Posts Tagged ‘tasty food’

This Thanksgiving, we spent our time at home. It was nice to have 4 full days off with no real obligations! We made big changes for Jameson, which I’ll share soon, and spent Thanksgiving dinner at Brian’s parents.

At grandma’s house, Jameson has duplicate versions of his loveys at home. So there are two blankets and one bear, just like at home. Our blankets at home though are getting a little more ratty than these… Jameson loves to lay his head on the soft blankets.

Jameson is becoming quite the demanding little toddler, but his grandparents and Aunt Melissa don’t mind! When he said “sit!” they sat.

Time for dinner! I broke out the bib that I bought for him last year, which he never got to wear since I forgot it then.

Jameson enjoyed stealing green beans from grandma’s plate. He was a pretty good sport about trying most everything but the turkey, and he particularly loved grandma’s homemade cranberry relish.

Dinner was early enough that there was plenty of time to play after.

Jameson wanted to help re-inflate the beach ball…

Which they used to stand on.

The best games are at grandma and grandpa’s house, for sure.

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This week, at the very end of October, we had 70 degree weather. It was beautiful! I’m just sorry I missed seeing Jameson play outside all week, since I was away at a conference in Chicago. At the least, I got to enjoy similar nice weather there.

Last weekend, it was typical fall weather. I decided to take advantage of the empty lots around our house with their wonderful changing leaves before they were all gone. I’m pretty excited with how the photos turned out, and you’ll never believe that I’m holding Jameson’s hands in the close up pictures to get him to stay still. He thought it was all a hilarious game, which made for some awesome — though hard to get in focus — photos.

Jameson was running with one hand in his pocket naturally. He had a rock he picked up that he put in there. Also, his jacket is a little too short for him now from this spring, but the thickness and width of it are perfectly appropriate for fall, so we continue to use it.

That’s my little boy!

We also enjoyed pumpkin carving last weekend, though Jameson wasn’t sure about it. We decided to do it on the floor, so he had good visibility to what was going on.

We tried over and over to get him to reach his hands in the pumpkin, but he played hard to get and barely reached in. He would try to get at one seed instead of a fistful like mom. He wasn’t sure about the texture and temperature of the pumpkin seeds.

First I drew the face on the pumpkin (which I messed up the tooth, but Jameson didn’t care). Then Brian did the carving honors and we removed all the seeds and created the lid. Finally Brian did the face while we watched.

Jameson did like putting the lid back on the pumpkin!

When the pumpkin was finished and light shone through, Jameson was less intimidated; and when he dropped a sticker in it, he happily fished after it, reaching all the way in.

Neither Brian or I love pumpkin seeds, but I did save a few to bake for tradition. I tried a new recipe which I am pretty happy with. You bake the seeds as normal with a little salt, and then you caramelize them with sugar and oil in a skillet. Once the sticky sugar coats the baked seeds, you toss them in spices as you choose!

A lovely fall weekend, with more to come this weekend as indian summer leaves us today and probably for the final time. I am looking forward to seeing Jameson in his costume, going to Boo at the Zoo, and being back at home after a long week away.

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It was about a month ago now, but we did step 4 of our wine making process. Soon we will be transferring it to bottles!

Before anything, we tested it and tasted it. It was very distinctly wine now, and pretty clear even before this step!

In the background is one of the beers Brian is brewing (hence the nice golden color)

Here was our set up to transfer the wine into the next glass jug, leaving the sediment behind to further clarify the wine.

Transferring the wine like this is called racking. We were careful to leave the sediment behind.

Then, we added in metabisulphite and some extra wine to top it off. To age the wine more than 6 months, we needed to add a metabisulphite powder to prevent the wine from oxidizing.

The extra wine was added because we needed to be at this level in the jug:

And that’s it! It’s ready for bottling after 14-21 days from this step, and once bottled, we can age it for 6 months to a year or more.

Here are our previous steps:

Step 1: Primary Fermentation

Step 2: Secondary Fermentation & Step 3:  Stabilising and Clearing

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We debated about stopping at one final winery in the morning before leaving for Big Basin, but since the drive was so long (2-1/2 hours), we opted not to. Instead, we had a final omelet breakfast, spent an hour packing our “souvenirs” (yes, an hour, which you will see why at the end!), and then were on our way.

Why Big Basin? I did quite a bit of research on the redwood forests nearby; and while I really did want to go further inland to see the true giants, we didn’t have the time. Big Basin was my compromise to seeing more of the trees without taking too much time out of the trip.

The drive to Big Basin was a heart pounding affair along raised highways and heavy traffic back around San Francisco, followed up by the windiest, hilliest, most nauseating mountain road I have ever been on.

Was it worth it?

Well, the trees were bigger than Muir Woods. They were a touch less picturesque (though that could also be from the time of day), but they were obviously older and in more of a traditional wooded park.

They were also much wider than Muir. I have always wanted to hug one of these trees.

We did the Redwood Loop Walk, an educational short walk by the main park entrance.

With no further plans for our final day, we decided to head into Santa Cruz so I could see and walk in the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, like our journey to Muir Woods, the way out was less nauseating than the way in.

We stopped at Parish Publick House for lunch (thanks to another successful Yelp search), where I had the best Shepherds Pie I have ever had outside of Ireland (and maybe including). Brian had the Irish Dip, a special sandwich like a French dip with an Irish cheese and Jameson dipping sauce.

They had an extensive beer list, and Brian was excited to try Deschutes Hop Henge and Black Butte, both of which he enjoyed. For myself, I enjoyed the casual atmosphere, pool playing in the back, and the simple wildflowers placed in Lagunitas mason jar glasses on the tables. The rustic flooring was charming.

Santa Cruz was beautiful on the nearly cloudless day. We walked down the pier though and the wind made it pretty chilly. The pier is long, and midway through, there is a staircase down a level, and there are sea lions, basking in the sunlight! I had to take a video as another sea lion swam up and greeted the others.

At the very end of the pier, I looked out at the ocean and then straight down, and I saw this:

More sea lions, lying across a single plank of wood all along the end.

We walked back and walked along the sand up to the amusement park along the boardwalk.

(Proof I was really there)

We didn’t ride any rides, though it was a crowded and happy amusement park; I did get some ice cream though.

The sun was starting to go down, so we drove up to the lighthouse for a final sightsee before making our way to the airport and home.

I was pleasantly surprised to capture some surfers, hopping over the fencing for us tourists, ignoring or maybe just taking to heart the warnings about being cautious, as this place has seen many surfer’s deaths.

Then it was time to turn our backs to Santa Cruz and toward the airport.We did one final stop when we got gas. We didn’t get out of the car, but I had fun seeing the google maps “placemarker” and their street sign.

We were taking the red eye out of San Francisco, so we had plenty of time to eat dinner and have another Buena Vista Irish Coffee before our flight.

We arrived home early Tuesday morning, and I worked from home that day, unfortunately. Meanwhile, Brian unpacked our souvenirs.

All of that made it home successfully on the airplane, no breakage. 6 mason jars, 6 wine glasses, and if I’m counting correctly that is 7 bottles of beer and 9 bottles of wine (one of which had been opened and re-corked without spilling).

Brian was the master of that packing, and the key was packing a suitcase within a suitcase on the way there, surrounded by bubble wrap. Glasses were carried on, alcohol was checked in. The handheld weight meter that Brian’s parents loaned us was a help too. We hit the exact limit on both checked bags.

Mastermind, I tell you.

And there you have it, the end of our 5 day long trip that felt more like 7 or 8 and somehow left us feeling rejuvenated despite the exhausting walking and travel. Thanks, California, it was fun!


P.S. If you were wondering in all this how many times we called to check on Jameson, the answer is really just once. And we were told he was singing “ee ii ee ii oh”, seeing family at a bridal shower, and keeping his grandparents busy. If it wouldn’t get me in trouble, I would say that I didn’t miss him much at all, simply because I was confident that he was having a blast without us.

Though I also know that the last Monday and Tuesday at daycare, he asked for mommy and daddy a lot throughout that day. So maybe he missed us too.

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Our first winery for our first and final full day in Napa Valley was Schramsberg, known for their sparkling wines even up to the White House!

We had a scheduled tour which took us back into their caves and through the finishing process. I had no idea the amount of effort involved in wine-making, particularly sparkling wines.

Don’t worry, that’s natural moss growing up there, not any kind of spider web. Though it really was revolting.

The sparkling wine process is complicated, and I’m going to butcher it if I try to repeat as our fabulous tour guide did. The wine is in the caves to ferment, and the pressure in those bottles can reach incredible heights. If the bottles have a weakness, he said, the pressure will find it and burst the bottles. Which is why they have sections of the cave covered in canvas at the peak fermentation period, to protect us tourists.

In some spots, there were bottles missing from those types of mishaps, and they replace the bottle with cardboard or item of similar size.

To keep the sediment rotating in the bottles, there is a complicated and time consuming process called riddling. They have a machine now that does riddling mechanically, but some bottles are still rotated regularly by hand on racks like these:

And the mechanical riddler:

Likewise, while they use mostly mechanical labelers now, there are some bottle that still require labeling by hand. There are two women whose job this is, and they use this old equipment that’s been the same for ages:

Following our enlightening and educational tour, and with a new appreciation for sparkling wine, our small group sat down in a room together around a large table for our tasting.

Our guide demonstrated the best way to aerate sparkling wine or champagne, which is not to swirl it around but to roll it on the palm of your hand.

He poured our tastings quickly, but not to get us to move faster; instead, he said that we should taste the wines at different temperatures. Allowing the wine to warm up a bit would introduce new flavors. So we were encouraged to try each wine again and again as it stood on the table.

I also enjoyed the fact that the table was made of an old riddling rack covered in glass. It was very charming. We enjoyed lingering over our glasses before leaving.

Our next stop was to a bit more touristy but highly recommended winery (simply for its looks!): The Castello di Amorosa.

The Castle Winery parking lot was separated by grape vines, so I was excited to get up close and personal with some grapes for the first time this trip.

The castle itself was very authentic looking, though newer than any real castle would be! We did not take a tour here, but we were able to walk around the outside in inside courtyard without it. The view from the castle was also amazing.

In addition to wine tasting, they also offer grape oil tasting, and I was surprised to find that I could taste a difference in the different varieties of oil. The wine tasting was not spectacular, though we had just been spoiled at the attention and thought we received at Schramsberg.

The tasting room was open and bar like, but our bartender did not really speak to us about the wines we were drinking. While you can’t get their wine anywhere else, and we enjoyed their Merlot, Cab Sauv and sweet wine, we still left without any bottles. We were satisfied with the beautiful setting and were glad we came.

It was near time for lunch, so we decided, at Brian’s parents’ suggestion, to stop and buy a lunch to picnic with at the geyser in Castiloga (a region in Napa Valley).

We stopped at St Palisades Deli for sandwiches, and arrived at the geyser minutes before it went off.

We ate our sandwiches (which were fabulous, by the way), and then stopped at the goats. The Old Faithful Geyser of California has a collection of goats, including fainting goats.

We did our best to try and get the fainting goats to faint, but they weren’t surprised.

(This is not a fainting goat)

Our next stop was Sterling Vineyards, which is more well known. They have an air tram lift (similar to a ski lift) to their winery.

We were told that the scenery from the winery is beautiful, and that was true.

The tastings at Sterling are done in a gradual fashion, along your walk and “self-guided tour” around the winery. It was casual and well done, and I enjoyed walking around with our glass of wine.

Since we only paid for the base tastings, we were able to taste the basic wines. At the end though we enjoyed Malvasia Bianca, a sweet wine only available there. It was good palate quencher.

All in all, Sterling was worth the views, though we didn’t anticipate the time it would take to wait in line for the lift to and from the winery itself.

We following Sterling with a visit to Rombauer, which we had some difficulty finding because it was on the opposite side of the road from what we expected.

Rombauer was recommended to us the prior day by a couple who came to Napa Valley specifically to visit. We enjoyed it, and particularly their Zinfandel which she paired with a bittersweet chocolate (my favorite part, obviously).

The winery itself was quaint. It had a nice view and small gardens with sculptures, and it wasn’t very crowded though it was smaller.

With the day nearly ending (or at least, the part where wineries are open), we decided to visit V. Sattui.

V. Sattui was the most crowded place we had been to yet, but it was beautiful. They offer a deli and a huge assortment of cheeses. So as not to ruin our dinner, we opted for a sausage stuffed mushroom, which tasted like pizza without the marinara and bread.

Because their tasting room was so crowded, we decided to get a bottle and eat outside.

Despite the crowds, we were still able to find room outdoors to sit down and eat. We got a bottle of their Zinfandel, which we enjoyed enough to try and bring home the rest of the open bottle on an airplane.

Our bellies satisfied, we left for downtown Napa to find a place for dinner.

Before dinner though, we did find a tasting room in Napa still open when we arrived. Waterstone at Oxbow

So close to closing time, there weren’t many people in the room. I loved their recycled glass counter tops in particular. One thing I noticed was that this tasting room offered an opportunity to buy by the glass, instead of just tastings and bottles. We hadn’t seen that anywhere else.

We shut that place down and left to cross the bridge back to downtown. I could see as we walked up and down the street lots of tasting rooms for yet another kind of experience if we had had the time.

In downtown Napa, there is a small micro-brewery (leave it to Brian to find those), so we decided on one more stop before dinner.

Downtown Joe’s offered a tasting of their entire lineup, which we had to try. I enjoyed their great raspberry ale.

It was finally time for dinner, and by this time it was prime eating hour, so we had to wait for about a half hour before being seated at the Bounty Hunter. We waited outside at a table, so it wasn’t any hardship on this beautiful evening.

It was dimly lit and dark outside at this point, so we don’t have any (good) photos, but they had simply amazing BBQ and offered 3 sauces.

We split a dish of pulled pork brisket and ribs, and the cole slaw was excellent. I am not a BBQ person, but to me, this was exceptional food.

So ended a wonderful day in Napa Valley, from tours to sightseeing to downtown, touristy spots to those less traveled.

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After Muir Woods, we drove to Russian River Brewery. Brian told me just this weekend that their Pliny the Elder might be his very favorite beer ever, so I’m sure it was a thrill for him to be able to try the entire line up they had available at their brewery and restaurant.

Many of their beers are not sold to anywhere outside the brewery, let alone outside California.

I did help Brian sample the beers too, so don’t be worried that he drank 18 full tastings all by his lonesome.

Also, we ate.

They are known for their pizzas, and this one entirely met that expectation. And as for the beers? I enjoyed many of them; particularly and surprisingly, the sour beers, which are fermented in old wine barrels that you could see through a window just past our booth.


We had one more brewery to hit before we finally began the wine leg of our vacation: Lagunitas. They are unexpectedly located in a corporate business park; and I was shocked as we walked back that there was a backyard, party-like atmosphere.

As they told us on their tour, they’re getting big enough that they are no longer a small micro brewery any longer.

Brian shared a story, which they repeated on tour, about one of their brand new tanks that was lost at sea and needed to be remade and resent from Europe.

My favorite part of Lagunitas was the beer glasses, which were large mason jars. We took 4 home, and I love them for regular drinks too. I would replace my entire glassware with these, that is how much I love them.

Everything seemed timed perfectly then for us to be on our way and arrive in time for one of only two scheduled winery visits.

This first winery was at my insistence. I was concerned, while looking online for places to visit, that we wouldn’t be surrounded by vineyards anywhere. I wanted to sit by vineyards, and it seemed like so many tasting rooms were in downtown areas.

(I needn’t have worried, since there were plenty of vineyards everywhere; though this one would still top in terms of scenery from most)

Cuvaison was intimate and small but not too small, even though it was by appointment only. As Brian’s parents warned us, if you go too small, then you may feel obligated to walk away with a case. This one wasn’t that small and we just walked away with two bottles.

We chose to sit outside surrounded by vineyards, despite the wind that day. With jacket, scarf, and wine, I was comfortable. Our sommelier was very knowledgeable, and we received 5 tastings of great wine.

It was a great place to start our winery tour in Napa Valley, and we were in no hurry to leave.

Next up was Peju Province, and I confess that my first impression was that this winery was pretentious; but wine continued to flow, was pretty good, and I adjusted my impression. I liked Peju.

Peju offered standing group tastings, which was different than our relaxed, individual attention at Cuvaison. Everyone was nice and having a great time; we met a couple there who suggested a few other wineries to visit, of which we went to one the following day.

My favorite wine there was their Fifty Fifty and their Provence. The Provence is a combination white and red wine, which reminds me of Catawba wines from Put-in-Bay, but not as sweet. We sampled 9 wines in a half hour.

We decided there was time to stop at one more tasting room before heading to check in to our hotel and get ready for dinner, so we went to a tasting room right off the road called Cosentino.

We opted to share one tasting between us, and there I enjoyed the Cigarzin (which we came home with) and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Throughout my wine tastings in Napa, I determined that Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite style of wine right now. Almost every one I tried, I thought was exceptional.

A special offering to the group next to us who had been there a while was “The Poet,” and we requested to try it as well, for fun.

The wine was from 1985 (the year I was born, as Brian reminded me a few times). There was sediment at bottom, and it was almost gold-tinged around the rim, but it was actually not too bad. Aged wines this old don’t have good consistency, so some bottles are good, and some may as well be vinegar. This, however, was decent.

The tasting at Cosentino was casual, and I was happy to have enjoyed that day 3 totally different experiences, from an intimate setting, to a scheduled group, to casual at the bar.


We arrived then at our hotel, and I was very impressed. We stayed at the Napa Valley Embassy Suites, and it had a big center outdoor courtyard with a lovely swan and mother and baby ducklings! It was a like a resort. In the mornings, it even offered an omelet bar, included with our stay.

We had dinner reservations at Brix, and Brian was sweet to share that it was an anniversary celebration for us (3 years!). They also gave us a seat with a view out into their gardens.

Our chocolate creme brulee (which I didn’t even know was possible) was divine.

Thus ended our first night in Napa Valley, which had so far lived up to all my expectations and then some.

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Last weekend was a party weekend! On Saturday the 30th, we went to an old co-worker-friend’s surprise birthday party! Frank was turning 50, and was totally in shock. It was also fun to see other old friends from those days when I was the intern dating the full time employee… those were the good old days ;)

Jameson mostly ate pineapple and pretzels with the salt scraped off of them, and played with another empty bubble container. (That was fun, walking into the house with all those people and emptying a brand new bubble container)

He was great for the most part, until the end. Then we commandeered a stroller from one of our friends for him to settle down a bit, and he was entertained by their daughter. They played the “dropsy” game over and over again. At least, Jameson did, and Abigail obliged!

Sunday we were excited to fry another turkey for a party at JP and Lisa’s house. Friends Rob and Christina came up from Florida for another visit, so we were very excited to get all the boys together again + the new lady miss Vivienne!

When we arrived, everyone was already there. At first, Jameson was extremely shy. I was surprised, since I assumed that since he was in daycare, he would naturally be more outgoing. But he has a definite stranger awareness now, and he didn’t remember our recent visit, or the activity scared him at first.

Within about 15 minutes, he was collecting toys to stack, and within the hour, he was playing with the other boys.

(Kitchens are full of good toys. I liked that JP and Lisa let Jonathan get into the cupboards like Brian and I do for Jameson at home. This totally occupied them for 15 minutes)

I will say that for a few small exceptions, Jameson is a very good toy sharer. And even though he was afraid of the baby, he gave her her toy back after she lost it and cried out, pointing at it.

A note: One of the most valuable lessons we took out of sign language class were learning that babies and toddlers don’t understand sharing. What they can understand is taking turns, and that is what we’ve emphasized (not using the work share) in dealing with Jameson sharing. And since he frequently changes his mind and moves onto something else, its very easy for him to give up his turn for a little while.

Here is Vivienne, showing off her two bottom teeth. She’s just couple couple months shy of one year old, can you believe it?! She loved the ball, and she also enjoyed hanging onto a little car. She’s a pro crawler now.

Well, there was a turkey being fried somewhere during this time but I only got the finished product:

Jameson sat nicely on the table for about ten seconds before he wanted to walk around and eat, so we brought him on our laps. He enjoyed the fried squash (yellow; if it was green, he didn’t want it).

Jonathan however ate at the table, and he very much enjoyed the turkey…

After dinner, Bobby and Jonathan soaked themselves in the sprinkler, but Jameson wanted nothing to do with it. I was disappointed, though it was kind of ironic since Jameson was the only one in a swimsuit.

Jameson was more interested in rocks, and the slide.

Jameson’s gotten very good at the slide. He can get his legs out from beneath him now without help, and goes down without hold anyone’s hand (most of the time). A recent daycare report said he went down the big spiral slide they have in the gym all by himself!

After everyone was dry and inside, we decided to take some group photos. Last time, the boys were happy enough to lay on the ground for our photo.

This time, we were simply impressed they were all sitting still, let alone smiling! Lisa was a brilliant attention- and smile-getting clown; she was fabulous.

I cranked my ISO way up for that shot so I could capture it in natural light; but I’m not too happy with the grain. Next time I’ll bring my flash for sure, but it still turned out great. Please note that last time, Jameson was the only one missing pants, but this time he was the only one with pants! One of these days, we’ll all the get the right pants memo.

And next time, we’ll be sure to get these shots with Vivienne in them too; unfortunately, they had to leave before we thought to get a group shot!

We followed the shots of the three together with the adults, but that was much less successful.

The ladies were better at it ;)

Also, I totally cheated for that smile. I tickled Jameson’s armpits. He’s ticklish there, and it works for a smile without fail most every time.

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