My Ode to Joy & Beauty

Cooking.  With Sparkle.

Cooking. With Sparkle.

“Sometimes the things that mean the most to us, are the hardest to write about,” said friend Vallerie last week as she helped me pry my kids from a soapy bathtub.  I’d been lamenting how to properly do justice to an exquisite ring I’ve recently acquired from Ashley Morgan Designs.  It’s a Figure 8 in pure gold with small, perfectly glimmering diamonds wrapped into a full circle.  It joined ranks with the most special gifts from my husband marking our love for each other and our children.  And I’ve been having trouble finding the right words.

Chopping cilantro with glimmers of beauty.

It’s a “lifetime piece” for me, delicate but strong.  Continuous in harmony yet each stone blazing.  A forever ring meant to subtly symbolize our two gorgeous children (Anni was born in August and Coltrane on March 8) and also for my dad Richard who built my Mom a white circle arbor out of wood (with help from my brother Casey) before he died from cancer in 2003.

My 8's helping me paint last week.

My 8′s helping me paint last week.

Mom's circle arbor in progress, Temecula, CA.

Mom’s circle arbor in progress, ca 2003.

I love this ring.  This piece of art… Make no mistake.  Jewelry is ART. Or with significant investment, it should be.  And like my art collection (all Living California artists) what I choose to wear and collect on my person is every single bit as meaningful as what I surround my family with on our walls.  What they (& I) visibly see and take in as Beauty each day is, I believe, as nutritious to all souls — regardless of age — as picking dinner from the garden most nights.

Roasted eggplant, heirloom tomato, and spinach/walnut pesto "Caprese" with Oliver's mozzarella.  Garden fresh!

Cooking with Sparkle! Roasted eggplant, heirloom tomato, and spinach/walnut pesto “Caprese” with Oliver’s mozzarella. Garden fresh!

Ashley is a gifted artist.  A young designer bucking the trend.  And a fellow Mom who by all accounts, is a down-to-earth-style-maven with a good head on her shoulders and an infectious laugh.  Based in San Francisco, she has opted to craft a line (all by hand, each piece individually) which speaks to the poetic and natural world around us…and I think to the female strength and beauty within each of us.  I am completely enamored with much of her design and think the world is about to revere her art as much as I do.

A necklace in process of creation...

A necklace in process of creation…

Once ordered, this little ring of mine took four weeks to complete.  But that’s her style.  One that you will surely see this coming Fall with Nieman Marcus (photo shoot shots below).  Ashley Morgan Designs is about to properly take flight and its been unique appreciating her work on the ground floor.

Ashley Morgan Designs shot for Nieman Marcus just this past week.  A Sneak Peak here:

Ashley Morgan Designs shot for Nieman Marcus just this past week. A Sneak Peak here:

Ashley’s art strikes me as catching the most ephemeral light in Life.  What we remember in our deepest minds eye… from reflections on water in our childhood, how green leaves blaze emerald overhead in a breezy tree canopy, or those stolen moments of romance.  Which is a nutty thing to say considering I fell in love with her work at a Funeral in Napa some years back.  A very sad, untimely funeral.  Another mournful guest was seated across from me at the reception — sad in face but her physical person was lit up with the internally elegant colors of our natural surroundings here in Northern California.  Not too flashy, not too bright. But lovely.  Lyrical. GLOWING.  And naturally perfect.  I asked (discreetly) who was the artist she was wearing and she said Ashley Morgan Designs.  I began following her work with great interest.

As perfect as a rose.  Tourmaline set in Gold.

As perfect as a rose. Tourmaline set in Gold.

A personal crush called Spring on a String.

A personal crush called Spring on a String.

I love the raw colors of this beautiful sapphire necklace.

I love the raw colors of this beautiful sapphire necklace.

<<<PAUSE>>>  It was here in this written-Ode to Ashley and her inspiring craftsmanship last week that something interesting happened.  I encountered a not-quite-surly but decidedly dubious guest here in our Barn.  ”You mean to tell me,” he asked peering at me over spectacles (a total character) “that you celebrate wine and art…and carbs?” he said.  As he smugly sipped our wine.  In our Barn. From our glasses.  He paused waiting for a reply but I must have looked like I had crickets in my ears.  I must have blinked a few times too… but rather, my mind raced back to an old New Yorker essay I read long ago.  About the power of Beauty.  And the dismissal of Beauty in our country’s appreciation of pretty much everything… well, pretty.  Perhaps only in food and wine is Beauty and simple loveliness still upheld rightly.

So I went hunting and found this very essay today by Peter Schjeldahl in a dusty corner of my studio.  He talks about art theory but the values in the words hold true.  He writes, “Beauty harmonizes consciousness from top to bottom.  It is as organically vital as digestion.  Beauty is, or ought to be, no big deal, though the lack of it is.  Without regular events of beauty, we live estranged from existence, including our own.”

“Beauty makes the case for the sacredness of something — winning the case suddenly and irrationally.  It is always too late to argue with Beauty,” Schjeldahl continues.

TRUTH.  But did I have such eleoquence in my head when faced with this Grump? No.  Am I the person who comes up with an answer five days later at 4:00 in the morning? Yes.

And that is what I should have said? YES.  As simple as that.  YES, I celebrate wine.  YES, Art… AND (gasp!) CARBS (God forbid people actually enjoy eating a diverse diet).  YES, I am an artist.  YES, I am a cook.  YES, I am Mama raising her babes to embrace the revelry and joy found in the every day.  In the garden, on the radio, in the Barn.  To pause, even if momentarily, to appreciate that fleeting moment of prettiness tucked into our day-to-day tasks.  Having favorite art in your bathroom.  That hint of lace on your bra no one knows about as you shop for milk with a baby who just filled his pants.  Seeing that flash of lovely light on your hand when opening the car door or watering the garden or opening the Barn….is very… Happy.  And lovely.

Enjoy your best wines on Tuesday and wear your best pieces every day.  Beauty in even the simplest of moments.

Enjoy your best wines on Tuesday and wear your best pieces every day. Beauty in even the simplest of moments.

Because Beauty is vital.  Beauty is important.  That’s why I write this thank you note here to Ashley Morgan and her team because jewelry can be art.  Can be that token to elevate your mundane tasks in the every day by infusing your hand or your person with a moment of visual, visceral beauty.  Because you can’t argue with Beauty.

Time to go water the Garden…

In my Farmhouse Kitchen gardens, Annadel Estate Winery.

In my Farmhouse Kitchen gardens, Annadel Estate Winery.


Ashley Morgan Designs can be found at and in San Francisco, California at 415-205-6228 or at

Pesto Green Veggies “Lasagna”

I admit it.  I am bribing my kids with frozen blueberries so I can write up this recipe.  But a bit of obfuscation is not necessarily a bad thing, right? So when I’ve been honing this recipe from a long-ago Yummy Mummy clipping, I’ve been covertly dosing my kids with big helpings of iron rich, green vegetables like Brussels sprouts, spinach, and leeks masked by cheeses and pasta sauces.  But this is the best one EVER.

The finished "lasagna." Delicious!

The finished “lasagna.” Delicious!

On a side note, there are so many ways to make lasagna – some with béchamel, some with marinara… But we love the easy, straightforward blending of pesto, veggies, cheese, and a few lasagna sheets for structure.  Should you opt to skip the pasta sheets, it will be more like a green frittata in texture but still delicious… But we’re an Italian American household.  Pasta is a bit ingrained in our thighs.

Green Pesto “Lasagna”

  • 1 cup+ of green pesto (either traditional basil/pine nut or spinach/walnut.  Recipe to make and freeze here:
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1&1/2 cups brussels sprouts quartered and bottoms removed
  • 1 bunch asparagus cut into 2” pieces, bottom stalks removed.
  • 1 bag pre-washed spinach
  • 2 leeks (white and light green parts only) sliced halfway and then thinly sliced
  • Kosher Salt & fresh pepper
  • 5-7 sheets of lasagna pasta sheets – precook according to directions (usually only a few minutes).  Drain well.
  • 1 16 oz whole milk Ricotta
  • 2 cups Mozzarella (cut into chunks)
  • 1 handful shredded cheese for topping, whatever you like.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Warm olive oil over Medium High heat in a large pan or wok.  Saute brussel sprouts, asparagus pieces, and leeks for 3-4 minutes.  Add in spinach and pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook until barely wilted, another 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Green Veggies Sauteed

Green Veggies Sauteed (before spinach).  Notice the rustic chop.  Easy!

In a large flat casserole pan, spoon and smear pesto over bottom.  We used my Spinach Walnut Pesto 2-50

Place 3-4 lasagna sheets over the top.  photo 3-37

Spoon half of the green vegetable mixture over the pasta.  Next, spoon ½ of the ricotta cheese inevenly spaced globs on top of the veggies layer. Between the blobs of ricotta, put chunks of 4-22

Place 3 lasagna sheets over the cheese.  It’s fine if there are gaps between the layers – you don’t need too much pasta in this dish.  Cover this second layer of pasta with remaining pesto 5-12

Cover with remaining veggies medley and cover with chunks of ricotta cheese and mozzarella.  Sprinkle that last handful of whatever shredded cheese you have on hand.  Last night, we used jack cheese.

Cook uncovered at 350’ for 30-35 minutes.  Crank heat up to 450 and brown the cheese for 10 additional minutes (if needed).

Remove from heat and let the dish stand undisturbed for 5-10 minutes — this lets oils cool.  Very important!  Serve immediately in wide bowls and with a solid wine like Annadel’s 2010 Estate Blend, 2012 Chardonnay (seen here), or Muscardini Cellar’s Sangiovese.

Anni thinks "this pasta should wear a crown."

Anni thinks “this pasta should wear a crown.”

Happy Eating!




I’m In! I’m In! ART TRAILS 2014

Artist and beloved Designer AShley Morgan Designs says it perfectly.

Taken from new artist friend and beloved Designer, Ashley Morgan.  I’m on my 2nd piece… Ssh.  Don’t tell Dean.

This year I bit the bullet and applied to my favorite Open Studios event in California: Art Trails, Sonoma County.  Thrilled was I to be Juried in!  Last night marked the start of the prep-work required of all artists.  So I scrubbed off my “arty mama” look (i.e. oil paint spattered yoga pants and kitchen apron), actually shaved my legs, applied makeup, and set out for Sebastopol for New Artist Orientation & Potluck.

I brought wine.  Of course.

After a somewhat stilted beginning — I unfortunately sat first next to the only shrew in the room who sneered at my fabulous Tahari blouse — the night took a fantastic turn.  The artists I met? Talented and creative geniuses! And I feel so grateful to be included.  Between now and October 11-12 and October 18-19 (write these down), I promise to do my best to faithfully share some of their beauty here with you.  Think of this and coming posts as a sneak peak to some killer shopping this Fall.  (Or shop now.)  I’ll give you the contact information for each artist.  Just a selfless note: I take zero commissions.  My goal with Abi’s Farmhouse Gallery is to further the beautiful love, talents, and artists I discover in my journey as Collector and as Artist here in California.

There’s nothing more vital to a community than supporting the Arts.  Even something like buying a Birthday gift or Christmas gift from local artists vs. a department store is a.) waaay cooler and b.) invests invaluable support for these hard working women & men and the creative cultural fabric they weave here in Sonoma.  Or rather, WE weave.  As I’m officially part of the Group!  And damn proud.

Rainstorms over Carneros Mustard,  18x24" oil. At Easton Gallery in Montecito

Rainstorms over Carneros Mustard, 18×24″ oil. My work.  At Easton Gallery in Montecito

Potter & Art Trails Chair Cheryl Costantini ended the night with something like “Go forth and create! Share your Beauty and your Joy with your Visitor’s!”  She is inspiring and absolutely correct!

Cheryl and her husband, Mikio Matsumoto, own Nichibei Potters in Sebastopol. Amazing!

Cheryl and her husband, Mikio Matsumoto, own Nichibei Potters in Sebastopol. Amazing!

I met Michelle Hoting in the buffet line spearing sausages with a dainty toothpick.  Her bracelet caught my eye.  I should have known she was a jewelry designer.  While I think her craft has been honed working for Cartier etc, her fabulous natural wood and silver bracelet (and matching earrings) speak to an artist who earnestly appreciates the crooked lines and organic structures in natural materials.  I honestly cannot wait until baby Coltrane stops yanking everything pretty from my ears and neck so I can invest in these:

Bronze Tulip Earrings with freshwater pears by my new friend Michelle Hoting

Bronze Tulip Earrings with freshwater pears by my new friend Michelle Hoting

I finally got to meet the artist behind a beautiful platter given to us recently by neighbors Amy Soderlind and Lauren Goodman.  Wayne Goodman and his wife own Valley of the Moon Pottery.  I feel slightly silly not realizing they are literally neighbors about 2 miles away.  But this platter is the center of our dining room table often:

Wayne Reynolds and Caryn Fried own Valley of the Moon Pottery and North Eagle Gallery a mere mile or two from us here at Annadel Estate.

Wayne Reynolds and Caryn Fried own Valley of the Moon Pottery a mere mile or two from us here at Annadel Estate.

Last but never least, is my friend and now esteemed Art Trails Mentor Marylu Downing.  For those of you who don’t know of her work, let me tell you straight.  Her paintings are rich brocades of subjects that truly speak to the very essence of female in all of us women.  Her narrative works are vivid, bright, large, and gorgeous! I have been drooling over her MerQueen for ages.  I’m not quite sure what the actual title is but I think “MerQueen” is fitting.

Marylu's gorgeous water queen is for sale at the Graton Gallery in Sebastopol.

Marylu’s gorgeous water queen is for sale at the Graton Gallery in Sebastopol.

Visiting artists in their native habitat is an exceptional experience. You won’t want to miss Art Trails.  While I often paint outdoors, I’ve come into the Studio in recent years, especially for larger works and reaffirmed what a vivid and special place the Art Studio is for most artists.

"Painting Out" with Anni

“Painting Out” with Anni

Controlled Chaos: My studio at dawn this morning -- full of kids art, drying canvases, large sketches, and my desk for proper winery work and recipe writing.

Controlled Chaos: My studio (the old Solarium) at dawn this morning — full of kids art, drying canvases, large sketches, old tea cups (why can’t I remember to take them downstairs?), and my desk for proper winery work and recipe writing.

Art Trails years past, I’ve bribed the kids with Snack Traps full of Cheerios and M&Ms and trekked out to visit 2-5 artists each weekend.  Some of the art is just interesting and great fun to explore.  Candidly, I’m more of a “Looker” until I get comfortable with an artist and see the maturation of their body of work.  I drooled over Dennis Ziemienski (, Robert Townsend ( and Nicola Newton Hoshino before beginning our small but sincere collections.  If an artist’s style is something I love, I’m careful to check in over the year generally before diving in to purchase.  That said, I’ve been known to totally impulse buy art because frankly, art is FABULOUS.  And brings my family and I great joy.  Each. And Every. Day.

Art Trails and Open Studios (no matter where you live) is a marvelous way to begin this process of buying and loving art in your homes.  I just love this example from Marylu’s studio.  THIS is what you get to experience during Art Trails:

Marylu Downing in her Art Studio in Freestone, California

Marylu Downing in her Art Studio in Freestone, California


Believe me, Art Trails is something not to be missed!

So write down October 11-12 and October 18-19, 2014.  Plan to be here in Sonoma County.  When the new catalogue comes online, I will share it with you.  Or if you’d like it mailed? Let me know by email or on Facebook.

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

Lunch today

Lunch today

Few things make me glow brighter than a proper tea.  Mom and I have actually traveled to some fun places while I was growing up for High Tea. Spots like the Plaza in New York or the Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada.  It was even part of my etiquette curriculum in Finishing School.  How to pour tea correctly (opposite hand always on lid), how to serve  jam (on the plate with the provided spoon, never on scone), and the correct order in which to devour goodies (savory to sweet, not the reverse).  There wasn’t a lesson on how to surprise Valets though.  When in Canada, the Empress Valets weren’t quite sure what to do with our rented Vespas…!

Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada.  Still the Queen of Teas in my book

Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada. Still the Queen of Teas in my book

As I’ve grown older, my love for the ritual in a good tea has only cemented in the way of a WASP of British decent (albeit in 1622).  I love the harmony and elegance of dressing up for friends and female family in pearls and heels to toast each other with piping hot Earl Gray and enjoy coiffed tea sandwiches, strawberries with creme freche, scones topped with fruit compotes, mini chocolate cream eclairs, and the very languid joy of proper Champagne.  Another etiquette lesson: the fine Champagnes made in the Methode de Champenoise have small, almost teeny bubbles of effervescence.

Today, I felt inspired by old pictures I found of tea parties past with my Mom and grandmother, Mima.  Every Christmas we invited friends, family, and members of the community we respected and admired.  Girls only.  We’d slave for days baking and copying tea sandwiches from old recipes.  Today, Anni asked to play “tea party” and I made an old favorite: Cucumber Tea Sandwiches.  But you don’t need a little girl to enjoy this treat.  Sitting with an iced tea and a book in the garden shade sounds beyond heavenly!

Cucumber Tea Sandwiches:


  • White bread (nothing too firm or fancy)
  • 1 cucumber (skinned with a vegetable peeler)
  • soft cream cheese
  • Berries for garnish and dessert

Thinly slice cucumber into pretty, almost translucent rounds.

Step 1: Assemble Ingredients

Step 1: Assemble Ingredients

Trim crust from the white bread.  Cut into cute, 2-bites sizes.  Lather cream cheese in a light creamy layer on each side of the lttle sandwiches.

Step 2.

Step 2.

Arrange on a cute plate and serve with flair! If you have iced tea or champagne in the fridge, go for it!

Ready! Prep time: 5 minutes.

Ready! Prep time: 5 minutes.

NOTE: If you’re making these more for a grown up crowd, I’ve started garnishing salads and sandwiches with Microgreens.  They apparently are wonderful for your health but I love the peppery crunch they add, especially to my little cucumber tea sandwiches today.

Microgreens of arugula

Microgreens of arugula

Happy Eating!

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala.  Three little words that make any curry lover drool.  I read recently that this simple chicken dish is singularly responsible for fostering the love of Indian foods throughout much of the western world.  Ironically, this dish of chicken chunks (tikka) originated most likely in the United Kingdom, not the Punjab region of India although that’s hotly contested.  But who cares? It is delicious!

Heaven in a Bowl: Chicken Tikka Masala...or my take on it.

Heaven in a Bowl: Chicken Tikka Masala…or my take on it.

I’ve made a few versions over the years.  I love the American Masala recipe (by Suvir Saran) as well as his Murgh Pulao dish.  I’ve enjoyed making various versions of Tikka including one by Julie Sahni on Epicurious.  This recipe is my blended, personal, more healthy take on Chicken Tikka Masala so don’t be surprised if what you make at home is not what you love in the restaurant.  This looks like a lot of work but once you get the spices assembled, it’s rather quick and delicious.

** You will need a Mortar & Pestle** I love my small one from Le Creuset.  Its not expensive, super sturdy and cleans well.  Buy from Sur la Table or Sign of the Bear.

My little workhorse

My little workhorse

Chicken Tikka Masala

Note: Ask your butcher to pound the boneless, skinless chicken breasts thin for you.  4-5 breasts pounded to about 1/2″ thick.  Saving you time and clean-up later. If you want to do this at home place the breasts about 2″ apart on wax paper.  Place another large wax paper sheet on top of the chicken.  Then beat the chicken with a mallet or rolling pin until 1/2″ thin.  Do not use a hammer — you want a wider surface to pummel the chicken evenly flat.  Don’t ask how I learned this lesson… Lumpy chicken is never good.

To Marinate the chicken.  Prick the chicken breasts all over with a fork (both sides).  In a medium sized bowl, whisk together:

  • 1/4 cup of plain Greek Yogurt (low fat or whole)
  • 3 tablespoons of Avocado oil (you can use Peanut Oil or vegetable oil but NO olive oil)
  • 4-5 cloves of coarse-chopped  fresh garlic
  • Zest of 1/2 a Lime
  • Juice from 1&1/2 fresh limes
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Pinch of fresh chopped ginger (steal from what you use for the Sauce (see below)

Add chicken to the bowl and using your hands, massage the marinade into the chicken.  Cover and set aside.  I try to do this and hour ahead for extra marinade but it’s not necessary.  Just put it in the fridge until you start the sauce then bring it out.

For the Curry Sauce:

In a small clean bowl, mix the following after chopping or grinding each ingredient:

  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds — fresh grind using your mortar & pestle
  • 1 &1/2 teaspoons worth of fresh ground cardamon seeds — use your mortar & pestle
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds — fresh grind using your mortar & pestle
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoon nutmeg (whole seeds) — use the small holes on your cheese grater
  • 1 &1/2 teaspoons of plain paprika.  (Not smoked, Spanish, etc.)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of peeled and fresh minced/chopped Ginger.  Use about 3 inches worth of fresh ginger.
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of cayenne (less if your little ones don’t like things too spicy)

Coarse chop 1 large WHITE onion.

Curry is a quicker dish.  Have ready:

  • 1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
  • 2 fresh tomatoes cored and chopped in a bowl
  • 2 cups or 1 box of Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2-3/4 cup good water
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (I like rainbow peppercorns)
  • 1 cup clean & chopped fresh cilantro
  • Fresh limes sliced in wedges for serving
  • Jasmin Rice (make per directions) enough for 4 people plus 1/2 cup frozen green peas to add into rice while boiling/simmering.  Add 2 pats butter once rice is “finished”.

    I am a complete convert to boxed Pomi tomatoes from Italy.  Not only is the flavor delicious but I don't worry about toxins from the can being absorbed by the acids in the tomatoes.

    I am a complete convert to boxed Pomi tomatoes from Italy. Not only is the flavor delicious but I don’t worry about toxins from the can being absorbed by the acids in the tomatoes.

* Assemble ingredients for your rice in the sauce pot now but do not start the rice yet until you are cooking chicken.

In a sturdy, wide pot (opt for larger, like at least 4 quarts or bigger to protect you from hot splatters), melt a whole stick of butter (6-8 tablespoons) over medium heat.  Raise heat to medium high heat and Sauté onion until generally golden or light brown.  You will need to watch the onion and scrape up any burned bits — they add marvelous flavor.  I also like more butter.  I think real butter fights wrinkles.

Lower flame to medium or moderate heat.  Stir in spice mixture. Mix well.  Let the herbs heat and meld with the onions.  I wait for the aromatics to bloom up from the pot.  You don’t want to burn the herbs but want them to be hot.  Stir in your fresh tomatoes, the Pomi chopped tomatoes (the whole box including the juices), water, greek yogurt, and salt.  Bring the mixture to a short boil before reducing the sauce for 10 minutes at a gentle simmer.

While the sauce is simmering, heat 1/2 tablespoon of avocado oil in a large skillet and cook chicken over medium high heat.  You’ll have to work in two or three batches.  Brown well on both sides and remove from skillet when chicken is just cooked through about 6 or 7 minutes total each batch.  **Clean skillet between batches with a quick swipe of clean paper towel.  Add fresh avocado oil to skillet between batches too.  Place cooked chicken on a cutting board or plate and slice into 1/2″ strips.  Add the cooked chicken to the sauce as it’s ready.

Good Advice: Have things ready and staged before starting.  Curry is about fresh ground spices and timing.

Good Advice: Have things ready and staged before starting. Curry is about fresh ground spices and timing.

Fire rice.  Make according to the directions on your box/bag.  I add in lots of green peas to the rice and butter for flavoring.  This dish can be too spicy for most kids but they love the rice and peas.

Once all cooked chicken has been added to the sauce, simmer for another 5  minutes.  Remove from heat and grind in your fresh pepper and 3/4 cup fresh cilantro.  Keep some cilantro for garnish.

Divide the rice into wide bowls. (Warm them in the oven at 150′ if you think of it before).  Spoon “Chicken Tikka Masala” mixture over the Rice and Peas.  Squeeze 1 wedge of fresh lime juice over the mixture and garnish with cilantro and another 1 or 2 lime wedges.  Serve immediately!

Our Annadel Chardonnay goes beautifully with this dish.  Or else opt for a crisp, non-grassy Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy!

Happy Eating!



Children, Cherries, and Vodka

I likely won’t win any parenting awards for this post but Anni has been wonderfully helpful making fruit liqueurs with me.  You may remember that during a gorgeous moment on horseback last month, I pretended I was 21 again flying down the field wielding a mallet.  Alas, despite my love of Jillian Michael’s workout videos, no amount of “shredding with weights” can protect a 36 years old woman from herniating a disc when the galloping polo pony opts to go one way and she another.  Somehow, after recovering fully last week (or so I thought), washing a baby bottle on Sunday night sent me into a full spinal seizure.

Now: Here I am.  Grouchy as hell.  Grateful for friends dropping by narcotics and baked goods.  Endlessly Icing my back as my husband valiantly fills my shoes as a stay-at-home-Mommy (+ still working full time Daddy) and I am scheduled for an MRI. He is doing a great job as I sit here like a frowning toad. So instead of being able to really cook, garden, or explore recipes here at the Farmhouse, my 3 years old Sous Chef and my very sedentary self have been making liquor.  Lots and lots of liquor.

Melita Road dark cherries ready for the Jar.

Melita Road dark cherries ready for the Jar.

We’ve been sticking to fruits in season and right now, the dark cherries are lustrous! In California, there will be a short Cherry season.  I heard from my Cherry guy up on Melita Road that the early-spring weather spelled disaster and this year’s yield is a mere 14% from last year.  Perhaps he was subtly upping my purchase but it worked.  Last week, before this searing vice grip of pain, I bought 6 pounds of dark organic cherries, made a U-turn for Safeway where Anni and I bought a huge gallon of Kettle One Vodka, a smaller bottle of Maker’s Mark, and one flat of wide mouth pint jars by Mason.

At home we rinsed the cherries and I scalded the jars in a roiling water bath.  Coltrane and Dean helped by eating cherries while Anni plucked off the stems and piled fresh plump cherries high up on our food scale.  She learned how to feel if the cherry was “yucky” and to put those aside.  Anni did a great job “measuring” out 2 pounds of cherries per batch.  We made 3 batches over the week — 2 vodka and 1 bourbon.  Each “batch” uses 2-2&1/2 pounds of cherries and yields three pint jars

Measuring out Cherries is a perfect job for your little Sous Chef

Measuring out Cherries is a perfect job for your little Sous Chef

Next, I took the clean, still-warm jars and Anni packed them tightly with intact cherries.  I carefully filled the jars with vodka or bourbon up until about 1/4″ from the rim.  You can use grappa too.  The alcohol just must be 80 Proof or higher.  We sealed them tight, labeled and dated the jars and stacked them up in a cool dark shelf to be enjoyed and given as gifts when the weather cools this Fall.  And mommy went back to icing.

Cherries in Vodka Waiting for lids.

Cherries in Vodka Waiting for lids.

I love cooking.  A big part of cooking for me is helping Anni develop her own love of foods.  To find her own joy in the kitchen and in the garden. I am so very proud of my feisty little girl.  But something surprised me about making this “Cherry Moonshine” — little Anni realized she was making something for other people to enjoy.  Something for “tall people only” that she wasn’t even going to taste but that was going to be “something special” in the Fall for her Daddy, Mama, LaLa and Papa-Wil.  And she was happy to be helping make her family happy.  And that, dear friends, is one of my favorite truths about cooking.

Pigweed, Pickling, & Vegetable Refreshers

We have an assh*le in our midst.  Pigweed.  Pigweed.  Pigweed.



This evil weed has officially invaded each and every one of our garden boxes.  Last year we fought it valiantly but lost much of our later crops as this invasive brute marched on.  After several trips to the Sonoma Mission Nursery to consult with minds far more brilliant than ours, we’ve come to the decision to dig out all of our mature garden boxes, treat the beds, start over from scratch, and delay any planting until we can be sure this beast has been generally eradicated.

Our private garden beds here at the Annadel Farmhouse

Our private garden beds here at the Annadel Farmhouse last night at sunset.

Adding injury to insult, I painfully threw out my back a few weeks ago playing Polo for the first time in 14 years.  My brother’s new Father-In-Law, “Mr Bill,” kindly invited me out to “Stick & Ball” before the wedding festivities began last month.

Momentary Joy

Momentary Joy on the Field

It felt AMAZING to play even just a little bit…I felt like my old college self! Until I stepped off this gorgeous horse and back onto solid ground.  OUCH.  My participation in this fabulous wedding weekend dropped down to icing my back, Advils, and reading a Southern Cookbook of unknown title that I found on my now Sister-In-Law’s Kitchen Counter.  My sister Amy is luckily a nurse and administered small cordials of vodka (that I sipped through a straw) as we read away the afternoon.

Back Out & under sister Amy's care.  We're about to discover the Bloody Mary section in Eliza's cookbook

note the straw*

Tipped off by the deliciously chilled vodka, and painful hilarity of it all, we flipped to the Bloody Mary pages and found not just one recipe but a whole section on these “Vegetable Refreshers” and how to properly pickle the condiments.  We were hooked.  And I had a new mission once home: create the perfect Vegetable Refresher and learn how to home-pickle the garnishes.

Made it to the wedding!

Made it to the wedding with my gorgeous husband and wonderful family!

Thanks to Amy, Dean and my gown’s torso-hugging bodice, I recovered enough to attend my brother’s gorgeous wedding to the lovely Eliza and make it home the next day in one piece to Sonoma.

A Must Have for Home Pickling, Jarring, and Canning.

A Must Have for Home Pickling, Jarring, and Canning.

Since I’ve been forced to rest supine a fair bit lately, I’ve been reading up on home jarring, canning and pickling in “Saving the Season” by Kevin West.  A true tome and easy bible on the “do’s and dont’s.” So far, I’ve been able to buy local Spring carrots and asparagus from Oak Hill Farms down the road.

Asparagus pickling in progress

Asparagus pickling in progress

Pickling Bloody Mary condiments for our summer “Refreshers” may seem a bit too jaunty but I can’t wait!  Little Anni helped me peel the carrots and snap the asparagus stalks.  We managed to salvage fresh Tarragon and Thyme from the last corner of the Pigweed-free garden boxes.  Safeway sells darling mason jars in all sizes and shapes just up the road and the larger pint jars are perfect for maximizing cuteness and safely storing the vegetables.

Pickled carrots ready to store on a cool, dark shelf.

Pickled carrots ready to store on a cool, dark shelf.

But this Pigweed will be the end of me if we can’t plant soon!  Stay tuned for recipes in the coming weeks of the perfect Bloody Mary!  After I pickle some green beans in Tobasco, that’s my next task.  That, and get better.

Happy Eating!

Easy-Peasy Split Pea Soup..with wilting salad

Do you have wilting lettuce and greens in your fridge?  Sure you do.  We ALL do.  I don’t a single hard working home-cook who always gets to the entire content of our vegetable drawers.  And THIS is a great way to use them all up.



So this is my go-to kitchen sink recipe that I am writing down for my girlfriend Fabiola.  She is gung-ho eating vegetarian Monday thru Friday.  We’ve joined the troops in mommy-solidarity but also because I have a REALLY FABULOUS dress for my brother’s wedding in mere weeks and have a good 6-8 lbs more to lose before it looks totally amazing.  To that end, I am starving poor Dean and cooking every lean, green dish I can think of for dinner.  And since I’m not adventurously cooking weeknights, alot of what I am “soup-ing” is greenery on its last legs in our fridge. Usually left over from the weekend.  The great thing about THIS little dish is not just the big dose of vitamins, iron and vegetable goodness but that it is foolishly EASY to make and flexible with most veggies wilting away right now in your very fridge!

Wilted vegetables at the ready.

Wilted vegetables at the ready.

You DO need some basic staples that you should ALWAYS have on hand like garlic cloves, yellow onions, frozen organic peas, good quality organic chicken stock (low sodium), and left over parmesan reggiano cheese rinds.  From these humble ingredients, great things can be born…especially if you have a ham hock from your butcher lying around.  And an immersion blender.  A MUST.



  • 3 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1/2+ yellow onion chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Bit of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper (2 turns), pinch dried oregano
  • 1 bag frozen peas
  • 6-8 cups of Chicken stock, dry white wine, vegetable stock or water.  Sometimes its a combination of all 4 depending on what I need to use up.
  • ANY Salad Greens
  • Most leftover vegetables like leeks or shallots, celery and carrots, etc.
  • Optional: a small smoked ham hock or smoked ham chunks for flavor
  • Optional: Roast some garlic and red peppers or red pepper aioli

In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Sauté chopped garlic and onions for 2-3 minutes until garlic is fragrant.  Last night, I halved and sliced 2 wilting leeks.  Add your next vegetables here like older celery or carrots and sauté another 2-3 minutes.  Splash with white wine, water or stock if it looks like veggies are starting to stick to bottom of pot.

Literally.  Add a whole bag of frozen peas

Literally. Add a whole bag of frozen peas

Pour in one bag of frozen peas.  Stir peas and garlic/onion/leeks or shallots or whatever mixture up.  Add tiny salt, pepper and pinch of oregano (if you have it.)  Add your liquids whatever they are.  Last night, I tossed in 1 cup of white wine, 4 cups chicken broth, 2 cups of water and a smidge of leftover vegetable stock from Sunday.  I also acquired a small smoked ham hock at the market because for extra flavor and added a small chunk of parmesan cheese rind. Stir well again.

Liquids and ham-hock added

Liquids and ham-hock added

Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer soup, stirring occassionally, for 30 minutes.  I’ll do laundry or read a few books to the kids.  Last night, I pruned 2 rows of Merlot.  Yay!

Vineyard Selfie with Anni

Vineyard Selfie with Anni

Remove the ham hock or rind (if using) and then literally dump all of your greens, herbs, salad into the pot and stir.  I had left over herbs and baby kale last night.  Remove from heat.

Literally just dump in salad greens! Arugula, kale, endive, herbs, etc.  It ALL tastes great in this Pea Soup

Literally just dump in salad greens! Arugula, kale, endive, herbs, etc. It ALL tastes great in this Pea Soup

Then blend the soup — be careful! — with an immersion blender until soup runs smooth.  Ladle into warmed bowls and garnish with freshly shredded parmesan cheese.  I had some left over red peppers and garlic sauce that I had roasted and blended the night before for sandwiches.  I spooned that in too.  Serve immediately.

For roasting peppers and garlic? Slice red, yellow and orange peppers.  Take whole garlic STILL in their skins and toss all with light coat of olive oil.  Spread on a pan and roast at 400′ for 30 minutes.  I then blended them in my little $26 cuisinart.  Great for sandwiches and soup garnish.  Eggs too.

Roasted peppers and garlic (sans skins) ready to coarse blend in my trust $26 Cuisinart

Roasted peppers and garlic (sans skins) ready to coarse blend in my trust $26 Cuisinart


Baby leaves are sprouting.  Mustard flowers blooming.  Afternoons are warm and sunny.  Spring is here!  BUT it is still cold in the mornings (40s being cold here in California) and once the sun dips below the horizon, I still like to have something warm on the stove.  Or in this case, the Oven.

This is the BEST DAMN ROAST CHICKEN RECIPE EVER.  And I promised Rob Turner I’d write next on this gorgeous recipe!

Thanks to Gail Ross, my foodie friend and intrepid cookbook scout for turning me onto Dorie Greenspan.  This recipe is a take off on hers…just tweaked.  Italian style.

This is the chicken BEFORE I dust with dried herbs.  I now make the chicken almost totally covered in herbs for extra flavors.

This is the chicken BEFORE I dust with dried herbs. I now make the chicken almost totally covered in herbs for extra flavors.

Ingredients for Step 1: ** These are all to taste so adjust for your taste

  • 1 Roasting Chicken 3&1/2-4&1/2 lbs
  • 2 heads of Garlic
  • 1-2 lemons (scrubbed)
  • Fresh Thyme — 10-14 sprigs
  • Dried Thyme – 1-2 teaspoons
  • Fresh Rosemary — 1-1&1/2 tablespoon
  • Fresh Sage — 10 leaves
  • Dry Sage (dust) — 1/2 teaspoon
  • Dried Oregano — 1 teaspoon
  • Kosher Salt — 2 teaspoons+
  • Fresh Cracked Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 1-2 even slices of thick country bread.  Can be stale or fresh.  * Opt for white or plain wheat breads with no heavy herbs or seasoning.
  • 1 cup Chardonnay (or worst case, Chicken Stock)

Heat oven to 450′F.

Pat dry your chicken.  Remove any giblets or bits of feather.

Rub a sheen of olive oil all over the interior of a large Dutch Oven.  Place the 2 slices of bread in the center of the pot.  Place dried chicken on top of them in the center of the pot.

Remove excess paper from the garlic clove(s).  Chop each one in half so you have 4 half bulbs.

Cut the lemon(s) in half.

Take a chopping knife and course chop the washed and now dry sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary needles, and sage leaves.

Put all dried herbs in a mortar & pestle to fresh them up.  You can also crush them between your hands.

INSIDE the cavity of the chicken, place a mixed bunch of fresh herbs and one of the garlic halves.  Secure half of a lemon in place with the pul side IN to steam the chicken with the herbs and lemon from the inside as it cooks.

Be sure to keep washing hands throughout as raw chicken is dangerous.

Rub olive oil over the top and exterior of the bird.  Dust liberally with the salt.  Crack a few turns of pepper over the chicken next.

Next take all fresh herbs and rub onto the chicken.  Then I dust the dried herbs on top of THOSE fresh herbs.

Position half cloves of garlic and lemon halves around the chicken.

Carefully pour the 1 cup of Chardonnay into the well of the pot.  Not only will the chicken roast in the heat but steam in the aromas of white wine, garlic and lemon!

Cover with lid and Roast for 45-55 minutes.


Mix the following Ingredients in a large bowl:

  • 1 Large Yellow Onion peeled and quartered
  • 2-4 Potatoes or any sort of Roots (Mix it up depending on the season with turnip roots, leeks, shallots, etc) cleaned and quartered
  • 3-5 Carrots (orange, purple, etc) – cleaned and chopped in 1-2 inch rounds
  • olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh pepper

Remove chicken from the oven after the initial 45-55 minutes of roasting.  Place the olive oil covered vegetables around the perimeter of the chicken.  I drizzle the left over olive oil over the top of the chicken.  Place lid back on the dutch oven and slide back into the oven for 45-50 minutes more, depending on how large your chicken is.

** If you have more vegetables than your pot allows, roast them below in a cute pan.

Remove from oven and uncover.  If it’s not golden brown yet, crank heat up and toast the top of the Chicken a few minutes more.

Let stand 10-12 minutes and serve with Annadel 2012 Chardonnay or 2009 Anni’s Blend!! Drizzle chicken with hot lemon juices.  And watch people fight over the scrapings of bread and roasted garlics from the bottom of the pot!

Gorgeous Chicken

Gorgeous Chicken

Tuesday: Champagne and the Safeway Restroom

I have a secret.  I like Champagne. On Tuesday mornings.

Not every Tuesday mind you.  But every so often, after I drop Anni off at school, baby boy and I have some quiet time together.  By 9 o’clock, we share a chair at Sunflower Cafe.  His warm pudgy legs slung over mine.  I order Trane a yogurt and fruit parfait and for me? One hot latte and one delightfully cold glass of sparkling wine.Delicious Latte from Sunflower Cafe

For one hour, we cuddle, share breakfast, and mommy gets a bit of bubbly.  I cut up his strawberries, apples and blueberries, eating the hard nuts in the granola and spoon feeding him banana yogurt.  It’s our hour…just the two of us.

An hour of cuddle time at Sunflower Cafe

An hour of cuddle time at Sunflower Cafe

By about the time I finish my grocery list (our Tuesday afternoon stop), Coltrane starts throwing his raisins.  Time to leave.  Now it’s usually warm enough for the playground and I’ve had more than my fill of his half masticated bits of apple that he has recently started trying to feed me (blah!)  We play on the swings before picking Anni back up from school awhile later.

It is these quiet times that give me strength and calm to deal with the occasional stresses of being a Mommy.  And I am profoundly grateful for our secret hour this very past Tuesday … because once we reached the Safeway market, poor little Anni exploded with such a ferocious round of runny-tummy that we sat stranded in the Women’s Toilet.  For an hour.  Baby Trane ate unpaid-for Kale Puffs while locked in the grocery cart’s safety harness looking mildly alarmed.  I stood by poopy Anni, hoping she’d feel better enough to get home.  We had no cell service in that florescent restroom so there we sat. A sick 3 year-old, a baby eating essentially stolen food, and this Mommy.

Finally, I was able to make a run the Baby aisle for Pull-Ups!!

Dodging a pinhead restroom attendant calling out “hey lady! No merchandise into the restroom!!” I wheeled my grocery cart back into that Safeway potty with such finesse, locked the door, whipped Rapunzel Pull-Ups onto my sick toddler, and raced for home.  Stolen puffs in hand. Not my finest hour.  But once I had Anni back on the porcelain throne, I said a deep moment of Thanks for that one hour of calm and those happy little billowing bubbles in my secret glass of champagne…

a bit of liquid calm this past Tuesday

a bit of liquid calm this past Tuesday