If you walked around Big John's Market with me, then you'll remember the spaz attack I had in the frozen food isle when I discovered the box of ten mini burgers.
*Made from scratch, and with love* they are not, and yet I couldn't help but get excited about the possabilities. ;)
Fresh from the box, they actually looked really good! No squished buns, no broken patties, just cute, frozen sliders. (Look at that mini piece of bacon!!)
We tried the bacon-cheeseburger version, as well as the blue cheese burgers with poppyseed buns. They were both surprisingly good and the kids went crazy for them, mostly due to their size, I'm sure.
On my way out of town, I grabbed four more boxes to bring home and store in the freezer.
Last fall, I finally made it up to the Seed Bank in Petaluma, where I stocked up on a dizzying array of heirloom seeds for the 2011 growing season. Every seed packet came with the promise of an exotic fruit or vegetable that I had never seen or heard of before. The two fruits I looked forward to most were Banana Melon and Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon.
The Banana Melon, a long banana-shaped-squash-looking-kinda-thing, never took off. Twelves seeds planted and only one sprout survived long enough to make it into the garden. We never saw it again. But my albino watermelon - that did awesome!
In fact, all my watermelons have taken off and we have lots to look forward to.
The first ones were finally ready this week! We knew because their undersides where white, and when we double-checked them with a 'knock-knock' that revealed the desired 'hollow' sound, we picked two and brought them in for our first tastes.
And so you are probably dying to know - just what does an albino watermelon taste like, right? I'll tell you...
...it tastes like cucumber. Only half of the melon's meat is seed!! :(
It was a big wha-wha-wha-whaaaaaa moment in my heirloom veggie gardening experience. I had had such hope for this unique variety, it was said to have 'great flavor', but that was not my experience.
So I took both melons, seeded them, (over the course of an hour!) and threw them in the juicer. They were very juicy. But what I found interesting is that despite my hands being covered in juice during the process, there seemed to be very little sugar content. My hands were not at all sticky.
The final juice product was quite bland and so I sweetened up a pitcher of it with a 1/4 cup of mint infused simple syrup (just one more great product I picked-up at Big John's Market).
The sweetened juice was not too sweet at all - just the right amount for a light, summer drink. The kids loved it, so did we.
I don't know if I will try the Creme of Saskatchewan Watermelon again or not. So until I decide, I have saved a handful of seeds. I am now anxiously awaiting what's next up - my Orangeglo Watermelon! :)
It's, of course, not really *our* house, it's just the one we were lucky enough to rent for a week.
We've been home now for five days, school has started and routines are starting up again. But I can't stop thinking about our lil' Italian Staycation, and I still have lots of post.
I wanted to share some images I snapped right as we arrived, before there were wet towels dropped on the floor, crumbs on the counter or wasps swarming the patio.
The property is super, duper funky. There is the main house with a living area and two bedrooms. Next door is a converted carriage house with four more rooms for sleeping.
I love the long farm table and all the random artifacts adorning every un-upholstered surface. ;)
A room in the carriage house with these great profiles that were painted by a local artist (or so I'm told).
I wish I took more pictures of all the interesting objects. Here is a beautiful floral piece, originally from a phonograph, resting on a nightstand below a Mucha poster.
The converted carriage house - or at least, that's what I'm guessing it is. There is a row of French doors that look to be placed exactly where carriage doors might once have been. Corrugated metal roofs make me smile.
More art - a giant cricket!
The view from the pool area, looking up some Romanesque stairs to the main house.
The best angle to view the pool....
Right on Dry Creek Road, conveniently located between Big John’s Market and The Dry Creek General Store, is a wonderful gardening store where you can find some really unique items for outdoor living areas.
The Gardener, reveals little about itself from the road, except for its very creative and inviting signage which backs up against a large hedge.
Nestled down at the bottom of a small, slopped driveway is a treasure trove of colorful ceramic pots and wind chimes, artsy hand-build tomato cages and sculptural art, couture homesteaders furniture, and lots of ideas to steal for one’s own garden.
Here are my favorites:
An interior shot of the store showcasing this beautiful pendant lamp - one of the many products they sell that re-purposes wine barrel materials.
The baby toddler attaches himself to aluminum baskets that would be great as a laundry hamper, toy bucket or towel holder.
Here is a great design that I think I'm going to have to steal for my own garden - tall raised beds. My aching back is already feeling better! And some simple, rusty rods, secured in a grid with wire, offer a great place for vines travel up.
I just loved this over-sized, sturdy picnic table. It might not seem like much, but when I've looked online for a picnic table for our own yard, I've never found anything this solid looking. I fell in love with the yellow pot too!
Beautiful water feature.
Love, love, love this chair. It is so unique, colorful and comfortable. Unfortunately, it isn't cheap so I hugged it goodbye. ($425)
This canopy was so cool. It's a product they use to carry but do not anymore. Unlike anything I've ever seen offered for the garden at Bed, Bath and Beyond. ;)
I fell for these and bought three. They are tomato cages made of old wine barrels ($45/each)!! What's best about them is that they serve as sculptural art in your yard when tomatoes are out of season. Apparently a local man use to make them but no longer does. They have one left - grab it while you can!
More sculptural art from wine barrels.
Potted succulents serve as art!
A colorful lounge chair.
The most amazing grocery store I have ever had the pleasure to shop in, is right here in Healdsburg. Big John's Market, right off Hwy 101 on Dry Creek Road, is so amazing that we are all planning on making it our last stop out of town so we can stock up on all the unique foods!
What makes Big John's so special is that not only does it have everything a *normal* grocery store would, it has a wealth of never-before-seen imported and locally produced artisan foods.
These mini burgers are neither - but I had to try some!!!
I will likely never have a need to buy Italian cookies, but if I do, I know where to come for a good selection!
We made pesto pasta the first night (not from scratch - I'm on vacation!) and I was floored to read this label, boasting a residential address just blocks from my moms house! Who knew there were people manufacturing food in their apartment kitchens!
I don't know why anyone thinks we need to burn fossil fuel, importing butter from Italy... what's wrong with the butter we got here? But interesting nonetheless.
I picked up some of these simple syrups for coffee, Mojitos and special kids drinks.
Beautiful chicken label.
I needed some hot fudge for a mud pie I made and Big John's selection was huge! Of course I reached for the most exotic bottle, seeing as I'm easily romanced by labels. As I held this one up to snap a photo, a woman walked by and said, "That is the best hot fudge!" So into my basket it went.
Just too darn cute not to photograph!
Lately, I've been hyper-aware of the architectural, landscape, interior and graphic details of modern homesteading design, on account of the Colorado project I've been apart of. The project is taking a 25 year old apartment building, with little architectural interest, and bringing it up to date on a very, very tight budget. We are going for a *modern mountain* vibe, and this little vacation in the wine country has supplied lots of inspiration. Today, I'm focused on ART.
The always fun restaurant Barn Diva, and it's art gallery next door, Studio Barn Diva, are a feast for the homesteaders eyes. I've found myself drawn to a lot of metal artwork this week...the *Studio* was full of it!
Here is a wonderful piece of metal artwork that I first noticed two years ago while taking dinner at Barn Diva with friends. It's a life-sized sculpture of a farmer, formed out of one continuous piece of wire. His wife (not shown) stands on a parallel wall above a row of tables. What's most exciting about this piece is how it casts shadows on the underlying wall, based on how light is cast on it. Look at the image above. First notice the sculpture, then look at how different the shadow's image is. The sculpture is of a straight-faced farmer, the shadow is of a man forlorn. It's creator, Seth Minor, has many more smaller pieces in the gallery next door.
Another artist at the *Barn*, Ismael Sanchez, does similar work but with many cut pieces of wire. The impact of his life size figures and animals packs a powerful punch. I, of course, fell in love with his chicken.
Everyday, we pass this adorable group of goats playing poker and enjoying wine. One goat stands at the roadside taking a picture of the tourists driving by. At night time, it's illuminated for a completely different effect.
I adore the Dry Creek General Store. It's just that simple.
Established in 1881, and still going strong 130 years later, this place is the quintessential modern day general store. Lucky for me, we drive past it every time we leave, and return, to our summer rental.
Their shelves are lined with locally produced treats from the folks at places like Happy Girl Kitchen (the folks who taught me how to can!!!) and Kiki's Treats (chocolate covered graham crackers, anyone?), to name a few. Mixed in with the edibles are unique gifts that any homesteader would be proud to give, and/or love to receive.
The deli, with it's freshly prepared gourmet foods of locally grown, organic meats and produce, has yet to disappoint. The menu is extensive, the countertop - overflowing, and if you can forgive the less than enthusiastic staff, you're going to really enjoy yourself.
Today we stopped by for lunch and (woops!) ended up staying for dessert: fresh, homemade "Italian donuts".
They were incredible. Much more dense than what we know as an American donut, they came sprinkled with superfine sugar and a hint of citrus.
I was thrilled to spot some jars of my favorite Verde Olive Oil Body Balm by McEvoy Ranch. (It was displayed between a rack of old school candy bars and hardcover coffee-table-worthy books on farm life.) I grabbed a couple jars to have on hand for future hostess gifts while fighting the urge to purchase the latest edition of Extraordinary Chickens.
There are many things I have been looking forward to indulging in again, once we returned here to the beautiful Tuscan countryside wine country. One of them being the Cinnamon Walnut Bread from Healdsburg's Costeaux Bakery.
This stuff has to be the best I've ever had. We toast it, butter it, and begin taking our bites from the bottom so that our last bites are of the crunchy, frosting-covered top. This morning I ate my toast with fresh Bing cherries, purchased from a woman selling her tree's harvest out of the back of her car, just down the road.
I buy the bread at Big John's Market (another favorite!) but I plan to stop by the bakery this week and give their lunch menu a try.
We had the rare opportunity to break away this afternoon and do a long bike ride through the Dry Creek Valley, just the two of us. So I gathered together all my protective clothing, most importantly, my neon flowered flip-flops, and set out on a 20 mile *peddle* through the countryside.
Daddy didn't want me to get run over by a tractor and insisted I wear a helmet. Fair enough, but I always insist on wearing a brimmed hat. The outcome looked like this:
Not sexy. And yet I swear it took everything out of the man not to dry hump my leg all day. ;-)
The temperature was an ideal 84 degrees and so we peddled and chatted, chatted and peddled until we reached Healdsburg in time for lunch.
We had hoped to try the new SpoonBar at the h2 Hotel, but were disappointed to learn it was closed for lunch on Tuesdays. So we made reservations for dinner instead, and walked around oh-ing and aw-ing all the great landscape, architectural and interior details.
Just outside the restaurant's entrance was this incredible work of art paying homage to, what else, the spoon. The sound of water drizzling down a wall balancing hundreds of teetering spoons was just so sweet and calming.
Inside the lobby, I had a seat on a multi-patterned Missoni couch (when are they not?!), and looked beyond some highly lacquered coffee tables of reclaimed wood to a stunning piece of art by Stephen Galloway. It all tied in very well with my flip-flops, don't you think?
On the way home, I took this picture:
I just love the sight of an endless field of agriculture, interrupted only by a barn's corrugated metal roof.
An Italian staycation is when you nail a rental that screams "Italia", just a short drive from your house.
When we first arrived at this magical spot (occupied by its owners nine months out of the year), we were immediately transported to another place and time with its funky, artistic vibe, and the way the property so effortlessly oozes old school Italian charm. The owners had the cable radio Italian station blaring (are you feeling me yet?!) and as they toured us around the property, Dean Martin came on and sang to us about Amore!
That's when I knew we'd *arrived*.
I'll be broadcasting from the Italian countryside all week.
I've been thinking a lot about interior spaces lately...most notably, fabric. To me, fabric can be down right intoxicating. It affects my heart rate and stimulates my sweat glands. The minute I see something I love, I get a little dizzy...and then I try to imagine just where I could squeeze a couple yards of it into my life.
I discovered something incredible yesterday....
...*Pearl Size* mozzarella!
I can't say I've ever called a cheese *adorable* before, but these Perlini's might change that. The best part is they are the perfect (PERFECT!) addition to a bowl of my favorite (FAVORITE!!) sun gold cherry tomatoes, which have been dripping off the vine for several weeks now. I had been eating the sun golds straight mostly (usually on my way into the house from the garden), but here's how I had them for dinner tonight:
This post is about everyone's favorite things...
...like friends...old, old friends. The ones you met on the first day of preschool, continued all through school with, and maybe even played in a band with.
It's the endless funny stories shared again and again, whenever you all get together...and the handful of unspoken ones that just aren't worth mentioning.
It's all the gratitude you have towards them for making sure you two never lost contact.
It's about familiar music -- live music, and the acoustics of string instruments filling an outdoor patio, while everyone sings along, and a rushing river does back-up.
And it's about nature...that crazy, enigmatic beast that has us forever in awe...
It's about laughter...
...lots of laughter...the kind A. got when he was busted eating pie right before dinner, and he replied in his best English accent, "If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?"
Which brings us to another favorite, food. Nothing fussy, just simple, honest, good food, prepared with love and with fresh ingredients pulled together from tiny organic gardens around the bay. It's partly about Italy, and the beautiful Italian wife of one of my oldest and dearest friends, who saved my grilled chicken with a simple sauce.
It's about all the sweet little kids who can't help but take it all for granted.
But more than anything, it's about LOVE... and wonderful memories. Because at the end of the day, they are the only two things I really care to have.