As 40 creeps closer…

It’s been  a year since my 40 by 40 list post was created and I am slowly getting through the list! I still have a lot of work to do, but have ticked off quite a few big items. One more year to go to as 40 creeps closer!

38 was the year of bills and home improvements. I paid off a small left over mortgage loan, and paid for a chimney rebuild and a new roof. That will be a lot more money in my pocket in the long run, but it sure was hard to say good bye to all that cash.  It’s also really nice not to have a failing roof, and a leaking chimney (hooray for maintaining structural integrity of this money pit…um, house!)

It was also the year of pushing myself-to learn more, do more, be more. You know, without getting all sorts of overwhelmed.

I also traveled alone, including business trips to Portland for Feast and Vegas to eat and for the Vegas Food Expo. I’ve never really been somewhere by myself, and so this was pretty huge for me!  Feast was my first time away from Izzy and while I was both terrified to be without her, I was so excited to be away and treat myself to a weekend away. Turns out taking a bath by yourself after eating a few thousand calories and then not sharing a bed with a tiny, raging octopus/toddler all night is AMAZING. That trip really prepped me for Vegas, where I hit quite a few of my goals-eating an amazing dinner, getting my first tattoo, singing loudly in front of strangers, and dancing in a huge sea of people.

I wrote more and collaborated with brands while not losing out on any of my creative desires. I spent more time learning herbal medicine and did a lot of wild crafting. I spent time nurturing my heart by making herbal goodies for friends, which reinforced how much I enjoy chemistry, biology and botany!

I built up the farm, too! I brought in 2 rabbits, which led to even more rabbits (see that whole thing here), and worked hard to not screw up growing carrots and peas. My corn thrived and grew taller than my house. I fed neighbors with the extra vegetables, and ripped up my lawn for more gardening space. It felt good to get up and out and push myself physically to make my home what I wanted it to be.

I participated in activities that fed my soul, more than fed my bank accounts. Let’s look at what I’ve been up to this year…the bold, italicized items are completed!

1. Do something that scares me, often!
2. Go to a ridiculously fancy dinner
3. Finally get that tattoo!
4. Pay off a large bill-not super exciting, but getting rid of any bill is more cash for fun
5. Be more accepting of my body, strengths and flaws
6. Go overseas again/travel more
7. Continue to get in shape -eehhhhhhh. A work in progress.
8. Skate more
9. Learn to knit
10. Make sourdough, actually keep it alive for more than 1 week
11. Do 5 push ups, well. Yeah, I said it. 5.
12. Do more karaoke
13. Make a blood orange olive oil milkshake like the one at the Olive Pit, in California-so good!
14. Fix up the garage and make it into a studio
15. Raise rabbits
16. Make more quilts
17. Finish up my herbalism classes
18. Eat fewer processed foods
19. Rock climb again
20. Hunt a deer and properly butcher it
21. Write more (hmmm…check?)
22. Make cheese
23. Go clam digging
24. Set up a friend version of Outstanding in the Field.
25. Teach Izzy to fish
26. Find more happiness-actively seek it out, and hold it tight
27. Successfully grow peas and carrots, and not little dinky ones
28. Bring Izzy backpacking
29. Take a photography class
30. Dance more
31. Build the fence that has been sitting in raw materials in my garage for 10 years
32. Kayak on Lake Washington
33. Ride in a hot air balloon
34. Go to Disneyland
35. Camp on a beach
36. Buy more nice knives
37. Teach more
38. Hike to a hot spring
39. Take a train ride
40. Read more

So what’s on tap for 39? More travel, more food and more finding and keeping what makes me happy. I’ll continue to tick things off of my above list and keep reporting back on all of my adventures!

Yours in squeezing all we can into life!

Raina

 

These are the days

These are the days where happiness is made. Where we linger over stories, and adventure. Where our make up is dirt, s’mores stuck to our lips, our hair bigger than normal, smelling of campfire smoke. These are the days where we chase sunshine’s last rays and watch stars long into the night.

“Momma! Did you see that star fly by?! Did you wish?”
“Yes, baby. Did you?”

These days fly by and we hold on to every moment as long as we can; watching, waiting, learning and I am still in so much awe of it all.

Recently, we headed north to Rasar State Park to rest, explore and make new memories. We were itching for a camp out and with all of the rain, blue sky tarp camping didn’t sound appealing and the cabins, outfitted with bathrooms and a wet bar, were perfect.

Izzy and I spent the first two days just she and I, with our first afternoon and evening spent getting settled, setting up camp and going on a short hike before chopping firewood and attempting to build a fire. Luckily the campers next door came to our rescue with dry wood and expert fire building skills. We ate s’mores and watched the stars in the sky, listening to owls and other night critters. We talked about her dreams, what she wanted to be for Halloween and what I do all day at work. She would crawl into my lap in my chair by the fire and fall asleep and I’d carry her little body into the cabin, clean up her face and put her to bed.

The next day we hiked through the woods and open fields, exploring the river banks and spotting tiny fish and other critters. We took turns taking pictures, and I eventually would find out what poison oak feels like (itchy and awful!). We walked through waist-high grass, and watched the sky change from blues, to darker and ran back to the cabin to avoid being soaked by the sudden downpour.

We’d eventually have Izzy’s poppa join us later that trip for amazing beers at Birdsview Brewing, a short 1.5 mile stroll from the cabin, followed by more s’mores. This was perfect timing as my lackluster fire building skills were just plain embarrassing. The next day was spent at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and La Conner, looking at flowers and little shops and even getting in a little toddler yoga, a toddler meltdown and resulting wine tasting at Skagit Cellars before heading back to the cabin for one last night.

The weekend wasn’t long enough, as they never are, but watching Izzy explore and run and create new memories made my heart so full.

“Momma! Can we come back to our cabin again next year?”
“Of course baby, any time you want”.

These are the days, where sunshine fades into long nights, full of snuggles and happiness, wishes and critters.


Yours in adventure
Raina

Spring foraging – Stinging Nettle Pesto

One of my favorite signs of spring is stinging nettle!  It’s easily foraged and from an herbal remedy standpoint, this super food is full of nutrients and minerals like fiber, calcium and iron. They may also help with allergies (of course, if interested in using nettles for herbal use, please check with your doctor first!). From a culinary perspective, it’s delicious and adds an amazing earthy flavor to soups, stews, breads, or my favorite: in place of basil for pesto.  If you can get past the sting, you’ll have one of the best ingredients that spring has to offer!

Nettle Pesto
Makes 5 cups

Ingredients:
1.25 lbs nettle or 3 cups blanched, liquid squeezed out
1/2 lb pecans, roasted (you can substitute your favorite nut here as well, keeping the same weight.
1 head garlic, or 10 large cloves peeled
1 large lemon, squeezed
1/2 cup olive oil
4 ounces parmesan, grated
1/8 tspn pepper, or more to taste
1 pinch of salt, or more to taste (add after you blend in your parmesan, which tends to be salty)
1 pinch red pepper flake (optional)

Equipment needed:
Stock pot, or other deep pot
Cookie sheet
Food processor
Cheese grater
Tongs
Gloves

Process:

  • Start by getting your water going-fill a deep pot 3/4 of the way up with water and set on the stove on high. You’ll use this to blanch your nettles which removes the sting.
  • While that is heating up, you’ll start roasting your pecans. Lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, place in the cool oven and turn it on to 300 degrees. Cook the pecans for 10-15 minutes, or until they are lightly toasted. As ovens vary, I would check them starting at 5 mins, and every 5 mins after until you can smell them and they are just starting to brown. Keep in mind they will continue to cook a little as they cool on the pan. Take them out and let them cool while you’re blanching your nettles.
  • Prep your nettles by removing the leaves from the stems. This is where the gloves come in as the sting can be painful and can last some time. If some of the newer stems are still attached, that is fine; the goal is to have as much of the lower, woody materials removed. You can also blanch everything, stems and all, and then remove the leaves after, which is what I did. The blanching will take longer, but it will also reduce your sting risk!
  • Using your tongs, place large bunches of nettle into the boiling water. Note: You want enough that this part doesn’t take forever, but not so much that the nettles clump up-you want the nettles to  move around so that they blanch quickly.
  • Let the nettles blanch for no more than 1 minute and remove to a colander to drain.
  • Continue blanching and scooping until you’ve gone through all of your nettles. **Tip:  You can save this infusion to drink!**
  • Lay your blanched nettles on a clean, dry towel or cheesecloth and roll the cloth up, squeezing as much of the moisture out as you can. Too much liquid can ruin the end pesto!
  • NOTE: If you have a smaller food processor, you’ll want to do this in two batches!  Grab your food processor and add in your fully cooled pecans, and pulse until broken down into smaller pieces. You’ll be adding in other ingredients and don’t want to make butter, so don’t go crazy here!
  • Add your cheese, pepper, red pepper (if using) and mix until it looks well distributed-usually a few good pulses
  • Add your nettles and pulse to break those bad boys down.
  • Add your lemon juice and pulse a few more times.
  • This is where the magic happens! Grab your olive oil and turn your processor on-slowly pouring the oil in. If you prefer a drier, thicker pesto, stick with the amount of oil listed. If you prefer a smoother, creamier pesto, add more oil slowly until you reach the desired consistency. There’s no wrong way here and you’ve made it through the hardest part!

You’re probably thinking…why does she prefer a drier pesto? I add this stuff to everything-soups, sauces, eggs; you name it. If I want a formal pesto, I can add more oil to it later. I can’t take the oil out after the fact!

So there you have it, an easy pesto with an element of danger, or at least a good sting.  What will you add your pesto to?

~Yours in earthy goodness~
Raina

Before the spring

Hello dear reader! We’re finally in the home stretch here in Seattle; finally getting out of the cold and into the spring. This winter has been rough, with quite a few snow days, and fewer than 15 days of sunshine in 6+ months, and we’re now getting a good steady drizzle of rain. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for longer (and sunnier!) days spent out in the garden, out on the trails, and generally not cooped up inside!  Before the spring hits, I wanted to share all we did over the winter. I really need to be better about posting quick updates, in addition to the food posts!

My hope for the winter was to continue building traditions with Izzy, creating magical memories for her to relish for years. I look at all of the pictures and somehow she has gone from my tiny baby into my little girl. She grew so much over the winter, and while my heart breaks to know she’s no longer a tiny baby, I am so excited for all of our adventures we’re having and all that we’ll be able to do as she gets bigger. I am trying to live in the moment with her and enjoy everything as it comes.

This winter we explored, played in the snow, and traveled to Eastern Washington as we needed to get away and have a break during all of the holiday craziness. We rented the sweetest dog friendly Air BnB in Kittitas, right above the Thrall & Dodge Winery. For three days, we cooked meals in the retro 1940’s kitchen, snuggled in the massive bed, played in the snow and explored the tiny town and surrounding areas. We stumbled upon Whipsaw Brewing in Ellensburg, and I explored used book stores adding to my Serendipity book collection for Izzy. Happy and rested, we would return home for more holiday adventures.

One of the biggest highlights of the holiday season was the Mount Rainier Railroad’s Polar Express train ride, a two-hour adventure filled with elves, singing, and Santa! Izzy danced, sang “Jingle Bells” at the top of her lungs and stared in wonderment at Santa as he gave her a bell. The parents were entertained by amazing views of the Mt Rainier area and various rivers and their children totally embracing the spirit of the holiday. We’ll definitely take that trip again, making it an ongoing family tradition.

To really bring Christmas home and get us in the spirit, we returned to Pfaff’s Tree Farm to visit Santa again for some one on one time, and to cut down our own Christmas tree. We hunted for an hour for the perfect tree, finally settling on one that would (yet again) be way too tall for the highest part of my ceiling, despite chopping more than a few feet off of the bottom.  Almost every year I misjudge how high my ceiling actually is, and every year I still make that darn thing fit. Izzy found her first live turkey and gobbled along happily with it.

Lastly, Izzy saw the Nutcracker for the first time. She loved the ballerinas, but was disappointed in the lack of mermaids (no idea why she thought there’d be mermaids), which she loudly proclaimed often to the annoyance of the little girl in front of her who would continue to turn around and scowl at us. Izzy and her daddy would eventually make faces right back at the grumpy girl who finally stopped her leering, confused why an adult made faces back at her.

Our magical winter was spent making memories with these amazing events and finding down time where we danced in snow flurries with our critters (true story: bunnies hate snow) and chased sun beams for as long as they stayed around. We snuggled on the couch and read books together, and celebrated each moment with each other trying to keep the magic of her childhood alive and strong for yet one more year and I couldn’t imagine a better way to have spent the winter.

And there you have it! So many adventures were had, before the spring. What did you do this winter?

Raina

 

On the road to Vegas!

Vegas has always held a special place in my heart.  My grandparents lived there for decades and would regale me with stories of their dates. They’d save up their money as best they could and every weekend go down to Sam’s Town and have a special night out.  They loved their date nights and continued that tradition for years, until my Grandmother’s cancer finally took those nights away. Their love of their little city lives on with each trip I take as I discover new haunts or revisit old favorites.

I’ve always gone to Vegas with friends but I hadn’t been for work, or even by myself, so when the opportunity to go for The Vegas Food Expo came up, I couldn’t say no!  To top it off I turned it into a long girls weekend with my best friend Jen.  She and I hadn’t been on a girls trip since before we both got pregnant…almost 5 years ago, so we were more than due. I had been hearing about tThe Vegas Food Expo. It was slated to be an exciting event, with small scale vendors sharing their lovingly curated foods to connect with businesses, distributors, and bloggers like myself. Amazing food and I was going to be able to learn about and support small businesses? I was in.

I booked my room at the SLS hotel where Jen and I would eventually eat one of the most amazing meals of our lives (check that post out here). The room was bright, with a light up bed and couch, and a mirror placed above the bed, which screamed fun and Las Vegas. It was over the top, and clearly not meant for a single traveler, but it was affordable and had great customer service, a fully stocked mini bar and multiple bars and restaurants downstairs.  While off the strip a little, it was quick to get around. The room was a little small, and I would have liked more separation than a sliding door to my bathroom, but it’s not like folks spend a lot of time in their rooms in a city like Vegas.

I flew out on a Wednesday, met up with my cousin to catch up and get settled. We grabbed a bite at Umami Burger to grab a beer in the sun. After dealing with Seattle’s solid rain for the past 6 months, I was ready to soak up as much of the sun as possible.  For the rest of the night I walked around the SLS to see what all was there, ending up at the Center Bar for a French 75 and some menu planning before a nice sashimi meal at Katsuya (also at the SLS), which didn’t disappoint. I started out with the truffle and lobster “Chawan-mushi” which was a creamy steamed custard, with a light truffle broth, with lobster on top. It was such a nice appetizer, and at $8, it wasn’t a bank breaker. I moved to the Omakase Sashimi which was beautifully presented-the scallop was tender, the blue fin tuna was buttery, and the Ikura was salty and fresh. At $55, it was a good amount of food,  but next time I will likely look at some of their Wagyu options, like the  Waygu Filet with Foie Gras, a beautiful option that the person seated next to me enjoyed. .Living in Seattle, it’s hard to beat our sushi. Wednesday night, I crashed out early, spending an hour or two watching cooking shows in a bed without a toddler-it was glorious!

The next day marked the start of the Vegas Food Expo and once I arrived I made my way through row after row of wonderful vendors, meeting confectioners, brewers, cider makers, and cured meat makers among so many other mom and pop shops. I loved the attention to detail and complete love each booth had for their product. I sat with the owner of Gluten Free Harvest, who talked about a real world need for small  batch, well tested GF projects – his son’s celiac disease diagnosis. I heard the heart behind so many brands, and why they ventured out to create their products. Most were born from identifying a need within their own lives and then seeing that others could benefit, they made the switch to getting their products into the hands of those who could enjoy them. I sipped wines from Barcelona, tasted honey from right outside Las Vegas, and nibbled on an amazing bone broth based beef stew that I found out I could get just up the street once I returned home!  It was lovely.

That night brought a Dune-level sandstorm which made for a hellish trip to an after party at the Lavo Casino Club at the Palazzo hotel and a 15 hour delay in Jen’s arrival.  Walking into the Lavo club, a fun bar and restaurant with multiple levels, I had great conversations, wonderful cocktails and delicious hand passed appetizers.  I would end up traipsing around with a few vendors I met at Lavo, having a wonderful second dinner of a beet salad with walnut, cara cara orange, ricotta salata and mint ($16) some of the most amazing garganelli with rabbit confit and hen of the woods mushrooms ($29) from B&B Ristorante (a Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich venture). I was even given a lesson on how to gamble-thank you Gordon!  Thinking that Jen was finally going to land, I headed back to my hotel…and waited…and waited some more.

Jen finally arrived…at 4 am, long after I had gone to bed after a series of failed flights, seat upgrades, and hotel check in issues, only to be woken up by me and a bottle of whiskey at noon. Poor gal was beat, but when in Vegas, you rally. We headed back to the Expo, meeting vendors and tasting some of the highlights from the previous day, mapping out what we were going to do before dinner.

That night, we would have the most amazing dinner at Bazaar Meat, then hit the strip for some people watching and adventure. We ended up at the Mirage in a failed attempt to find lions and dolphins at Jen’s request, and while I am still solidly convinced they didn’t exist, we did manage to find Starlight Tattoo. Whether it was the magic of Vegas, the full belly, or the few cocktails we had getting my first tattoo (and subsequent first freak out about said first tattoo) sounded like an amazing idea. We both created our designs-a bumblebee for me, and tiny mushrooms for Jen. All my fear had been for nothing-Tony Firmino, my amazing artist, walked me  through what would happen, what could hurt and how to relax (breathe) and 90 minutes later, just after midnight, my first tattoo was complete!  We ventured on with the intent of heading home when we found Toby Keith’s country bar. I happily drug Jen in to sing along to songs she sweetly tolerates for me, provided I picked up some of the tab. We would end up at one more club on the way home, dancing and chatting up strangers before hitting an wall of exhaustion and heading back to our quirky rooms for the night.

My last day was spent relaxing, and enjoying as much time as I could without any responsibility and lack of toddler feet in my back. We spent time at Umami Burger for last cocktails and snacks, before we hit the slots. I chose an Elvira themed slot, which ended up paying out $170 and with that we wrapped up our time with a hug and another shot before I hopped in a Lyft and headed to the airport.

I got home just after midnight, amazed at all the adventures I had, the memories I created and the food I had eaten and smiled happily at my sleeping baby girl who was so happy to snuggle me as she fell asleep in my arms.  I can’t think of a better way to have wrapped up that trip.

Here’s the recap in pictures!

What’s your favorite memory of Vegas?

Raina

Eating Las Vegas: Bazaar Meat

There are few times in my food career where I have been so full and so happy that I didn’t know what to do. Dear reader, I have been looking back at my Vegas trip and one of the best meals of my life with a mix of awe and wondering if it all happened. While I’ll write more on the trip as a whole, I wanted to take time out to write about my experience eating Las Vegas at Bazaar Meats.

Walking down the graffiti art decorated halls into the cavernous dining room, you’re transported to another world. Knives and art appear mixed with beautiful cuts of meat while the smells of fire and meat tell you that you’re in the right place for a relaxing night of eating. You’re greeted warmly and quickly brought to your seat. There were multiple dining areas, with seating quite well spaced out, so you feel like you’re able to have your own conversations, but still people and food watch.

Jen and I knew early on we planned to go big for this meal, said goodbye to any sort of a budget, and knew we wanted to try as many things as possible. We quickly opted for two of the tasting menus, with a small wine pairing and the Chateaubriand. When we said we wanted to go big, we weren’t kidding. After all, this was our first girls trip in over 4 years and a combined three children between the two of us. We welcomed and relished in the amazing care and attention from the staff.

Course after course of beautiful food came out, each served with more flair and attention to presentation than the last. When your meal starts with cotton candy encased foie gras, moves immediately to jamon iberico de bellota with a spoonful of caviar topped with gold leaf, you know you’re in for a gastronomic adventure.  We had made our way through just over half of the 22 courses when then the Chateaubriand arrived. This gorgeous tenderloin was served with the most lovely truffle jus and decadent buttered potato puree (with extra butter, of course). The Chateaubriand was cooked perfectly and each tender bite melted lovingly in our mouths. Jen and I giggled with pure gluttonous glee with every bite until we just couldn’t eat any more. We nibbled and sipped our way through everything for over 2 hours.

What did we sip?  We started out with the Raventos i Blanc, Blanc de Nit Rose’, followed by a Pazo Senorans Albarino and ended with the Leviathan red blend (not my favorite wine).

What were the highlights? You really couldn’t go wrong with the tasting menu, especially as Chef Raymond’s team sent out a few extra dishes for us to try. The cotton candy encased foie gras was fun and a nice spin on a childhood treat; the steak tartar was buttery and flavorful; the Morcilla with uni was an unexpectedly perfect pairing-the richness of the blood sausage paired with the saltiness and creaminess of the uni made my heart happy. The suckling pig was presented whole and then sent back cut up, the skin crispy and golden giving gently to the warm, slightly fatty flesh.  This was not a meal for the weak!

What were the lows? I would have enjoyed a proper pre-planned wine pairing, especially as the Leviathan red wasn’t the best choice for some of the heartier items. The Delmonico, while wonderful and cheesy felt like overkill with the buttered potato puree.

What was the total?  $808 for the meal and wine, before tip. Would we do it again? Yes, yes, a million times yes.

A special thank you to Chef Raymond Pitts for all the wonderful dishes and the chat in the kitchen, as well as heartfelt thank you to the staff for the outstanding service, attention to detail, and answering all of my questions. Now, for the pictures! You can hover your mouse over each item to see what it is.

salad with suckling pig

We wanted a special meal, and Bazaar Meat did not disappoint! For more information, you can check out their website or make reservations here.

Are you ready to go?  What is the best place you’ve eaten that I should visit next?
Yours in full belly happiness,
Raina

Winter Remedies: Fire Cider

I don’t know about where you are dear reader, but here in Seattle flu season has been rough! You combine normal winter germs, an abundance of flu germs, and add in having a little one in preschool this year, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Luckily, I also have a recipe to help combat germs, clear out the stuffiness and best part of it all? It’s tasty!  Meet one of my favorite winter remedies: Fire cider!

This little gem is savory, tangy, spicy and all around wonderful. It’s easy to make, stores for a year, and is the gift that keeps on giving. Added benefit? It’s AMAZING in Bloody Mary’s, so you can’t go wrong! Ready to get started?

fire cider

Fire Cider
1 quart canning jar
1 large bulb garlic, peeled
1.5 large onions, peeled
1 large hand of ginger, rough outer layer removed
2 large jalapeno peppers, do not remove seeds or membrane
1 TB whole peppercorn
1 TB powdered turmeric
1/2 TB dried oregano
1/2 TB dried rosemary
Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar – I use Bragg’s.

When you’re shopping for ingredients, fresh and organic is always best and be sure to wash them prior to chopping. I opted to use dried turmeric, oregano and rosemary as I had a ton of it on hand, but you can use whatever you have.

Wash your canning jar and boil in hot water to sterilize it (10 minutes is fine) and let cool while you chop.

Chop all of your ingredients into small pieces so that you have a lot of surface area. The idea behind this is that you’re going to increase the nutrients that steep into your vinegar, making a stronger, more flavorful final product.

Add all of the chopped up ingredients to your cooled mason jar and top with vinegar. It should be well packed, but not too tightly; you want your ingredients to move around a little. Add a lid and sit back and wait.  You’ll let this bad boy steep for 2-4 weeks, shaking it gently every day or two. You can let it go longer, but I hate waiting.

Strain all of that goodness with cheese cloth over a sterilized bowl and wring out as much liquid as you’re able to get from the pulp. Pour the strained liquid into a sterilized pop-top bottle and you’re good to go! You can add 2-3 TB honey at this point to sweeten it up, or leave as is.

I drink 1-2 TB a day when I start to feel sick, or if I’ve been around sick people; and 4 TB (1 TB every few hours) a day when sick. As it’s spicy and tart, I don’t drink it on an empty stomach.

If adding to your Bloody Mary mix, use 1/2 to a full shot glass worth which will spice it up nicely.

Next batch, I think I’ll add nettles for its benefits on inflammation and allergies.

As always, with any change or addition to your diet, or using herbal remedies, consult a doctor before trying anything out.

What are your go to remedies to stave off germs?
Yours in herbal goodness,
Raina

 

Christmas with Maysara Wines

Hello dear readers!  I hope the holidays were good for you and that you have all been doing well!  2016 FLEW by, as did our holiday and time off. While I’ll give a recap of all that we did with our time off later this weekend, I wanted to share with you all that we ate for Christmas, and highlight some delicious wines that we tried, so that you can run out and try them for yourselves. There will even be an easy appetizer recipe that pairs perfectly with the wines, too. Are you ready for my recap of Christmas with Maysara Wines?

As you know, when my family cooks, we usually get a little crazy and cook too much. This Christmas we tried to dial it back a bit; I think we did pretty well!

Christmas 2016 Menu

~Breakfast~
Russian farmers cheese, bacon, and leek tart
Pomegranate-blackerry mimosas

~Dinner~
Appetizers:
Deviled eggs-regular and habenero
Caprese skewers
Bacon wrapped dates with blue cheese (recipe below)

Drinks to accompany our appetizers:
2013 Scarlett and Mac Chardonnay
Georgetown Brewing’s SparklePuss IPA

Main Course:
Honey and Orange Glazed Ham

Sides:
Mashed potatoes
Curry spinach salad
Brussels sprouts with bacon and balsamic reduction

Drinks:
Maysara 2012 Jamsheed Pinot Noir
Georgetown Brewing’s BA Not Tom Rye Stout

Dessert:
Key lime pie
Chocolate bourbon pecan pie

The dinner came together perfectly and since we didn’t have 20 separate dishes, we spent less time in the kitchen and more time chatting as a family.  We lazily ate and sipped wine through the late afternoon and evening, and listened to music. It was wonderful and I can’t think of any other way to spend the day.

Day After Christmas Feast

Normally, we put together a pretty big spread for Christmas eve, but between long hours at work and fighting illness, we just didn’t have it in us to cook an elaborate meal for Christmas eve. Instead we took advantage of the time and prepped cassoulet, which we then ate on the day after Christmas.

Wait. You haven’t had cassoulet??  It’s a delicious, indulgent French dish with duck confit, pork,  sausage, herbs and white beans. It’s a labor of love and if you have the time, it’s a wonderful treat to make. We loosely followed an old Jacques Pepin’s recipe, but this one is also a handy guide.  We made our own duck confit, substituted a double smoked sausage instead of making our own sausage, and to add an extra layer of richness, we braised the pork butt in bacon fat, almost making a pork confit.  Meat cooked in its own fat (or with a little extra fat) is good guys, calories be damned. The richness of the cassoulet only needed a simple salad with spinach, pears, candied walnuts with a light vinaigrette. We happily sipped Maysara’s  2010 Asha Pinot Noir, an amazing accompaniment which cut through the fat in the cassoulet but also stood up to the bite of the vinaigrette.

Overall, I’d say that we ate well this holiday and I’ve ignored the scale just in case. We spent our energy by prepping the time heavy meal slowly and over time, so that the flavors built on each other and that was definitely the right call.

Now, here’s more on those wines, followed by a super quick recipe that you should try with both wines. I’d love to hear what you think!

About the wines:

The 2012 Jamsheed Pinot Noir was outstanding, and at $30 it’s a nice bottle to have for a holiday or a special day, that’s still affordable. It’s slightly spicy, earthy with dark fruit. It’s soft on your tongue in that it doesn’t overwhelm, with a touch of acidity. It stood up to the variety of foods, but went well with the sweetness of the ham. This was definitely my favorite wine of the night and the holiday.

Coming in at $39 the 2010 Asha Pinot Noir was also a hit. With a glass cork, you feel like you’re getting a  treat! It was interesting how different this Pinot Noir was to the Jamsheed. Still earthy with dark berries, but more rounded and floral than the Jamsheed. The tannins cut through the fat, but the flavor isn’t lost to the duck, nor the smoke of the sausage. If anything, the flavors were reflected more in the wine. Again, another solid wine that I enjoyed.

Now, for the quick recipe. I love  these bacon wrapped dates (you could also use slices of pear in place of the dates and a slice of heartier blue cheese to mix it up). These pair quite well with the Jamsheed Pinot Noir!

Bacon Wrapped Blue Cheese Dates
Makes 10

1/2 lb bacon, cooked until the fat starts to drip but not crispy (6-8min.)
10 dried, pitted dates
Soft blue cheese (Trader Joes has a good one!)

  • Cut the strips of cooked bacon into 4 pieces each or less if you want more bacon
  • Open the dates. There is usually a cut along one side, but if not, just use a knife and slice half way through the dates, so you have a place to put the blue cheese.
  • Scoop in some of the blue cheese using a small spoon, or your fingers.
  • Wrap with bacon and pin with a tooth pic.
  • Bake for 8 minutes at 350 degrees to finish the bacon and make the dates a little softer.
  • To finish, drizzle with a little honey, or balsamic vinegar.
  • Let cool slightly and enjoy!

A hearty thank you to Dominic and all of the folks at Maysara winery for helping to make this holiday particularly special. While I did receive these wines to try and this is considered a sponsored post, I do highly recommend these wines and cant wait to share one more recipe featuring their wines soon!

To you and yours, and delicious food!

Raina

Giving Thanks

Turkey

The holidays have officially kicked off and I’m considering breaking out the maternity pants like Joey on friends.  We’re gathered with family, the buzz of stories and laughter with the recordings of “Alice’s Restaurant” playing in the background. Dinner is cooking, and the house smells amazing. I can’t wait to eat everything. This year, I am grateful for my health, a good job, wonderful friends and family. Things are so good, and days like this where we talk about all that we’re grateful for remind me of how far I’ve come and how fortunate I am.

This year, we went a little crazy on the menu for Thanksgiving, and I can’t wait to eat it all and snack on the leftovers!  So what’s on tap for today?

Breakfast
Goat cheese, bacon, and leek tart with chanterelle mushrooms
Mango-orange mimosas


Dinner

Appetizers:
Deviled eggs-regular and habenero
Caprese Skewers
Cranberry Wine

First Course:
Mixed green salad with candied walnuts, pomegranates, and a raspberry walnut vinaigrette.
Beets with goat cheese crumbles and pistachios

Main Course:
Deboned, honey brined turkey
Rotisserie roasted pork shoulder


Sides:
Mashed potatoes
Pear, cranberry, and port conserva
“Green Slime”-pistachio pudding, cool whip and marshmallows
Pineapple coconut salad
Applesauce
Roasted squash medley with port poached cherries, and almonds
Chorizo spinach stuffing (gluten free)
Turkey stock gravy
Wheat bread with orange cranberry pecan butter
Rolls

Drinks:
Prosecco, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, more cranberry wine

Dessert:

Gluten free vegan cashew and date cheesecake
Cranberry walnut tart
Vanilla bean ice cream
Sandeman’s Port
Prosecco

 

There you have it!  I’m so excited to dig in and eat.  While it’s a lot of food for 8 people, we’ll all leave with a ton of leftovers. Full bellies and happy hearts, and isn’t that a great way to spend the day?

How are you spending the holiday and how do you give thanks?

Yours in food and happiness,

Raina

And then there were more!

If you’ve followed this blog long enough, you know one of my dreams is to have a big plot of land with a farm. That is still a work in progress, and will likely be for some time, so we have been making due with  city critters. We have chickens, which are amazing, but they are totally a gateway animal! After years of trying to find the right space and justify getting rabbits, my dream came true!  Enter: Hazel and Fresa (Strawberry). We adopted them from a local family whose daughter was too allergic to them to keep them. Rabbits woman and bunnies hungry bunny bunnies eating cute bunny chicken and bunny nature bunny bunny and bunny baby

We were told that they were both boys and were just shy of a year old. We played with them daily, snuggling them and feeding them treats. Izzy would squeal with joy to see Hazel greet her each morning and afternoon in anticipation of treats. We were feeling amazing about our decision to have two bunnies. Forward to 10 days after we brought them home-I came out to find this:

baby bunny

and then this:

more bunny babies

8 babies in all, in three spots. I was floored. While I was ready for two bunnies, I hadn’t planned on what to do with 10 total. I quickly posted to Facebook, looking for advice from friends who had been raising rabbits for years. In addition to laughter, I received good advice to let momma do her thing and to keep an eye on everyone. They would be fine and if not, I could either let nature run its’ course, or intervene and bring to a vet or find a donor momma (yes, that’s apparently a thing!).

I checked on them constantly the first few days, convinced that something would go wrong. After a week, I found that one had died, and we would eventually lose two more. The rest grew quickly, one more than the other, and one runt continued to thrive (we have hand fed him to help him keep up with the siblings). They quickly left their nest, venturing to the rest of their hutch, nibbling on the greens we give, or chewing on the timothy hay we lay daily, or jumping over to mom for a quick nurse. As you’ll see, one of these guys clearly had nursing down and was a big boy!

growing bunnies baby meet momma hand feeding bunny

Izzy bunny

We are smitten with them in all their furry cuteness. At some point, we’ll raise rabbits for meat, but this group won’t be for that. We’ll adopt out the babies, and then see how things go in the future. For now, Izzy and I are enjoying watching them grow and play.

People have asked what is next. For now, these guys and our chickens are all we have time, space and energy for; plus all these guys love to eat my crops, so I think I am full up on critters for now.

What would you love to have on your farm, or yard?

Yours in fuzzy cuteness,
Raina