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Monday, May 14, 2012

Cycling Through Vineyards for a Surprise Marriage Proposal!

As surprise marriage proposals go pulling one off in the middle of an organized cycling event is fairly tricky. In Noah's mind there was no doubt about where he wanted to pop the question to Susan. After all, cycling was a big part of how they met and rode together at last year's Sierra Century ride through the hills of Placer County. That cycling event was sponsored by the popular Newcastle winery, Dono dal Cielo which also hosted a rest stop for the cyclists. Noah and Susan also had fond memories of taking a yoga class at the winery so it was the natural setting for his proposal.

Susan and Noah cozy up with a glass of Dono dal Cielo Chardonnay.
When I arrived at the winery all the buzz was about how we were going to help Noah make his surprise proposal during the cycling event. Dono dal Cielo was one of the final rest stops on this beautiful Spring ride through the Sierra Foothills put on by the Placer County Mountain Bike Club. Timing was everything as we greatly anticipated the arrival of Noah and Susan on their bikes. When they finally arrived they carefully laid down their bikes and slowly walked up the road to the sprawling grassy knoll that rests above the tasting room.

The stroll up to the grassy knoll.

Noah drops to his knee to pop the big question.

And they seal it with a kiss!

Susan was shining back in the tasting room.

Dono's cozy gazebo was reserved and ready for them.
Flowers, Chardonnay on ice and a world to themselves.
Thanks to Noah's imagination and planning we all loved helping with his romantic surprise. I am cyclist and member of the Dono dal Cielo family so this proposal hit especially close to home for me. We wish Noah and Susan many happy years and more miles on those bikes together.

Congratulations Susan and Noah!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Wine Road Journey Through Sonoma County - Part 1

Welcome the world of the Wine Road aka "Heaven Condensed"
I was invited to join a group of eight other bloggers on a three day retreat to Northern Sonoma County and the operative word here is treat. Before during and after this trip I kept saying "Pinch me" because the wine country is like a dream to me. The world class wines are only the beginning for me. My affection for this area extends to the architecture, food and rustic rural lifestyle. I have done some blogging for a few clients of Wagstaff Worldwide and this time we were hosted on this retreat by their client called Wine Road. Wine Road is literally not a physical route but a collective of 150 wineries and 50 lodges in three major appellations (regions) called Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley that make up the Northern Sonoma County. This legendary wine country is about fifty miles north of San Francisco.

If you are a wine lover, then you must check out the substantial savings offered at Wine Road. The tasting fees at most wineries range from $5.00 to $15.00 and a three day Wine Road pass costing just $50.00 will waive these tasting fees at fifty of their participating wineries. If you are only tasting for a day, the pass is just $25.00 and either option also includes purchasing discounts of 10 to 20%. Wine Road's fifty lodging members also offer similar savings on accommodations. For details on these Wine Road discounts click here.

We arrived on Monday about noon and our first stop was at my room at the incredible Farm House Inn in the Russian River Valley enclave of Forestville. Judging a book by its title I was expecting rustic but was I ever surprised. The Farm House Inn is at the intersection of rustic and luxury. It is the brainchild of a brother-sister team of Joe and Catherine Bartolomei who are Sonoma natives from a long line of wine country farmers, winery and vineyard owners.

7871 River Road in Forestville, CA
The Farm House Inn also boasts a Michelin starred restaurant that sits right at their front entrance. I did not get a chance to try their dinner menu but definitely got a taste of their excellence both mornings at breakfast.

Farm House Inn Restaurant
Our first breakfast began with a freshly baked Banana Walnut Muffin with fresh pears, yogurt and granola. I chose the Huevos Rancheros for my entrée which featured perfectly poached farm-fresh eggs, black beans, chorizo, queso fresca, avocado, housemade salsa on a fried tortilla. These amazing breakfasts are complimentary for guests of the inn.

Freshly baked banana muffins fill both the restaurant air and your senses. 

Perfectly ripe in-season pears, yogurt and housemade granola
Huevos Rancheros and Farmhouse Potatoes

Also staying at the Farmhouse Inn was blogger, Amy Sherman. On day two Amy tried the Corn Waffles and I had the Farmhouse Frittata. Both were so delicious that I just had to give you a peak.

Corn Waffles with bananas, caramel sauce, candied pecans, chantilly and Chicken Apple Sausage

Eggs, asparagus, onions, mushrooms, gruyere served with cherrywood smoked bacon and potatoes.

Leave it to a foodie like me to start talking about the food even telling you about the amazing room I had. :) I was given a room in what they call the barn. It is a two story structure with a barn shaped roof in the back section of the property. The vibe here is rustic yet superbly clean and with every possible amenity you could desire.

When my foodie friend and blogger, Stacie Tamaki, first saw my spacious room she said, "It's like walking into a Restoration Hardware catalogue." Here are some photos I took with my iPhone camera and a fish eye lens.

Spacious living area with sofa and desk.
The bed, amenities and comfort are all KING SIZE.
 Fireplace serves bedroom and patio. Theatre with surround sound audio system
Huge bathroom with walk-in steam shower and whirlpool tub

The beautifully manicured grounds, spa, large swimming pool and even a fire pit are all part of the Farmhouse Inn experience. My stroll to breakfast each morning took me through this incredible property.

My take away from being a Farmhouse Inn guest is their acute attention to details. At check in they asked me if I'd like "turn down" service. When they explained that turn down service included nightly snacks in the form of cookies I quickly checked yes. Not only did great freshly baked cookies appear in my room but also some tasty mini cupcakes as well. Here are just a few scenes from what greeted me at the end of the day.

Cookie bucket and reminder of cold milk in the fridge.
Mini cupcakes under the Dome of Love
The famous Farmhouse Spoon even decorates the sweet treats
My only disappointment at the Farmhouse Inn was not being able to try their gourmet s'mores at the fire pit. Their handmade ingredients tempted me in the lobby and were complete with toasting skewers ready for the flames. However, every night I got back to my room too late and too full from the day long indulging. I will just have to fantasize about them with this photo from their website and plan more carefully on my next trip.

My parting shot is of me chilling out as I often did just being at this incredible property. If you have a hankering for pampering, the Farmhouse Inn is the real deal. Extraordinary is the norm here. Rush to the Russian River then be ready to relish in rest and relaxation.

Huge Thanks to the Wine Road and Farmhouse Inn!

Farm House Inn
7871 River Road
Forestville, CA 95436

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

LYFE Kitchen Debuts New Spring-Summer Menu May 15th

After a roaring start LYFE Kitchen is not just resting on their laurels. They can add another adjective to their list of food superlatives like local, organic, sustainable, green only this time it is seasonal. They previewed their new spring and summer dishes at a Friday morning event that are all based on what is in season now from their local suppliers. Our appetites were instantly jump started when we were greeted at the front door by a bounty of fresh produce display. To read Stacie's recap of this special preview of LYFE's new menu click here.

When you think about it how many other restaurants disclose their source of ingredients? LYFE Kitchen takes it one step further by actually considering their suppliers to be partners. This event was all about the local produce and those farmers who deliver the goods to keep LYFE cranking out delicious, affordable and healthy meals.  LYFE's key suppliers are all in Northern California as expected. To see a partial list of these partners scroll down to the end of this post.

We were again treated to a presentation by celebrity Chef Tal Ronnen whose new recipes continue to keep the LYFE menus fresh and innovative. Here Tal shows off the new Roasted Beets and Black Rice Salad featuring beets from Coke Farm in San Juan Batista and Faurot Farms in Watsonville.

This salad is loaded with great colors, textures and the surprising delight of black rice. The grapes were so sweet that Stacie said she could just save them for her final bites like dessert.

Next up is the brand new Roasted Asparagus and Root Vegetable dish that replaces the brussels sprouts. At first Stacie was concerned that her beloved brussels were going away but one bite assured her that delicious will continue. This new flagship side dish also has capers and features asparagus from Zuckerman Farms in Stockton.

The biggest taste surprise of the event was the brand new Kale-Banana Smoothie. Chef Tal invited head LYFE Kitchen Chef Jeremy onto the stage to whip out a batch for us. The dark green color had us all thinking it had to be savory but what a sweet treat it turned out to be. We loved the first LYFE Kitchen smoothies but the next generation stands to be even better tasting and healthier too.

Don't let the color fool you. This drink is dessert!

The final new menu item is a new flat bread pizza. Although we loved their first version this redo is another winner. The toppings include fresh peas, asparagus and portabello mushrooms marinated in sherry that makes it fun and sophisticated. You can enjoy a whole pie by yourself and never feel overstuffed because the crust is so very light. We order this dish with every visit to LYFE Kitchen.

Among those enjoying this special preview of the new seasonal menu at LYFE was cookbook author, Cheryl Sternman Rule. She was there with copies of her new all vegetable cookbook called "Ripe."

Cheryl Sternman Rule and her new cookbook called "Ripe."
LYFE Kitchen proudly uses Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the California Olive Ranch in Oroville and artisan vinegars from Sparrow Lane in Napa.

 Sparrow Lane artisan vinegars in a huge variety of flavors.

On my way out I just could not help but grab a few more shots of what makes LYFE Kitchen's food so good. Great food always begins with great ingredients. Here are a few closer shots of the goods.

Ocean Mist Artichokes from Castroville
Faurot Farms Radishes from Watsonville
Chiles from Castenada Farms in Sonoma
Golden Beets from Coke Farms in San Juan Batista
Sugar Snap Peas from Mann's in Salinas
This event was all about the hard working farmers who supply LYFE Kitchen and help keep their products faithful to healthy eating. CEO Mike Roberts invited all of them to come up for a group photo. LYFE Kitchen obviously knows ingredients and truly values all of their sources for them.

Time for one of my sidebars. I do a lot of cycling in Southern Monterey County and we ride right past so many of LYFE Kitchen's suppliers. One of my favorite organized rides is Strawberry Fields Forever. The routes all weave through some of the most fertile agricultural land in California. One of the rest stops is always hosted by the great folks at Gizdich Ranch. I posted about my last ride there including this shot of my friend, Ed Holt, and I. We were as happy as can be to enjoy their fresh apple pie and cider. A stop a Gizdich Ranch is seriously refreshing as you peddle the 100 mile route.

 The double apple delight of breaking for pie and cider at Gizdich Ranch.

My parting shot is actually a bit retro by now. It is the Edamame Hummus and flatbread crisps presented for our snacking pleasure when we arrived. This classic hummus dip still dazzled amidst all of the excitement of the new menu items. A big thanks to CEO Mike Roberts, CCO Mike Donohue, Manager Chuck Iverson, the crew at LYFE Kitchen and all of the suppliers. The new seasonal tastes are spectacular and can be enjoyed by all starting on May 15.

LYFE Kitchen's Team of Northern California Suppliers

Riverdog (Guinda) Onions, Tomatoes, Squash, Shisito Peppers

Capay Organics (Capay) Green Garlic, Chard, Fingerling Potatoes

California Olive Ranch (Oroville) Arbequina Olive Oil

Devoto Gardens (Sebastopol) Heirloom Tomatoes

Sparrow Lane (Napa) Artisan Vinegars

Castenada Farms (Sonoma) Peppers, Chiles, Zucchini, Yellow Zucchini

County Line (Petaluma) Beets, Radishes

Zuckerman Farms (Stockton) Asparagus

Dwelley Farms (Brentwood) Yellow and White Corn, Blue Lake Beans, Yellow Wax Beans

Frog Hallow Farms (Brentwood) Asian Pears, Stonefruit, Preserves

Jayleaf Farms (Hollister) Arugula, Organic Spring Mix, Spinach, Tatsoi

Iacopi Farms (Half Moon Bay) Italian Butter Beans, English Peas, Fava Beans

Jacob Farms (Pescadero) Herbs and Purslane

Kajiko Nursery (Morgan Hill) Watercress

Global Mushroom (Gilroy) Crimini, Shitakes, Portabello

Faurot Ranch (Watsonville) Frisée, Radishes, Beets, Baby Carrots

Kingsburg Orchards (Reedley) Stonefruit

Gizdich Ranch  (Watsonville) Berries, Apples, Apple Cider

Coke Farm (San Juan Batista) Beets, Radishes, Baby Rainbow Carrots

Ocean Mist Farms (Castroville) Cauliflower, Artichokes, Celery, Leaf Lettuces, Brussel Sprouts

Earthbound Farms (San Juan Batista) Organic Kale, Lettuces, Spinach

Colorful Harvest (Salinas) Rainbow Carrots

Mann's (Salinas) Sugar Snap Peas, Broccolini

Alba Organics (Salinas) Strawberries, Broccoli, Diciccio Broccoli