Delicious Summer Getaways!

Whether your summer travel takes you to the ocean, the mountains or anywhere in between, making it delicious means taking full advantage of local fare and wine pairs!

Whether your summer travel takes you to the ocean, the mountains or anywhere in between, making it delicious means taking full advantage of local fare and wine pairs!

There is a currently airing television commercial that says “sometimes you find that you need a little down time to bring you back up.” Summer Get Aways aren’t just fun and relaxing, they are good for the soul. Of course, for me, it’s always about the local fare. I usually have our meals planned for any vacation even before the travel arrangements! Jeff had a pretty big birthday this spring, and my gift to him was a trip to Northern California for the US Open Golf Tournament at Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula. We love Pebble, Carmel by the Sea, the beautiful Carmel Valley and Big Sur. Years ago we spent a lot of time in this area, and I was craving a trip back and with Jeff’s birthday, the 100th Anniversary of Pebble Beach, the US Open, it just seemed serendipitous that this would be the perfect time to re-visit. And while in the neighborhood, why not spend of few days at Half Moon Bay on the way to Pebble and a few days in the wine country after the tournament? It was an amazing couple of weeks filled with fabulous food, incredible wines, celebrating with wonderful old friends, and toasting with new friends. I wanted to share our itinerary of our culinary and wine explorations along with recommendations to inspire your next trip to Northern California. Read all the way to the end for a few tips from my friend and wellness blogger, Cheryl Conklin at Wellness Central. Cheryl shares some great ways of Fitting in Self-Care and How to Feel Better with Any Schedule or Budget, including her number one tip, Get Away!

Let’s begin our adventure as we did, at Half Moon Bay!

Let’s begin our adventure as we did, at Half Moon Bay!

This beautiful stretch of Pacific Ocean located just south of San Francisco and northeast of the silicon valley is a little slice of “half moon” coastline heaven. A popular weekend getaway for Northern California city dwellers, this beautiful resort and Ritz-Carlton property offers golf, tennis, walking trails, fantastic dining all with stunning views. Fly into San Jose (SJC), an easy airport to maneuver and quickly be in your rental car and on the way to Half Moon Bay! By the way, “Do you know the way to San Jose? I’m going back to find some peace of mind…” (Vintage Burt Bacharach for the incomparable Dionne Warwick, circa 1968)

This quaint Bay Town offers a variety of culinary experiences, some with fabulous views. You simply can’t go wrong with any of the dining options at the Ritz Carlton. Navio (pictured above) and The Conservatory both offer gorgeous seaside views and fresh seafood and farmers market to table cuisine. The raw bar at the Ocean Terrace is also not to be missed. Just up the bay is Sam’s Chowder House. A waterfront seafood house with fabulous fresh seafood, salads, pastas and more, well known for their famous Lobster Rolls. And for a delicious Italian farm to table experience, visit Pasta Moon Ristorante where their passion for fresh, authentic cuisine shines through.

On to the Monterey Peninsula, as the fog rolls into Pebble Beach, making it a bit chilly for summer!

On to the Monterey Peninsula, as the fog rolls into Pebble Beach, making it a bit chilly for summer!

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After a delicious weekend of fresh bay area seafood, head south to the Monterey Bay Peninsula, one of our very favorite places in the world. Stunningly beautiful, home of the infamous 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach, the quaint and super chic Carmel By The Sea seaside village filled with art galleries, shopping, dining and so much more. The US Open was a spectacular event to attend especially since it was the 100th Anniversary of Pebble Beach. The fog rolled in however, and the air became quite misty and chilly! Our culinary itinerary included Village Corner in Carmel for a cozy al fresco breakfast by the fire pit, serving locals and tourists since 1948, an amazing Pizza Margherita at il Fornaio at the Pine Inn and who can resist the Treviso style Tiramisu for dessert? On to drinks and appetizers at Mission Ranch watching sheep graze in the meadow with Point Lobos and the Pacific as the backdrop, then dinner at another long time favorite, Casanova, in the heart of downtown Carmel, a European garden setting with contemporary & rustic cuisine and terrific wine list. Day two, you must take a drive down Pacific Coast Highway to experience Big Sur’s seaside cliffs and winding turns. For a super special culinary experience, Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn, situated high in the cliffs above the Pacific, is one you will never forget. The 4 course tasting menu paired with delicious wines and amazing views looking straight down some 1200 feet to the surf with floor to ceiling windows from your table is certainly not your everyday dining experience. Perhaps one of the best dishes I have ever eaten, the Abalone Appetizer (pictured below).

It’s time for the grande finale of this Northern California adventure…the wine country of Sonoma and Napa Valleys. We were treated like royalty while we tasted, paired foods and tasted again, all while enjoying the beautiful summer weather and glorious views of vineyards, mountains, gardens and we even got a little golf in! We had so many terrific experiences, I wanted to share a few of our very favorites. We began our journey at Alpha Omega Winery learning about processing and varietals with an amazing and professional (not to mention super fun!) staff of Oenologic and Viticultural professionals. Oenology, the science and study of winemaking slightly different from Viticulture, the agricultural element of vine growing and grape harvesting. Alpha Omega’s stunning Cabernet Sauvignons have received the highest acclaim including 99 points for 3 of their 2016 vintages which we were honored to have the opportunity of tasting.

Many thanks again to Kelly Carter, Director of Communications at Alpha Omega, and New York Times bestselling author! Super fun and beautiful day, not to mention magnificent wines and very special company!

The Jordan Winery Picnic Lunch at this incomparable Alexander Valley winery was simply fabulous! The food selection paired with the amazingly elegant, crisp and delicious, low alcohol Jordan Chardonnay amidst this beautiful property was incredible, then the desserts…oh my, paired with a rich and lovely low alcohol Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, silky, velvety and perfectly balanced, completed a glorious day of picnicing in Sonoma and the Alexander Valley Wine Country. We ended the day on the terrace at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley with a casual dinner watching the sun setting over the beautiful mountain ranges.

An afternoon at the Napa Valley Classic, Duckhorn Winery, is not to be missed. With wines for every season an every event, from date night at home to special celebrations with family and friends, the Duckhorn Family of Wines can meet every need. We had the honor of tasting several wonderful Duckhorn wines starting with their light, crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. Then came the parade of reds! Merlot’s from Napa Valley and Three Palms Vineyard, and lush, beautiful Cabs also from Napa Valley and Three Palms, then came The DIscussion, an amazing blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, French oak aged to perfection, this rich, complex and beautifully balanced wine is elegant, creamy and oh so delicious!

Thanks Geordy for being such a fantastic host! Dining options in both Sonoma and Napa Valley are limitless and amazing. This is truly a wine AND culinary destination, feel free to reach out for my entire list of favorites!

Photo courtesy Bistro Jeanty, Yountville, California

Photo courtesy Bistro Jeanty, Yountville, California

You can’t go wrong almost anywhere in the wine country with fresh and wonderful dining options. Everything is fresh and delicious and paired so beautifully with the areas fantastic wines. I could write an entire blog, book really, just with recommendations and information for restaurant, market and culinary experiences. A couple of our favorites to check out are Bistro Jeanty in Yountville and Mustards Grill in Napa. There is so much more to share, in another blog, another day! If you are heading to the area, please reach out. I am happy to help plan your itinerary and provide referrals and recommendations for your trip. Stay tuned for my next blog where we will pair several of my summer dishes with these and other, fantastic wines. Now it’s time to learn how important a delicious getaway really is for our soul from Cheryl Conkin who is so lovely to contribute to this week’s blog.

Photo by  Pixabay

Photo by Pixabay

Fitting in Self-Care: How to Feel Better with Any Schedule or Budget (by Cheryl Conklin)
Fitting self-care into your budget can be stressful, especially if you’re also pressed for time. Working a few new methods into your daily routine may seem overwhelming or impossible at first, but there are actually several simple things you can do to feel better. If you’re living with stress or anxiety, for example, it might be helpful to address those feelings and identify the source. Think about the types of changes you can make within your lifestyle that will help you relax, step back, and take a deep breath. Since stress can have a major effect on your body as well as your mind, it’s important to take steps to improve your overall wellness.
When you’re on a budget, it’s still possible to have fun and unwind; it just takes careful planning. You may not have the money to take a trip to Hawaii, but you could look for a destination a little closer to home and ask a friend or family member to go in on it with you. Here are a few tips on how to fit in self-care no matter what else is going on in your life.
Get Away
We all need to get away sometimes and de-stress, but being on a strict budget can often make your options feel limited. However, instead of packing up and heading to another city, state, or country, take a look around your own hometown for activities you may have missed. For example, if you live in Hilton Head, you could get away from home for a little while by renting a vacation property near one of the area’s many gorgeous beaches. If you’d like to skip the beaches and hang out in nature, Turnkey points out that Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge has 14 miles of trails just waiting to be explored, and you can easily find a nearby rental around Harbour Town. As you can probably tell, you don’t have to go very far to have a little fun!
Eat Right
Good nutrition is the cornerstone of self-care since it helps to balance both your mind and body. Eating right is all about finding healthy foods that you can work into your existing diet; this way, you won’t feel like you’re depriving yourself. Limiting those bad choices — such as refined sugars and caffeine — is also crucial. It’s important not to make big changes without consulting your doctor, especially if you are living with diabetes or another health issue. You don’t have to spend lots of money to eat healthily; there are simple ways to start that won’t blow your budget.
Unplug
It’s not always easy to unplug and get away from technology for a significant amount of time, especially if your work is done online. It’s crucial to put the gadgets and technology aside every now and then, as looking at a screen and/or sitting for several hours a day is bad for your mental and physical health. If you find it hard to get away during the day, start in small increments. Rather than taking a long break, begin with shorter moments at night by putting your phone away a half hour before bed. Not only will this help you relax, destress, and turn off the constant flow of information, but it might also help you sleep.
Take Up a Hobby
Finding a hobby is a great way to boost your mental health, and it can have a positive effect on your physical health as well, depending on what it is. Whether you want to learn how to paint or how to speak a new language, there are many things you can do to boost your enjoyment of life and your overall well-being at the same time. Try a free smartphone app or a YouTube tutorial when you want to learn something new.
Fitting self-care into your budget can often feel extremely tricky, but it’s not impossible. With a few small changes to your lifestyle and some creative thinking, you can turn things around immediately and start enjoying all those healthy benefits.
-Cheryl Conklin (wellnesscentral.info)

Many thanks Cheryl for these awesome recommendations! Stay tuned for more of the wine country with menus, recipes and wine pairings coming next week. Until next time…

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It's Grilling Season!

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Finally right?! Time to fire up the Barbie and get the table set out doors for summertime alfresco dining! Longer days and mild spring weather make for perfect al fresco dining and fresh, healthy and delicious meals right off the grill and just in time for Memorial Day Weekend celebrations! Whether you are Green Egg, Infrared Gas or traditional Weber Charcoal Grill Meister, we’ve got you covered with Fun & Simple menu ideas from grilled shrimp cocktail to slow roasted pulled pork shoulder, citrus glazed salmon to grilled corn on the cob.  And who can resist fresh grilled fruits for dessert?  When it comes to table dressing, I prefer a simple but elegant table.  Themed table clothes are fun with simple, clean white flowers and linens and some fun accents.  In our neck of the woods that might include palm fronds or sea grape leaves.  Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs always make nice table accents.  In the summer I love using lemons, limes and oranges for color with white table linens on top of sea grape leaves or in different shaped white bowls.  I do like using plates and flatware (rather than paper or plastic) but I do often use nice paper napkins, especially if the menu options are going to be deliciously messy! I don’t often let Jeff in the kitchen, but when it comes to grilling, he is my chef du jour! I do the prep, and he cooks everything beautifully!  Not only does the grill bring unique flavor to foods, it sure makes for easy clean up and who doesn’t enjoy eating outdoors whenever possible.  With Memorial Day and summer weekends approaching, having some new dishes to share with friends and family are not only a must, it’s just super fun!

Here is one of my favorite menus, straight from Fun & Simple Gourmet!  This steak is so tender, juicy and flavorful.  I’ve prepared the recipe for Steak Victor with flank steak and ribeye, both are equally as delicious.  Whether a special summer holiday, or just another weekend of summer fun with friends and family, this menu offers a different twist to traditional burgers and dogs but no more difficult to prepare.  Grilled shrimp cocktail, marinated flank (or ribeye) steak, tangy Mediterranean potato salad, grilled corn on the cob, finished with a delicious fruit crumble.  I like to serve a slightly chilled Pinot Noir from California with it’s fruity, earthy aroma and delicate flavor that does not overpower food with this menu.  Ribeye and butcher cuts of meat, like flank steak and hanger steak, pair very well with fruity younger reds.  A younger Cabernet Sauvignon would pair beautifully as well.  Grilling corn is so simple and adds texture and flavor as opposed to simply boiling it. Plus, if you are going to be on the grill anyway, so easy to just throw the corn on there too!  Just pull the husk back from each ear, far enough to remove the silk, but do not remove entirely.  Remove silk from the corn and rinse thoroughly.  Roll the husks back to the top of each ear and soak in a large bowl of cold water, 5-10 minutes.  Heat grill to medium high and lay the corn in its husk directly on the grates of the grill.  Cook 15-20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, until the corn is steamed through.  Remove husks and serve with herbed butter.  If you’d like the grill marks on the corn, simply place back on the grill after removing the husk and sear on all sides 1-2 minutes.

More options for fresh from the Barbie dining! Enjoy these menu suggestions, signature dishes and wine pairing recommendations to complete any al fresco menu in spectacular fashion.

One of my favorite grilled vegetables is this tangy Grilled Bok Choy.  It’s fresh and flavorful with a little kick in the sauce.  It compliments the Grilled Citrus Salmon beautifully with it’s sweet and tangy glaze.  And who doesn’t love pizza?  This Grilled Margherita is so fresh and delicious.  I love doing pizzas on the grill and when tomatoes are in season, this is my absolute favorite!  The crust cooks so well on the grill which also adds beautiful charred flavor and crispiness.  With fresh bufala mozarrella, parmigiano-reggiano and fresh julienned basil leaves, without a doubt one of the best grilled pizzas you will ever taste.  And of course, everyone loves a pulled pork sandwich with sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, crunchy cole slaw and ooey, gooey mac and cheese!  The pulled pork can be oven roasted of course, but a slow roast on the grill adds so much flavor with charcoal or wood chips, the trick is keeping the temperature inside the grill between 225-250 degrees.  When we are invited to a BBQ at someone else’s house, they always ask me to bring the Mac & Cheese and one of my fruit crumbles.  Click here for the Mac recipe, you will want to bring it to your next neighborhood BBQ!

Now, let’s talk about wine pairings.

For the Salmon…

I am partial to a chilled Rose’ it just screams summer! One of my favorite’s from California, the Decoy Rose’ a lovely blend of Syrah and Pinot Noir, crisp, dry and refreshing. It is also a welcome option for the tangy pork barbecue, though a smoky Pinot Noir, slightly chilled, is another great choice.

For the Steak Victor & Pork BBQ…

I highly recommend the Decoy Sonoma County Pinot Noir, with soft tannins and a hint of oak, which gives that smoky note, the perfect compliment to barbecue sauce.

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So, now you have everything you need to prepare a Fun & Simple Memorial Day Celebration! Wishing you a fabulous holiday weekend and even better summer! Stay tuned for more super summer meal planning & entertaining ideas, along with fun summer trip recommendations and travel tips. Now, go fire up the Barbie and get this weekend party started!

Happy Memorial Day…

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Simple Tips to Organize Your Kitchen from Soup to Nuts

January is always a great month to reset and get a little organized with a fresh new start to a fresh new year.  One of the best things you can do to enjoy cooking and being in your kitchen more is being organized. I am an organizational freak by nature, which comes in pretty handy, especially in the kitchen. People ask me all the time how I make entertaining look so easy and the answer is simply, by being organized. It doesn’t take that much extra time to plan in advance, in fact, in the end, planning and organizing saves time. January is also National Soup Month!  What’s better than soothing, healthy soups to warm your soul.  After the holidays, I’m always ready to hunker down at home, especially when the weather isn’t quite stellar. My Healthy Kale Minestrone is a hearty meal on its own. Packed full of fresh healthy veges, and finished with avocado and extra virgin olive oil, you will live on this one all winter long. I like to make a big pot on a Sunday, and then we have it to enjoy whenever we want, all week long. Just click on the photo for the recipe! Keep scrolling for more healthy and delicious soups to keep you warm this month! Now back to organizing!

Recently I did a little kitchen re-organization. My kitchen was in pretty good shape, but there’s always room for improvement. A few little changes can save a ton of time.One thing in particular was adding drawers to the inside of my base cabinets. Now rather than sitting on the floor to try to dig in the back of a cabinet to find something, I simply pull out the drawer and I can see everything that’s there and easily retrieve what I am looking for. This is especially helpful with heavy items, like my kitchen aide stand mixer.  I also added drawers to my pantry shelves, making it super easy to find things, especially on the lower shelves.

Which brings me to my next kitchen organizational peeve…expired foods.  How many canned items are in your pantry that expired 2 years ago, 5…even more? It’s crazy to think about, but the time goes faster than you think. Take a few minutes even once a month before doing your grocery shopping to go through your pantry and refrigerator to remove expired items. It’s also a great way to make a good grocery list.  If you stay on top of it, it only takes a minute or two. 

A few other helpful hints to keeping your kitchen organized and functional: 

1.    Buy dried spices and herbs in small quantities and discard after 3 months.

2.    Store garlic, shallots and onions in a bamboo steamer basket. It’s the perfect environment to optimum freshness and it helps keep the veggie bin in the refrigerator a little less cluttered.

3.    Use drawer inserts for flatware, cooking tools and knife drawers to keep everything organized, easy to find and uncluttered.

4.    Hanging pots and pans on a ceiling rack not only saves room in your cabinets, it makes them super easy to retrieve and put away.

5.    Using an over the sink cutting board saves counter space and makes clean up so easy, just push the waste right into the sink.

6.    I recently purchased an over the sink, roll up drying rack. So cool! Dishes, glasses and pots and pans drip dry right in the sink and when you are finished, it just rolls up and stores easily and without taking up much room under the sink.

7.     Finally, labeling is a fun and simple way to keep everything organized.

Some of my favorite organizational tools to help you get started!

A few more of my fun and simple soup recipes! They are warm, soothing, healthy and delicious! Simply click on the photos for the recipes!

Now, get in the kitchen, get organized, and make these wonderful healthy soups!  I hope you enjoy these healthy recipes as much as I enjoy sharing with you! You’ll find these and many more of my favorites in my latest lifestyle cookbook, “Fun & Simple Gourmet” at Amazon or iTunes for your devices!

In the meantime…

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Just Peachy Recipes for National Eat A Peach Week!

Peach Amaretto Crisp

Peach Amaretto Crisp

In honor of National Eat A Peach Day this week, I thought I would share some of my favorite sweet and savory peach dishes this week. I have had a wonderful summer in the kitchen creating new fun and simple recipes with all of the wonderful fresh summer fruits and vegetables, especially peaches.  They have been so incredibly delicious this year, and I have had so much fun with my favorite stone fruit. From peach waffles to a rich and hearty Bolognese, fresh salads, appetizers and desserts, so many delicious options for enjoying fresh summer peaches while they last.  I am thrilled to share a few of my favorites with you to enjoy with your family. Don’t forget to share and send me your photos!

I hope you are having a super fun National Eat a Peach Week! Time to pack in lots of summer fun during these last few weeks left before fall is upon us. What are your late summer plans? We have been enjoying the cool Colorado Rockies this month, especially the fabulous local farmers markets and fresh and delicious Palisades peaches while escaping the August heat and humidity on the southeast coast. Summer sure is going by quickly! Hope you enjoy these fun and simple peach recipes while savoring these last days of summer...In the meantime,

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Super fun birthday lunch at Sweet Basil, Vail

Super fun birthday lunch at Sweet Basil, Vail

You will find lots of my favorite recipes in my new lifestyle cookbook. Pre-order yours today!