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.


Squeezeburgers.

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.

Successes:
• 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!

Failures:
• 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.