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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Spring into Lighter Fare with these Fresh Spring Dishes & Wine Pairings

Ah, the joys of spring, spring showers, spring flowers, spring vegetables, spring pollen, well maybe not that one, and spring cleaning. Spring symbolizes new life, and rejuvenation, our senses become alive again with the scents of spring and longer days allow us to spend more time enjoying evenings outdoors and al fresco dining. March is one of my favorite months of the year. I love the warmer temperatures during the day, but still cool enough for a sweater or jacket in the evening, and the occasional spring shower, that makes everything green, fresh and bright! There’s nothing like the fresh clean scent of a spring shower.

Of course, for me, the newness of spring is all about the food. Spring is a great time to lighten things up with a more delicate fare after the hearty dishes of winter. I love cooking with fresh spring vegetables this time of year, sweet peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, asparagus, leeks, butter lettuces, fennel and arugula. Fresh herb pestos are also a great way to add depth to lighter dishes with a fresh spring flavor. Spring is also a fun time to explore new lighter wine varietals after the hearty dishes and more robust wines of winter. Spring salads, soups, entrées and wines feel somehow energizing and new. Here are some of my favorite spring wines paired with my fun & simple spring dishes like this month’s featured recipe on my Recipe Page, Spaghetti with Wilted Greens in a light and velvety sauce.

This spring try a light Sauvignon Blanc, which is produced from a green skinned grape originally from the Bordeaux region (France) though now grown just about everywhere wine grapes are cultivated. It produces a crisp, light bodied and fresh flavor, which makes for a perfect pairing with the fresh flavors of spring vegetables. In fact, a well-aged Sauvignon Blanc is said to develop aromas of spring vegetables like asparagus and peas as it ages.  One of my favorites is Decoy Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc from California.

 Another wonderful spring wine is Sancerre from the Loire River Valley.  Sancerre is similar to  Sauvignon Blanc, in fact it is a member of the Sauvignon Blanc family. Sancerre is produced in the Loire Valley, specifically the left bank of the Loire River. It’s medium bodied due to the minerals in the soil, yet delicate, floral and mildly acidic and pairs perfectly with goat cheeses, rich creamy bries, grilled fish, shellfish and chicken. 

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Pan Seared Halibut with Risotto Primavera & Sweet Pea Pesto, a delightfully mild fish, pan seared to crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside with creamy risotto and fresh pea pesto. Perfectly paired with a Sancerre from the Loire River Valley  with its floral mild acidity is a perfect balance with this mild and flaky fish, the complex flavors of the pesto and creaminess of the risotto. I’ve never met a Sancerre I didn’t thoroughly enjoy like the Domaine Fournier Les Belles Vignes.

Shrimp Provencal, shown above served with angel hair pasta, with fresh grilled shrimp in a luscious Provencal sauce and sweet pea & basil pesto, pairs perfectly with the Sancerre, though the versatility of this dish also pairs nicely with a Rose’ from Provence or even a nice chilled Pinot Noir.

The complex flavors of the Provence sauce including, fennel, garlic, lemon, tomato, capers and olives are perfect for the medium bodied Sancerre or the pale colored Grenache based Rose’s of the Provence with their notes of citrus and melon, crisp and light, usually produced with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault grapes. There are so many great ones! One of my favorites, Aix, a crisp and light wine with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. A few more of my favorite spring dishes…

Sweet Pea & Proscuitto Salad with Romaine, Butter Lettuce, Shaved Parmigiano & Proscuitto, a well rounded side salad to compliment any spring dish. Asparagus & Leek Soup, fresh, green, soothing and healthy! Paired with a crisp light Sauvignon Blanc.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint/Basil Pesto, succulent lamb chops with a fresh minty pesto, paired perfectly with a nice California Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend.  The rich earthiness of the lamb balanced with the fresh pesto calls for a bold red wine that’s not too heavy. One of my favorite blends is the Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and oaky yet perfectly balanced with the robustness of the Cabernet grape and lighter fruitiness of the Merlot.

Enjoy these Spring Wine Pairings and Fresh Fun & Simple Spring Recipes! Remember to send me your photos of my dishes and tag them #gigistyle #funandsimple to be featured! If you haven’t already, don’t forget to download “Fun & Simple Gourmet” at iTunes (click here) for your Apple devices. You can also order your hard copy edition here or at Amazon.com!

Wishing you all the joys of spring!

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Some of my favorite Wine Tools to help you enjoy exploring Spring Wines!

Tasteful Holiday Sides

I love my Le Creuset! It makes holiday cooking easy, fun and colorful!

I love my Le Creuset! It makes holiday cooking easy, fun and colorful!

So, let's make this Thanksgiving thing simple and fun! For me, it's all about the sides and the beauty is that most can be prepared in advance, and then just heated through when its time to serve. Really, once you get the bird in the oven, there is time to get everything else together AND spend time with your family, friends and guests and really ENJOY the day! I love being in the kitchen, and holidays having other people in the kitchen with me, enjoying a beverage, snacking, telling stories, laughing and just having fun! I like having a few appetizer snack plates available as the guests arrive.  Not too much food, in anticipation of a holiday feast, but a few light snacks. I also like to keep the "feast" simple. There is no need for so many dishes on a holiday table, keep it simple, fresh and remember, it's really about the company and the celebration!

My favorite part of a Thanksgiving meal is the sides. I like to go with a theme, and then select sides that compliment each other. This year, there is such an abundance of fresh figs, I put together a rustic Thanksgiving menu for us utilizing these sweet little gems, along with my standard staples, like my Ciabatta Cornbread Stuffing (Jeff's favorite) and Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce

I know I said that the sides were my favorite part of Thanksgiving, but I am a big fan of a bite of something sweet to make a festive meal complete! This year for us, my Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake, Georgia Pecan Tart and a moist and delicious Fig Cake with ginger, walnuts and a lemon scented glaze. Please reach out for more recipes, I'd love to hear from you!

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Now, let's talk about wine pairings. We always begin with champagne, it's just a wonderful way to start a celebration. When it comes to pairing wine with a holiday meal, especially with turkey, I like a nice medium bodied Merlot. With its easy tannins and soft finish, Merlot doesn't overpower food, making a fabulous pairing with a holiday meal that usually has many diverse flavors. One of our favorites is this lovely Duckhorn Merlot, comprised of 90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc, aged in 100% French Oak barrels.   

 

Wishing you and yours a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We have so much to be thankful for! Cheers to good health, much happiness and a simply delicious holiday celebration! 

Can you believe Christmas is literally 5 weeks away! Stay tuned for delicious food and wine pairings to get you through the holiday season! Until then...

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