Five Day Weekends

After a five day weekend in Sonoma, it was a real treat to get an unexpected five day Thanksgiving weekend holiday. ((Love my team’s “offsite” the day before T-day – where the invite was for an offsite that was to be spent at home iwth our family.))

Day 1 – Wednesday lazy (and cleaning)

I addition to be lazy and tackling  little cleaning, I was to plan and prepare a simple dinner combining:

  • Butternut Squash Soup
  • Salmon
  • Roasted Califlower

Day 2 – Turkey Day

A day with family, of course. The girl was anxious to get there and hang with the cousins. Luckily, we contributed wine, champagne and a ham. Speaking of wine, we opened the jug of Portalupi. A red table wine from the Sonoma Valley that may need to be replenished soon. and may be served the big day.

Day 3 – More cleaning

(Deep, deep cleaning & unruly Goodwill pile gone).  Time to pull out the “recipes to try” pile and tickle the pallet with new flavors (enough cleaning, enough). Found options that made my mouth water.  Drew Tiana’s Spaghetti Gravy from the pile and focused on the shopping list. Luckily we didn’t need much – and we had the perfect bottles of wine to pair with it.

Day 4 – Dinner with J&T

To complete the holiday weekend, today included dinner with friends. And showcase more recent purchases. The menu included:

  • First: Potato Soup paired with Zina Hyde Cunningham 2011 Chardonnay (Anderson Valley)
  • Next: Pork Chops (another serving of our piggy) with Hazelnut Sherry Sauce from Portworks
  • Served with Beet and Satsuma salad and J. Lohr Gesture 2009 Zinfandel.
  • Dessert: Pear tart with late harvest gewürztraminer – the tart and the glass.

Day 5 – Rest

Because we deserved it.

Tiana’s Spaghetti Gravy

Over the holiday weekend, we ate and ate. After we cooked and cooked. With almost no plans this weekend, our afternoons and evenings became the perfect time to try new dishes. We started with Tiana’s…

In a large stock pot, melt 6 anchovy fillets in 3 TBL olive oil. (I substituted anchovy paste.) add one large onion, finely chopped and cook until they start to soften. Add:

6 cloves of finely chopped garlic,
at least an ounce (maybe two) of fresh thyme
1 TBL dried basil (or fresh, that is what I had handy)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground pepper
Dash cayenne
Cook two to three minutes longer

Add two large cans tomato purée and two large cans of crushed tomatoes. Stir well. Cover until it begins to simmer. Then remove the lid so sauce will begin to reduce and thicken. Simmer two hours, then add 1 to 2 lbs of cooked Italian sausage (our choice), meatballs or ground beef. Simmer one or two more hours (until reduced by a third). In the last 30 minutes, add 3/4 c of capers and 1 c of Cabernet Sauvignon.

We enjoyed our spaghetti gravy over rigatoni with a side of pan fried Brussel spouts and a bottle of Le Cuvier Cab Franc. The combination of the rich, spicey sauce and a full-bodied, spicey wine was deliciouso!

Winemakers Notes:

2009 Cabernet Franc – Sorry, Sold Out! – Smoldering firedrakes delicately carved from the madder lake petals of a deeply crimson blood rose plucked at sunrise; lavish globules of black cherry & pomegranate, flashing bright beads of berried perfume across a fragrantly spicy minced pie; earthy soy & the scent of a singularly rare & noble coffee bean fresh from the roasting oven, warm, rolling in the palm of your hand circling a ripe, Cimmerian plum dusted with dark roasted coco & just the whisper of a lily wafting across Summer’s Sweet Meadows. There’s something both sinister & wonderfully wacky going on in this wine.

Ready. Set. Plan?

What dos every couple –or maybe it’s just the bride – do after they get engaged? Start planning. (Or maybe it’s start dress shopping?) We are bucking the normal trends (I think). Or immediate to do list was more of a wish list/priority list. Since we haven’t talked about getting married, neither of us knows where the others head is. And, I have never mentally planned my own wedding. I can’t think of one experience (at a wedding) where I thought “I want to do that at my own someday”.

What blurted out of our mouths the next 24 hours (in no particular order):

  • I want the gnocchi we had a dinner tonight as a wedding dinner course
  • Where do we want to go on our honeymoon?
  • We don’t have to serve cake, right?
  • I want it outdoors
  • Are we doing this next summer or in two summers?
  • You are not allowed in the kitchen
  • I want a big family dinner
  • I want fine dining

The best part about these random thoughts is the random places they came out! Driving back from dinner. Soaking in the hot tub the next morning. Driving to the airport.

A Little Sonoma R&R

After a great start to our time away with dinner at Zazu, our days were spend filled with lots of rest and relaxation.


Sunday started at the Mission Inn Spa. We got there early to enjoy the mineral hot springs prior to our spa treatments. He chose a simple massage, where I went all out with the Sonoma Organic Lavender Kur, a treatment that focused on total stress relief. I started with a lavender bubble bath that works to softens the skin, relieves muscle aches and delights the senses. Then I got all wrapped up in a botanical body wrap and finished with wonderful massage.

After all that relaxing and soaking and massaging, it was time to eat. We had brunch reservations at the Girl and the Fig on the Sonoma Square.

With full bellies, we headed north to the Healdsburg Square. We had no real plan so we parked and walked into the closest winery, Thumbprint. It wasn’t the best wine of the day, but she did provide us a few recommendations. We headed around the corner to Stephens & Walker. And Bill fell in love. A wine club membership and a few new bottles later, we headed to Portalupi. Another joyful stop with wonderful bold reds, including a very nice Barbera. In fact, we learned that they have produced some of the top ranking Barbera’s in the world many years. Our final stop of the night was at JCB, a bubbly shop on the square. Bill was happy to find a new domestic bubbly that he enjoyed. To finish the day, we stopped at the market and picked up dinner and picnic fixings for the next day.


As the sun came up, so did we. We wanted to head out to Point Reyes and see the earliest light possible (I am selfish, I want amazing photographs). As we headed west, the sky lit up with amazing colors. We got to Point Reyes in time to explore a quiet beach. Quiet because no one else had made it there yet. But not quiet in that the sound of the waves crashing on the surf filled the air. The tides and surf are so strong here that there are many signs warning of swimming and the swirls in the sand show the crazy undertow. The beach life was rather quiet, but we did pick up a few sand dollar skeletons before heading down the road to the lighthouse. And got side-tracked along the way by the dairy farms and curious heifers. And curious Bill asking many questions about the life cycle of cows and dairy farm life. We did make it to the lighthouse, where we hiked down (and up) the 30 flight of stairs. The lighthouse has kept up with current technology, while leaving the old technology in place makng it a museum of changes from the past 100 years. Maybe the most fun was peering over the edge, we could see seals bobbing in the water.

As we headed back, we stopped at Cowgirl Creamery where we were disappointed to find them closed for the day. We had devoured the wheel of cheese we found already and needed more! Next stop: wine. (Bill was focused on tasting wine today before 1pm as yesterday it was close to 3 when we started). And we made it to Sonoma Port Works in Petaluma (and hit the goal of tasting before 1). Six ports and two sherry’s later, we headed out the door with some ideas of holiday dinners (and a hazelnut sherry and balsamic vinegar in tow).

Intregued yesterday while at the Girl and Fig by the Sonoma Square, we headed back there (and I did research prior while Bill cooked dinner). Before tasting, we found a sunny spot on the square to finish our picnic lunch (some was eaten on the drive). With the food intake complete, it was time to taste:

  • Highway 12
  • Spann
  • Sigh
  • Bryter
  • Kamen
  • Ledson

Dinner tonight was at the home of Dennis and Vicky, champagne importers that Bill has befriended in the last few years. And after Dennis opened a few bottles, I am beginning to understand Bill’s fascination with champagne. The less (or smaller) bubbles don’t tickle my nose and get as in the way of me actually smelling the wine.


Being his birthday day, Tuesday was worthy of its own post. As was birthday dinner.


Travel day, already? We woke up to enjoy the sun. And a cup of tea. And one last soak in the hot tub. With lots of laughter and conversation. Some about the wedding planning. Really, it was more about the honeymoon. And no cake at the wedding. And we are not working in the kitchen (which is easier for me to say than him). Before we knew it, the car was packed and our journey back to our lives started.

His Birthday Dinner

Months ago I made the reservation at BOTEGA. Of course, I was also on the wait list for French Laundry. However, I knew that a meal at Botega would keep the birthday celebrant happy for months. I know it was my favorite dining experience on my previous trip to Napa. And I was excited to return.

After a great day around Napa, Birthday dinner started in the parking lot dressing room. For an evening in Yountville, we needed to step up our attire a notch from the day’s wine tasting style. It also made us feel much like we were a few decades younger. We were about maximizing time in the vineyards instead of driving back to the Sonoma Valley and back.

We started by giving Dennis’ tip a try: Start the evening with a beer to cleanse the palate. Our lovely, yet sarcastic waiter Murph set us up with a local brew. A Moonlight Brewing Co, aka the local crazy brew guy. A brewmaster that they have only when the brewer decides to bring his latest batch by. Already at this point in the night, we knew we would recommend that when making your reservation that you ask to for Murph to be your server. Every waiter adds to the ambiance. But an Irish guy in an Italian place adds a little extra fun.

Then we ordered a Zin for our meal. Murph guided us to Robert Biale Vineyards Black Chicken 2010 Zinfadel. Wine notes:
Dense, rich, and intense, with very focused fruit and rich yet silky tannins, this is a “Big Time” Zinfandel that is in high demand among the most fanatic Zin-heads, and for good reason. This is a tough wine to get as most of it is sold directly to Biale’s mailing list, so we can’t be sure how long we’ll have this in stock. Act fast! My notes: More. Please. (And I found a bottle randomly at the market weekends later and grabbed it off the shelf).

Round 1 : Antipasti

Green Eggs and Ham :: maple braised pork belly, crispy soft cooked egg, spinach and pecorino budino, baby spinach insalata, preserved meyer lemon marmellata

Roasted Baby Golden and Chiogga Beets :: Point Reyes blue cheese espuma and pistachio vinaigrette

IMG_0570 IMG_0571

Round 2 : Paste

Ricotta Gnoccie della Nonna :: ricotta “pillows” with old hen salsa di pomodoro and pecorino

Potato Dough Raviolo :: filled with spinach and ricotta, black truffles, farm fresh egg yolk, sage brown butter


Round 3 : Secondi

Forno Roasted Whole Fish :: Calabrian grilled eggplant, fermented garlic “XO” sauce

Duck Three Ways :: roasted breast, confit leg, duck liver mousse, Sierra Beauty apple pasta, spiced hazelnuts, and watercress

+ Contorni – Truffle-parmigiano fries (of course!)

  Round 4 : Discussions. Reminiscing. Last year’s birthday vs. today. What can be done to out-do today’s events next year? Then he states “there is one more thing I would like you to do for my birthday today”. And my mind quickly goes to what sexual favor he is thinking about. Seriously, with the food and wine we had today, what else could the man want??? Then he removes a silver knob from his coat pocket. And says “Will you marry me?” (At least that what my memory heard; he may have added more words…). The silver knob opened to a sparkly diamond (very sparkly in the candlelight). With the wave of emotion getting my tongue, I just said “Yes”!

Round 5 : Dessert

A jar of deliciousness. Carmel. Chocolates. I don’t even recall anything but it being Yummy (good thing we took a photo).

Complete with "Congratulations" message.
Complete with “Congratulations” message.

The location:

Botega | 6525 Washington Street | Yountville, CA | 707.945.1050 | Website

His Birthday Celebration

We planned fall trip to include Bill’s birthday. What a way to end a long weekend getaway – with the birthday celebration.

We started with tea and a soak in the hot tub as the morning sun lit the Zinfadel vines that surrounded us. Then we packed up supplies for the day and headed for a French pastry breakfast at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery.

Bouchon Bakery was packed with tourists like us, filling their gullets with caffeine and sweet pastries before beginning another day on the trail of swirling wine. We narrowed our choices and settled on the quiche of the day and a pastry for each of us. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the morning sun while savoring every last morsel.  Before leaving, we headed back inside for a road treat (and a treat for the girl at home). We got in the car and headed north, passing the famed French Laundry – and the Keller gardens.

First winery of the day. Silver Oak. We took the scenic route through the Silverado Trail on the east side of the valley, through the Stag’s Leap area. And the instant memory of Bottle Shock bounced in tho both of our heads – possibly simultaneously. Although tempted, we didn’t stop and forged on to Silver Oak. We settled in the tasting room ready for the bold Cabs that made Silver Oak famous. And we were not disappointed. Instead, we had to focus and choose our favorite as one bottle would be needed for a special night over the holidays (suggested the birthday boy). We both agreed that this was not a bottle to be shared.

Since Bottle Shock jarred a few memorable Napa Valley names in our heads, we decided to stop at Grgich on our way to lunch. It was fun to see a few display vines with ripe grapes.  However, the wines were ho-hum. Next stop: Lunch at Gott’s Roadside. A great day for enjoying lunch outside. We split the fish tacos and I had a black and white milkshake. What a perfect bite to make sure we were not too full to enjoy every morsel we could at dinner tonight. Next stop on the Bottle Shock tour, Chateau Montelena. The experience was breath-taking. Loved the location; the grounds were amazing. The wine, ho-hum again. But we were able to take a Christmas card worthy shot.


With just a bit of time before our appointment at Orin Swift, we wandered through the St Helena shopping district. We poked around in our favorite type of shop – kitchen wares. Then, joy, oh, joy – I found another kind of tasting to enjoy. Chocolates. The time elapsed quickly and it was time to sip a few wines at Orin Swift. This was the one place this trip that was on our “must stop” list. And in our research, we found they didn’t have a tasting room. Luckily, they do private tasting and we got an appointment! Our guide, JC, was wonderful in sharing stories and the history of Orin Swift. The grapes, the wine labels, what is coming next with the ventures in Europe. Next up: Lava Vine. What a great final stop! We only found it thanks to our new friend at Orin Swift (finally, someone in Napa who will share where the locals love to go). In addition to great wines (according to Bill as my palate was done for), the three guys that make up the Lava Vine team provided great conversation (including how to build a fabulous outdoor kitchen discussion).

And for dinner, that is an evening worth it’s own post…

First Night Out :: Zazu

Day 1 of a little long weekend adventure in Sonoma…

After a crazy morning where our flight wasn’t at the time we expected and the slowest rental car pick-up ever (that was topped off with their offer to upgrade us free of charge to a minivan – NOT!), we connected with Tonia & Keith for a late lunch. And discussion about the best Bond films.

As we drove across the bay and turned into the Sonoma valley, the sun was setting and lighting up the hills. We found our rental cottage and after a quick freshen-up, we headed out for dinner on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.

We started with a bottle:
We narrowed our wine choices to the Sonoma Coast as we knew that we won’t make it tasting up in that area.

And the winner is:
Pinot Noir from Eric Kent titled “Small Town”
Sonoma Coast 2010

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes
Building on last year’s success (one of our favorite blends to date), the 2010 Small Town starts with our two Freestone vineyards, then adds a good dose of Roberts Road from the Petaluma Gap and finishes with a touch of Russian River Valley Stiling from the slower-ripening bunkhouse block.
After a generally temperate growing season, 2010 experienced some famous heat spikes, but the cool area of Freestone was relatively protected. In the end, the vintage produced a dark, full, expansive wine that remains true to it’s cool-climate roots with an exuberant nose of savory spices, herbs and impressive fruit, carried on by a silky, rich palate of black cherry and wild berry chutney. Perfectly ripe tannin and balancing acidity provide structure and extend the complex and lingering finish long after the sip is over. In short, we’re absolutely thrilled with this delicious wine!

Due to our late lunch, we decided to graze for dinner.

Black pig bacon wrapped date + saba
Total sweet hit with savory
Oh, and note to find a Saba recipe and try to recreate the sauce

Artisan cheeses A little cow, a little sheep, a little goat.

Wild boar salumi,  house made
Turmeric cauliflower

Stuffed pork belly filled with chestnuts

Note:   When we return, try tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwich

Peanut butter ice cream sandwich with warm dipping chocolate fondue. All we can say is “more”.

And to go:  Jar of house-made Pickles,  Black pig bacon lollipop (for the girl)

While waiting for a table, glimpses of Chef Duskie. {{Not a good sign for how she faired in the Iron Chef Redemption Series.}} Our chef’s profile:
Duskie Estes, a graduate of Brown University, began cooking at age 5 using her Easy-Bake Oven. She has worked at Lucky’s/Al Forno, 21 Federal and Kinkead’s, Green’s and Glide Church, Baywolf, Share Our Strength, Dahlia Lounge, Etta’s Seafood and Palace Kitchen. Chef Estes and her husband, John Stewart, own and operate ZAZU Restaurant + Farm in Santa Rosa, Calif., and BOVOLO in Healdsburg, Calif. The couple also owns MacBryde Farm, named for their daughters, Brydie and Mackenzie. Chef Estes was a fierce competitor in the third season of The Next Iron Chef, during which she won the first secret ingredient challenge but was eliminated by Celina Tio in episode four.

We finished the night over a beer with college pal, JV. It was good to catch up – but it reminded us we are too old to talk over a live band!

The location:

Zazu | 3535 Guerneville Road  | Santa Rosa, CA 95401 | 707.523-4814 | Website

Tribute to Grace

After too many years to count of slowly losing the Alzheimer’s disease battle, my Grandma June passed away this September. She was only 95 years young. Of course, going through the process of preparing for her celebration of life brought back many, many memories of the “old” Grandma June. The woman I used to know in my teenage years. And most of the memories revolved around two subjects:

Social graces. Grandma smiled and made everyone feel at home. She never met a stranger. Ever. As a teenager, she was embarassing because she talked to everyone. In my late twenties and early thirties, it was great to walk through Issaquah with her. She welcomed everyone who passed by. Often turning a grumpy face into a little smile. She was especially happy to see children and animals. Every dog got an ear scratching.

Senior portrait
Senior portrait

Born: June 10, 1917
Death: September 29, 2012

Piles of food. She always had food for everyone. Until she started losing her mind.

  • I remember walking in the door as a kid, and having her pull salad after salad from her refridgerator. Coleslaw and macaroni. Or maybe fruit salad. I often wondered how it all fit.
  • Another snack she always had handy – whether at her house, in the travel trailer at some campground or on her frequent visits to our house – hard salumi, a variety of cheeses and more grapes that you can count.
  • Maybe the most fascinating was her starting my love for jicama. She would slice it and eat it plain. I have learned that lime juice or paprika sprinkles or in a salad are also wonderful ways to eat it.
  • And then the not-so good memories. Burnt toast – and charred fish. To this day, I don’t like an charred food!

Ironically, she never lost her appetite (in fact she could eat for hours because she didn’t remember she just ate five minutes ago).