Category Archives: sonoma

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!

2012, Where did you go?

It’s so hard to believe it is January. 2013 – yikes, where did 2012 go? Reflecting on the last year, I was shocked at how much of a blur it’s all been.  It occurred to me that having baby numero 2 created more of a mommy fog than baby numero 1. Why? Well, with two boys racing around – time just doesn’t stand still.  I’m left in the dust behind two roadrunners.

Maybe it’s just me, but time seems to fly faster the more children I have.  It didn’t seem to go as fast with just one child.  Bobby’s first year, my husband and I relocated to Sonoma.  I can vividly remember exploring the town with my then 6 month old Bobby, introducing him to music classes and story-time.  I did similar things in 2012 with CJ, but its such a blur.  maybe it’s that the visits to the parks have taken on a new persona, instead of sitting playing in sand or with leaves, it’s a more interactive experience – playing hide and seek, tag, freeze dance, and chasing after Bobby as he climbs trees or (to be honest) tries to run into oncoming traffic.Again, left in the dust.

The quandary becomes how to slow things down for 2013.  Over the holidays a friend and also a mom of 2 wrote a beautiful piece about slowing things down.  She vowed to create stillness in her life.  To enjoy, embrace and extol the simple moments. Through these moments like reading stories, singing songs, and playing games, she saw her kids shine.

After much reflection as to my own blurry 2012, I do think there is something to slowing things down.  For isn’t it in the everyday moments where we really see our children in a new way.  Letting them explore things thoroughly without the pressures of hurrying about to get to X, to accomplish Y, or to finish Z.  I’m starting to think so anyway.

http://mothering-matters.com/10-tips-for-easier-laundry/The other day when faced with piles of laundry to fold, I tried something new.  Rather than wait until my roadrunners were sleeping, I decided to pull out the laundry baskets and actively engage them in folding. Here’s what happened.  Bobby was thrilled to get to help.  CJ was happy to pull clothes out of the basket and then climb in it.  Rather than get frustrated about the mess and inefficiency of the process, I let it go, trying to enjoy the moment.  I focused on letting the kids just enjoy the process.  After all, did it really matter if it took a little longer to fold?  Or if a towel had to be folded 3 times?  What I learned about my boys in that hour couldn’t be replicated anyother way.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be making this laundry folding a daily activity.  Nor will I be slowing things down completely as it’s not in my nature.  But I will be carving out time and creating space to enjoy life in a pure and simple way.

Sonoma Slow Cooker Stew

Winter in Sonoma means rainy weather, cozy fires and warm stew.  Having 2 young boys around makes finding a dish that all will enjoy challenging at times.  This stew though is a winner.  With Bobby loving the veggies and CJ the meat, this dish is both baby and toddler friendly.  The deep flavor imbued by the red wine (I use cab) makes it adult friendly too.  Plus this recipe yields quite a bit of stew so it is a perfect excuse to invite over a few friends to share it with.

4.5 lbs of stew meat

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp bacon fat

1 lb frozen white pearl onions

1 lb crimini mushrooms quartered

2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes cubed

2 cups kale chopped

1 leek

1 stalk celery

2 tbsp tomato paste

4 cups beef broth

1 bottle red wine

¼ cup flour

2 tsps parsley

2 tsps thyme

3 bay leaves

Salt & pepper to taste

Heat pan, add oil and bacon fat, heat till smokes.  Brown meat.

Add bouquet garni (leek cut lengthwise and 1 stalk celery tied together with kitchen twine) and bay leaves

Add mushrooms, potatoes, onions, broth, wine, tomato paste, spices (parsley, thyme, salt and pepper).  Cook on low in slow cooker for 7.5 hours.  Toss the bouquet.  Thicken sauce to desired thickness with flour.  Add kale.  Let kale wilt.  Serve with rice.  Enjoy!

Rainy Day Fun – Ornaments With A Bit of History

Desperate for a rainy day activity, I remembered back to when a babysitter in days of past made cookie ornaments.  It dawned on me that Bobby might like doing something like that, after all he does love to play with playdough.  Salt-dough is basically the same thing but more keepsake friendly.

The difference between the two recipes comes down to oil – play dough has it, salt-dough doesn’t.  Consequently salt-dough dries hard giving lasting life to your child’s creations.  The good news is that kids can play with the dough for days (just keep it airtight) and then dry their creations for further play or even gifts.

Here’s how to make salt dough.  Take 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup salt and 3/4 cup warm water.  Mix all ingredients and kneed for 5 minutes.  Then play!

We made animals and even cookie cutter ornaments in the shapes of cowboy boots as Bobby has been really into Woody from Toy Story lately.  If you decide to make ornaments, make sure to make holes in them before you set them out to dry.  Straws make perfect holes.  Drying takes about a week.  After they are dry, you can color them with paints or markers.

As a side note, making cookie ornaments also provides a way to teach a bit of history.  The whole tradition of decorating a Christmas tree started in Europe. Back then trees were decorated primarily with food and candy as a symbol of giving thanks for daily bread.

Wishing you rainy days filled with fun!

Pumpkin Patch Roundup

Along with fall, comes pumpkin lattes, jack o lanterns and of course Halloween!  Halloween is such a fun holiday to prepare for with kiddos.  Of course there is one tradition that is a treat to kids and adults alike — finding that perfect pumpkin.  Sonoma County has many amazing pumpkin patches to visit.  From neighborhood patches to full blown farms, there is something out there for everyone.  Here are a few suggestions:

Adobe Pumpkin Farm, Old Adobe Road, Petaluma.  Driving into Petaluma from Sonoma, you’ll likely pass by Adobe Pumpkin Farm.  With rusty old tractors decorating the pumpkin patch, kids can have fun running from tractor to tractor.  After kids find the perfect pumpkin, then you can do other things like harvest veggies, taste some local goodies, or shop for holiday (even Christmas) goods.  If you plan your visit on a weekend, then you will benefit from additional kid friendly activities such as pony rides, face painting and jumpy houses.  http://www.adobepumpkinfarm.com/

Peter Pumpkin Patch, Petaluma, 4235 Spring Hill Rd., Petaluma.  This pumpkin patch is out by Spring Hill Cheese Co. (also known as Petaluma Creamery.)  Let kids explore the patch, go for a hay ride, dig potatoes, milk cows, and climb pyramids made from haybails.  Then, treat them to some organic ice cream while you try some of Spring Hill’s organic cheese.  Definitely a trip worth making! http://www.springhillcheese.com/holiday.html

Petaluma Pumpkin Patch – Right off of the 101 is another pumpkin patch – the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch.  This patch has a fun corn maze (and animals too!).  So, hurry up and pick your pumpkin, then get lost in the maze.  http://www.petalumapumpkinpatch.com/

Petersons Pumpkin Patch, 636 Gossage Avenue, Petaluma – Pumpkins, animals and bees are on the agenda for those visiting Peterson’s Pumpkin Patch.  This farm is stacked with things for kids to do.  From a kid friendly exhibit on bees to feeding cows and watching chickens, this farm has lots to offer.  http://www.petersonsfarm.com/index.html

Stanly Lane is another local gem.  It has lots to offer in addition to pumpkins, including baby pigs!

Tolay Fall Festival has loads of fun on the menu.  Tractor rides, creatures barn, petting zoo, lawn games and crafts are a few of the things to do.  This festival has only select hours, so make sure to check the calendar before you go – available at http://www.sonoma-county.org/parks/pk_tolay_fallfestival.htm