Blackened and most memorable

I stopped by our local Hallmark Shop last week for a couple of sheets of fancy-looking Thanksgiving-themed paper. Actually, it’s the sort of pretty paper used to print party invites on. I use them to handwrite our holiday menus. Our daughter, Katie, has the artistic flair in the family, so she has handwriting duty.

Every year we audition a couple of new recipes for the holidays along with our favorite tried-and-true dishes. The menu this year kinda looked like this: hickory-smoked turkey with horseradish applesauce, mixed greens and goat cheese with bacon-wrapped figs, homemade orange liquored cranberry sauce, citrus-glazed carrots, sourdough dressing with sausage and dates, sweet potato rolls with honey butter, mashed potatoes and gravy … and for dessert pumpkin cheesecake tart and thick-as-mud chocolate pie. It all tasted as good as it reads … except for … well …

This year I’ve decided to make some notes on the back of the menu like who attended the Frantz family festivities and a couple of memories of the day. Yep, memories like the sourdough dressing with sage-inspired sausage and dates (the recipe called for figs) was the best stuffing ever. And where have bacon-wrapped figs been all my life? Oh, and the delicious pumpkin cheesecake tart from her new Smitten Kitchen cookbook our daughter crafted from scratch that almost wasn’t. Katie didn’t like the thinness of the pumpkin part of the recipe and almost threw the whole thing in the trash. Thanks to our new son-in-law the tart was saved.

Did I mention there was a very important football game on while the finishing touches were being put on the Turkey Day meal? It was the Texans vs. the Lions. We had survived one tense overtime just the week before. Would we survive another? The citrus-glazed carrots were on the grill when the game went into overtime. And you know how long “overtime” sometimes takes in a football game? Let’s just say it was way more than the four to six minutes needed for adding grill marks to carrots.

One of the reasons we make up holiday menu cards is somewhere between the blessing and going through the buffet line, I run a reality check to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. One year a batch of rolls got left in the oven for a week because I just forgot them.

“Where are the carrots?” I remarked in alarm.

Two sets of eyeballs opened wide, my husband and son-in-law, as they realized they were still on the grill. Let’s just call the citrus-glazed carrots this year’s most blackened and memorable dish. Funniest thing you’ve ever seen! It further lightened the Thanksgiving mood as family stories would soon make it around the table.

In a few days I’ll make my way back to our local Hallmark shop. I need some of that pretty paper for makin’ Christmas menu memories.

For Pinot’s sake

I learned there are several ways to approach visiting California wineries. One popular way is to reserve a seat on a limo/bus and travel to a bunch of wineries in one day without getting arrested for playing bumper cars on Highway 29. You can find plenty of limo services on the web that, for a fee, will drive you around all day. Our daughter-in-law did just that for our son’s birthday this year. They had a blast! Oh, and they were so snookered by lunch they fell asleep on the grass during one of the winery stops. Yep, and nearly got left behind by their limo driver. I asked if they took any pictures of the wineries. They figured the camera would get lost, so they left it home. Smart kids!

With only one day to get the teeniest sip of wine country, we considered the limo approach, but opted for just picking one winery that included a tour. We actually were in the area to visit our Air Force son, who is today deploying to scary parts of the world, and our lovely daughter-in-law. With a French oak barrel full of possibilities, how in the world does anyone pick a winery? That was the twenty dollar question. Our oldest daughter and new son-in-law came to the rescue. They had just gotten back from their honeymoon in Napa and Sonoma.

“I went to yelp.com and Hendry Winery had lots of great reviews,” Katie said.

She knew her engineer/dad would love George Hendry and his approach to winemaking. I mean how often does one get to be in the presence of a dude that is passionate about wine and also designs cyclotrons for Pinot’s sake? George is also a physicist. I liked that Hendry wine (www.hendrywines.com) is made of grapes harvested from the 140 acres of grapes planted on the estate. Oh, and the bottle of Hendry Pinot that Katie and Chad brought back to us certainly helped sealed the deal.

The tour/tasting lasted 2-1/2 hours. They do them twice a day. Be sure to reserve in advance. It was $40 per person (fee waived with equivalent purchase) and included an educational tour of the vineyard, where they made and stored the wines, and a seated, formal tasting. Katie indicated a “seated tasting” was a little unusual for Napa/Sonoma and she thought we’d enjoy it better than hangin’ onto a bar for dear life. Did we ever!

Somewhere between their unoaked Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir, I was feeling warm and a tad lightheaded. It’s probably why I couldn’t tell you whether we sampled six, seven or eight different wines. We were taught to swirl and sip and it was all good … especially the Pinot Noir. We noticed the difference in taste and color of the barrel fermented and unoaked Chardonnay. Of the 12 bottles we bought, and they conveniently shipped home to us, three were Pinot Noir. We are saving them for a special occasion. What the heck, we’ll uncork a bottle this weekend. Weekends are special, aren’t they?

Not enough time in California Wine Country

My husband and I recently returned from our first visit to wine country. Our reason for heading to the Sonoma area actually had nothing to do with wine. But we managed to squeak in a couple of days just the same. Before our visit, I bought a book about everything you ever wanted to know about the area and then got thoroughly confused. I asked everyone I knew for recommendations and decided there were just too many choices for the two short days we would be hangin’ there. What follows is where we wound up!

North of Santa Rosa is a quaint little town called Healdsburg. It has a lovely town plaza surrounded by wine tasting shops, boutiques, nice restaurants, two dynamite bakeries, a memorable art gallery and even a tiny quilt shop called Fabrications. We lingered the longest in the Oakville Grocery, bookstore and kitchen shop!

We didn’t have a huge amount of advance notice when we booked the trip, so I was a tad concerned about finding nice accommodations. The B&B we chose was actually our third choice, as two other options were full. The Haydon Street Inn (www.haydon.com) was built in 1912 and restored with the perfect mixture of old and modern. It far exceeded our expectations. The Victorian mansion is a five-block stroll from all the action in the town square of Healdsburg. Our hosts were John, a former executive chef from Churchill Downs in Kentucky, and Keran. Can this guy cook!!! We stayed in the huge Cottage Suite. Separate from the main house, it has a claw-footed tub and modern shower and lots of lovely touches.

Every morning John cooked up an amazing three-course gourmet breakfast for guests in the main house. The cold raspberry soup, grilled grapefruit and ham/cheese omelet were my favorite. In the evening there is a reception with local wine and snacks. Did I mention that John built a pizza oven in the backyard? I know … I had to do a double-take when I saw it. You should see him hand toss that pizza dough. My favorite pizza was the pesto topped with cheese and artichokes. Are you drooling yet?

We soon learned restaurants require reservations and Keran made them all for us. We loved Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar (small plate fare to share … loved the lobster rolls), Ravenous (teeny tiny place with amazing food/great desserts) and Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar (www.zinrestaurant.com) touts farm fresh at your table. Oh, and we also ate lunch at The Girl & the Fig (www.thegirlandthefig.com) in Sonoma after hitting a winery tour in the morning. Loved it!

Come back next week. I’ll be writing about the winery tour/tasting we took!