Category Archives: sonoma

Bobby’s Banana Crunch Bliss

ice cream!My Bobby is quite a little chef. He’s always adding things to traditional recipes, like chamomile tea to banana bread. If you’ve been following my blog, then Bobby’s creativity isn’t new to you as I detailed the chamomile tea incident in my Mommy Manifesto post.

In any event, the recent weather has been another excuse to challenge Bobby’s creativity. It’s been hot out here in Sonoma. The 90 degree days mean something other than breaking out the kiddie pool. They also mean it’s time to break out the ice cream maker. Last year, I experimented with basic vanilla and chocolate creams. This year, I’m doing something different.

That difference is that Bobby is now in charge of picking the flavors. Our first batch of the season was banana cream ice cream. For our second batch, Bobby wanted to add ice cream cones and other goodies to the mix. So, we made a new flavor which we call banana crunch bliss. Basically it was the banana base plus a bunch of delicious toppings – sugar cones, marshmallows and chocolate shavings. Sound good? You can make it too!

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 super ripe room temp bananas
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • mixings ( 1/2 cup marshmallows, 3 mashed sugar cones, 1/4 c chocolate shavings)

Mix the eggs with a fork for a bit. Slowly add the sugar. Mix until blended. Add the cream and milk. Chill the mixture for a few hours. Then, freeze per the instructions of your ice cream maker. Mash the bananas. Do this right before you add them to the mix otherwise they’ll brown. After the ice cream firms, add the bananas, then the toppings. If too soft, then freeze.

If you’re like my boys, then this batch won’t last long in your freezer. So, get ready to get creative with the next one!

this recipe is adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cookbook.

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One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish — Go Fish

There comes a time in every young boy’s life when he wants to try to catch something.  Sometimes it’s a bug, other times it’s a leprechaun, but more recently my young boy, Bobby, has been talking about catching a fish. fish So, after much debate about what the first experience should be like whether it should be out at a pond, or part of a camping trip, my husband and I decided to take the easy option.  We went to a trout farm to go fishing.   A trout farm provides a pretty fool proof way of providing a successful first fishing experience.  In fact, it seems pretty impossible not to catch a fish.

So, off we went to Hagemann Ranch in Bodega Bay.   This place is worth the drive.  Boasting two ponds, docks and little nooks and crannies, it was perfect.  Add to that, the convenience of rentable fishing poles and license free fishing, it’s the ideal destination for first time fisherman (and parents too).

So, we rented three poles, bought some worms and were off to fish. As we walked down to the pond, I was a little skeptical and wondering how long it would take Bobby to catch a fish.  Within minutes, Bobby had picked a little spot near the water.   Daddy cast the line, it was game time.  But before I could even start thinking twice about how long it would take and before any other poles were baited up and cast, Bobby had caught a fish.  Squealing with joy, he danced up and down as he saw his prize.  His little brother, CJ, celebrated by pointing and grunting.  Success!

Then, it was time to cast again.  Cast after cast, Bobby caught fish after fish.  Within a half hour, he caught 5 fish.  I never thought I would hope the experience would take longer.  So, we packed up, and had them clean the fish.  On the way out, the boys enjoyed some gummy worms.  Bobby laughed as he pretended to be a fish eating the worms.  It could have been the sugar, who knows, but the little gummy worm fish dance was priceless.

With time to spare, we ventured into a neighboring town to grab some homemade ice cream at Screamin Mimi’s .  For you locals out there, this place is worth a stop.  From the festive decor to the mouthwatering treats, it’s a delight.  I highly recommend the Mimi’s Mud, which is coffee ice cream blended with fudge and cookie love.   Total bliss!

After loading up on sugar, we brought our fish home, stuffed them with rosemary and grilled them over charcoal.  Of course, we let Bobby relive his first “fish story” and tell us all about how he caught fish after fish after fish.  The perfect ending to a (nearly) perfect day.

Mommy Manifesto: Embracing Muddy Puddles & Chamomile Infused Banana Bread

photo(25) The struggle between pursing a career and mothering is intense.  For neither seem to be able to be accomplished with perfection simultaneously.  I personally decided to ease up on the career to dedicate myself to nurturing my two boys.  Working in a different capacity has enabled me to spend more time with my boys.  However, the cost of doing is definitely a detour from the traditional career path for women lawyers.  Although I own up to this decision, doing so hasn’t eliminated the tug of war between the two.

As the case may be, when the tug of war seems to lean towards career or when I question my decision, one of my boys will do something that reminds me of why this decision was so important.  The goal of maximizing my time with my boys always wins out.  But what I do with that time, and what I’m trying to cultivate with my boys is so important.  My mommy manifesto is to:

  • raise them with love, support and compassion
  • nurture their interests
  • let them explore
  • foster their natural curiosity
  • make them appreciate the world around them
  • photo(26)teach a respect for other living creatures
  • build confidence
  • let them feel free to discover their wings and fly as they wish
  • let them feel secure
  • help them connect to the world around them
  • experience beauty, music, sports, art
  • raise them with a goal of independence and independent thinking
  • teach them to embrace their weaknesses
  • appreciate their differences and learn that being different is a strength
  • try not to coddle
  • be accepting of messes, for what brings more fun than a muddy puddle? or a sandbox
  • seek environments for them that align with the above and minimize their exposure to environments that don’t

I’m not saying that doing the above is easy or that it happens everyday.  Take an example from the other day.  Bobby wanted to cook.  So, we decided to make banana bread.  As I turned my back, he dumped in some of his chamomile tea.  I really had no idea how much tea he dumped in, nor did it really matter. The fact that he did so, really irked me.  I was angry that he didn’t follow directions.

Then, I stepped back, took a breath.  Asking myself two questions put everything in perspective:  1) who cares, and 2) what does it matter.  After all, does it really matter how the bread turned out?  And could being a stickler in this instance stifle his creativity?  Who was I to judge? Maybe he was onto something.  Maybe chamomile tea would add an extra special element to banana bread.  Who was I to stop his creative process?  In the end, the bread was a little dry as it took longer to cook, but everyone loved it anyways.

So, I’ve learned my lesson.  Next time we do cooking experiments, I’ll be making two batters.  One for Bobby and one for me.

What’s your mommy manifesto?

Just five minutes for me and a cozy cup of chai tea

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Sorry that it’s been awhile since my last post.  Life threw me a bit of a curve-ball and I’ve been reorganizing.  All is good, but I’ve needed to find some reinforcements to help with the kids so I can create time to work.

With my husband gone from before the kids get up until after they are in bed, I have gained a whole new appreciation for single moms.  Managing a house and the boys schedules alone seems to be a full time job.  Then add in work, and it’s total chaos.

Instantly, the little moments of “me time” whether it was grocery shopping solo or getting a pedicure totally evaporated into oblivion.  Where did “me time” go?

The other day, however, I got a little glimpse.  A cozy cup of chai tea, beautifully decorated with foam.  A warm spring morning.  A beautiful garden patio.  The sound of water dancing over a fountain.  And, the smell of spring in the air.  Just experiencing that moment was bliss.

With both of my boys off at their respective schools, Bobby at preschool and CJ at his playcare, before I dove into work, I took five minutes.  With every ounce of my being pulling me to occupy my time, it was totally and completely against my nature to step back and just be.  Five minutes to be present, to experience the patio, enjoy the chai, and breathe in the air.  It was heaven. And, the chai was spicy.

If you haven’t done it lately, I implore you to and before the kids go to bed.  Taking five at the end of the day when you are totally exhausted is totally different than sometime in the beginning when the day is fresh and new.  Try it out, you won’t be disappointed.

What’s your favorite way to take 5, I’d love to hear.

Picking a Preschool

The preschool hunt, for some begins as early as they are pregnant, for others long after the child is born.  For me, the thought process began when Bobby was merely weeks old hanging out in a baby carrier.  I was shopping for apples at my corner market in Oakland when a fellow mom stopped me.  She asked whether baby was on a list for school.  A little shocked by the question – I said no.  At that point, I was really thinking about buying produce, not about preschool options for my little guy.   Since Bobby was not even old enough to hold his head up, I thought it was a little early to start thinking about it.  What I learned was that the waiting lists at some schools start as early as when kids are in utero.  Yikes, I was already behind the ball!

Researching Different Options

With this in mind, when I moved to Sonoma when Bobby was six months old, I began the hunt.  In foreign territory as neither child development nor teaching is my profession, I searched for information.  Looking for expert opinions I consulted books and numerous articles (like these 1 and 2) detailing different educational philosophies like Montessori, Waldorf, Emilia.  There is only so much you can surmise from a book though.

The best advice came from local moms at the playground as they had actual experience with kids at the schools.  As I learned that there were different degrees with which the philosophies would be implemented at particular schools.  From strict implementation to lax, from focusing on daycare to the preschool program, there were so many things to consider.

Visiting the Schools

A shopper by nature, I visited the top schools that I had heard about.  Armed with my lengthy list of questions in hand like student to teacher ratio and schedules, I carefully observed what each school had to offer.  As I became more educated about programs, my list of questions evolved.   What were their goals for their graduates? What approach did they employ? How did the school develop confidence in the child? How did they engage children?

Of course, practical considerations like location and schedule came into play as well.  As one particular school that I fell in love had a very short program.  The short program coupled with the travel time to get there was impossible for my work schedule.

The decision involved other things more specific to Bobby like temperament and handling food allergies.  In addition, Bobby’s reaction to the school was key.  This even required a separate visit for some schools.  When Bobby visited, there were some schools where he immediately seemed comfortable.  There were other schools where wanted to be held the entire time.

Factors to Consider

Ultimately, the following factors helped me compare schools and make a decision:

  • Kids – did the kids seem engaged?
  • Teachers – what was their approach to teaching? How did they interact with the kids? How long had they been there?
  • Structure – what schedule did the day follow?
  • Art – what was the school’s approach to art? Was it free form or worksheets?
  • Curriculum –  what was the curriculum? Was it play based, Montessori, Waldorf or a hybrid like High-Scope?
  • Environment – was it organized, bright & cheery?
  • Play spaces – how did the space seem? Was it safe, clean, inviting?
  • Approaches to Discipline – what was the approach to discipline?  Would kids be in timeout chairs wearing a cone of shame? Or is there another more positive approach?
  • Socialization – how does the school encourage socialization?

Shortcut for Sonomans

With so many great options, picking a preschool can seem like such a tough and even overwhelming decision at times.  The good news is that there are resources out there to make it easier.   Cindy Studdert, owner of FarmTots, put it best when she described her decision not to open a formal school due to the great and numerous child centered programs in town.

In Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley Mother’s Club hosts a preschool fair every other year.  As a past coordinator of the fair, I can say firsthand that it is a unique and fabulous event.  Numerous preschools and other kids’ activities attend to showcase their programs.  It is the event where you as the shopper can comparison shop for preschools under one roof.  Take your list of questions and go booth to booth!  It is a fabulous way to start comparing different schools.  This year, the Preschool/Tot Fair is on Saturday, March 16, from 10 – 12 at the Veterans Building.

If you’re outside of Sonoma, check your local mothers club to see if they host such an event.  If they don’t, maybe start one.

 

Thanks for reading and letting me share my musings with you.  I hope this article is helpful.  I’d love to know what helped you pick a school?

FarmTots – Sonoma’s Version of Sesame Street

Last year, a friend of mine introduced me to a gem of a program in Sonoma.  FarmTots at the Studdert Family Farm is the country version of Sesame Street.  Tucked away, this darling farm offers days of discovery for young kids and adults alike.  With sheep, rams and chickens, kids can get up close and personal with nature. Farm Tots Cover

FarmTots Epitomizes What Sonoma Is All About

Besides the activities of this seven acre working farm, the main attraction is Cindy Studdert.  Cindy is a trained Montessori teacher and an experienced mom.   A natural with kids, her gentle manner guides and encourages wee ones to get their hands dirty while having fun and learning a ton.

One example is the way she taught Bobby how to care for plants.   The patience of her approach is nothing short of amazing.  It went something like this – Cindy took out plants for Bobby to water and handed him a small watering can.  Of course I thought he’d drown the plants with water as he is an expert in doing so.  As calm as a clam, Cindy explained to Bobby how he needed to make sure each of the plants had water.  He listened and did so.  After she saw how much he enjoyed waterinFarm Tots Plantsg the plants, she brought our more plants to let him water.  She then explained to him how the plants needed to be put in the greenhouse, but she asked him if the neighboring chickens looked hungry.   You can guess what happened next.

With a barn fashioned as a classroom and playgrounds galore, this farm is absolutely kid friendly.   The classroom decorated with twinkling Christmas lights boasts activities at every corner, including a sandbox.  The play structure has a steering wheel so young mateys can steer ye ship.

How did this jewel start?  It started out as a soccer program for kids.  As the kids became more interested in nature and the farm more developed, Cindy followed the children’s lead and modified her program to focus on farm activities.  Of course, she offers the typical preschool things like counting.  But what this program really offers is a hands on experience where kids can gain confidence in their abilities through working on the farm.  To me, this program epitomizes what Sonoma is all about.

Montessori Roots – Cindy’s model of engaging and interacting with the children lies with background as a Montessori teacher.  She emulates Mari Montessori’s’ tenet to follow the child.  Flexible as can be, Cindy makes space to create activities for what the child wants to do.  If a child wants to play in the garden, it’s available.  If they want to play fireman, then that’s available too.  Of if they want to steer a ship and play pirates, then off to the play structure.  If they ate all of the Farm Tots Mike Iketomatoes, then Cindy helps the kids plant more.

She follows another of Montessori’s tenets which is to teach practical life skills.  For example, kids learn to rake and sweep.  In doing so, they develop not only fine but also gross motor skills.

It also seems to follow some Waldorf principles as well as the program follows and teaches children about the rhythm of the seasons.  With fruit cocktail trees, children are able to enjoy loads of different fruit.

Most of the kids in the program also are in other programs as well.  So, the program acts as a supplement to those programs.  With all of the child centered programs in Sonoma, Cindy didn’t feel a need to open a school.

With a fabulous ratio of teachers to students, sometimes even 2 to 1, FarmTots can nurture children with individualized attention schools with larger ratios are unable to provide.

Sound good?  The Nitty Gritty – FarmTots is now accepting preschool aged and school aged children.  The program for preschool tots, starting at age 2.5, is on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 -1:00 (during the spring and then again in late August).  The school aged program is on Wednesday afternoons after school.  FarmTots also has a Parent & Tot Class on March 15, 29 and April 19, & 26 from 9:30-11 at a cost of $10.

FarmTots has a summer program that serves kids ages  2.5-10 during the weeks of June 17, 24.  July 8, 15, 22 and 29 (Mondays – Thursdays from 9:30 -2:00pm).

Contact Cindy Studdert for more information cindylane1@sbcglobal.net

Bath-time Commandments

Do tidal waves hit your bathroom too?  It’s amazing that after bath-time there is always water splashed about my boys’ bathroom.  Encouraging fun and water play is important over here.  After all, the boys have such a fabulous time fishing for toys, pouring water and playing water instruments.  That said, I am starting to need to put some limits around this spash zone.

Somewhere between bath-time exploration and the  splash zone has to be a middle ground.  I am waiting to find it.  In search of it, I’ve implemented the following golden rules.  We’ll see how long they last.  I’d love to hear your ideas too!

Bath-Time Commandments

  • Bath toys stay in the tub
  • Water stays in the tub
  • No dumping water on siblings
  • No pooping in the tub
  • And, last but not least don’t drink the water (see above)

Tackle Those Spices: One Way to Organize A Shelf

Too cold to jaunt outside in the morning?  Or are your kids like mine, sick as dogs with the cold that just won’t go away?  Why not take advantage of being inside and make life a little easier by organizing your spices.

spice 1If you’re like me, you have a few spices on hand.  Some of them you may never use, because they are buried in a corner, at the bottom of a drawer or have just disappeared completely.  After years of trying to figure out how to best organize my spice drawer, I finally figured it out!

Rather than use a spice drawer, I am using a shelf.  I have labeled the tops of the spice jars.  Since the tops of the spices are at eye level it is so easy to find the spices I need when I need them.  My cooking has gotten a bit more creative as now everything is easily accessible.

All it took was a few labels, a sharpie pen, a little time and a dash of patience spice 2and voila — mission accomplished!  You can color code your spices as well.  I used red for spicy, yellow for savory, and blue for sweet which is turning out to be helpful.

By the way, the Slap Ya Mama spice in the photo besides adding a dose of humor to a spice collection, offers a fabulous slightly spicy yet salty flavor.   In my opinion,  like the man spice for women.  You know, the one your husband wants to put on everything? My husband would put Lawry’s or Mrs. Dash on anything and everything (before he met me).  So Slap Ya Mama is a southern favorite -its like Old Bay but with more flavor.  Made with red pepper, garlic and salt, it is pretty darn versatile.

What’s your favorite way to organize spices? I’d love to hear.

Where to Dine With Kids in Sonoma & Glen Ellen

FremontWith numerous Michelin rated restaurants, Sonoma is definitely a culinary mecca. There’s no reason to let kids deter you from hitting the town. From formal to casual, there are endless places to enjoy. Here is my short list.

cafe The Fig Cafe, Glen Ellen – With kid friendly tablecloths, divine food and friendly service, the Fig Cafe has it all. Savor the seasonal flavors and local produce while your little Picasso decorates the tablecloths. Don’t panic, because the cloths are topped with butcher paper (yay!). Bobby and CJ (well and to be honest I) highly recommend the mac & cheese. Bring your favorite bottle of wine as corkage is complimentary. A word to the wise – make sure to avoid the long wait by arriving when they open at 5:30.

Hopmonk Tavern – With a lovely beer garden that is nearly fully enclosed, Hopmonk is absolutely kid friendly. Hopmonk also hosts a variety of musical gigs, which can be captivating for young-ones as you enjoy the local brew.

Murphy’s Pub – Warm enough to dine al fresco? Then Murphys is a great spot. With burgers, fries and chicken strips, the menu offers kiddo friendly food. Bobby and CJ love the curry fries. So order up your favorite pint and enjoy!

Red Grape, Sonoma Square – Who doesn’t love Italian food with fresh Sonoma flair? In a laid back setting, the Red Grape allows families to do so in a no fuss setting. And, what kid dislikes pizza? I recommend just ordering off of the adult menu and providing Junior a slice of the adult flavor. Should you be meeting up with friends, consider reserving a spot in the back room. The bench is a great way to corral tumbling toddlers.

Taste of the Himalayas, Sonoma Square – This quaint restaurant is perfect for kids. With warm service and flavorful food, kids are right at home. They’ve brought food out for the kids almost immediately. Bobby recommends the garlic naan and CJ the lentil soup.

Fancy a special breakfast spot? Then check out the Fremont Diner or Studebaker Cafe.

Fremont Diner – It doesn’t get more kid friendly than Fremont Diner where you’ll be greeted by rusty trucks out front. Watch out Cars fans, Bobby has cited Mater. Farm enthusiasts will delight watching the chickens free range in the back garden. The patio hosts picnic tables perched atop gravel. A delight for toddlers as they toss their food on the floor (yay!). So, grab a table and order up some comfort food. I’m in love with the breakfast sandwich, and my husband with the biscuits and gravy.

Studebaker Cafe home to the Golden Hawk Cafe (breakfast only) offers a more casual experience. Fully equipped with a train table and developmental toys, Studebaker photo(18)Cafe can help keep your kids entertained while you enjoy some of the decadently sinful offerings there including the famous cheesecake. They have a nice and affordable breakfast menu. For example, organic egg omelets with cheese are $4. That said, I highly recommend the scones. with each bite, a symphony if bliss. Maybe its from the fact that Studebaker takes endless efforts to ensure perfection, including making their own buttermilk. So, check it out.

Did I miss your favorite spot? I’d love to learn about it.

Kid Friendly Wine Tasting in Sonoma Valley

Wine tastingLife in Sonoma may be synonymous with picturesque vineyards but it is also synonymous with kid friendly activities of all sorts.  Finding kid friendly wine tasting experiences, however, can be a little tricky as some of the tasting rooms seem more like museums.  From intimate to commercial tasting rooms, here’s a list of my favorite spots to take family and friends with kids in tow.

RocheSince this article is about wine tasting in Sonoma, I’ll first mention a delightful tasting room steps from the historic Sonoma Plaza.  Let your kids explore the Sonoma Plaza and then continue the fun at the Roche Winery Tasting Room.  In addition to exquisite wines, Roche offers a perfect place to experience life Sonoma style.  Not to worry if your tots are still restless, Roche has a lovely patio for kids to roam.  If your kids are older, Roche also has bike tours of the vineyards!Kid cycling Roche

Meadowcroft is ideally situated at Cornerstone.  Why not let your kiddos let off some steam while hunting around the gardens, and then pop in for a tasting?  That’s what I did.  And, to be honest the folks at Meadowcroft were more than hospitable with the two galloping tots.  They even went out of their way to invite me to feed my kiddos in the tasting room.

Bartholomew Park  offers as its name suggests is in a park setting.  With trails and picnic grounds to roam, all will delight in a visit.  Interested in hiking? Then load your toddler in your backpack and take a hike.  Or bring a picnic and enjoy the grounds.

No list of family friendly Sonoma wineries would be complete without mention of the Larson Family Winery.  This place includes picnic tables and a grassy area with kid friendly games.  If you like  bubbles, then try theirs. We used it to celebrate CJ’s baptism.  Also, for future holiday planning, note that Santa visits Larson.  Wine tasting  and Santa — enough said.

Desire a more intimate tasting experience?  Then consider visiting Peter Cellars.  Located on a private estate equipped with bocce ball, it doesn’t get more kid friendly than this. Be forewarned, however, that this boutique winery offers wines so delightful you’ll be hard pressed not to join IMG_1755the wine club!  Note that tastings are by appointment only.

Up for a bit of a drive?  Then venture to two wineries in my neighborhood – Benziger and Eric Ross.  The warm, friendly and intimate environment at Eric Ross Tasting Room is worth a visit.  Eric Ross is so kid friendly that they keep hot-wheel cars on hand!  And, Dennis and Diane, the tasting room managers, make it a point to welcome kids.

Benziger in Glen Ellen offers a fun experience.  It even boasts a play-structure!  I think one of the only play structures in Glen Ellen.  Take kids on the tractor tour of the vineyard or let them climb the fort and speed down the slide.  Either way you win!

Kenwood offers numerous spots as well.  Why not visit VJB?  VJB offers a little piece of Italy right here in Sonoma.  Feel transported  by the environment, wines and flavors.  In addition to a tasting room, VJB houses a lovely Italian deli and dessert cafe.  The courtyard contains kids providing a respite for parents as they leisurely nibble on Italian treats while letting kids race around the courtyard.  I highly recommend the prosciutto and arugula pizza.  Totally delicious!

I hope you enjoy some of these places.  Did I miss your favorite spot?  I’d love to hear about it!