New Restaurant…

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new restaurant in Glen Ellen, Aventine.  With rustic Italian fare, this place is delightful.  Into cocktails?  Try their take on the Manhattan.  It has a floral beginning and a smooth finish.  Or try the salumi platter covered in artisan and house made salumis.  The historic setting at the Grist Mill (which I wrote about here) isn’t bad either.  In fact, I totally adore how the current restaurant embraces the old woodwork and has added additional touches that literally look authentic.  For example, the italian pizza oven and the gorgeous metal chandelier add a nice layer of depth.

All in all Aventine is a lovely addition to this gem of a town.

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

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.

Sometimes The Best Things Are In Your Own Backyard

The other day, my husband and I did something quite radical in our domestic world;  we went on a date.  Not to an event, not to a fundraiser, not to a party, but just the two of us.  At first, … Continue reading

Life is the Perfect Loaf of Bread

photo(27)The other day, I went to a local landmark, the Grist Mill.   Eons ago in the 1800s, it operated just as that, a grist mill.  Joshua Chauvet who settled in Glen Ellen around 1850 started it.  He opened a winery, the grist mill and a brickyard.  Everyday, I am reminded of this entrepreneurial man, as his bricks decorate my home.  And, they are surely gorgeous in a rustically historic way.   Today, the grist mill is  part of a darling little shopping village called Jack London Village.  In it there are restaurants and even a chocolate shop which in my opinion is not to be missed.  Across the way is Eric Ross winery, which is worth a visit.  Try the Albarino, totally delicious.

Although the grist mill is no longer milling grains for bread,one can’t help but think of bread being made when walking around.  From the large mill stones to the water wheel, there are reminders at every turn and even in the most unusual of places.

So, my particular visit was on an extremely hot afternoon around dinner time.  I didn’t want to cook so opted for some Indian, Himalayan food.  Yeti Restaurant is divine.  While waiting for my order, I sat at the bar watching the chefs cook.  An avid cook myself, I was most interested in seeing what they were doing.  A round pillow really intrigued me.  Then, the chef took a ball of dough, rolled it out.  He moistened it with water and then grabbed the round pillow.    The dough was wrapped around the round pillow.  He then, placed it in a oven. A couple of minutes later, naan.  The whole process was a dance, perfected in every-way.  Sometimes, I wonder what Joshua Chauvet would have thought of such an international delicacy being made there.

photo(28)My own bread making has room for improvement.  Bread is such a complicated process. For those of you who bake, you know how finicky sourdough yeast can be, or how the smallest of variations can impact the taste of things.  From sourdough baguettes to cinnamon rolls, I’ve had my share of baking trials.  The latest was with cinnamon rolls for a church gathering.  They literally took three days to make.  And, two of the three batches were off.  The dough was denser than usual.  Something with the yeast or flour I think.   Totally frustrated, I almost pitched them all and started anew at 10pm.  But I decided to set aside my perfectionist side and just enjoy them as they were.  They ended up being gobbled up in no time at all.

Having these experiences makes me appreciate the art of bread.  And when I find the right loaf I appreciate it in every-way savoring its smell, texture and taste.   The grist mill, the naan, a loaf from La Farine bakery in Oakland.  All to be embraced.  It’s like life.  When things all work together and create something beautiful, its time to embrace it, memoralize it and remember it.   Holding onto those times for other more challenging moments.   And, when things don’t go as planned, like my cinnamon rolls, it’s time to reevaluate and potentially roll with it.  For the good is what makes the bad bearable. It makes it worth it.

So, here’s to finding your perfect loaf.  Cheers!

The Double Eagle

The Double Eagle

The Double Eagle

I recently scored a double eagle!  In golf, a double eagle is an extremely rare score of scoring three strokes under par on one hole.  This double eagle was not in the golf sense of the term, but in the literal sense of a beautiful bottle of wine sealed in wax and decorated with leather.

You may wonder about the story behind this unique acquisition.  So, here goes, the other evening my husband and i were able to leave the kids with their grandparents and enjoy a piece of our wine country home.  It’s not the usual occurrence by any means, but a welcome change of pace.  We decided to act like tourists and pop into a local tasting venue.

This particular place, Sonoma Enoteca, showcases local small production wineries.  As luck would have it one of the winemakers, Vance Rose, was pouring a few of his labors of love.   So, we were able to learn a little about his vineyard which lays atop a breathtaking road and literally straddles Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Ironically, my Italian husband cycles past this divine spot on his Italian bike on a weekly basis. I digress.

As wine tastings usually go we started by tasting a very light and crisp white wine.   A lover of complex flavorful bold reds like Petite Syrah or Zinfandel, I was quite looking forward to trying something meatier.

So, I tried a local zin, which was satisfactory, but then something magical happened.  The winemaker poured a taste from a very different bottle.  Adorned with a leather label and sealed in wax, this wine had all the fixings of being something special.  The Double Eagle  was a red blend with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was rich, deep, yet smooth and fruity.  Sipping it was a beautiful moment.

If that wasn’t enough, the winemaker had stumbled across a bottle from the prior vintage, 2009.  As he dusted it off, it seemed like fate.  That bottle now sits awaiting a special occasion, a double eagle.

Who knows when that double eagle worthy of opening this bottle will occur.  In the golf sense it could be awhile if I’m playing that is.  My husband, well, that’s a different story.  But I’m looking forward to life’s double eagle which in my book will be three occurrences worthy of celebration.  Or maybe the wine itself will be the occasion.  I’ll let you know.

Wine Country Entertaining – Downton Abbey Style

Entertaining in the wine country means being flexible. Whether it’s a small group of friends, large chaotic kids party, or small intimate formal dinner, it’s all about combining fabulous friends and flavors.

Of course throwing parties with kids is an entirely different animal as the entertainment options can range from as simple as coloring sheets and play dough to extravagant hired entertainers and traveling petting zoos.

Recently while enjoying a quiet laid back casual dinner of homemade pizzas and local wine, the conversation turned to our favorite TV show, Downton Abbey. The four of us decided to throw a small intimate black tie dinner party for fellow Downton fans. We decided to do something revolutionary: have a party without kids. Us parents don’t get out much, so the thought of adult time made it more fun.

The beginning planning stages involved conversations about whether it would be white or black tie, when to send invitations and what to serve.

downton 3From the invite to the place settings, every detail was thoughtfully planned. I used Paperless Post for the invitations. I chose a formal design with a picture of a chandelier similar to the one that would decorate the party.

Having sent the invitations, it was time to plan the other details such as decorations, place settings, music and menu. Planning ahead made it such a success. For the cooking portion, I have to thank Ina Garten for her tips published in one of her fabulous cookbooks. For example, she suggested a cooking timetable. Well, when coordinating seven courses, the timetable was key. In the days before, the schedule made the little tedious tasks like unpacking crystal and silver more manageable. For the day of the party, having a written schedule took the stress out of things. Another key factor was hiring an assistant to help serve the meal and help with washing the legions of dishes left in the wake of a 7 course formal meal. (Emily – you rock!)

So, for the menu, I had a 24 pound turkey that I built the menu around.

Passed Appetizers, Bubbles & Lady Mary Cocktail

Endive with roasted garlic cream cheese and shrimpdownton
Dates wrapped with prosciutto
Lady Mary Cocktail (bubbly, Lillet Blanc, lemon & basil) or (sprite, lemon & basil)
Main Meal

Mushroom sherry soup (mushrooms + sherry + shallots) with a heavy cream drizzle
herb roasted turkey, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, English peas & cherry port gravy
mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette
cherries jubilee over ice cream (this is fun as you light it on fire)
cheese course (cheeses, dried fruit, crackers)
homemade fudge & port

For wines, the party featured those from Peter Cellars Pinot Noir & Roche Winery Merlot

As far as set-up, Emily Post was helpful in setting the scene. The detailed diagrams helped guide the European table setting required for a formal Downton evening. Admittedly though, I didn’t follow it exactly as to make things easier I put the dessert utensils on the table. (Gasp!) A sin for which I likely would have been fired or put on probation had I been working at Downton Abbey.

With most of the food ready to go, greeting guests was a pleasure! We enjoyed the flavors and libations. And, afterwards silly fun with fake mustaches (really worth a laugh). In Downton Style the men departed for cigars & scotch and a chat about all things manly. Us ladies did the same (cigars, scotch and a chat about all things girly).

downton2Of course ages after our bedtime, we dimmed the lights and started dancing the night away. Like I said earlier, us parents don’t get out much so we are easy to entertain.

Now it’s on to planning our next one. Perhaps it will be Mad Men cocktail party or a Gone with the Wind garden party.. Any ideas??

Light Brunch: Greens, Gruyere & Girly Bubbles (including how to make the perfect fried egg)

Life in the wine country means enjoying lovely food.  There are days when unexpected visitors provide a fun excuse to to create a lovely lunch and savor company as well as local flavors.  A recent creation of mine is too easy and delicious not to share.  A green salad topped with eggs and Gruyere cheese.  The perfect compliment to a glass of chilled bubbly!
eggs

Ingredients

Heart of Romaine Lettuce

Eggs

Hard cheese (any of the white hard cheeses from Vella Cheese would work)

Lemon

Salt & Pepper

Fresh herbs

Preparation

The best part about this recipe is that it is absolutely as simple as can be.  The hardest part is literally shaving the cheese.  Start by cutting some fresh greens.  I like Romaine as it maintains a crunch when topped with something warm like eggs.  Add some shaved white cheese.

Top with two fried eggs.  I fry mine in bacon fat, as everything is better with bacon.  To get the perfect fried egg heat a pan on medium.  Add enough fat (bacon fat, butter or olive oil) to coat the bottom.  Then, once the fat is melted, add your eggs.  Turn down the heat to medium-low.  Check the eggs in 2 minutes.  If they are mostly cooked with a little bit of uncooked whites, then cover with a lid or foil.  Turn off the heat.  Let the eggs sit for a minute.  Check, if the whites look fully cooked then you’re done.  If not, cover for another thirty seconds.

Top with  salt, pepper and a dash or two of lemon.  Sprinkle fresh chopped herbs.  Basil & tarragon work wonders.   Pour a glass of bubbly and enjoy!

Girls Just Want to Have Fun: Defending Girls Night Out

Sometimes a gal just needs to hang with the gals. Why is it that some guys have a hard time stomaching this idea? I mean us ladies are also known for going to the restroom in groups.  So maybe our nature makes us a bit different from our male counterparts.  Our maybe we just want to be able to chat with friends.  In any event, the joy of being around girlfriends is enriching in a way that differs from hanging with spouses.  Not that it’s any better, but just that an occasional change of pace can be absolutely refreshing.

For me, sometimes time away from my testosterone filled household is more than necessary.  This has been especially the case lately.  With an epic winter season of back to back colds and flu, it’s been rough.  After surviving norovirus, flu, and potential rabies exposure, coupled with coming out of working long hours to craft arguments to defeat summary judgment, I more than craved some time off.

Lucky for me, the wine country offers so many decadent options. From luxurious spas to quirky movies, the area is full of things to do. I decided to do a little bit of everything. I tried Pilates for the first time ever. Can I tell you that in the days after Pilates, I discovered muscles in places I never knew they could exist. Ouch! A glutton for punishment, I surely will be going back. I also ventured to a funky film at the local vintage theater which offers a transporting experience. Walking into it is like going back in time. Fully decorated with velvet seats, curtains, and beautiful woodwork, the theater is the primary attraction. But to be able to sit and watch a film, uninterrupted, is a delicious treat.

But the question of who to invite along, if anyone is a different story. And should I want to hang with gal pals, is it discriminatory towards men and families? So, technically speaking I guess it is. But I have had to ask myself whether there was any harm in engaging in such discrimination. Or conversely what the effect might be of not doing so? After all how could it be a bad thing if moms have an excuse to hit the town and recharge.

I think back to college and pre-husband days when hitting the town wasn’t a big deal. Just call up a friend, head out and stay out until whenever.  Without limits and the pull of children at home, it was a much simpler affair.

With kids it’s a different story. Coordinating schedules and arranging details gets to be a little chaotic. Then just when it’s all set up, there are the number of things that can go wrong and get in the way, including picking up one of the many sicknesses snot laden school aged kids come home with.

These challenges make it all the more worth it when it actually works out. So, the next time your girls night is met with opposition for being discriminatory, I say screw em and just do it anyways. So go out, just do it! You can thank me later.

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P.S.  Want to try a new wine on girls night?  I suggest sampling the latest from the boutique winery, Bump Wine Cellars. Try the 2008 Zinfandel. Smooth, flavorful with a bit of spice, it won’t disappoint.

Swapping the Sound of Cars for Crickets

There is something about swapping the sound of cars for crickets.  At first I was convinced that I was camping.  After all, who wouldn’t camp, blocks from the main town center, a beautifully kept square park surrounded by shops, restaurants and wine tasting rooms.  Getting there, though, was a different story.

Selling a house with a newborn is as close to hell as one can get.  With baby swings, gear, strollers, bottles galore, who wants to keep a house staged when you have a newborn?  No one.

Let me tell ya, it was completely horrific.   Luckily, after a wink and a smile it was time to pack it up and move.  Thank the heavens above for movers.  And, my husband, who slowly moved carloads up to Sonoma.  Once the house was all packed, scrubbed and cleaned,  it was time to say goodbye.   Closure.  The end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

Making the trek through the green pastures to the countryside was soothing.   And, I immediately felt a sense of calm upon entering my new home.  A picturesque town with stone buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, and manicured homes.  Sonoma just can’t help but ooze charm.Plaza

 On one side of my new home was a lush farm called the Patch, behind me was a hill with hiking trails.the patch

A short walk away was an amazing cheese shop, Vella Cheese.  Housed in a stone building, Vella offers country charm.  With cheeses that are handcrafted with love and care, each bite is creamy bliss.  I immediately fell in love with the Toma.  And, would frequent there.  Ok, so the girls know my boys by first name.  And, they know me as the once pregnant lady who would go in for her daily dose.  Embarrassing,  yes, but worth it.  You have to try the cheese!  Gotta love the wine country!vella

Across from Vella was the local market.  Every year, a little farm, called the Patch would open a side gate and sell beautifully grown organic produce.  For over 100 years, this farm-stand has been selling the bounty from the area.  A dinner of fresh Romano beans sauteed in garlic and local olive oil, with a wedge of cheese became an instant favorite.  Even my hubby liked it.

So, with cheese and veggies a short jaunt away, my wine country adventure was off to a raging start.  Of course, the next discovery would be an equally decadent wine to go with.  But that’s the subject of another blog post.

Thanks for reading.