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.

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What’s in your backyard?

teepee

Today was one of those days when after a morning adventure down at the Sonoma County Regional Park, the boys just wanted to explore the backyard.  They found some pretty long sticks.  In an attempt to keep them from sword fighting, I asked the boys if they wanted to build something.  I already knew that the boys would want to do this as both of them love building anything.  Inspired by a friend who just built a teepee for a party they’re throwing, I thought about recreating a mini version for the boys.

The entire process was fun and a reminder of why life out here in the country is so fabulous.  After finding the long sticks, the boys helped hold up the sticks while I tied them together with green rope.  Wrap it up in an old sheet secured with clothespins, and voila – a cozy spot where a child can chill, giggle and make believe.

As soon as it was done, the boys crawled in and spent time laughing. I’ll never know what exactly they were laughing about (nor does it matter).  One thing is for sure though I will always be tickled pink by the memory of creating a space where they were so happy to be themselves.

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.

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!

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.

In The Beginning…

IMG_1062My love affair with the wine country began officially three years ago.  It all started with a simple question.  Where did I want to raise my then 6 month old bustling  baby boy?

At the time, I was in Oakland, living in a beautiful historic craftsman built back in a time where the tradesmen poured love into details like interior cabinets decorated with glass, thoughtfully placed windows, elegant floors decorated with wooden inlay and intentionally selected warm tiles surrounding the hearth.  With beautifully preserved and restored elements like leaded glass windows, dark wood paneling and a full gourmet kitchen that even Ina Garten would envy, the bungalow was a perfect marriage of old and new world architecture.

While my husband and I loved it (well, to be honest, I loved the historic part, he the modern), having a baby put a different spin on things.  I couldn’t escape what lay outside our historically modern oasis.   The car bomb or later described electrical fire was one reminder of city living.  A million dollar house, and a car bomb?  Don’t get me wrong, Oakland is a fabulous bustling city.  With premiere restaurants, funky culture and edgy fashion, it’s no wonder that Oakland is such a popular place.  Add that to being nestled steps away from markets, bakeries and boutiques, with a short train ride away from the big city.  For some Oakland is ideal; for me it was so for awhile -until Bobby arrived on the scene.  I longed for a more relaxed environment to raise my boy.

After my husband and I considered our options, which admittedly took a long time as indecisiveness (as my husband would tell you) runs in my family, we took a day trip up to Sonoma.  I had been before as I was raised thirty minutes away in Santa Rosa, the big city to Sonomans, and had even considered getting married at the Mission. Turned out, the small cozy mission  with room for standing room only, was logistically unfeasible to hold any segment of the guest list.  2 large families both of which are as you’d expect, stereotypically dysfunctional and Catholic.  I love love our families.

When I visited Sonoma I instantly knew the wine country was where I wanted to be.  With a classy, laid back culture, warm and friendly faces, and beautiful landscapes and space for my boy to roam, staying in Oakland was no longer an option.  Ahh, selling a home and moving with a baby was a royal pain in the butt, but absolutely worth it in every way.