Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Navigating Napa: Top 5 Winery Recommendations

First of all, let me preface this by saying that if you're going to Napa, you really can't go wrong when it comes to winery tours and tastings.  All of them are unique.  Each place has their own character and flair.  There's really nothing NOT to like.  All you really need to tour is a car, a map, and a listing of wineries that don't require appointments.  And a designated driver, of course.

 The circled wineries are the ones we visited during our 5 days.  
There were, um, a lot.

[Aside:  We only went to the wineries that didn't require appointments.  I'm not sure what the difference is, but if you're not into planning and scheduling every moment, then this option is for you.  There are a TON of wineries that you can just walk right in and do a tasting.]

Oooh, and another tip:  If you are with a group of people, you don't have to each buy a tasting flight!  We figured out pretty quickly that most staff will let you split a tasting, thus saving on your cost...and your tipsiness.  You're welcome.

1.  Sterling Vineyards:   This was one that had been recommended to us, as it's unique because there's an aeriel tram that takes you up a hill to the winery.  The wine wasn't that great (pretty mediocre), but the location and scenery and experience are well worth it.  This one was also a little off the beaten path.

Who knew?

2.  William Hill Estate Winery:  Funnily enough,  I had a glass of this chardonnay with my Mom the night before we left for our trip!  And then I had much more some at the resort the day we arrived.  AND THEN we discovered it was right down the street!  So this was a must-see.  It was worth the visit.  We actually meant to go back there, buy a bottle of wine, and sit outside.  It was gorgeous.  Their chardonnay is my new favorite.


3.  Darioush:  This was another winery we found randomly and decided to stop.  Of all the (many) wineries we saw, this one was, by far, the most gorgeous and ornate and breathtaking.  It was simply palatial.  My chintzy pictures don't do it justice.

4.  Raymond Vineyards:  This one was the funkiest of the bunch.  Very artsy and modern and COOL.  (Although my husband wasn't a big fan of their reds.)  We had fun taking pictures at this one.

5.  Artesa:  This was one that had been recommended to me more than once.  It was another one off the beaten path, but oh so worth the trip.  With gorgeous 360 degree panoramic views and a pretty cool gift shop, I would definitely recommend seeing this place.  (Disclaimer:  I didn't have any of their wine because by that day, I was all wined-out.  True story.)

All in all, it was definitely a fabulous trip and I'm happy to help others out (as they helped me) with vacation planning to Napa!  Now when can I go back?!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Navigating Napa: Restaurant Recommendations

It honestly seems like all we did in Napa was eat and drink.  Needless to say, I have LOTS of restaurant recommendations for you!  I'll narrow the food choices down to the ones that stood out for me.

1. Auberge du Soleil:  Based on a recommendation at one of the wineries, we stopped at this restaurant for lunch (without a reservation, but it was around 2pm) and had food and drinks on the terrace.  It was AH-MAY-ZING.  Especially the view.  We ate in the bar & bistro part of the restaurant, which was less pricier and less fancy than the restaurant part.  *imagine gorgeous food picture here since I didn't take one I'm not a food blogger*

2.  Market:  This was another lunchtime stop.  We dined there on a Saturday with a party of 10 and had made a reservation, so we got right in.  This restaurant is in downtown St. Helena, which is a super cute area with shops and restaurants and a laid-back California vibe.  I had their "famous" mac&cheese (diet?  what diet?) and it was spectacular. *imagine gorgeous food picture here since I didn't take one I'm not a food blogger*

3.  Cole's Chop House:  This was one of those late night dinners with clients that was good, but regretful.  Good because the meal was superb, but regretful because an 8pm reservation on West Coast time means my body thinks its 11pm and I'm eating a huDge meal.  Ack.  This was a typical fancy steakhouse sort of place, equivalent to a Fleming's or a Morton's or a Ruth's Chris.  You can't go wrong.  And their strawberry lemondrop martini with a sugar rim was delish (but heartburn-y later).  *imagine gorgeous food picture here since I didn't take one I'm not a food blogger*

4.  Pacific Blues:  Located in downtown Yountville in the V Marketplace area, this restaurant was one we actually visited twice - once for lunch and once for drinks.  The menu was California basic fare, but the atmosphere and outdoor patio was great for people-watching and that whole area is bustling. *imagine gorgeous food picture here since I didn't take one I'm not a food blogger*

5.  Jefferson Cafe:  Based on a tip from the hotel staff, we went to this local diner (in a strip mall) (behind a car wash) for breakfast almost  It was THAT good.  Their mammoth breakfast burrito was a sight to see, and everything else we tried was also very very good.  Highly recommend this place off the beaten path. *And, you guessed it, imagine gorgeous food picture here since I didn't take one I'm not a food blogger*

Sunday, October 05, 2014


I can't believe we officially have a TEENAGER in the Trenches.

Son, it seems like just yesterday you made us parents for the very first time.

But you made it easy for us, with your mellow nature and laid-back attitude.   (Those big blue eyes!  That white-blonde hair!)

You became an awesome big brother.  A leader.  An example. 

Your Dad and I love your quick wit and your smooth sarcasm.  We love how you memorize funny movie lines.  We admire your dedication to sports.  We respect your quirks (you get that from Dad).

We are here to guide you as you continue on this path towards adulthood.  Being a teenager can be scary.  You will have to make tough choices--about friendships, about girls, about doing the right thing, about being kind to others.  We have faith in you.

Every once in a while, I glance over at you and see a flash of the man you will someday be.  Older, wiser, hairier, manlier.  Sometimes that essence of who you will become gets captured in a picture and I find myself breathless, knowing that someday (sooner than I would like), you will be that Grown Up Man.  Son, I see the Grown Up you in these pictures:

Just know, buddy, as you hit this milestone of officially being a teenager today, that Dad and I couldn't be prouder of the person you are.  Keep on leaping.

We love you.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Navigating Napa--Our Lodging

Less than 2 weeks ago, Hubby and I were lucky to be able to spend 6 days and 5 nights in Napa, California for his annual conference.  And uh, there was no way (in hell) that he was gonna go without me.  You guys, it was AWE.SOME.

We had gotten a tip to fly into Oakland instead of San Francisco, as the airport traffic and highway traffic are easier to navigate out of Oakland.  This turned out to be a great decision, and one that I would recommend.  We heard horror stories from other conference-goers who got stuck in 3 hours of nightmare traffic trying to get to Napa from San Fran.  Yuck.  For us, it was smooth sailing.  It took a little over an hour once we were in our rental car to get to Napa.

We stayed at the Silverado Resort and Spa, which was practically right on the wine trail.  As in, there were wineries within walking distance.

There was a lot of maintenance, construction and beautification work going on while we were there, because they are getting ready to host a PGA Tour event.

Not on the PGA tour

We had our very own junior suite, complete with mini kitchen, fireplace, and patio.  Some of the units on the grounds at Silverado are individually owned condos, so you never know what room decor or layout you will get when you book.

The setup of the condos reminded us of our first apartment together in South Carolina.  Awwww!

 Tres romantique - him on his phone and me on mine...while the football game is on.

And our room was right next door to one of the pools!  This is what I did after my body was like THERE WILL BE NO MORE WINE FOR YOU

We were not in the downtown area (that drive took about 10-15 minutes) but for wine-consumption purposes, it was a perfect location.  The Silverado Trail was one street over!

Even before we left Napa, I was already (in my head) planning our trip back.  Perhaps in 5 years, for our 20 year anniversary?  But then Hubby reminded me that our boyz will be 18, 16 and 15 then.  OMG.

I'm so so so so lucky to have wonderful parents who came and stayed with the boyz while we were gone.  They did homework/packed lunches/made dinners/helped study for tests/football practices/football game/baseball doubleheader/groceries/laundry/taught them how to play rummy all with their usual humor and grace and LOVE.  

 My parents win

Think I can book them now for our trip to Napa in 2019? Heh.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What I'm Loving - Fall 2014 Edition

1.  Binge-watching.  Ever since I discovered Orange is the New Black and House of Cards on Netflix, I am now a BIG FAN of binge-watching shows instead of waiting to see them week-to-week.  I devoured Breaking Bad and am now completely HOOKED on Scandal.  You definitely catch more of a show's nuances by watching straight through.  Huck is creepy; Quinn is annoying; Jake is hot but scary; and Olivia is laughably pregnant and it's so obvious they're trying to hide it during all of Season 3.  I love the dialog they give Melly and I can't decide whether President Fitz is hot or not. 

2.  Juice cleansing.  I already told you about the juice cleanse I did, but I just wanted to give a few more details.  You guys, I totally didn't mind doing it for 3 days.  I felt so much better afterwards.  Way less bloated.  The juices came in refrigerated packaging and are numbered 1-6, so there's no thought involved.  There were no flavors that I couldn't drink.  Some were more "interesting" than others (think spicy!) but all of them were absolutely drinkable and dare I say, filling.  I would definitely recommend and I would definitely like to do it again.  I have a coupon code:  JUS4FRIENDS to save you 15% off your online order at Jus by Julie.

3.  Gold bangle.  I am a new fan of this store called C.Wonder.  A blogger I read had taken a picture of her new bangle from here, and I instantly fell in love with it...and bought one for myself...and a friend.

4.  Monday night soccer.  I miss my soccer days of yore.  You know, when my thighs didn't rub, my feathered hair was Aqua-netted stiff, and I could run for days without getting winded.  Playing in an age 30+ indoor womens' soccer league gives me (faint) whiffs of those glory days.  It's good company (our team is super fun), good competition, and good exercise.  (If you count huffing and puffing for two 25-minute halves as exercise.  Which I totally do.)  Oh, and there's beer after.  And sometimes before.  Plus, my Sis and I play together.  We totally bicker (good-naturedly) on the field. 

5.  Good book.  It had been way too long since a book totally captured my attention.  (See binge-watching above.)  I wasn't expecting it from this book, so I was definitely caught off guard by just HOW SAD GOOD it truly was.  Warning:  read with tissues.  Related:  I totally love Goodreads!  I have no idea what I did before I had a place to keep all my must-read lists.  Oh yes I do, I kept lists on scrap paper that I constantly lost.  That was fun.  Got a good book recommendation for me??

6.  Football.  Oh yes, it's that time of year again!  But dare I say, this has been the easiest fall that we've had in years.  Middle and Baby are both playing on the same Pop Warner team, and Hubby is one of the coaches.  Eldest is taking this year off from football and is playing fall baseball.  All I have to do is show up for baseball games on Saturdays (every Saturday is usually a home doubleheader) and one football game on Sunday.  So nice!  That is, until it gets frigid out and they're still playing football in November... 
Brother helping brother.

7.  Easy appetizer.  Greek dip.  Quick and easy and delish and will get you rave reviews.  You will need:  a container of hummus (I like the Tribe extra smooth classic); a container of taboule salad (I use Cedar's brand); a container of crumbled feta cheese; chopped cucumber; chopped tomato; and a small can of sliced black olives.  I always serve it in a disposable 8x8 pan.  Spread hummus in bottom, then taboule, then feta.  Add chopped cukes, tomatoes and olives and sprinkle more feta.  Best served with pita chips.  (I use either Stacy's or Town House.)

Happy Fall!  What are you enjoying this season?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where I Was When the Planes Hit

I repost this every year:

A Tuesday.  Crisp and cool.  Clear skies.

I was 36 weeks pregnant. Lumbering and uncomfortable as I boarded the 7:22 a.m. commuter rail bound for my job at a law firm in Boston.

Arrived at work after 8. Was chatting on the phone with a friend, discussing our baby showers that had both taken place that weekend. Mine on Saturday, hers on Sunday (our poor collective friends!) while our hubbies frollicked in New York City at a Yanks/Sox game. One of my friends from Florida had flown up for my shower. She flew out of Logan Airport in Boston on Monday morning.

I was interrupted from my conversation when a co-worker peeked her head in and said, "Your husband is on my line. He needs to talk to you." So I said goodbye to my friend (who was home, but didn't have her TV on) and got on the line with Hubby. "Do you have your computer on?" he asked breathlessly. "No. I just got here and was on the phone with Mary. Why? What's up?" "A plane crashed into the World Trade Center! They don't know many details yet though. TURN ON YOUR COMPUTER!"

Slowly the buzz began to spread on my 21st floor. We were directed into a conference room to watch the breaking news on a projection screen. That was when I saw the second plane hit.

Shortly after, a firm-wide e-mail was delivered. Our building would be closing at 10 a.m. We were all to evacuate immediately.

I called Hubby back. (Meanwhile he had been frantically trying to call me. The firm's phone lines were being inundated.) Hubby was nervous that they were going to shut down all public transportation. That I wouldn't be able to get out of the city of Boston. 9 months pregnant.

My friend Michelle (who was also working in Boston at the time) and I miraculously got through to each other via our cell phones. We met downtown, so we could walk to the train station together. It was eerie. Practically everyone in downtown Boston had been evacuated. The city streets were packed, yet it was oddly hushed. Everyone was rushing, furiously punching buttons on their cell phones, desperately trying to get a signal.

I tried to call Hubby from the train station to let him know what my (meager) train options were to get back home to Central Massachusetts. There was only one train heaed towards home, yet it would only take me as far as Framingham, about a 45 minute drive, and NOT where I had parked my car that morning. But I couldn't get in touch with him. The lines were jammed.

So I waited until the last possible minute to board that train, worried that Hubby might already be driving into Boston to collect me; nervous that he wasn't, and that I indeed NEEDED to get on the train. Finally, as the annoucement was blaring, "Final boarding call!", Hubby and I connected. I SHOULD take the train, and he'd pick me up in Framingham.

As you can imagine, the train was packed. Every seat full, every aisle space occupied. But so silent.

Someone kindly gave me a seat. I let a few strangers borrow my cell phone. Everyone lost in their own thoughts. Fear, stifled but present. Uncertainty heavy in the air.

I spent the next three days on the couch in my "uniform" (you know, at 9 months pregnant, the comfy maternity clothes that are the only ones left that possibly fit), glued to the TV. Alternating between grief, disbelief and horror.

What kind of world was I bringing a child into? Unsafe. Unpredictable.

September 11, 2001. I will never forget.

Thirteen years ago now, you guys.  Thirteen years.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hood Sour Cream Meal Makeover

Back in August, I was invited with a few other bloggers to participate in the Hood Sour Cream Meal Makeover.  So all us bloggers got our boxing gloves oven mitts on and had a cook-off!  The rule was that we had to create a dinnertime meal that incorporated sour cream as a full ingredient in dishes (not just a scoop on top).

The pressure was on!  (Not really.  I love our Boston-area blogger network.)

The recipe I chose was one of mine I have made a LOT in my Trenches.  This dish isn't fancy, but is definitely tried and true, kid-tested, kid-friendly, and kid-approved.  

And delicious, to boot.

Sarah's Sour Cream Chicken

1 to 2 pounds chicken breast or chicken tenderloins 
(I used tenderloins for this competition because they cook faster)
 16oz container Hood sour cream
1 pack Good Seasons Italian seasoning (found in salad dressing aisle)
garlic powder, salt, pepper, and parsley to taste
2 cups crushed Corn Flakes

Pour packet of Italian seasoning into sour cream container and stir.
 Pound chicken until tender.
Coat both sides of chicken in sour cream mixture and then roll in crushed cornflake crumbs.
Season with spices, if so desired.
Place in 9x13 buttered/greased baking dish.
Bake at 375 until chicken is cooked through and cornflakes are lightly browned
(about 30 min for tenderloins; longer for chicken breasts).
Serve with regular sour cream as dipping sauce.


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