A Day Not To Be Forgotten

Toward the end of this past holiday weekend, Mateo and I knew that, in lieu of a traditional family vacation, we needed to take our kiddos on an adventure. To end our three-day weekend on a high-note, we planned a fun and food-filled trip into San Francisco. First, we drove over to Larkspur from the East Bay, and after grabbing some drool-worthy pastries (man, do they know how to make a croissant!) from Rustic Bakery at Larkspur Landing, we walked over to the terminal and boarded a ferry headed to the City.

I won’t bore you with oodles of details (you can see from our photos), we got just what we needed – concentrated quality time together, spontaneity, laughter, and wait for it….good things to eat. After sampling cheese at Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building – I now let Caleb do all the ordering and he went straight for the Redhawk – we walked over to Yank Sing for traditional dim sum. Playing tourist in our native city (at least for Mateo and I), we sampled everything we could fit into our bellies. After letting the kids chase each other around the courtyard for a bit, we headed back to the Ferry Building, then boarded our ferry.

With little energy left after a fun-packed day, Caleb and Sadie entertained themselves on the boat, by quietly drawing and reading. Mateo and I were sharing the same thought – how did we luck out with such amazing, funny, bright, and adventurous children?! What good fortune we came into.

 

Hot On the Cheese Trail

DSC_0066

Mateo recently returned home from a work retreat with a map of the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail. This handy little map brought to you by the California Artisan Cheese Guild keeps making its way back into my hands, so on Saturday I decided to take it for a spin. Mid-morning, my family packed into the Camry and embarked on a cheese trail adventure.

Our three stops on the Marin driving tour were Marin French Cheese Company just outside of Novato, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company in the small town of Nicasio, and our family favorite – Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes.

Marin Cheese Trail

We arrived at Marin French just in time for lunch, along with a merry band of bikers. Inside the sizeable retail operation, we sampled their cow’s milk offerings. I’m not a big fan of this dairy, but some of the first ‘exotic’ cheeses I ever sampled in my youth, were their Rouge & Noir camembert and brie. I find their cheese to be too mild, lacking in distinguishing qualities, and most everything we tasted was young and not ripened enough to my liking.

Just as I was about to give up on flavor, I honed in on a style I hadn’t heard of, Schloss, a square wash-rind variety that makes up for all of their mild-mannered options with the flavor and pungency of an Austrian style aged cow’s milk cheese. We walked our stinky little Schloss out to a picnic area near the small, picturesque lake and enjoyed it with a hearty seeded baguette and salami. Sadie and Caleb shared a portion of our snack with the geese and ducks gathered near our table, while Mateo and I sat in the sunshine basking in a quiet moment.

Marin Cheese Trail1

We then drove for about 10 minutes until we reached Nicasio Valley Cheese Company. There, we sampled a large variety of…wait for it…more mild-mannered cheeses. My taste buds were losing interest fast and I’m thinking bring on the stink bring on the funk! At last, I found a happy marriage of flavor and pungency in their Nicasio Reserve, a Swiss-Italian mountain cheese. We bought a square to later share with our friends at dinner, then on to Point Reyes Station!

Cowgirl Creamery never lets me down. I will wait in the longest of lines only to be rewarded with delectable, perfectly aged cheese that lacks not at all in flavor and personality. Caleb and I particularly enjoyed the Gouda-style Wagon Wheel and a very mature Red Hawk, which is made right where we stood and flourishes off the salt air cultures unique to that area. Finishing our cheese tour at Cowgirl Creamery was the perfect end note and with happy bellies filled with way too much cheese, we returned back to the East Bay. What a trip!

Marin Cheese Trail2

Fairy Princess of the N Judah (and Other Tales of the City)

In our last installment, Sadie and Caleb were spared the wrath of the wild dingoes and dragged through yet another agonizing food adventure [insert tiny-violin concerto here]. Caleb had been dangling a rain-check over my head to ride MUNI around San Francisco…the time had come to cash it in. Funny how we frequently expose our children to exotic cuisine and enviable food adventures around the Bay Area, yet they nag and fantasize about riding the MUNI, which was not something Mateo nor I took any youthful pleasure in.

After driving in just after the lunch hour on Saturday, we pulled into a parking spot in front of Ton Kiang Restaurant on Geary for some of the best dim sum the City has to offer. Before Mateo could even take the key out of the ignition, the kids and I ran into the restaurant, up the stairs to the second floor, and began ordering and eating in a manic flurry of hunger and excitement. Mateo soon joined us and we dined on steamed and baked pork buns, char siu stuffed rice noodle rolls, pork shumai, foil-wrapped chicken, custard buns, and other delectable bites.

Sufficiently stuffed, we drove across the park to the Sunset District, parked and then walked over to a N Judah metro stop. On board, Caleb especially, could barely contain his excitement. Their enthusiasm was magnetic and other passengers fell into easy conversation with us. One young woman described Sadie, in her fluffy pink tutu, as “The Fairy Princess of the N Judah.”

Once the initial excitement wore off, we jumped off the train at Duboce park and walked over to a local playground. Eventually, we were back on the N Judah headed for Cole Valley. At Carl and Cole, we exited the train and headed over to Say Cheese, a sweet yet pricey cheese shop. After happily sampling our way across the counter, I settled on a large hunk of Challerhocker, a nutty Swiss alpine cheese. We brought the cheese and some chocolate over to what used to be Tasajara Bakery – now La Boulange, where we sipped on artful lattes and vanilla steamers for the kiddos. I treasure memories of going to Tasajara on Sunday mornings with my parents, sitting around drinking coffee milk, which felt very ‘adult’ to me, and eating a blueberry cheese Danish.

By the end of our day of traveling on MUNI and eating our way through some of my favorite neighborhoods, it was time to return back home. Rain-check redeemed, family happily fed, and kiddos wiped out from a day of adventure. Successful day? Check!

Eating New York

DSC01345-002

It’s not hard to love New York.

Our family just returned from a week-long family reunion trip, which took us to New York City, then to the Catskills. Did I love the 100 degree humid weather, clothing sticking to my skin? Navigating the disgustingly hot subway system with two little ones asking “when are we going to get there?” Getting eaten alive by every flying insect within the city limits? Not so much. What I loved about my time in New York was the food, the energy, the people watching, and the New Yorkers!

NYC1

When I was six, my dad took me on a trip to New York, to retrace the footsteps of his youth, to meet my grandfather who was still living out in Brooklyn, and eat our way around town. There is a classic photo of me, still hanging in my dad’s house, where I’m holding a slice of New York pizza in one hand and a Nathan’s hot dog in the other, while simultaneously sipping on a soda. This was the beginning of a life-long love affair (obsession) with food, kicked off in one of the best cities for the food-obsessed.

On this latest trip, we were only in town for two full days, but we tasted a good sampling of what this world-class eating city has to offer. Dinner at Carmine’s on the Upper West Side, where we dined on outrageous chicken parmesan and handmade ricotta ravioli for the kiddos, Tal Bagels for just baked biales and bagels, breakfast in Greenwich Village (where, to quote our double decker bus tour-guide with a thick New York accent “there is a large homosexual population, where boy meets boy and girl meets girl!”), to Shake Shack for a top-notch hot dog smothered in cheese sauce and crispy fried onions, Katz’ Deli for a warm potato knish, matzo ball soup, dill pickles, and a kick-ass hot pastrami (not to mention the cream soda and cheesecake chasers), and finally to Excellent Dumpling House for handmade dim sum fresh from the steamer. As you can imagine, I truly could go on.

I have plenty more to say about our time in N.Y.  and haven’t yet touched on the family reunion, but wanted to share a few images and memories with you. More to come…

NYC

The Diner at the Corner of ‘Hip and Hick’

On Saturday afternoon, on the heels of a day-long set of activities in Sonoma, we followed the recommendation of my city- turned country-mouse sister Niki and showed up at the Fremont Diner. Located at the corner of ‘hip’ and ‘hick’, this restaurant serves up an unpretentious farm-to-table menu, which varies depending on the time and day you arrive.

With both indoor and outdoor seating, we chose on this warm evening at dusk to sit outside at a picnic table, surrounded by others in what was an old fenced off farm field. Adorned with canning jars, several bottles of hot sauce, silverware wrapped in dish towels, and other funky accouterments, I slid right into the retro-country atmosphere at our shabby chic outdoor dining table.

After settling in, we started to feel that ‘you’re in the country now, so relax already’ vibe. Mateo and I examined the menu and after being told that we were limited to the BBQ offerings, the decision making was made easy. We ordered a platter of dry-rubbed ribs, two sides of Vella mac n’ cheese, a kale salad with slivered almonds, dried cherries, and sharp cheddar chunks, and fresh hulled English peas bathed in butter. Soon after ordering, our canning jars of pinot arrived.

My eyes took inventory of the old kitsch signs scattered around the outside of the restaurant. Beyond the fence, we were surrounded by barns and farm animals. Caleb and Sadie lit up when their mac n’ cheese arrived, then fell silent as they busily gobbled it up. I tried it. It was flipping delicious!

Our platter of ribs arrived, laid out on two slices of white bread, and topped with slices of home-cured pickles. Although the ribs were a little dry, they were infused with layers of flavor: mustard seed, coffee grounds, cayenne, and other rib loving spices. There is nothing better than eating something in its perfect environment. I expected a little pig to go trotting by with a cute squeal as we devoured its sister Lulu [insert sick sense of humor here].

The sun was fast disappearing and the goose bumps were coming out. Our perfect ending to a memorable day, had come to an end. I hope you get a chance to visit the Fremont Diner, where city hipsters and country locals sit shoulder to shoulder enjoying home grown food that epitomizes ‘taste of place’.

Fremont Diner – 2698 Fremont Drive in Sonoma 

To San Francisco with Pop

Today is my dad’s 83rd birthday. To celebrate, I am re-posting one of my favorites about one special day spent together in San Francisco. I am so fortunate to have a close friend with a generous soul and a wonderful sense of humor, all wrapped up into one amazing father. I will always cherish walking hand-in-hand to Baskin-Robbins or to dim sum with my dad, playing with words along the way (Pious Lee), and the heart connection we have always had. Happy Birthday, MannyB! The world is a better place with you in it! 

Caleb and Sadie’s grandpa or “Zadie” as we call him (Zadie is Yiddish for grandfather) was born and raised in New York. I was born and raised in San Francisco.

When I was six, my dad took me on a special father-daughter trip to New York City to visit family and retrace the footsteps of his childhood. This was also the first opportunity he had to introduce me to my paternal grandfather, who was very firmly rooted in New York and had never come out to California for a visit.

I know that this may come as no surprise, given that Anya is writing this, but we also went on an eating tour of the city. My fondest memories of this trip were spending extra time with my pop, who I have always been very close to, and of eating everything he introduced me to. We still have a photo of me at six on this trip. In one hand I am holding a slice of pizza, in the other a Nathan’s hotdog, and I am simultaneously sipping on a soft drink (there was likely a knish hiding behind my back). My dad and I recall this photo often, as it truly captured my excitement early on for all things ‘food’. Little has changed.

Perhaps, today was my chance to return the favor to my dad. I set aside this day to have a daughter-father excursion into San Francisco. I picked him up in the morning and we drove to Jack London Square where we parked and hopped on the ferry to The City. The ferry ride was beautiful and I truly enjoyed sitting next to my pop outside on the top deck. We talked about past and present as the fog breezed past us. Our boat passed the Oakland docks, then under the Bay Bridge on its way into our fair city.

From the boat, we walked over to the San Francisco Ferry Building just before lunch time. I was excited to share some of my favorite food things with my dad. I grabbed his arm and pulled him over to a salumi stall called Boccalone and ordered my favorite; a Muffuletta sandwich made hot to order, which we shared. I was pleased to see just how much my pop was enjoying it. Good taste runs in the family!

We brought more food outside to a bench in the sun. We heckled seagulls and laughed, while we watched the ferry boats coming and going.

Before long, we were on the ferry heading back to Oakland (much sunnier on this leg of our journey). I drove my dad home and we gave each other a hug and a kiss goodbye. Our sweet day had come to an end.

I will keep this memory close forever. Some time carved out of my busy full-time working, mother-of-two life, just to be with my dad. This was a rare opportunity to share my city and my food with him, as he had with me so many years ago.

Face Slapping Natural and Other Adventures

Caleb & MateoChrissy FieldMy dumplingsNow that the title grabbed your attention, you’ll have to read the entire post to understand its meaning (unless you’re impatient and must scroll down, which technically is cheating)!

On Sunday morning, Mateo and I knew that we needed to get our collective butts out of Dodge and find a worthy destination. We headed over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and decided on a whim to spend the day, which was uncharacteristically sunny in early March, at Crissy Field in the Presidio.

On the way to the Presidio, we passed my favorite cheese store in the city, Cheese Plus. Screech, I pulled the car over and found parking in front of the store. After sampling several transcendent cheeses, we ordered delicious warm sandwiches filled with the highest quality meats and artisan cheese, and ate them outside at one of the cafe tables in the sun. A little cookie treat for dessert, then we headed off to Crissy Field.

Why we haven’t brought the kids to Crissy Field sooner, is beyond me. There are paths to walk, run, skate, bike, and scooter down, and plenty of beach access. It’s the breathtaking back drop that makes it especially worthwhile. The Golden Gate Bridge looms over the bay and was visible in almost every photo we captured.

It was getting late in the afternoon and rather than just head back to the East Bay, Mateo and I decided to keep the fun going and head out to the Pacific Café in the outer Richmond for dinner. I worked there almost 20 years ago and several of my old co-workers are still there. We were ushered in with the first seating and ate a satisfying seafood meal. The food there is so consistent – no fancy mumbo-jumbo…just fresh fish cooked to perfection. I love how unchanged the restaurant is, with its wood paneling, warm lighting, and most important – the free wine you get standing outside in line, befriending perfect strangers.

Pacific CafeAnya & SadieFollowing dinner, we drove down Clement St. and to our great surprise, found parking right in front of Toy Boat Dessert Café. Thank you oh benevolent parking gods and goddesses. Technically, there was no room left in our stomachs, but that didn’t stop us from sharing an ice cream sundae.

With bellies painfully full, we returned to the car and started to head back to the East Bay. While driving down Geary Boulevard, a storefront caught my eye and I pulled a sudden and startling U-turn, to see if my eyes had deceived me. Indeed they had not. There was actually a business titled Face Slapping Natural at Geary and Park Presidio. In the window (click on the photo below) was a difficult to decipher manifesto and photos of the owner. We passed on getting our faces slapped and headed back to our home.

This beautiful spring day ended on a most amusing note, and was filled with delicious family time, good parking karma, excellent food, and breathtaking San Francisco scenery. It was a day well spent.

Toy BoatSadie @ Toy BoatFace Slapping Natural StoreFace Slapping Natural 2

An In-N-Outing

In & Outing

Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year than with a family hike on a crisp winter’s day to Tennessee Valley in the Marin Headlands, followed by a well-earned round of double doubles at In-N-Out!

It has literally been seven years since Mateo and I entered an In-N-Out and after all of the smack-talk we give fast-food to our kiddos, we thought it was about time we chill out and introduce them to our happy medium. To feel like we could justify a 1,000,000 calorie meal, we first set out on a long hike on the Tennessee Valley trail.

I loved how Caleb and Sadie ran up ahead finding walking sticks to drag through the puddles and potential poison oak disasters to stumble into. The fog very soon burned off and the warm sun cut through the biting air. The lunch bell finally rang in the form of grumbling bellies and we headed back to the car and on to our final destination, In-N-Out in Mill Valley.

We ordered, sat down, and waited in great anticipation for our warm cheesy burgers of double double goodness, a chocolate milk shake, and fries (my order, of course, was topped with melted American cheese). When our lunch arrived, we each pounced and gobbled our food down in record time.

Now, I won’t say I did not feel lethargic afterward, but Mateo and I had fun sharing the In-N-Out experience with Caleb and Sadie. A good time was had.

Truth to tell, I needed some fun this weekend. Just this past week, I found out that a childhood friend had passed away. I’m attending his memorial tomorrow and perhaps the hike and the heavy meal was exactly what I needed to ground and brace myself for the emotional ride to come (or rather, to continue). If nothing else, my friend’s passing is crucial reminder of the need for a seize-the-day approach to life. A wake up call to be deeply grateful for the beauty and love in our lives.

Tennessee Valley Outing

A Black Friday Hijacking

It began with one of my Irish Breakfast Tea-induced manic states, leading to a split second decision to bypass the Black Friday insanity and head to San Francisco for a family food adventure. On Friday morning, I lured my groggy family into our Camry with the bait of a delicious adventure ahead, and some bananas to keep them sated until we arrived at our secret destination.

The sun was shining, no fog was in sight, and the Camry breezed across the bridge traffic-free. While the masses were fighting over mittens in the malls, we reminisced about our Thanksgiving meal in Sonoma the night before and how special it was. The food was exceptional and everyone seemed to be in good cheer as we squeezed around my sister Niki’s farmhouse table.

We arrived at 23rd and Geary and I parked the car. I could tell that Mateo was beginning to register our destination as Ton Kiang Restaurant  — a Hakka style Chinese restaurant featuring some of the best dim sum to be had in San Francisco. We walked through the front doors and as I was eyeing a tray of golden-hued baked pork buns, I heard Caleb say, “Hey, Kevin’s here!” Kevin, my brother, who I had just seen the night before at Thanksgiving, was sitting at a large table with my sister-in-law Rebecca and their good friends. This was one of those cool psychic meet-ups that you can never plan for.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before long, we were feasting on baked and steamed pork buns, ginger glazed foil wrapped chicken, shrimp dumplings, jook (rice porridge), and an assortment of other delightful dumplings. Our stomachs were now bursting at the seams and we had sampled much of what the restaurant had to offer…it was time to move on to the next adventure. Ocean Beach!

On this beautiful summer day in mid-November, we practically had the beach to ourselves. Mateo and I showed the kiddos where we met for the first time, which was right at the wall overlooking the ocean. We then walked to the water and plopped down lazily on the sand, where we made lame attempts at sand castle construction.

I then led the family on a this is where Momma grew up tour of the Richmond District, as Mateo rolled his eyes internally in the passenger seat (having received this tour one too many times). As we passed the elementary school I attended, I asked Caleb what he thought and he remarked “This isn’t a childhood I would want to grown up in.” He sees a very different San Francisco than the one Mateo and I experienced – one filled with dirty streets, cigarette smoke, graffiti, and impatient drivers quick to lay on the horn.

Before heading back to Mayberry, I pulled up in front of Cinderella Bakery on Balboa. This was a Russian restaurant from my childhood that specialized in delicious borscht, pilmeni soups, and piroshiki fried and baked. Clearly time has gone by because it is now a hip looking café, which thankfully still serves some of my favorite treats. Caleb and I bought a beef and cheese piroshki, frozen pilmeni (Russian dumplings to be cooked in chicken broth at a later date), and hamentaschen. As we drove home, I turned to Mateo and said “Ya know, pirshoshkis are basically just deep-fried beef donuts!” and we both laughed hard at the thought.

This was a Black Friday diversion worth remembering and just the type of family hijacking I enjoy orchestrating!

…Stay tuned as we cook up our pilmeni soup!

A Poem for Fall

A Poem for Fall 

by Mateo Soltero

breathing in

the damp scent of the season

we stand surrounded by

the high-piled displays

of colorful, textured produce

of Monterey Market

basil leaves and lemons

the delicate heirloom tomatoes

still on their vine

autumn produce – apples, pears, dark greens

outside is the annual mountain

of pumpkins – kids climbing all over

we sit back watching

watching Caleb and Sadie join

the patchless pumpkin patch

the October sun has cut through

the morning chill that floats

at the edge of the day

waiting to return at night fall

the public is out absorbing the season

and we are eating slices of Gioia pizza

earthy mushrooms and

sausage to make you speak Italian

the koi in the botanical garden beckon

and we lean over watching them swim

in captivating peace

the leaves are changing

Caleb is making music

gently on a set of small wind chimes

days like this

out with our kids, sampling life

they are magic

magic punctuated by

photo-worthy moments

we are as grateful to capture

as we are to experience

this life is our blank canvas

and we are leaving a trail

where we go

like paint strokes

like swaths of color across the day

Mission Possible

Our family awoke on Saturday with no particular plans for the day. Long overdue for a food adventure, we hopped on BART and headed for San Francisco’s Mission District. Mateo and the kiddos had never been to Tartine Bakery on 18th and Guerrero, and none of us had been to Bi-Rite Creamery. We had our Mission.

We arrived at Tartine and joined the long line of loyal worshipers, making conversation as the line drew closer to the long counter of countless baked delights. It was a simple decision…one double pain au chocolat, a bowl of bread pudding topped with summer fruit, and an artful latte to ooh and ahhhh over. We wanted to sample everything, but needed to save room for our next food destination. We were on a crawl. Well-sated, it was time to work up round two of our appetites. Off to the playground at Dolores Park, just three blocks away.

We walked past the San Francisco Mime Troupe (a permanent fixture at Dolores Park), up the hill past the taco truck and crowds of sun worshipers, and arrived at our destination. Perched on the top of the hill, the newly updated playground has a million dollar view of the San Francisco skyline. This is truly one of the best playgrounds we have ever discovered. Mateo and I were challenged to pull the kiddos away from the countless play structures when it was time to leave.

We headed back down the street, first to the famous La Cumbre Taqueria for an authentic Mission District burrito, larger than a newborn baby. Unfortunately, the food was a letdown. It would seem that they are riding on a reputation that was earned long ago, as our food was “meh” at best. However, it was hard to feel too disappointed with all of the wonderful food offerings surrounding us. It was time to crawl on to Bi-Rite Creamery for some soft-serve.

On such a beautifully warm San Francisco day, there was nothing more right than a swirl of chocolate and strawberry piled high on a soft-serve cone. Mateo placed Caleb on his shoulders, I pushed Sadie in her stroller, and we headed back to the East Bay with happy bellies and wonderful memories of our food adventure in one of San Francisco’s oldest and most colorful neighborhoods.

Oh Mexico

“Oh, Mexico
It sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun’s so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I’ll have to go now”

–James Taylor

Our family just returned from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. With the Pacific Ocean at our feet, the sun above our heads, and the lush mountains at our backs, we devoured our time together and all the delicious food we came in contact with.

We feasted on the freshest seafood (mariscos), cooled off with fruit filled paletas (popsicles), enjoyed mango on a stick, shrimp on a stick, juice from a coconut, flan, rice pudding, fajitas, guacamole, and the freshest salsa that tasted so right because we were eating it in Mexico…I could truly go on.

Caleb was particularly adventurous when it came to our food adventures. I’ve never seen him consume so many quesadillas and plates of coconut shrimp in his six years on this planet. Sadie was thrilled to have so many ripe avocados available to her. Mateo and I were clearly in food heaven too.

I can still hear Caleb and Sadie’s laughter as we all ran along the beach, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore below our condo, feel the sun on my face, and the bug bites on my legs. Our time together in Puerto Vallarta was muy delicioso!

Camping, Good Eats, and Ice Cream

Image

This past weekend, we took Caleb and Sadie camping to Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park in Sonoma County. For me, a huge fan of comfortable hotels or “glamping” at the very least, the highlight of our trip was stopping in at Michoacana Natural Ice Cream in Sonoma on our way home.

Now, I love s’mores, the smell of campfire, star gazing, and snuggling with my family in a tent (even though my fourty-something body vehemently resents the funky earth mattress we slept on all night), but nothing tops off a camping trip in hot weather like ice cream!

At lunch (we dined at my sister and brother-in-law’s restaurant, Creekside Café, which is fabulous), we asked our lovely waitress for a good ice cream tip and she pointed us to Michoacana, just down the road. What a discovery! This tiny, colorful, and brightly lit storefront, houses more ice cream flavors than I am accustomed to seeing under one roof (in both their ice cream options and paletas – Latin American fruit laden popsicles). It was clear that this was a local favorite, as evidenced by the crowd of happy ice cream consumers hanging around outside.

It was hot outside, but cool inside and we were eager to sit down with a refreshing frozen treat. Caleb ordered the lime ice cream, Sadie the strawberry, Mateo a combo of chocolate and Mexican vanilla, and I had the rum raisin paleta. Caleb isn’t much of a sharer when he’s really enjoying something and his fingers couldn’t be pried away from his ice cream cone. I did manage to get a lick in and his was lime-o-licious! Mateo, Sadie, and I; however, shared our delicious treats freely and emitted sounds of pure enjoyment in the process.

So, three recommendations I would make for your next family trip to Sonoma:

Camping at Sugar Loaf Ridge (a very family friendly campground, just 20 minutes from the town of Sonoma – our kiddos couldn’t get enough of wading around in the creek and catching tadpoles in their little hands): 2605 Adobe Canyon Rd, Kenwood, CA 95452

Breakfast or lunch at Creekside Café (their benedicts and pancakes are the tops or for lunch, try the Mayacamas burger or other savory treats named after my family members): 239 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, CA 95476

And, ice cream bliss at Michoacana (you’ll be amazed by all of the flavors to choose from): 18495 Hwy 12, Sonoma, CA 95476

Eating Pascal Tomini

In late April, I wrote a post titled Cheese Glorious Cheese about a fabulous cheese class that I participated in at the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley. I came away from that class with my very own cheese to care for, which I have done lovingly and diligently over the past month. I named my pet cheese “Pascal Tomini” as the style of cheese was a pasteurized, cow’s milk Tomini.

Tomini (sometimes called Tomino) cheese can be enjoyed fresh or aged. In Pascal’s case, we let him ripen for one month until he was surrounded in white bloom and looked like a proper cheese. Caleb and I had each taken turns flipping him over on a daily basis. At last we were ready to see what our cheese tasted like.

We were expecting guests over for dinner tonight and I thought it would be perfect to offer the cheese and some baguette slices as an appetizer. I prepared my little pet cheese on a plate and left it out for an hour until it came close to room temperature.

Once our guests arrived and had wine in hand, I brought out the cheese plate. Eager to taste my first cheese experiment, I placed a wedge of the cheese on top of a baguette piece and excitedly bit into it expecting to be wowed by the soft, creamy, stinki-ness of it all. Not so much the case! My cheese was lacking flavor, texture, and luster. Frankly, Pascal Tomini was a bore!

Our guests politely ate the cheese and commended our efforts. Caleb gobbled his wedge up, but I think he was more excited about the slice of baguette it was riding on, than anything else. Still, I was proud of myself for taking on my first cheese and caring for it for over a month until it was ready to be eaten. Next go-around, I would salt it more and let it ripen longer, but that’s why we throw out the first pancake, no?

What came of this exercise is that I’m no longer intimidated by cheese-making and am eager to keep at it. I look forward to involving the kids more and to experimenting with mozzarella, ricotta, and cheeses that need to ripen over time. For such a huge lover of ‘all things cheese’, it was exciting to finally make my own and really get my hands into it. To a noble first effort!

Dear French Laundry

It began with a good-natured letter to the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville.

Mateo and I had just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary and we made every attempt to honor our special occasion by dining at the French Laundry. Despite following the reservation protocol of booking two months in advance (only to get on the waitlist for several days), calling almost daily, even showing up on the day of with my hand-written sign hoping that we would come off the wait-list, we were unsuccessful in getting in.

We still had a fabulous and memorable anniversary celebration in the wine country. Once home, I sent a letter to the restaurant with a clip from my last blog-posting. Some expected that I would receive a call back from the renowned ‘temple of all things delicious’, but I wasn’t sure. Several days after putting my letter in the mail, however, I received a call from the general manager at the French Laundry!

He acknowledged our plight and asked if he could assist us in securing a reservation and before I knew it, I was agreeing to dinner at the end of the week. Babysitting lined up seamlessly. The heavens were aligning and we found ourselves giddy with excitement over our fast-approaching reservations.

On Friday evening we drove up to Yountville. Exhausted after a long week, we were running on the fuel of excitement and anticipation. Our reservation was for 9:15pm, so we did our best to conserve our energy and appetites.

We arrived early at the restaurant and sat in their lovely, enclosed garden until our table was ready. A host offered us complimentary glasses of French Laundry blend “Champagne” in honor of our anniversary and we sipped in the perfectly manicured garden, surrounded by flowers, candlelight, and others awaiting their special experience.

Once we sat down, much like our wedding day, time stood still and Mateo and I kept saying “We’re really here!” The service was first-rate, impeccable, and the food was, as I call it “chef-on-a-plate!” Artful, decadent, heavenly, and fit for a king and queen. We dined on lobster, caviar, oysters, foie gras (no issues here!) served with three types of exotic salts, a hen egg, pork belly, lamb, morels, handmade truffles produced by the restaurant’s own chocolatier, and “coffee and donuts”…all truly transcendent.

Toward the end of our four-hour dining experience, I explained to our host that we had made an attempt to dine there the weekend prior. I showed him the photo of me and the sign outside the restaurant and he was tickled, and gladly co-conspired to get a photo-op after our dinner.

At 1am, tired and well-sated, after feasting until the seams in our stomachs began to burst, we were led into the kitchen. Now, I was really in heaven! We met the executive chef (not Thomas Keller that evening), a visiting chef from Per Se in New York, and the supporting cast. They were sitting around on stools discussing the menu for the next week, sipping from cold cans of Budweiser (I shit you not!), all graciously taking turns signing our personalized menu. We snapped our photos, expressed our gratitude, and said our farewells.

Now, I have my opinions about the cost of the occasion, the inaccessibility of the restaurant to the common-man, and all the hype surrounding the place. Still, we had the time of our lives! We felt special, treated, and a little royal. I can now check “Must eat at the French Laundry” off my life-list. I am simply filled with the satisfaction of having had an amazing dining experience with the love of my life, in celebration of fifteen magical years.