Thursday, December 22, 2011

heading home for the holidays

A couple months ago I feared that I wouldn't make it home for Christmas. Flights are so expensive this year and I haven't adjusted to the fact that I live farther away from the Midwest again. When I lived in Chicago and flew home to Minnesota via the Minneapolis airport (which is one of the best airports, in my opinion), there were tens of flight options every day and they were all around a hundred dollars. The trip for two from San Francisco--ten times that. Ugh. I have never missed Christmas in Minnesota before, and although I know it will happen someday I'm just not ready yet. BUT my husband, thank goodness, has been earning airline miles in every way possible since he could carry a credit card, and he stockpiled them for a rainy--or snowy--day. And somehow we were actually able to find a flight that allowed us to use miles for the holidays. It was meant to be. I will be home for the holidays once again.

As I pack my things so everything is in line for our morning departure (no later than 4:30am), I want to wish you all the very merriest of holidays. And as you are surrounded by friends and family, you should try this wonderful, but addicting snack that was featured in the winter issue of Sweet Paul. It's divine.

May your holidays be filled with good food, great friends, and more love than ever. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

today i am thirty

Today I wave goodbye to the roaring 20s and say hello to a new era . . . sort of. I guess I have always felt like I am about 37 years old. I don't know why. Maybe because my 20s weren't all that roaring, and I really didn't mind. I like to spend my evenings at home and sit on the sofa, reading or watching something mindless on the TV. When I go out, it's usually for dinner and a glass of wine and I'm often home and in bed by ten or eleven. Or perhaps I'll go out for brunch or coffee or a walk around the neighborhood or a drive through the countryside. I prefer sunrises to sunsets and new days to late nights. Now, I frequently sleep in these days but that's because the sun is blocked from our bedroom. If the sun were shining in I would be ready to go. I think I was a farmer in my former life.

Although I am not a fan of the gray hairs that keep popping up and the little wrinkle growing in my forehead, I'm excited to leave that unsettled decade behind. It's filled with so much uncertainty and fear. And though I still don't know where my life will take me, I know that if I fall I can get back up again. When I fail, it's not the end of the world. And when I have those moments when I feel so alone, deep down I know that my family, my friends, and my wonderful husband will always be there for me. I'm pretty darn lucky.

Time to begin the happiest and healthiest decade of my life . . . until 40 comes along. :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

ram's gate winery

I have been living in California for about two and a half months now. I still haven't met many new friends but I am lucky to have been able to reconnect with an old friend, Michelle, who I have known for seventeen and a half years. It's hard to not know many people yet, especially with a birthday approaching (a BIG birthday), but all I needed was Michelle to give me the most special pre-birthday celebration. It was a wine tasting, spa day, gluten free cupcake loving extravaganza that started at one of my new favorite places, Ram's Gate Winery.

Ram's Gate is a new winery outside of Sonoma and it is breathtaking. I want to live here. Michelle and I even discussed how she could take one wing, I could take the other, and we could host joint parties in the great room. We like to dream. The impressive space was designed by the architect Howard Backen and interior designer Orlando Diaz-Acuzy. It is a beautiful scene of rustic contemporary furnishings with natural textures and warm light, bringing the vineyard landscape into the winery at every turn through the massive floor-to-ceiling windows and open-air seating with a grand fireplace. It has an incredibly sophisticated but completely comfortable atmosphere that makes you want to stay and try every wine on the menu. If I could, I would. The menu offers various sizes of wine pours, including a two and a half ounce tasting glass, which is perfect for me. Then I can have a variety, because two really is better than one when you're talking about glasses of wine.

In addition to the wines at Ram's Gate, they have some amazing small plate offerings. Their gluten free selection is somewhat limited, but the staff was so friendly and helpful and after a few back and forths between the staff, the kitchen and ourselves, they helped us order the eggplant dip with crudites instead of crostini. Let me just say that the dip was amazing! It had a lovely smoky flavor and was so incredibly creamy. I could lick that bowl clean, but instead, I licked the spoon. But then they offered to bring us more carrots . . . Even better!

I was sad to leave Ram's Gate but we still had a tour of sparkling wine caves (with samples, of course), lunch, and our spa visit on the itinerary. And Michelle made gluten free cupcakes just for me! It was the perfect pre-birthday celebration and I can't wait to start a new year of my life.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

burger night

I used to love to go out for a juicy burger topped with mushroom and swiss and a side of sweet potato fries. It's one of those meals you can get anywhere, from dives to upscale sports bars, and everyone has their own unique take on it. However, my fear of gluten cross contamination has made it impossible for me to order a burger. Sure they can make it without the bun, but most likely a bun has been on that same grill where they cook your burger once before. My cousin, who has a wheat allergy, requests that her burger be cooked on a piece of aluminum foil. Brilliant. I've tried to do the same a few times but most people look at me like I'm crazy. So I guess my best option is to try to recreate the experience at home, and maybe even try to make it a bit healthier at the same time.

I rarely make burgers at home. Heck, I rarely cook any meat at home. It scares me. I'm afraid of overcooking it and I'm afraid of undercooking it. But the truth is, I haven't tried cooking meat enough to get better at it. Time to change that. And I'm glad I did because that burger was yummy. Here's how you can make the same for your burger night . . .

Patty up the burgers and season them with a bit of sea salt, black pepper, and poultry seasoning. (I made my turkey burgers from a mix of ground turkey breast and ground turkey thigh meat.) Lay the burgers in a grill pan over medium heat and let them sizzle away. If you make a turkey burger like I did, make sure that the meat is fully cooked. Because I'm still learning, my meat thermometer is my go-to helper any time I try to cook meat. Just before reaching the fully cooked temp, top the burgers with some swiss cheese, so the cheese will get soft and gooey. After cooking the meat, my burgers were marbled in color because of the mix of light and dark meat I used. It looked a little unusual but they had great flavor.

For the mushrooms, I chopped a couple medium-sized portobello mushrooms (stems removed) and a small shallot and sauteed them in a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. I cooked them until they softened and added about 1/3 cup of Marsala wine. After the wine reduced, I took the mushroom mix out of the pan and set it aside in a bowl. Then I lightly sauteed some arugula to make a nice spicy, green bed for the burger.

And although I love sweet potato fries, I was completely out of sweet potatoes. Instead, I made some carrot "fries" by roasting some carrots in the oven, simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil.

It was a nice, quick, comforting dinner that satisfied my burger cravings . . . but left me wanting more!