors, I was baking crisps, jams and we ate plenty of fresh ripe plums and now peaches with our yogurt in the morning.

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Me, my Dad Ron and my sister Sue taken over 25 years ago

This has been a tough week. Thank goodness for my garden. I feel peace there and can work in the soil and feel my stress dissolve away. The first set of bad news came a week ago last Sunday. I received a call from the Veterans Home where my Father lives. He had a seizure and was taken to the emergency room at a hospital in Napa for tests. It was the worst day ever waiting for some kind of news. I wasn’t able to visit him because of Covid. All of the hospitals have strict visitation rules about keeping loved ones away. It is sad and hard knowing I couldn’t be with my Dad.

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Great day visiting my Dad Ron at the Veteran’s Home 8 years ago

Luckily, the cat scan was negative and his blood tests were normal. They released him back to the Veterans Home, but since he was away for more than 6 hours, they had to quarantine him. So he has been in the hospital across the street from his home all by himself. I talk to him regularly and he has had a fairly good attitude about his situation. He is feeling okay, but misses his home in memory care. He should be released back there this weekend if his Covid test comes back negative. Thank Goodness.

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Great time hanging out with my Dad Ron in the patio at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville 8 years ago

All in all, my Dad is well. He is a fall risk, so that is scary, but hopefully he will get stronger and regain his strength.

I cried talking to him today. This happens often, but today I was especially sad. He said I almost made him cry, and he never says that. I miss him and wish this pandemic would go away so we can go back to our normal lives and be with our aging parents.

 

The next bad news came last Sunday, a few days ago. Ken’s Mother Nilda fell and broke her ankle. She was visiting Ken’s brother Dan and fell going up a step. She has horrible knees and doesn’t get around very well. She is 89 years old and we are very concerned about her.

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Beautiful Mother in law Nilda at her aunts wedding

She had surgery on her ankle and will get a cast when the swelling goes down. She is still in the hospital at John Muir and we are not able to visit her. The family doesn’t want her put in a nursing home because people are dying in these homes from Covid. It’s a horrible time to need care. 

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My mother Nilda and her daughter Terri Ann visiting with us in her home in Rossmoor

So there is a plan to put a hospital bed in her family room when she is released and she will be cared for in her own home by Ken’s sister Terri Ann, his brother Dan and his wife Nancy who will temporarily live there with her. It’s a crazy idea and no one knows if things will work out. 

 

There are obvious things to worry about like blood clots, and pneumonia from being in bed too long, etc… It is a tough time. You can never prepare for losing a parent.

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Great day celebrating my son Curtis’ graduation at Monte Vista High School with my ex husband Eric, and his grand parents Elena and Robert 17 years ago

The last bit of sad news was hearing that my son Curtis’ grandfather Robert passed away last Friday. He was my ex Father in law. We are so sad to hear this and had heard he had a stroke a few weeks ago. My son wasn’t able to see him either before he died. It is hard to process these times. How can you grieve the pain? I work in my garden. I see the beauty in the plants and flowers. I pray for my family. I talk with my friends and I write. It’s times like these we need each other even more. We hold our spouse a little closer. We take one day at a time. We stay away from the news. We love those around us more than ever before.

 

There is more to do. I will be preparing food and helping out however I can. I hope life is treating you well.  For now, I will put the computer away and sit with my 16 year old kitty. My husband is done with his work for the day so we can hang out . Maybe we will play Scrabble and eat popcorn. Maybe we will start a puzzle. In any event, it is a good day and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. Ahi Tuna Recipe. 

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Enjoyed a Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke appetizer at Jessup Winery in Yountville California last Friday with friends

Sesame Ahi Tuna with Avocado

1 lb fresh Ahi tuna
1/2 jalapeno , 3 cloves garlic, 1 green onion, 2 shishito peppers, sauteed in canola oil
1 T soy sauce
1 T chopped fresh ginger
2 T Sesame oil
2 avocados cut in small chunks
Juice and zest 1/2 pink grapefruit
Juice 1 lime
Bunch of cilantro
1/2 t sesame chili oil
1/4 t kosher Salt
1/4 t Lemon pepper
White and black Sesame seeds to garnish
2/3 C Canola oil
1/2 package Won Ton wrappers fried in canola oil.
1 t finishing salt. Sea Salt, Himalayan salt or Fleur de sel
Cut 1 lb of fresh Ahi Tuna into bite sized chunks. Set aside.
In a blender add all other ingredients except avocado and mix until combined.
Pour dressing over raw tuna.
Heat up a frying pan with canola oil. Fry each won ton until crispy turning over after 1 minute. Place on a sheet pan lined with a paper towel. Sprinkle with sea salt while hot.
Cut up 2 large avocados into bite sized pieces and fold into tuna mixture. Alternatively, you can put the avocado on the bottom and the tuna on top if desired.
Serve into individual bowls and sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds.

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Heaven on a plate. Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke with crispy won ton wrappers and a chicken pot pie for a mid day lunch in our backyard

Feel free to follow me if you aren’t already. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and I hope to see you again very soon.

 

 

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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, pies to bake, 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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Taking it to the Streets in Rome for Pizza and Chocolate

Taking it to the Streets in Rome for Pizza and Chocolate

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The most delicious mortadella sandwich made at Roscioli Restaurant in Rome called Pizza Bianca.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. Life has gotten in the way of my writing and it’s time to stop letting things get in the way. Family illnesses during the Holidays have made me not feel like not writing and sharing my blog. I’ve been a hot mess! Luckily, things are better now and for this I’m grateful. On and upward as they say. Today is a new day. Thought I’d share a few stories and food photos about my time in Italy with my husband last Summer.

 

My husband and I had quite the year of travel in 2019, spending time in Rome, Venice, and Tuscany. We were away for two weeks celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and my birthday. We had the best time together. One of my favorite memories was learning how to make spinach and cheese raviolis at a little villa called Casale in Val di Chio with Familia Buccaletti in Castiglion Fiorentino. Our cooking instructor Simona Giorgetti was wonderful. In addition to the raviolis, we made many gnudi, farfalle, tortellini, grissini’s and poppy and sesame seed crackers. Simona also brought a few other side Tuscan dishes such as Tuna butter and parsley pickle mayonnaise, cannelli beans made with sage, garlic and tomato, zucchini, carrots and green pepper with apple vinegar, garlic and olive oil, and a boiled chick pea dish served with onion, parsley, and  olive oil. After cooking for several hours we sat down and said “bon apetitto.”  We enjoyed our delicious humongous and shared a bottle of wine together. This experience was one of the many highlights of my summer vacation and we are hoping our new friend Simona will visit us in California some day.

 

While my husband and I were exploring Rome we had a small group food walking tour in Trastevere, Campo de Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto. Our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon at Bridges World Travel organized the entire trip for us and we were pleasantly surprised. On this Rome tour we enjoyed various pizzas, pastas, cheeses, and more. We tasted a mouthwatering mortadella sandwich with pistachio or truffle in the dough of the focaccia from Ruggeri A Campo De Fiore. It is specifically called Pizza Bianca.

At Sette Oche in Altalena Ristorante and Pizzeria we ate more delicious pastas and learned that the name of the restaurant in Italian means Seven Ducks on a Swing. Just adorable, and they happen have a children’s book about it. The Catinari Ristorante & Pizzeria was another great spot where our group sat on the patio and tried a few of their fried arancini rice balls. Yum.

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Pasta Carbonara freshly made at Il Maritozzo Rosso Restaurant in Rome

Another great restaurant we happened upon was Il Maritozzo Rosso and Cucina. Ken and I were so hungry and were told to go to this famous pizza joint in Trastevere, but when we got there, I wasn’t impressed. Instead, I saw this quaint place around a corner and we went in to check it out. The owner’s wife was just sitting down for clams since it was past lunch time. The place had already cleared out from the lunch crowd. The bar stools which we were happy to take a seat in were chairs made out of books. So clever. Then I noticed they taught cooking classes and the owner Ed graciously took the time to teach us how to make our own pasta carbonara. It was a blast first watching the chef fry the guanciale (pork), then incorporate the eggs and cream and cheese into the hot pasta. It’s always a good day when I can learn something new in the kitchen.

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Me and Ed at Il Maritozzo Rosso Restaurant in Rome

 

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Pesto and pine nut pizza and Truffle and cheese pizza at Grano Frutta e Farina Bakery

After a tour of the Vatican, my husband and I came across Grano Frutta e Farina Bakery where we had this amazing zucchine pesto and pinoli pizza and funghi porcini tartufo and cheese pizza. This meal had to be one of the best bites that we had the entire two week vacation. This place has dried fruits, candied fruits, pastries, fruit crostata’s, cookies,  plus lots, lots more. I even noticed they have cooking classes in case you want to try making bread or pasta. Simply divine and if I knew about it sooner, would have taken advantage of this opportunity.

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My husband Ken holding a delicious cup of Venchi Gelato

Can we talk about the gelato in Italy? Venchi is a special gelato shop of which there are many throughout Europe, and favorite for all those chocolate lovers. I fell in love with their melted dark chocolate cup coated in fresh coconut which melts in your hand while you are eating the creamy cold espresso gelato, so that you have the perfect last bites of the most delicious chocolate and coconut on a hot summer day in Rome. Why isn’t there a Venchi in my neighborhood? Seriously, I would be the happiest girl ever. If you love chocolate my English Toffee  recipe is to die for. It is being made here.

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The best damn bite

Thank you for following along and reading my blog. I’m happy to share these experiences with anyone who may love food as much as I do. Here’s my blog on Venice.

Teri

 

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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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Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie More Time On the Camino Plus a Fall Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie More Time On the Camino Plus a Fall Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Can’t believe we did it! My friends and I walked the Camino de Santiago two weeks ago for a total of about 100 miles. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I am happy to share my experience. Walking for miles every day with friends without a care in the world is something I would do again and again.

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Nancy from #OrindaTravel Jeanne, me and Jeanne inside the wodden heart at our first hotel in Sarria.

First off a huge thank you to Nancy Solomon at Orinda Travel for organizing the trip. She and 5 other friends from my hiking group took part of this amazing experience. Two of the women flew from San Francisco, California and began their excursion in Lisbon Portugal for a few days before meeting the rest of us in in Sarria, Spain. These ladies Marianne and Sharon decided to bike the camino instead of walking with us, yet they met up with us in the evenings at dinner and we stayed at the same hotel. I’ve known Sharon for about 20 years. She and I live in the same neighborhood, have kids similar ages and we have hiked together many Tuesday and Thursday mornings which have been organized by her. I have not known Marianne for very long, but she is a member of the hiking group as well and wonderful.

My son Andrew drove Nancy and I to the San Francisco Airport where we met up with Nancy’s good friend of 30 years, Beth. Our other hiking member and friend Jeanne met up with the three of us at the Frankfurt Germany Airport since she was enjoying a holiday with her husband in France. We shared a chocolate dipped croissant and a huge chocolate frosting filled vanilla cookie at Herberer’s Traditional Bakery. Totally hit the spot and I was already a happy girl, now even happier.

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Delicious pastries at Frankfurt Airport

The flight was long about 11.5 hours from San Francisco California USA to Frankfurt Germany. Then the four of us flew to the Santiago Airport in Spain. I read, listened to my book club book on my Kindle, watched movies and slept. I drank a lot of water to keep hydrated and had to use the restroom about seven times, having to climb over Beth from my window seat since she was passed out. It felt nice to get up a few times to move my body, and I wore long compression socks since I read somewhere they prevent blood clots on long flights. I’m always using preventative measures to stay healthy, but I may have gone a little over board here. Swiss Air provided plenty of food, but airplane food is nothing to rave about. I loved looking down at the clouds and the many cities and towns below.

 

After arriving in Santiago, we were transferred by car for an hour and a half to the Pension Serrano Hotel. We met our friends Sharon and Marianne outside where they were riding their bikes around town. They told me to check out the goats down the lane who happily greeted me. I’m a goat lover, I hate to admit. Goats are cute and funny and I happen to follow many farmers on Instagram. 

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All six of Nancy Solomon’s World Travel Camino de Santiago trip at our first pulperia in Sarria Spain. From left:Me, Jeanne, Sharon, Beth, Jeanne, and Marianne

We had planned on having dinner at a Cantina Pulperia Luis in Sarria, but I think our driver told us to go elsewhere. Not important, but I think the food took a while, Nancy didn’t get her beer that she ordered so I shared a bottle of red wine called Habla Del Silencio that I bought. The wine is not expensive in Spain. I may have only paid $15 euro for a bottle where in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might get a glass for that price.  Not many of us were drinking alcohol this trip, but Nancy and I made up for it and enjoyed the flavors of Spain. I wasn’t a huge fan of their wine since we are spoiled living near Napa Wine Country, but it all worked out and no one went thirsty. Jeanne was recovering from some nasty illness which she was hospitalized for in France, and ordered plain rice through Google Translate, which finally came at the end of the meal. Instead they brought her a fish dish thinking that would be best for her stomach. Beth, Sharon, and Marianne drank sparkling water and Jeanne asked for and was brought a refreshing ginger ale.

 

We went back to the hotel and slept in until 6 or 6:30Am which was early for me. We would try to eat and get on the trail by 7:30 or 8AM sometimes walking in the dark. Luckily I had my head lamp which everyone made fun of, but I was not a beauty queen by any means. Not liking to be cold, I would wear my bulky comphy jacket, plus two or three layers under that in case it got hot, hiking boots and two layers of socks: wool socks and silk liners which is the key to not getting blisters according to all the blogs out there. I always wore my Truckee Love hat that my sister Susan gave to me for my birthday, a scarf around my neck, my trustee ugly fanny pack, and my travel money belt under the LuLuLemon stretchy tight yoga pants that I’ve had for years. Yep. I was a sight to see, but I was prepared. Well, I thought so, but I didn’t bring my rain jacket and it rained on us a little on the trail the first day. 

The rest of the week, I always had my thin rain jacket strapped around my waist. Sports Basement provided me all my gear that I needed as well as a quick trip to Target for essentials. Nancy had given us a long list of things we would need to bring to be comfortable on the camino. This list even included a silk bag incase we wanted to be ready for bed bugs! Yikes. But it’s always good to be prepared. I did get in the silk bag one night, only to jump out an hour or two later cause it was too hot, confining and uncomfortable. The damn thing cost me $75.00! I’d risk the bed bugs after all. In the end, we all survived and didn’t take home any extra critters. Thank God.

It’s worth mentioning I had some anxiety around this entire trip, especially before I left. I would ask myself, do I have everything thing I’ll need for hiking 🥾 60 miles? Would I get enough sleep, since that can be an issue for me. Will the path be marked well enough, or could we get lost? ( This did happen to us in Pedrouzo. Will explain more later.) Is it safe in Spain? Will there be enough food along the trail? Of course, I had my trusty snacks, chips, mini Pay Day candy bars, teriaki beef jerky, nuts, and my homemade oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies which became a special treat. And I always carry dark chocolate. This treat can get me through the afternoon if I get tired. Would I have the stamina to hike all day, six days in a row? Would my feet hold up, after all I had toe surgery 6 months ago to clean out the arthritis in the joint. My podiatrist Dr. Edlinger at Kaiser gave me an injection in my toe the week before my trip to prevent me from having pain. (This toe did fine. It was my left toe nail that cracked and gave me problems,) 😳 So even though I prepared physically for our walk on the camino, there was an emotional aspect that I had to somehow prepare myself for.

I liken it to the Avon 3 day walk that I did with my friends Sherri and Heidi 20 years ago. That event inspired me to go back to school and finish my college degree. If I could walk 20 miles a day for 3 days, I could do anything. Except now I’m 20 years older, 55 in case this gives you a perspective. I was also going to be away from my husband Ken for two weeks. I would miss him and would he manage the house, the pets our two 15 year old cats and get by okay without me? Unless he is traveling with work, we are together. What would I do if there was a family’s emergency with one of my parents? It was all these anxiety provoking questions that I needed to prepare myself for before leaving home. I was happy to have my friends with me. We bonded in the process and became even closer. I laughed, cried and shared stories with them along the camino. It was a trip I will never forget.

Now, back to my story

 

The Camino Frances “The French Way” was where we started our trek. Many people walk from other areas and take longer routes. Our route was originally supposed to be 60 miles, but that didn’t include getting lost, walking to the cafe’s and to our hotels in town. We figured we walked about 100 miles total in 6 days. We encountered many cathedrals and churches on our walk and ventured into many to light a candle or pray for loved ones. It was a spiritual experience for me even though I didn’t walk alone quietly like many pilgrims do. 

 

The trail was beautiful. We would see herds of sheep running through town, loose horses escaping their stables, cows being milked in their barn near their baby calfs and plenty of chickens, kittens, dogs and cats. Lining the path were lots of wildflowers like foxgloves, dandelions, arugula, calendula, yarrow, alyssum, lavender, pansies, and flowering purple crocus bulbs. Fields of corn were everywhere as well as rows of apple trees, eucalyptus trees, bay laurel, chestnut trees and live oak trees with acorns, apples and chestnuts spilling all over the trail. Rows of kale, cabbage, lettuce and more filled quaint back yards for all of us to see. Beautiful hydrangeas of every color would greet us as well as some shacks with entrepreneurs selling fresh fruit like raspberries, the traditional almond cake and drinks of course. One gracious woman sold rosemary lotions, oils and herbal teas with tinctures told to be healthy and good for us. Big beautiful orange and tri color pumpkin patches were abundant which reminded us that Fall was upon us as we began our journey on October 4th 2019. Pumpkin Bread recipe here.  I would do this hike again in a heartbeat.

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Me and Jeanne posing along one of the many Camino signs which the pilgrims follow to get to Santiago

 

There are many more stories to share about my time on the Camino de Santiago, so I will save more for later. It was a memorable time and I cherish the women and people I met along the way. Please follow my blog to read more about my trips and travels and the food I encounter along the way. “Gimmie” more of walking the Camino any day of the week. Also check out What’sDavedoing.com an App about the Camino and his blog .

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for following my Camino journey. I will be sharing recipes and posting more in the coming days and weeks ahead. Here’s  Camino Part II in case you want to read more. 

Buen Camino!

 

 

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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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