Ardenwood Farm Adventure


Last weekend, our family paid our first visit to Ardenwood Farm in Newark. What I should be asking myself with a critical finger wag is, “What took us so long!? ” Ardenwood is a not-to-be-missed outdoor family destination. Just across the road from several big-time offender fast food chains, this pristine property is truly a century’s leap back in time. It stands in stark contrast to the modern world surrounding it.

The farm was originally owned by the Patterson family from the 1850s and continues to grow the same kind of produce that was farmed in the region in the last 100 years, utilizing agricultural practices from that time. The centerpiece of the property is a grand and well cared for Victorian home (not pictured), which housed the family for three generations. They have since bequeathed the farm to the City of Fremont and it has been operated by the East Bay Regional Park District since the 1970’s.

We didn’t have a chance to tour the home on our first visit, but we traversed the grounds and attended a Monarch butterfly puppet show, followed by a walk to the Eucalyptus grove on the property. There, we were surrounded by a colony of deep orange and black winged beauties. Our group, made up mostly of families with young children, stepped tenderly through dark green clover in the cool shade. Occasionally, we would pick up a shivering butterfly and walk it carefully over to a sunny patch where it would be lovingly released. Overhead, hanging from the Eucalyptus canopy, we spotted clusters of Monarchs with the help of telescopes provided by the guides.

We will return to Ardenwood in spring when the property is sure to be flourishing with new growth. We’ll also get a chance to ride the train — currently in hibernation — through the property. In the depths of winter, our family needed a day like this to connect with nature and with each other.

Majestic Beltane Ranch


Everywhere you turn at historic Beltane Ranch near Glen Ellen in the Sonoma Valley, your eyes feast on countless photo opportunities.  Following our Thanksgiving meal in Sonoma this year, our family returned to Beltane after visiting at this time last year.

Autumn is on full display in all of its kaleidoscopic glory and I was feeling giddy and snap-happy with my Nikon throughout our stay. More sweet family moments and enduring mental (and actual) photographs than can be counted.

The crisp fall air filled with smoke from a wood-burning fire in the main house. Deep orange ornamental persimmons hanging from leafless trees. Morning mist intensifying the beauty of everything it washes over. Luke the massive Black Labrador dropping a slimy tennis ball at your feet at every opportunity and then blocking any attempt to pick up the disgusting thing and throw it because you know your role in Luke’s world.

Heavenly homemade breakfasts with ingredients sourced from Beltane’s organic garden and hen house. Warm and amiable guests to chat with around the large wooden family table. I am so enamored with this magical place, I dream up ways to own it or recreate it in another location.

Endless opportunities to hold hands, lay on a hammock, swing from a porch bench, kiss your loved ones on their heads while wrapping your arms around them – never, never wishing to let go. This is a family tradition I could get very accustomed to.

Images of Autumn

imageA happy accident landed me in Calistoga for the weekend. A Saturday morning stroll led me to the Calistoga Farmers Market. Markers of my most beloved season abound.

Nuns hawking baked goods, rustic bread, artisanal sausage, gorgeous seasonal produce. Locals greeting one another with warm embraces and the latest news. Just-made exotic food scents wafting down the aisles. A live bluegrass  soundtrack. This is something special. This is autumn…
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Dear French Laundry


In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, one of my favorite posts…

Originally posted on Cooking with Caleb (and Sadie!):

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…

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A Delicious Beta Test

Cheese boardBy now, you have likely noticed that I’ve almost completely hijacked what was to be a charming blog about cooking with my children and turned it into a big old flaming cheese themed me-fest! Well, hang in there…Caleb and Sadie will soon return. In the meantime, allow me to tell you about a delicious experiment.

Several weeks ago, I held a small event in my home and called it an Artisan Cheese Pop-In. I invited a handful of cheese-loving guinea pigs to help beta test an idea I’ve been incubating for far too long. For years, I have dreamed about starting a small business that offers food-themed workshops (not specific to cheese), both hands-on and informational, creating an inviting and inclusive environment around a family table of sorts.

Intimidated by business plans, loans, and lease agreements (not to mention big, scary leaps of faith and potential bankruptcy), I’ve kept my idea safely on the back-burner, until recently when I decided to just hold a gathering and launch the concept in the comfort of my home. What the heck.

So, I asked my guests to ‘bring to the table’ a selection of artisan cheese that they could tell us about, and a story or two about food memories from childhood. Culture Magazine was kind enough to donate a stack of recent issues and I had some of my favorite cheese books on display for good measure. Jesse Rogala, a talented local photographer and founder of Left Shore Photography, was onsite to capture the event. And capture it he did with just the right energy and mood.

My friends not only contributed a delicious and distinctive selection of cheese, but also came equipped with personal food stories that when told, brought us all a little closer. I supplied some of my favorites: Fourme d’ Ambert, Le Secret de Compostelle, and Epoisses, and accompaniments such as acacia honey, figs from our tree, olives, apricots, and plum preserves. Oh, and wine of course.

For me, this was not intended to be a cheese party – a two hour slot to eat cheese, sip wine, talk, then move onto the next event. It was an attempt at putting my ideas out there to see what it feels like and how they would be received. I feel successful and proud for having taken this first step, and I am grateful to those who took part. If you weren’t invited to this one, I am confident that there will be others!

Photographs by Left Shore Photography (Jesse Rogala)

Land O’ Cheese at Outside Lands

IMG_1832-1.JPG Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of sardine-packed concert venues, large crowds, contact highs, and Jumbotron-sized speakers blaring bands that I’ve never heard of. Schlep into San Francisco on a bone-chilling, foggy day only to be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of intoxicated young adults. Not so tempting. However, sweeten the deal with an opportunity to volunteer for Culture Magazine and be surrounded by an impressive selection of cheese for an entire day, not to mention be in the entertaining company of Lassa Skinner, the owner of Culture Magazine, and her merry band of cheese passionistas, and I could be swayed.

I’m grateful to Mateo for taking the kids around the city, while I spent the day volunteering at Cheese Lands, pretending I was a cheesemonger for the day – slicing and prepping cheese, then assembling enticing cheese plates for the masses of surprisingly sophisticated palates wandering Outside Lands. As long as I was within the confines of the cheese booth, surrounded by great people and copious amounts of amazing cheese, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. IMG_1833-1.JPG IMG_1830-2.JPG IMG_1835-0.JPG

Gorilla in the Mist

Caleb at Gorilla

Last weekend, with a day wide open for adventure, our family spontaneously made for the coast to the often fog-cloaked town of Pacifica. I’ve been hearing much buzz about Gorilla Barbeque, a small operation housed in an abandoned freight container. Clearly a local favorite, we joined the long line of shivering, yet loyal masses – those willing to brave the fog and crisp coastal breeze for a plate of ribs (and other barbecued meats such as brisket and pulled pork) and sides that warm you from the inside out.


Caleb was so excited to order his helping of ribs that he spent our time in line rehearsing his order and bouncing it off me for feedback “I’ll have the kid’s special of pork ribs with a side of corn-on-the-cob! Does that sound right Mama?” Confident that he could deliver his lines without incident, I set him loose on the young, unsuspecting woman behind the counter. Before long, we were exiting the freight container, down the stairs and headed to a grove above the parking lot, bathed in…wait for it…fog.

Hungry and expectant, we sat down at a funky, rag-tag table and hurriedly opened our individual orders. In record time, we were making lip-smacking sounds and licking our fingers, while devouring perfectly seasoned pork ribs, slathered in award-winning barbeque sauce.

It’s rare that Mateo and Caleb get as excited about food as I do, but something about expertly made warm ribs devoured on a chilly day, made for their idea of a perfect culinary experience.

We will most definitely return.