Girls weekend in Santa Rosa

About a year ago Erin and I were planning a girls weekend in wine country when I realized that my grandma’s funeral was scheduled for the same weekend. Needless to say I would much rather have had a vacation than travelled to Kansas with a toddler for such a sad occasion. But I wouldn’t have missed saying goodbye to my grandmother, and so we had to reschedule. We finally got our trip pulled together, and it was so amazing!

I needed this trip so badly. Life is stressful and exhausting lately, and these trips (even the shortest ones) are so restorative. We got an airbnb guesthouse in Santa Rosa for a very reasonable price, and then we set aside some money for food and pampering. It really helps to have a best friend with experience as an event planner. I pretty much just had to show up and everything was ready to go.

The back yard where we stayed, complete with bubbling fountain.

This gorgeous Victorian was right across the street AND it had an Airstream. I am clearly living in the wrong place.

Our first food stop in the area was the Squeeze Inn in Napa. I have been wanting to try a Squeezeburger for ages! It’s basically a classic California burger topped with so much cheddar cheese that it forms a “cheese skirt” you have to peel off and eat. It was really good, and since I couldn’t finish mine I got to keep eating it all weekend.


That night we walked around downtown Santa Rosa and found this cute magician-themed ice cream shop. It was huge and very kid-friendly, the kind of place I wish we had in our neighborhood. I had a sundae made with sugar cookie ice cream that was as good as it sounds.

The next morning we decided to try the Naked Pig for breakfast. Thankfully, a friend had just posted on Facebook about going there, so I wanted to try it. I had to take this picture so that you could see how this farm-to-table restaurant is situated in the parking lot across from a garage. Kind of funny.

But oh man was this little place a winner. They have these homemade biscuits served with butter and honey that certainly rival any I’ve ever made. And although our food was pretty simple, you could tell they pay attention to every single ingredient. The bacon tasted like maple syrup and the tomatoes in Erin’s frittata looked just like the ones in my garden.

It was so good we actually went back for breakfast the next day. I had to try the bacon waffle, which was SO good. It was light and crispy and just crammed full of bacon.

After that we were ready for pampering. We got hour-long massages. I was so excited that the pillow arrangement allowed me to lay on my stomach. I haven’t done that in months! After that we got a taco lunch and picked up some beer from Russian River Brewing. None for me, but Erin and Mike are big fans.

Then it was onto more pampering! We got the world’s most affordable mani-pedis at Sea Spa. The older lady who did my toes was obsessed with my baby belly. By the end of the appointment she was giving me hugs.

After that we were feeling like we needed to get out and explore the outdoors a little. So we drove all the way out to the Sonoma coast. It was about 20 degrees cooler out there, with such a pretty view.

Then we decided to head back to Guerneville (note to self, stay in this cute area sometime!) to see the Armstrong Redwoods park. I had no idea this beautiful place was up there, but I will definitely be going back.

It has the perfect set of easy trails through an amazing redwood canopy. As soon as I get to a place like that, my blood pressure drops 20 points and I am just so restored.

After that very full day we wanted something good to eat. We had the hardest time deciding on a restaurant. At first we wanted Indian or Himalayan, but there are just so many restaurants to choose from. So somehow we landed on Belly, which is sort of a gastropub. We were able to walk there from our airbnb place and we got seated right away. They have a lot of small plates that are good for sharing so we went kind of crazy trying them all. And they were all so good I didn’t even take pictures.

We had chorizo with brussels sprouts, mac ‘n cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach, a wedge salad and then the surprise of the night, corned beef tacos. We kind of rolled the dice on those, but they were so much better than anything I could have pictured. They kind of crisped the meat like carnitas, and then served it with a cream sauce and cabbage (St. Patrick’s Day alternative meal next year?). We actually didn’t even eat the guacamole it came with because the tacos were already so flavorful. After that we were in total bliss and about to burst. But then we saw the table next to us order this incredible looking chocolate mousse served on a wood slab with whipped cream and berries. So yeah, we had to have that too. We ended up taking so much food home.

When we got back, Harper couldn’t get enough of her “auntie Erin.”

All in all I’d say we crammed in just about as much enjoyable stuff as you possibly could in two days. And yet it still seemed incredibly relaxing. I cannot wait to do something like this again!

Biscuit donuts

Um, why did no one tell me about the wonderfulness that is a biscuit donut?

I learned about them on the Say Yes blog and couldn’t believe I’d never tried them before. Basically all you do is crack open a can of biscuit dough, stamp out the middles, fry the donuts in oil and roll them in cinnamon sugar.

They come out remarkably similar to donuts you would buy in a store. They remind me a lot of the cider donuts you get when you go apple picking.

It does take a pretty large amount of oil for frying, but you can actually save it an reuse it another time. Because you will be making these again.

I am a lazy cook, so I did not use a thermometer to figure out how hot the oil was. When it seemed like the donuts were cooking too fast, I turned down the burner a little bit. That seemed to work fine. They got brown and crispy really quickly, so it didn’t take long to make a batch of 8 plus the donut holes. Harper ate most of those and we ate the whole ones. Perfect!

This was sort of the opposite of the breakfast baking I did the weekend before. I have been determined for a long time to find a yeast cinnamon roll recipe that was worth all the effort. I’ve tried 3 times, I think, and they were never good enough. I mean, how can a cinnamon roll that takes 3 hours to make be just OK?

But I finally found THE recipe. I think it came up on Pinterest and it just looked too good not to try. One morning I actually had energy so I got to work. I had to be at the store later that morning so I ended up taking some shortcuts and the recipe still turned out fine. For the first rise, I probably gave it 40 minutes instead of an hour. Then I think I shortened the second rise a little too. The dough was very sticky, but it rolled out just fine.

I made some other changes too. I used all butter instead of margarine because I am a butter girl. My yeast was expired but that didn’t seem to matter either. And then I probably used 1 tablespoon of cinnamon instead of 3. That seemed like plenty to me.

The cream cheese icing seemed like it was too sugary and not cream cheesy enough. But then later it seemed fine, so maybe it just needed to meld a little more.

I couldn’t make this recipe everyday (and definitely shouldn’t!) but I will keep it on file for special occasions. It is everything you want from a cinnamon roll — soft, crumbly bread with a gooey center and melty frosting on top. And at least when you make these at home you know what’s in them.

Garden good, bad and ugly

Now that we’re coming to the end of the growing season and everything is starting to get brown and crinkly, I feel like I can evaluate everything we decided to grow this year. Overall it went really well, I think.

• Both cherry tomato plants grew well beyond anything we could have imagined. They got so big they actually flopped over and have nearly collapsed their cages. We had so many that we got sick of them a long time ago.

These have grown way up into the orange tree, well above my head. And they’re still covered in green tomatoes!

Mom and I started taking cherry tomatoes to our neighborhood crop swap (such a great idea, btw!) and I think even our neighbors are sick of them. Next year I think one plant would be plenty. The orange variety tasted better, in my opinion.
• Cucumbers grew and produced like crazy. If I had to do it over I might choose a variety that is a little less bitter. Ours were nice pickled but not so great plain.
• The San Marzano tomato plant has also grown like mad. It’s overflowed into the surrounding plants.

We’ve picked buckets of tomatoes from that plant, but the good thing about those is that when you peel and cook them down for sauce they make a much smaller amount. So you can’t really have too many.

• The “Michael Pollan” tomato plant took a while to mature, but now it has what I would call a sane amount of tomatoes on it and they are really tasty. Just like a tiny Green Zebra.

• The standard looking tomato we planted has been producing a lot of tomatoes without going too crazy. They’re good, but nowhere near as tasty as Purple Cherokees. Next year, heirlooms!

• Mint just needed a little compost in order to go nuts like normal mint.

Getting there:
• Strawberries did pretty well, but we need more!
• The blueberries and raspberry plants produced a few berries, but I think these plants need time to really grow to maturity.
• I had just about given up on our pepper plants when one of them perked up. It now has a nice looking pepper on it. Maybe more compost next time?

• I’m still holding onto hope that our little mandarin tree will produce edible fruit. Most of the oranges that survived to a bigger size are still there and some of them are turning yellow!

• I think we grew about 3 edible green beans before all the plants died. We may have started them too late or put them in not-great soil.
• The purple tomatillos grew tons of flowers and little casings, but they are all empty inside. Not sure why since they appear healthy.

We don’t have a ton of room to add more plants but I think next year it would be nice to have some sort of zucchini or squash. It just doesn’t feel like a summer garden without them. So funny that at our crop swap no one had any! But there were all sorts of interesting things like lemon cucumbers, Thai papayas and Meyer lemons.

We’d love to have rhubarb, too. And maybe some beets. We’ve grown carrots and lettuces in the past, but I’m not sure we liked them enough to do it again. 

My first pickles

I promised I would report back on pickles and I’m finally getting to it!

Our cucumber plant produced a TON of cukes so we had to figure out pickling. I wanted to keep them as simple as possible, so I followed Deb’s instructions for the easiest fridge dill pickles.

First, I had to use a vegetable peeler to scrape off all the little spiky bits on the cucumbers. Some of them were really sharp. Then I decided to slice mine into spears.

I didn’t have fresh dill so I used dried and I think it worked just fine. One thing I had to adjust, though, was to add water to fill the jars to the top. Maybe because I had spears instead of slices, my cucumbers didn’t let out enough water and they were super vinegar-y. Once I added the water they were just about perfect.

I thought they might go bad quickly in the fridge, but they have lasted weeks and weeks. In fact I think they get better over time.

Harper at 2.5

I just put this in the kids category rather than baby – I guess that says it all.

She loved when grandad played guitar for her.

Harper has changed so much in the last few months. I find myself wanting to freeze her in time when she does something really sweet and funny. She’ll be a total monster one minute and then the next minute she’ll cuddle up and say, “I love you SO MUCH!”

She’s a constant imitator, both of what we say and what she sees on her favorite shows, Daniel Tiger and Peg + Cat. One time my mom walked in the room and she was playing her xylophone like a “pinano” while watching a character play a piano on TV. It was just so precious. I’m not one to use that word often, but there’s no other way to describe her right now.

I do see her trying to exert her will more. Like with very basic things I ask her to do like put her shoes on. She’s testing boundaries and realizing her power. I’m starting to understand all the things I’ve heard about the 3-year-old personality. I’m definitely concerned about how she’ll react to the new baby since she’ll be almost 3 when he arrives. (Oh yeah, we just found out it’s a boy!)

She does not want to talk about having a baby brother at all. She will repeat pretty much anything you say, but if you bring up a baby in mommy’s tummy or being a big sister she just shuts off. It’s so weird. How could she know that?

But we have more pressing concerns right now with potty training. We’ve been putting it off for a while, but I think she’s finally ready (and we’re finally ready to commit).


My dad and stepmom came for a visit recently, and they had a lot of fun taking Harper on some outings. The last time Mike took her to the Little Farm she was terrified of the cows, but not this time. She LOVED feeding the animals. She was just cracking up the whole time.

And I know everyone says this, but my god, their energy! I’m still extra tired all the time and I would give anything to suck a little bit of energy out of her.

On the plus side, she has been sleeping so much better lately. Pretty consistent 2-hour naps and longer nights without waking. I don’t know what the secret is with this kid, but I’m just going with it.

She’s still a little daredevil. When we walked around the houseboats in Sausalito she kept going right up to the railings next to the water and poking her head through. I think she would have just jumped in the water if we let her.

Another thing she really seems to enjoy is gardening. She “helps” us pick cherry tomatoes and puts them in the back of her little dump truck.

She is also still very much an outdoors gal. She decided our overflowing geranium plant was the perfect hangout spot and sometimes I find her laying there.

Large trees are not all that common in our neighborhood so when she sees one she will literally go up and hug it.

She still has a great appetite, and it must be fueling her growth because she has really stretched out. She’s pretty tall compared to her peers now, so I think she is going to end up taller than me.

We’ve had her in part-time daycare for a few months now and it’s kind of a mixed bag. They say she is really reserved and plays by herself there, which is the total opposite of how she behaves at home. I think she’d probably open up more if she was there daily but we just can’t afford it. So we’ll see.

This next 6 months will hold a lot of change for this little girl, but she is nothing if not resilient.

Easy strawberry jam

I feel like jam is one of those things that seems intimidating, but is actually really easy to make. I think it’s the canning aspect that’s scary, but you can make a quick fridge jam that will disappear too quickly to bother with the canning anyway.

We were only getting a handful of strawberries from our garden every day, so I decided to save them in a bag in the freezer until I had enough to make jam. I found this recipe in Real Simple and it worked perfectly.

Basically all you do is combine the fruit with sugar and lemon juice and simmer it until the fruit has broken down into a soft, chunky mixture. Let it cool and pour the jam into a jar.

You can make a decadent toast with cream cheese and berry jam – yum!

Butter shrimp

I never knew the magic of butter chicken until we moved to a place that has a Nepalese restaurant on every corner. I’m not sure the connection, but we have a LOT of Indian/Nepalese restaurants in our area, and they are wonderful. Have you had momos, those little meat or veggie-filled dumplings? Sooo good. Anyway, I tried the butter chicken at Taste of the Himalayas (my fave) and was totally hooked. So when I saw Posie had posted a recipe for butter shrimp, I wanted to try making that at home. 

I didn’t have tandoori paste, so I tried making it myself and it was super easy. I was thinking you could put that in a lot of things to add major flavor. 

The brilliant colors of all those spices remind me that I need to cook with them more often. 

I think I only used 1 pound of shrimp instead of two. It was frozen in a bag so I thawed it in some water first. 

Anything with this much butter has to be good!

I skipped the sliced almond garnish but I definitely added peas. Overall, I was happy with how quickly this dish came together. I think the sauce is even better than the chicken tikka masala recipe I had been making before, so I might just go with this one from now on. 

No. 2

I can’t believe I forgot to mention that we’re having a baby!

One of my lab tests got lost (WTF?) so it took longer than expected for us to reveal the news on Facebook. But yes, Harper is getting a sibling around Dec. 30. We probably won’t find out for a few more weeks whether it is a boy or girl, but we are definitely finding out.

It will be interesting to see if this winds up being a Christmas, New Years, or super late baby. We keep joking that we need a December baby for tax purposes!

So far everything has gone well, although it has been harder than last time for sure. I started my job right around the time I found out I was pregnant, so it was a lot of new things at once. The nausea was a little worse and I feel a lot bigger a lot sooner. I get these pains under my ribcage that I probably didn’t get until I was 6 months along last time. But one bonus is that at 16 weeks I can already feel some little movements.

I’m hoping to start prenatal yoga soon, and I’m thinking it might be fun to take a little babymoon in Calistoga. I hear there is supposed to be a big energy boost in the second trimester, but I’m still waiting for that to kick in…

Sweet potato hash

There is this really great breakfast place near us called Sam’s Log Cabin that serves the most delicious vegan hash with sweet potatoes, carrots and greens. I tried it on a whim one time and was pleasantly surprised by how rich and filling it was. So, I really wanted to try making it at home. The other day I saw someone making sweet potato hash on a cooking show and I was like, OK, I’m doin’ it!

I, of course, thought it would be better with bacon. Similar to Smitten Kitchen’s bacon corn hash, I thought the bacon fat could be used instead of butter to cook the vegetables. So here is what I came up with:

Sweet potato hash
Serves 4
Top with an egg for the perfect breakfast or brunch meal.
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  1. 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  2. 2 large yams, peeled and chopped
  3. 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  4. 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  5. 2 handfuls arugula or other fresh greens
  6. 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  7. 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  8. Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until it is starting to get crispy but not completely done.
  2. Add the yams, carrots, and onions and cover the pan with a lid. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the vegetables aren't sticking to the pan.
  3. Season with paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. When the sweet potatoes and carrots are nice and soft, add the arugula and stir to combine. Turn off the heat.
  4. If you like, top with a fried egg and serve.
  1. *To make the hash vegetarian or vegan, substitute 3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil for the bacon.
Cara Corey
I like to put a runny fried egg (or eggs) on top of my hash. I just think it’s the perfect combination. I’ve also seen a recipe where you spread the hash out in a 9×13 pan, crack a few eggs on top and then bake them. That sounds pretty great, too.

Holy crap, tomatoes

Last time I wrote about the garden I was impressed by how much the tomatoes had grown. Well, now they are like some kind of mutant tomatoes that have grown so much they don’t even begin to be contained by the cages we bought. One of them is getting tangled up in the orange tree and another one is so thick I don’t think I am going to be able to reach the tomatoes when they ripen. 

But considering we’ve only ever produced a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes since we moved to California, I’ll take these crazy plants. We’re starting to get lots of red and orange cherry tomatoes and they’re really good. 

One of the first plants to start producing a lot was the cucumber. It’s huge now, and the little cukes become big ones in only a day or two. I’m making pickles now, so I’ll write about that soon.

We planted a few green beans along our fence. Some of them are happier than others, but I can see a few beans. 

Mike and I were surprised that the tomatillos we bought don’t look anything like tomato plants, but they do have tons of blossoms on them. We’ll see. They’re supposed to be purple!

Some oranges finally ripened on the big orange tree, and they are so juicy and good.

They’re basically like naval oranges with a thick skin. Great for juice or snacking (Harper loves them). 

The mandarin tree is looking great, too. We’ve never had an orange on there bigger than about a centimeter. Now there are a few that are an inch or bigger. Come on little oranges!

The blueberries seem to be done for now, but I think they will blossom again this summer. The strawberry patch produces a few every day, but still not as many as I would like. I think I need to plants some more plants in the bare places. 

I’m not sure why, but all the sudden the mint started growing like normal mint does. Actually, I did put some compost in there, so maybe it was just hungry!

I’m so excited about the first raspberry blossoms. I know those plants are just babies, but I would love to have a few berries to pick.

The flowers in the yard are kind of a mixed bag. Some are flourishing while others are drying out. I think they will be the first to suffer from the lack of rain. The calla lilies are way bushier than last year with a lot of blooms (pink and yellow). 

This flowering bush, which as been just a few sticks since last summer, is finally coming back. 

But the hydrangeas look like they have a fungus and have turned some strange colors. They seem extra prone to it.

I should mention that the little garden my mom planted out front looks amazing. She dug out this little triangular patch, which has a rock border around it, and planted some drought-resistant flowers. Then, a bunch of California poppies sprouted right in the middle, so I think it looks just right now. The gnome thinks so too. 

And finally, the grass we planted for the dog area is growing pretty well. It needs a lot of watering to get going, but hopefully that can taper off once it’s established. There are a few dry patches, but those are easy to fill in.