Unwinding upvalley (Napa that is)

Ahh wine country in the summer.  Not a bad spot to escape from the rat race for a few days, and for me it’s especially nice that I don’t even have to get on a plane!   Here are a few of our regular stops around here:

* Wine tasting of course is the main event in this part of the world, and there are a ton of places to check out.  There are wineries with world-class art collections, a gondola, a medieval castle, impressive caves, cheese pairings, bocce courts, movie memorabilia, picnic areas, private reserve tastings and a lot more.   We are not wine tasting this week, but don’t worry – we are enjoying plenty wine with our friends while we cook and attempt to tone down our inclination to be constantly busy.  That said, we do get out for:

* Biking! – crisscross the vineyards on sleepy lanes that link Highway 29 to the Silverado Trail which hugs the eastern edge of the valley.   Our friends did 11 miles with their 5 year old yesterday.   We say lovely – definitely maybe tomorrow…

* Old Faithful Geyser – one of only three regular geysers in the world, this one spews scalding water 60 feet in the air about every 30-40 minutes.  Pause at the seismograph in the vestibule to ponder recent local shakes (hmm), and don’t forget to feed the Tennessee Fainting goats (really!). http://www.oldfaithfulgeyser.com

* Petrified Forest –  A fascinating and peaceful traipse through the cool forest past a collection of humongous redwoods felled by a 3.5 million year old volcano – amazing!  We never make it through the gift shop without a fossil, a geode or a bag of pretty rocks for the kids’ collections…  http://www.petrifiedforest.org/ 4100 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga


What we’re cooking:

* Salmon on the grill   * Couscous with sundried tomato, fried capers, toasted pine nuts, sautéed zucchini, calamata olives, parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper  * Arugula salad with cubed watermelon, feta cheese, mint, pepper, lemon and olive oil

* Flank steak with chimichurri sauce   * Sauteed red kale with garlic, raisins, crisped bacon   * Salad of chickpeas, roasted red peppers, capers, parsley, preserved lemon, blanched green beans, good olive oil, splash of balsamic, pimenton, sea salt

* Grilled chicken and lamb chops with harissa, greek yogurt and lemon slices    * Spinach bolani from the farmer’s market * Heirloom tomatoes with Humboldt Fog cheese, pine nuts and fresh basil


More deliciousness:

OK as much as I live to cook – it is vacation and we do make it out of the kitchen sometimes as well.  There are some truly great spots to dine around here.  I love the restaurant at Auberge de Soleil, French Laundry, Tra Vigne, Bouchon Bakery and there are still a bunch on my destination list of course.  Here are our faves from this week:

Goose & Gander for outstanding cocktails in a gorgeous garden, delicious bar snacks and really excellent food.  I had an epic cocktail, the “Scarlet Gander” and do not miss the fried olives, bone marrow and corn croquettes.  They have live music on Sunday afternoons in the garden too: http://www.goosegander.com/ 1245 Spring St  St Helena

Busters Southern BBQ – great ribs, chicken and my favorite kind of small chopped cole slaw for take out: http://busterssouthernbbq.com/

Gotts Roadside – famous for burgers, but I love the ahi tacos and a gorgeous glass of wine at this “burger joint” on the highway.  So yummy and fun to enjoy at your picnic table while the kids do cartwheels on the lawn – a heavenly way to spend a summer evening: http://gotts.com/ 933 Main Street, St. Helena

Solbar at the Solage:  I have a standing annual dinner date with friends here, and have always had a great evening.  Be sure to ask to see the bar menu in addition to the regular dinner menu.  This week I feasted on the “Happy Pig” – a giant pot of outstanding roast pork to wrap in crisp lettuce cups with all kinds of exotic fixings like pickled pineapple, sesame pancakes, roast peanuts, mixed herbs and chilis and a fantastic dipping sauce.  http://www.solagecalistoga.com/  755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga

Sadly foggy windy 57 degree San Francisco is calling me home, but at least I got in my hot weather fix, some fierce games of bocce and Marco Polo, finally caught up with Downton Abbey (ugh, kind of bitter about that cliffhanger), and even found some time to do nothing, nothing at all…


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