Monday, December 8, 2014

Cook Smarts

It was sort of an accident that I discovered Cook Smarts. Bill was away on a golf trip back in October and I had extra time on my hands. I was thinking about meal planning and was positive that there must be an app out there that helps with this matter. My goal was to find something that would give me ideas for dinner that are fairly easy, healthy, and use fresh ingredients. So over to Google and a quick search of "meal planning app" gave me this article from lifehacker. Cook Smarts was the first on the list and I never got any further. At first I was a little's not actually an "app" but a website. That explains why I couldn't find it on the App Store.

Anyway....I LOVE it! Every Thursday evening, I receive 4 new recipes for the following week. 

They are easy (check!)...links are even included to instructional videos on such things like 'how to cut a butternut squash'. 

They are healthy (check!)...nutritional info for each meal is included and there is even an option for each recipe to be made as gluten-free, paleo or vegetarian.

And they use fresh ingredients (jackpot!)...I'm telling you I will never buy bottled salad dressing again now that I know how easy it is to make my own.

Oh and huge bonus...meals are seasonal! This makes me very happy!! Lots of pumpkin and squash influence in the fall, comfort food in the winter, and lighter fare like salads and grilled items as the weather gets warmer.

I could go on and on about the huge archive of meals, the grocery list feature, the prep you can do ahead to save time.....oh, and the clean website layout, social media groups....I'll stop now. It's probably best to just go explore yourself. 

Here are a few dinners I've made recently.

Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches with Pureed Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup

Oven-Baked Salmon with Lentil, Mushroom, Spinach Cream Sauce

Cumin & Coriander Chicken Tacos with Sliced Radishes and Guacamole

Cheddary Shells with Chicken and Broccoli 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Videos by Burberry and Kate Spade

This year I've noticed a trend of short festive videos by some major fashion brands. It's the perfect platform for showing off all those sparkly holiday gifts. Looking at static images is one thing but putting them in motion suddenly makes everything more appealing. 

Two of my favorite designers - Burberry and Kate Spade - created videos this year. They couldn't be any different from each other but both capture the magic of the holiday season.


Starring Romeo Beckham, this film is dazzling and dream-like. Who wouldn't want to dance around in a gorgeous dress with a Burberry cashmere scarf wrapped elegantly around your neck. It's all beautiful people and beautiful clothing.


Kate Spade's video stars Anna Kendrick. It's cute and quirky and follows her and her adorable dog as they pass the time on their front door stoop after getting locked out. Luckily, Anna was returning home from a shopping spree at Kate Spade and had lots to entertain herself while waiting for help including a bottle of champagne.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A New Addition

Welcome to your fur-ever home Sylvia!

This past weekend, we welcomed a new addition to our family. It was a little emotional. I still wasn't quite ready after our loss of Daisy this Labor Day. But Sylvia needed a home and we had a loving home to give. And you see, she was also already a member of our extended family. She belonged to Bill's grandmother who unfortunately was no longer able to care for her. So we've opened our home and our hearts to this little bundle of fur. It's been a very long time since we've lived with a young and super energetic kitty...she never sits still!

Bella has been so unbothered by this whole thing. Occasionally she'll be like 'Oh, there's another cat in the house. Okay.' And then curl up on the couch and sleep.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Last Stop - Mill Valley/San Francisco

The last day of a vacation is always very sad and this trip was no exception. We checked out of the Milliken Creek Inn (goodbye to our beautiful room!) and slowly worked our way to San Francisco. It was just as well since we had a 6am flight the following day and well if you know me, you know I don't function that early in the morning.

We took the craziest drive to the city. I'm talking back roads through farms, winding up and over mountains, and one stretch where I swear the enormous trees were straight out of a fairytale. 

This is along the Bolinas Lagoon on the Pacific Coast Highway. That blur on the left was the fog. 

The view out into the lagoon.

The fog behind me at the lagoon. Now I understand why Karl the Fog exists.

Mount Tamalpais was on our 'checklist of fun' and let me tell you I was not prepared. It was incredible. I literally gripped my seat as we drove up to the top...think narrow, winding roads with no guard rails and huge drops off the side. But the pay off at the top was so worth it. These pictures don't even do it justice. If you're ever in the SF area just go see it yourself.

I see you San Francisco! 

Panoramic view...if you look really close you can see the city in the center of the picture.

The Bay...The City...The Fog

High above the fog. It looks like a big cushy pillow.

Karl the Fog insists on being in every picture.

Hi Billy

We couldn't leave the area without seeing some California Redwoods so we checked another box and stopped at Muir Woods. It was so touristy but pretty nonetheless. 

The descent into the Woods.

Hello redwoods! You are so tall!

As it approached evening, we had to come to terms with our trip ending. We still had a few hours in the city to enjoy. And as many times as I've been to SF, this was the first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge. How is that possible?

Approaching the Golden Gate Bridge.

It's no wonder you're famous!

Goodbye California! We'll be back someday!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Other Valley - Sonoma

The way I've always heard everyone talk about Napa and Sonoma I thought they were worlds away. As in two separate vacations far away. But the reality is that Sonoma was just a 30 minute drive from where we were staying. It was a no-brainer that we would spend some quality time exploring the wineries and the town.

Before we began imbibing (again), we felt the need to do something active so the drinking would feel like a reward. Our Uber driver recommended a place to hike called Overlook Trail. I'm not exactly an outdoorsy person - as in the fleece-wearing, backpack-toting type - but I'm okay with the occasional casual hike. So I was onboard with this idea until I saw the sign at the entrance: "Beware of rattlesnakes". What??!! Immediately I became quite a miserable participant (sorry Bill). I don't think I said a word the entire time because every one of my senses was in high gear listening and looking for snakes...ugh!!

At least the view from the top was really pretty.

To calm my snake-riddled anxiety, I insisted on some shopping and lunch in Sonoma. What a cute little town!! I was good and mostly just browsed. The only exception was I bought some lavender and chamomile concoction from an eccentric local women who swears this will help my migraines. 

We got so many recommendations to eat at The Girl and the Fig but the wait was two hours - for lunch!! I'm not even sure where we ended up but it was good...a grilled tomato and brie sandwich for me.

After lunch, I was getting eager to hit the wine trail since it was our last day in the area. We tried to visit Kunde Family Estate but as soon as we walked in we did a u-turn and went back to the car. The multiple tour buses out front should have been a tip-off to the craziness inside.

Outside Kunde Family Estate

I didn't get any photos but the best winery we visited was Loxton Cellars. It was the opposite of every other we had been to. The tasting room was in a big garage, there was no fancy estate or grounds. The owner and winemaker was onsite pouring wine and signing bottles. The wine was so good that we joined their wine club. They don't sell in stores so getting it shipped to us was a necessity. 

Our final stop was Ledson Winery and Vineyards. It was a great way to end our tour with a visit to the beautiful estate and a sampling of their red wines.

The beautiful "Castle" at Ledson.

I would be okay with this showing up under my Christmas tree.

Dinner in Sonoma just wasn't going to happen on a Saturday night without a reservation. Even the nice people at Ledson tried to get one for us. It was just as well since we ended up back in Napa and sat outside on the river at Fish Story.

The moon rising over the river at dinner. It was much prettier in person!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Napa Valley - Part II

Enormous bottles of wine. 

Day two started out just as early. By 10am I had my first glass of wine in hand. Can't every day begin like this? Maybe we should all trade in our morning coffee for wine. But I learned my lesson and paced myself so I would last through the day. We took a tour at Silver Oak and then sat in the morning sun finishing our glasses of Cabernet. 

Our first selfie together.

Silver Oak Winery - The sky was really that blue...every day.

Billy drinking his morning vino.

Next up we were off to Sterling Vineyards. I really wanted to steer clear of the big, touristy wineries but we served Sterling wines at our wedding and since it was our anniversary it seemed like a must. The grounds were so pretty and we had to ride a gondola to reach the winery at the top of the hill. It was a bit impersonal with TV monitors welcoming you and ushering you through a self-guided tour but it was quiet and we were able to leisurely stroll through the property stopping for tastings along the way. 

Billy drinking again at Sterling.

We were pretty well behaved for the morning but it was still time to take a break. Downtown Calistoga was nearby so we drove into town, browsed through some stores, and had lunch at the Hydro Bar & Grill...turkey burgers and lots of water. 

Fed and rehydrated and we were off for more wine! Chimney Rock was recommended to both of us by many people so that was our destination. The location was beautiful and the wine great. Unfortunately, the staff was less than impressive. It was very clear they worked on commission and their openly competitive and catty behavior was a big turn-off.

Sunset was early...around 5pm. Through another recommendation we ended our day at Domaine Carneros. The Chateau sat high up on a hill and they served wine outside on the patio where there was a great view of the sun going down.

The Chateau at Domaine Carneros.

I liked this place...they were very generous with their pours.

For dinner, we were super boring and headed back to the Oxbow Market. Bill loves to go to the same places over and over. The compromise was that we could go to the market but we had to eat at a different place. We agreed upon Kitchen Door and enjoyed pad thai and spicy noodles in the warm, cozy open-kitchen space.

One of the best things about going back to the room? Our jacuzzi tub, L'Occitane soaps and a cute rubber duckie.

Coming up next...Sonoma Valley!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Napa Valley - Part I

View at Frog's Leap Winery

We're back home from our wonderful vacation in Northern California. I really do think that Napa is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I've ever visited. After lots of wine, amazing food, a spa visit and some good sleep, I feel so refreshed and relaxed.

We got in pretty late Wednesday night. With the time change it felt like midnight to us. We stayed at the Milliken Creek Inn and Spa. It was heaven! Upon opening the door, we were greeted with glowing candles, a crackling fireplace, the smell of Alora Due (I've had Isola in my home for years), and soft music playing. The music became an instant hit with us and luckily I discovered it was a CD by Jacqui Naylor. We were so tired but equally hungry so we dragged ourselves out to the Oxbow Market and settled on some pizza and wine (of course!) at Ca' Momi.

On Thursday - Happy 10th Anniversary to us!, we started at Cakebread Cellars where we did a tour and tasting. There's nothing like sipping wine at 10am! From there we wandered over to Frog's Leap Winery. They were closing for a private function but were so hospitable and let us stay for as long as we wanted.

Our chicken and rooster friends at Frog's Leap

After way too much wine for the morning, it was time to take a break and refuel with some lunch. My Aunt Dev had recommended Oakville Grocery and we had spotted it on our drive that morning. We ordered turkey panini's and kale salad and ate outside on the picnic tables.

Refrigerated drinks at Oakville Grocery

I would have happily taken home everything in the store including these glass jars

Since I overindulged too quickly that morning - oops! - we had to call it a day on the wineries. But that was okay because we had appointments at the spa for a couple's massage. It was the perfect way to undo my wino ways. And it was a good thing because we came back to our room to this...

Champagne and chocolate covered strawberries...cheers!

And because the day wasn't perfect enough already, we ended our anniversary celebrating at the beautiful ├ętoile Restaurant. It was such a special day and here's to the next ten years!

Part II of our trip coming tomorrow...