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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.