The day after Christmas, my mom whisked my sisters and I up to Calistoga for the weekend. We stayed at Solage, and explored the town and surroundings on bikes. If you ever find yourself in the Napa Valley for a few days, here are some of our favorite spots:
We checked into Solage late in the afternoon after stopping at one of my favorite wineries, Domaine Carneros (their Le Reve champagne makes me a very happy girl). My sister Zoe and I soaked in the thermal springs at Solage and we all headed over to the on-site restaurant, Solbar. I was originally skeptical as hotel restaurants can often be a bit marginal. But our meal at Solbar was the highlight of the trip (even topped Bouchon). Although they just received their first Michelin star, the service was laid-back and unfussy while still remaining attentive, informative, and gracious. The food was amazing, from the innovative cocktails to the duck breast, blackened cod, kale stew, and donut holes for dessert.
Solage supplies all of their guests with cruiser bikes that await you right outside of your studio. I loved this, especially considering downtown Calistoga and many great wineries are just a few minutes away. So Sunday we all woke up and rode over to Cafe Sarafornia for a late breakfast. It’s not the best food you’ve ever had, but it’s a great old-fashioned diner right downtown with strong coffee and decent eggs. Good, dependable pre-winery food. After that, we cruised around downtown, checking out Indian Springs and some of the local shops and returned to the hotel to linger around the spa for the afternoon (Santa brought spa treatments). Afterwards, my sisters and I hopped back on our bikes and hit up a few wineries: Lava Vine and August Briggs.
Both are small-production, family-run wineries. We fell in love. The ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah at Lava Vine were outstanding and the Chardonnays at August Briggs were our favorite (not at all heavy on the oak). The trouble came when I started buying bottles of wine to take home…on the bike, after doing a bit of tasting. Yikes. For dinner, we drove to Yountville to eat at Bouchon.
This was my first time at Bouchon and it was lovely: festive atmosphere and incredible food. One of the specials of the evening was the cone of truffle fries. Zoe and I were sold. With french onion soup and steak frites, all was right in the world.
So hesitant to leave! I’m looking for a way to move into our little studio at Solage and camp out (so far, it’s not looking promising or realistic). We all decided to linger and had breakfast at Solbar — another incredible meal. Every detail, from the small Heath vases with local flowers to individual pots of coffee and beautiful fruit plates. On our way out of town, we stocked up on treats at Bouchon Bakery and reluctantly headed home.
For more in-depth details on where we ate, feel free to check out my piece this week over at Bay Area Bites.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.