Sonoma’s Culinary Culture

Want to watch a film about eating while sampling culinary delights? Well come check out the Sonoma Film Festival. And this summary post  by the legendary Sondra Bernstein who has her eye on a few of the culinary films.   One of them is even a documentary about the Organic Life here in Sonoma!

Speaking of culinary creations, have you ever tried a chocolate covered fig? Well, Sondra does them best so head to the Girl & Fig.

Want to see how we party out here in the land of wine? Check out Dreamers & Heroes

Partying Mad Men Style While Building An Epilepsy Aware World

mad men cocktail partySo,the next party on the agenda is going to have a mad men theme.  If you aren’t familiar with the show Mad Men, it’s about life in the 1960s.  The style, glamor and tone just beg for a party.  This time, my husband and I are using the party as mainly an excuse to get friends together.

But we are trying something new as well.  We want to raise awareness about the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California.  Epilepsy affects one percent of the population.  While sometimes epilepsy can be the result of a head trauma, most of the time the cause is unknown.  Sometimes I wonder if difficult pregnancies, like preclampsia, can cause it.  There are different types of epileptic seizures from the stereotypical grand mal seizures to something as simple as extended staring spells.

Children with epilepsy are subject to a variety of treatments from extreme diet regimens to medications.  These medications can have horrendous side effects like uncontrollable rage.  You may be thinking, ya ya, terrible twos.  No.  Much worse.  It completely alters the personality.   Anything or nothing can trigger the tantrum and it can go on for extended periods of time.  I’m talking about tantrums that draw crowds.

Other medications lack the behavioral side effects but risk things like kidney stones. Not something that would be fun for a lil one.

The good news is that there are numerous studies being done to try to figure out more and find a cure.  The Epilepsy Phenome Genome Project is collecting information to learn more about epilepsy’s causes and effective treatments.  The Human Epilepsy Project is doing an observational study to see if there are any predictors of whether medications will work or which ones for a particular person.  And, lastly there is the Epilepsy Foundation.  With a local presence, this foundation does everything from funding research to connecting parents of children with epilepsy.

With such a worthy cause, I’ve been so inspired to throw the ultimate 60s party.  Recently I’ve been having a bit of fun on Pinterest collecting ideas.  Bored or curious?  Take a peek here.  The challenge is transforming my traditional farmhouse into a mid-century modern cocktail lounge.   Let’s just say the ideas are flowing.  I’ve also recruited local friends to help – from a fabulously talented graphic designer to a new friend with an amazing collection of 1960s goodies, people are coming out of the woodwork to help the cause.  Another friend found a recipe for avocado green deviled eggs. Want to help? Shoot me an email.  Want to contribute to the cause? Click here

Thank you for reading.  Thanks you friends for helping.  And thank you community for pitching in.  I’m so inspired.  It’s experiences like this that redefine the sense of community and demonstrate that by working together anything is possible.  For now, transporting a traditional home to the 60s, for later a world that is more epilepsy aware (and hopefully one day epilepsy free).

Bringing Back the CheeseBall

There are some things from days of past that I just adore.  Vintage shoes, china, kids clothes and the art of entertaining.  I’ve started selling some of my favorite vintage things on Ebay which is a total digression from this post which is about entertaining.  From parties to food, there are some sweet ideas from days of past that deserve to be brought back.  For example, a Sip & See to introduce a new baby, the teacup bridal shower, and vintage hors doeuvres like the deviled egg.   There is another hors doeuvre warranting attention. Something easy, affordable and flavorful.  The Cheeseball! Even typing it makes me giddy.IMG_4874

The Cheeseball has been a party staple since the 1920s.  According to Better Homes & Gardens “they’re only getting better with age.”  I’d have to agree.

At my last party, a Rio themed birthday party (details here), I wanted to reintroduce this time honored dish to my circle of friends.  With images of the traditional cheeseball from the supermarket, you know the one the nut covered Velveeta cheese concoction, I was dying to flavor it up with quality ingredients.  My Google Search resulted in images that were brown, ugly, and with the word Kraft, which just wasn’t what I was going for.  After a little digging, I found Martha Stewart’s version which was a  nice start.  Her beautifully styled pictures gave me inspiration – a cheeseball didn’t have to be brown.  It could be green or red and served with complimentary colored crackers.  For example, beet chips make the brown cheeseball look more appealing.  Then, a photo of a pumpkin themed cheeseball from the Food Network really blew my mind.  So, I’ll be doing that around Halloween this year.

From Martha Stewart’s post, I learned that the base was cream cheese, salt & lemon.  To that you can add what you like. I wanted to make two, one sweet and another savory.  For savory, I added mushrooms sauteed in butter, Marsala wine, Gruyere cheese and roasted garlic.  When that was too bland, I added a half cup of blue cheese.  For sweet, I went on a berry and orange theme.  So I added a fig & cranberry compote and shredded sharp cheddar.

My basic recipe this is more than enough for a crowd of 60

  • 32 ounces cream cheese
  • juice of one lemon
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 5 dashes hot sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste

Split into as many portions as you want balls. I decided on two.  For the mushroom I added 2 cups of chopped mushrooms sauteed in butter, a tablespoon of bacon fat; 2 tbsp Marsala wine; 1 tbsp roasted garlic, 1/2 cup blue cheese, 1 cup Gruyere.  For the cranberry, I added about 1/4 cup of fig & cranberry compote & 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese.  Next time, I think that I’ll add some roasted figs. I might even get really daring and add some prosciutto.  Form the final product into a ball – wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Here’s the trick.  To let the flavors marry let them sit overnight in the fridge.

Then it is all about presentation.  For the mushroom ball, I decided to roll it in scallions and parsley.  The textures of which gave it a really pretty effect, sort of like a moss ball you’d see in an English garden.  To compliment the green color and salty flavor, I served it with salty yet classic Ritz crackers.  I served it on a shiny pewter platter, but next time I’ll use a rustic cutting board.  For the cranberry ball, I took another approach. I rolled it in cranberries.  When I didn’t have enough (oops), I chopped up some dried cherries to finish it off.  The deep dark red of the cherries mixed with the lighter red of the cranberries to provide a beautiful depth.  To add elements of sweet and orange, I served it with Anna’s Orange Swedish Cookies.  I served it on a vintage cake stand made from green glass from the Depression era (which began my love affair with vintage glassware).  The great thing was that the cranberry orange cheeseball also went with the Ritz crackers, so folks could make it more salty of they preferred.

Here’s how the berry one turned out –IMG_4872

My thoughts are that the cheeseball is a fabulously easy dish to offer at your next gathering.  It’s almost too easy!  So, yes – it’s time to bring back the CheeseBall.  And sorry friends, you’ll be seeing this time and time again.  Next time at the MadMen themed cocktail party to raise awareness about the Epilepsy Foundation.

Happy Holidays

After weeks of anticipation, the boys went to Santa Land in San Francisco.  Singing Christmas carols walking around town, I was not expecting their reactions.  The picture says it perfectly.  Poor Santa even gave up his throne.

So, here ya go.  The yearly Santa picture.  It was definitely a Royal Tenenbaum moment.IMG_4442

 

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday filled with memories, and even some of the Royal Tenenbaum variety.

Weekend Dinner: Rose Rissotto

ingredients  As a busy mom, I look forward to being able to cook on weekends.  Weeknight cooking is the bare minimum as far as hands on time, and ingredients.  In fact, we usually eat leftovers from larger weekend meals.  Leftovers merely require reheating.  (yay!)  Weekends enable me to make dishes requiring more extensive ingredients as well as attention to detail.

Since my boys love shrimp, and I love risotto, last weekend I created a shrimp rose risotto.  There’s something so comforting about the  texture of risotto.   Creamy, cheesy and comforting.  It’s like putting on a cozy sweater.

Want to try it? Here’s the recipe.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup Rose Wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup of chopped greens
  • 1 cup grated dry cheese (Gruyere, romano, Parmesan or mixture)
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3/4 pound baby shrimp
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, oregano, thyme) (optional)

Mix the liquids together and set aside. I like to keep mine in a large measuring cup  like this one so it’s easier to keep track of how much I’m using.

Warm your pan.  I use a Le Creuset shallow brassier.   Add the olive oil, saute the garlic & shallots for a few minutes.  Add the rice and swish it around in the oil and garlic mixture.  Turn down the heat.  Add a cup of the liquid mixture and stir. photo(14)

At this point heat a skillet and  melt a tablespoon of butter and teaspoon of paprika.  I like the flavor of smoky paprika, but a sweet would work well too.  Add the shrimp and quickly saute for about a minute or two, just to impart the paprika flavor to shrimp. Set aside.

Go back to the risotto.  Stir occasionally until mostly absorbed.  When mostly absorbed, add another cup of liquid.  Keep  stirring.  Do once more.  Add the mushrooms and chopped tomato. 

add last cup of mixture.  Add the chopped greens and fresh herbs.  Once liquid is mostly absorbed add the 3/4 cup cheese and shrimp.  turn off.  Let cool for a couple of minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Top with the rest of the cheese. 

I like to serve this with a light brussel sprout salad and thin crust mushroom & Gruyere pizza.  Check back for those recipes.   Of course don’t forget to enjoy with a balanced local Sonoma/Napa white wine like the chardonnay from Roche Family Winery which is still my fav. photo(13)

Pumpkin Waffles

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If you’ve been following my blogs, you know that I love anything having to do with pumpkins.  Pumpkin lattes (see my recipe here), pumpkin scones, pumpkin patches and my own lil pumpkins. So when my husband gave me a waffle maker – which in my family we joke about gifts like these being the gifts that keep on giving time and time again — I had to work on incorporating my favorite food into a waffle.  There’s just something about the light flaky taste of a properly cooked waffle.  Add a hint of pumpkin and bamn – pure bliss!  Top it with spiced fruit or maple syrup and there’s no reason to leave the kitchen table other than to make another one.

Mouth watering yet?  Mine is as I write this.  If you want to dive into pumpkin waffles, here’s my recipe:

  • 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (can be canned or fresh)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (or white sugar with a hint of molasses)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or combination of cinnamon, cloves, cardamon & ginger)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs or equivalent of egg replacer
  • 1 cup of water

preheat your waffle iron.  Then whisk together the eggs or egg replacer, brown sugar, oil until combined.

A quick word about egg replacer for fellow folks with kids with egg allergies.  I’ve tried different kinds and they seem to absorb moisture making batters more difficult to work with.  So far, I’ve had the most success with the replacer made by Bob’s Red Mill which is available at Whole Foods or delivered to your door via Amazon.

Add the pumpkin & vanilla.  Mix until combined.  Add the baking powder.  Combine.  Then whisk in the spices and flour.  If too thick then add a little more water.  If too thin, then add a little flour.

Coat your waffle iron with a non-stick spray or brush with melted butter.  Cook to your liking and enjoy! I personally like my waffles a bit crispy and crunchy with an airy center.  It’s the number 5 setting on the All Clad Waffle maker which truly has been the gift that keeps on giving.

Serve right away as after awhile they will lose their crispy factor.

Serve with  butter (my other favorite ingredient), syrup and some spiced pears or applesauce if you have it.  My neighbor just made some spiced applesauce that is so rich and flavorful.  If you haven’t made your own for awhile, try it out.  It is definitely worth the effort.

Also serve with thick cut bacon; the perfect salty treat to compliment.  In fact, I made these for my son’s 4th birthday.  And, we had a friend who gave us some fresh thick cut bacon – it was a to die for combo!  It’s just one of the many benefits of living out here in the sticks.

So try it out, and let me know how it goes!  Wishing you happy times baking up memories.

Enchiladas the Quick and Easy Way

photo(11)Living in the wine country has lots benefits, including being home to many wonderful taquerias.  For nights when going out to eat isn’t an option, it is easy to fake it at home. This recipe including baking time takes about 30 -40 minutes.  Rather than labor over making enchilada sauce and tortillas, which is always a fun activity especially with kiddos, I buy my enchilada sauce and tortillas at my favorite taqueria.   I buy enough sauce so I can use half and freeze the other for a a rainy day.

Then, add a few other premade items and you’re on your way.

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix together chopped chicken, 1.5 cups of cheese, the chopped greens, 1 cup of enchilada sauce and 1 cup of red pepper & tomato soup.  Take a baking dish, 13 x 9 works well.  Coat the bottom with a little bit of the soup.   Fill your tortillas with the mixture, about 1/2 cup worth.  Then roll and place in the baking dish.  Do the same with the rest of the tortillas.  Once all of them are in the dish, then top them with the rest of the sauce  (enchilada sauce + soup) and cheese.  Bake until warm (about 20 minutes).  Serve with hot sauce.  Enjoy!

Spring in the Wine Country is Like the Perfect Chardonnay

With spring all around, this past week reminded me of why the wine country is like no other place.  It is just dreamy to live here.   Amongst the budding vines are hints of purple, pink and yellow wildflowers.  Birds are singing. Butterflies are flying. Blubs are blooming.

In some ways, spring is like the perfect chardonnay.  A beautiful smell like budding flowers, delicate tastes with a buttery finish that evoke thoughts of walking barefoot through new spring grass.

spring 3Spring in Sonoma also means the Sonoma International Film Festival.  It is a unique time when the Hollywood vibe mixes with the casual country.   Glamorous tourists decorate the square wearing their Jimmy Choo stilettos which makes for prime people watching especially considering the uneven cobblestone streets.  Local businesses host a variety of events and film showings.  And, the town is bustling with activity.

An intimate event was hosted by Roche Winery, where guests were able to mingle with those involved in the film Favor, including the actors.  Personally, something about actors makes me turn into a bumbling idiot.  Somehow my educational training in being able to ask a myriad of questions and think on the spot goes off into the universe for a moment.  And, the conversation becomes something like I would have had with a guy I had a crush on when I was in elementary school.   Actor – “Hi, I’m an actor.”  Me – “wow.”  Actor – “well, I was in Star Trek.” Me – “really [pause] wow.  ”  In any event, luckily there were other folks who chimed into the conversation.

All in all though, the evening was an exceptional wine country experience especially since it was paired with my all time favorite wine, the estate chardonnay by Roche Winery.  Oh Roche Winery, however do you create such a rich and enjoyable chardonnay?  Whatever you’re doing, please keep doing it and I’ll keep buying it.

There was only one thing that could make it better, exceptional nibbles.  As luck would have it Mara Roche created a delicious spread oozing with flavor, love and wine country personality.  Deviled eggs with wasabi essence, hand crafted Thai spring rolls, tri tip sandwiches, and goat cheese with quince tantalized my palate while complimenting the wines being poured.

spring 2The next morning, I took my boys out to have some wine country fun.  We stopped by the Studdert Family Farm where some newborn lambs were just getting acquainted with farm life.  I’m not sure who liked meeting the lambs more, me or the boys.  There is nothing quite like watching your little ones meet something that’s even younger than they are.  The pureness of a one day old lamb is breathtaking.   Bobby loved petting the lambs while CJ enjoyed chasing them around the barn.

After the boys had tormented the lambs enough, it was time for walk.  We walked our favorite loop winding through budding grape vines, past llamas and near a few parked train cars.  Of course, walks with two little guys are leisurely to say the least.  They are a favorite way to enjoy an entire morning.   So, we had to stop at the trains.

The boys climbed aboard the trains and pretended to steer the train down the track.  While they were having their choo choo bliss, a couple of out of towners were passing by.  Wearing Premiere Passes to the Film Festival and impressively sized diamond earrings, they stopped to admire the boys and chat. For the second time in a 24 hour period, I had another star struck stupid moment.   The guy with crystal grey blue eyes and friendly stature was strikingly similar to Jeff Bridges.  In any event, we chatted about my boys’ zest for trains and, how wonderful Sonoma is.  After all where else can little ones climb on parked train cars at a kid’s park with the sound of live music from a farmers market beaming in the background?

Was it Jeff Bridges?  I’ll never know.  All I do know is that it doesn’t matter, even if it was, it shows how enjoyable this town is for all especially in spring.  For those of you who don’t believe me, then come check it out.