Boudoir Birds

"Boudoir Birds circa 1952" 16x20" oil

“Boudoir Birds circa 1952″ 16×20″ oil

As they are. Since 1952.

As they are. Since 1952.

I’m stuck in Southwest-SFO Hell. Trying to make it to Santa Barbara for my part in tonight’s fun Opening for the 100 Grand Show at Sullivan Goss Gallery. I am all set. Cute dress, new lipstick… If only we could take off! Trying to not go nuts. So instead, focusing on what to paint next for my Solo Show this coming June at Easton Gallery in Montecito… Thumbing through my iPhone archives brought some interesting thoughts to mind. Namely, what art seems to sell and what does not.

Now I work very, very hard on each piece. Working for weeks often before dawn. Trying to catch the light and the feeling of each scene and subject. And I am deeply thankful that after 20 years of earnest painting, my art supports itself. I try never to think of a new painting as “I hope this will sell.”  I think selfishly that dilutes whatever creative essence and creative flows within me as I surrender to canvas, brushwork, shading and colors. I seriously LOVE Color.  And Light. Beauty. Atmosphere. But occasionally I stumble upon a scene that I know will likely never sell.  And for the very life of me, I have to paint it anyway.  Feeling so moved by that moment, whatever moment “that” is, I know it will become a piece of my art.

Such a moment happened in October when I was lucky enough to meet Ralph Benson, Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust when he came in to my Art Trails Open Studios. He invited me to tour Glen Oaks, a previously unknown spot to me 100%  old California. In fact, the Civil War era home has remained largely untouched since 1952 when the last owner deeded the property to our beloved Land Trust.  I remain honored for that private step back into time. And I vowed to paint Glen Oaks in all of her glory — and have since.

But one facet of this old place, was the old woman’s bath and Boudoir. Still intact. Hairbrush still on her table. Bath salts on the tub ledge. That touched me deeply. Here, this woman is long dead yet her most intimate beauty ephemera remains in place. From 1952.  I had to paint her aging bath bottles with a piece of decorative Mexican sculpture caked in dust. Knowing full well the finished painting might never find a home. And that I bloody well don’t care. Such moments are rarely given and when given to an artist? We must act and act well.


Peasant Food & Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

CONFESSION.  I am cheating.  I am no longer faithful to recipes.  I alter, tweak, change, and these days, stuff in whatever vegetable that appears to be wilting in the confines of my vegetable drawers…much like how countless generations of people before me cooked.  And it dawned on me that this is a good subject for a short ode to Peasant Food.  Something beyond the quick recipes and foodie fun we’ve been having every day on Facebook and Instagram.

Original recipe clipped from the Chronicle (I believe).

Original recipe clipped from the Chronicle (I believe).

Rich in history and only recently rich in popularity (think 1960s forward), peasant dishes have achieved a “classical standing” first thanks to high-end restaurants and subsequently foodie leaders bringing these dishes back to our individual hearths.  Cooks, leaders, and writers like Julia Child, Chuck Williams, Ruth Reichl, Thomas Keller, Emeril, Lydia Bastianich, have popularized old-world dishes into contemporary favorites.  Dishes such as Cassoulet, Beef Bourguignon, Gumbo, Stir Frys, Minestrone, Pot Pies, hell, even the scrambles being served up creatively at Food Trucks across this great country.  These foods are a return to basics, to heart warming meals that I think subconsciously call to us from our culinary heritages regardless of ethnicity.  For these meals largely languished behind popular trends since mass marketing began to dominate our plates and our palates in the early 1900s.  Only committed foodies, cooks, and frankly, poorer communities kept these foods alive…often by necessity. And thank God they did.  This whole “food movement” and return to “eating clean” as we rabidly do here at Annadel, is really just a return to simpler times, a return to basics.  And peasant food — meals like the elementary “Stone Soup” cobbled together from bits of this and parts of that represent most of our culinary histories. And this red wine based recipe is part of that heritage and adapts well to whatever extra bits of this or that you have in your fridge.

When honing something for you food lovers, I keep a small notepad and pen close at hand for notes and thoughts.

When honing something for you food lovers, I keep a small notepad and pen close at hand for notes and thoughts.  *Note my temporary stove…



  • 5-7 Bone In Beef Short Ribs (I leave them intact as the meat falls off the bone anyway).
  • 4-5 tblspn Olive Oil
  • 4 slices of bacon cut into 1-2″ slices
  • 2 yellow onions chopped
  • 3 full heads of garlic somewhat trimmed of skin/tips and cut into halves
  • 4-5 carrots cleaned and coarse chopped
  • 5-6 celery stalks cleaned and chopped (ends trimmed too)
  • Any other wilting green, herbaceous vegetable in the western Europe vein…. For this evening’s version I added one leek and 4 old-ish tomatoes from the garden chopped up.
  • 2 tblspns all-purpose flour (optional)
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3-5 cups dry red wine ***This is an EXCELLENT way to use up left over wine from even months past.
  • 2 handfuls Italian parsley
  • 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tblspn dried oregano
  • 1-2 tblspns fresh rosemary chopped (sticks removed)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 3-4 cups low sodium beef broth
  • kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper

You will need a good sized oven-proof pot/lid or best, a Dutch Oven from Staub (my favorite) or Le Creuset.  Staub is sold at Sur La Table.

Preheat oven to 350’F.  DRY MEAT with a paper towel and salt/pepper each side.  Heat oil in the pot/dutch oven over medium+ heat and brown meat working in batches.  Transfer to a clean plate.

Browning the beef ribs.

Browning the beef ribs.

Add more oil if the well seems dry. Sautee bacon in the beef fat/oil until brown. Remove to beef plate.



ADD vegetables (not garlic) to the Bacon fat and sauté until the onion wilts.  Stir often!

Do your chopping prep work early.

Do your chopping prep work early.

Add in tomato paste and flour (if using).  BROWN the tomato paste stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.  Mixture will turn a deep red and then almost a “brick” color.  Stir in the wine and mix well.  Bring to a rapid simmer and reduce heat to medium-low.

Add the beef ribs and spoon the mixture up onto itself so its mixed up well and evenly distributed as a lovely jumble of goodness.  Pour in however much beef stock is needed to bring the liquid levels up to the top of the beef-vegetable mixture.  Bring back to a simmer and turn off heat.  Stir in the garlic and all herbs.

Mix in the bay leaves and garlic heads.  Plunge them into the mix evenly spaced. Cover and cook in the oven for 2.5 hours at 350’F.

Ready to go into the Oven ** Before I stirred in the herbs and garlic.

Ready to go into the Oven ** Before I stirred in the herbs and garlic.

Bring out.  Season with salt and cracked pepper.  Meat should be falling off the bone and your house smells AMAZING.  You could serve in shallow bowls over potatoes or with toasted country-style breads.  But we use a slotted spoon and transfer all the solids (meat, veggies, garlic heaven) to a pretty serving plate and garnish with more fresh chopped parsley.  Skipping the carbs.

Pair with a medium bodied dry red wine like our Annadel 2010 Meritage Estate Blend!

Note: I love more red wine than beef stock.

Why You Haven’t Heard from Me…

I am sorry for Radio silence from me here in this old kitchen.  Life has been so nuts and it’s odd that on the first day of Harvest 2014 (Merlot blocks came IN today!!) and on this very same day I pulled on my big girl panties and faced my fears: I got my Epidural on the very lower left side of my Spine, my L5 disc. And today of all nutty days…including puking all too close to a lovely (and totally cute Doctor) coming out from anesthesia that I feel compelled to write to you all lovely, lovely Foodie Friends.

First Harvest — Merlot SO divine, I wear it around my neck as pendant every single day, thanks to sculptress and artist friend MIchelle Hoting ( )

Scultpress friend Michelle Hoting has created custom made pendents out of pure chunks of Silver for us here at Annadel from our Cabernet and Merlot leaves.  (Sold Out but visit here in October during Art Trails ) or at

Scultpress friend Michelle Hoting has created custom made pendents out of pure chunks of Silver for us here at Annadel from our Cabernet and Merlot leaves. (Sold Out but visit her in October for Art Trails ) or at

Anni and baby Trane helped IMMENSELY today “Bringing In The Fruit”.

Little People + Great Big Helpers at Harvest here at Annadel

Little People + Great Big Helpers at Harvest here at Annadel

Annadel Estate Merlot picked at day-break.

Annadel Estate Merlot picked at day-break.  Hand picked, hand sorted and headed for crush at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood where we custom make our wine!

Truth is, we’ve been too busy to write something even remotely worth reading.  Summer ended and Anni started Preschool at Moldovan Academy.  Dean is racing the Cannonball 2014 right NOW from Daytona to Tacoma, WA on his 1923 Harley with dear friends on Team Vino.  The Open Road is his very first love and beyond good for his Soul! Yes, I hear you: “a month without your husband with two kids under 4 and a winery to run…what?what? what? Are you NUTS?” The answer is YES, totally.  But trust me, the Cannonball is a gloriously rare adventure of the finest vintage bikes in the world.  If you can’t hand-weld a metal part over a traffic cone? You can’t be there. Besides, I’m fierce too.  In my Mom, yoga pants, paint brushes turned apron and kitchen spoon sort of way.

Dean is racing in the Cross Country Cannonball again this year! GO TEAM VINO! From Daytona to Tacoma for the most of September on his 1923  Harley and totally fun period garb made for him in North Beach, SF.

Dean racing in the Cross Country Cannonball again this year! GO TEAM VINO! From Daytona to Tacoma for the most of September on his 1923 Harley and totally fun period garb made for him in North Beach, SF.

Here I sit. ‘Holding down the Fort”– Making wine, running tours, weddings, and crazy kids.  Speaking of, Coltrane turned 1&1/2 officially yesterday! Both of our babes are great.  But since August, my back got worse and I scheduled today’s procedure.  Weathered the American Canyon earthquake aftershocks. Rehung the Art Gallery in the Barn including amazing art by Dennis Ziemienski ( ).  We DID manage to take our first “kids free” vacation — first one in four years! Yay us! And I’ve been trying to keep up with our garden and cooking as much as my body allows…and discovering that every year that we unplug more. I become more free and open to Universe and all of her crazy colors like some giant pseudo-Hippie now.  I do promise to forever remember the under-wire and Chanel lipgloss though.  Have no fear.

I LOVE Table Linens.  Like LOVE.  Found this beautiful Indian pattern stitched from saris at the Alamdea Antique Market with dearest friend Sondra Bernstein of beloved Girl & the Fig.

I LOVE Table Linens. Like LOVE. Found this beautiful Indian pattern stitched from saris at the Alamdea Antique Market with dearest friend Sondra Bernstein of beloved Girl & the Fig.

RECIPES: Lots of Tomato Crack ( ), Garden Green Pesto “Lasagna” ( ), and Easy Pea Soup ( ) around here.  Last night, I thawed some frozen pancetta and sauteed it with the aromatics (onion, shallot, garlic) in EVOO then crap white wine (perfect for cooking) for heart warming “umpf” to the pea and wilted kale lettuce soup. Paired it with our 2008 Estate Blend (the earthquake revealed we had a whole palate more!) as well as Spinach and Feta Cheese Puffs.  Hell, I needed some butter and carbs last night to face the big needle this morning. If you haven’t made these yet? Here’s the link.

Pea/wilting Greens Soup made with chopped pancetta this time and served with those crazy amazing Spinach Puffs.

Pea/wilting Greens Soup made with chopped pancetta this time and served with those crazy amazing Spinach Puffs.

But those of you following Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook and on Instagram (@abisfarmhousekitchen) see me every day.  I hate to tell you, the domain here dumped 95% of my subscriber emails.  So if you’ve stopped receiving any recipes and essays from me ALL Summer? That is why.  I urge you to either save this Food Blog to your Bookmarks or better yet, Follow me on Facebook and Instagram? Then we won’t lose touch!  I’m the one with Kermit the Frog cracking up over Sandwiches…

Me on Instagram! Or follow Abi's Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook -- I'm doing lots of pictures and easier recipes than a full blog warrants.

Me on Instagram! Or follow Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook — I’m doing lots of pictures and easier recipes than a full blog warrants.

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!