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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)