Northern California

dry-creek-kitchen-healdsburg-ca-95448-signIt was my 33rd birthday and I decided to treat myself to a nice trip to Sonoma Valley. Some call it the “Jesus year”, but I like to call it another excuse to play in wine country! With all the choices for fine dining restaurants, I had quite a task to narrow it down to one. We are talking about one of the culinary meccas, people! While I knew I’d stay multiple days in Sonoma Valley, most nights were allocated to be spent with good friends, so that left me with one night all to myself. At the end of the day, I was extremely happy with my choice: Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen.

Charlie Palmer has made a name for himself since the 1980s with his first restaurant Aureole in New York. Ever since then, he’s won award after award, including two restaurants with Michelin stars (Aureole: New York, Las Vegas). Included in the restaurant bank of awards is Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, California, which he opened in 2001, located in the northern Sonoma Valley. From the coat check to the final escort to my taxi, I was incredibly pleased with my dining experience.

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Boon Eat + Drink in Guerneville on the Russian River is a delightful place with delightful food. We stopped by one Saturday to have lunch. The summertime crowd was out in force. The restaurant was pleasantly busy, but not too crowded.

Perusing the menu, I spotted the Boon Burger with grass fed beef, fiscalini aged white cheddar, arugula on a toasted milk bun with house made Parmesan herb chips ($11). I could not resist adding the truffle fries with house made ketchup and garlic aioli ($6). While we waited I soaked in the modern feel of this small storefront restaurant. It has a great vibe with both locals and visitors mixing in together.

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ImageI was invited – along with six other authors – to talk about my latest book, “Family Meals” at the annual Author’s Luncheon in Sacramento. It benefits the National Kidney Foundation and it’s a great event. Jill came along as Muse – I never travel without my Muse – so we made it a combination work and play trip, which we always try to do.

Our first stop was at our friend Caroline’s graduation from the Napa Valley Cooking School. Caroline is a great friend; she first worked for us as a personal assistant and sous chef in my kitchen (I taught her everything she knows about cooking, of course) – and now she’s a real certified chef on her own. We’re very proud of her.

Next stop was Sacramento for the luncheon and signing and then we decided to drive up to the Russian River area to eat and drink for a couple of days before we finish the trip with a reading and signing at Books, Inc. – a great independent bookstore in San Francisco.

Guerneville is an adorable town on the Russian River – foggy, but adorable. It’s nestled under the majestic coastal redwoods that thrive on the local fog and it’s surrounded by vineyards that turn out some of the best wines California has to offer.

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LuckyPigI am somewhat obsessed with a dish called the Lucky Pig, it’s served at Solbar in Calistoga and I order it almost every time I dine there. It’s basically tender roast pork served with a lot of other goodies—sesame pancakes, peanuts, jalapeños, herbs and lettuce, sauces, and even a little noodle salad.

SolBar is a Michelin star restaurant at the Solage resort, but it’s got an approachable menu that has both healthy light options as well as more indulgent food and the staff couldn’t be nicer or more accommodating. Speaking of accommodating, to order the Lucky Pig I have to cajole other diners at my table to share it with me. The size of the roast pork shoulder varies, but it’s quite a lot of food. I also have to convince someone to go to Calistoga with me and since it’s about an hour and half drive, !’ve been working on my own version of it to enjoy at home.

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napadonutsWhilst in the Napa Valley, this Farmer gave into a deadly sin – no, not drunkenness in the wine country…gluttony! There's no beating around the bush about my love for food - I write about food, I photograph food, I travel to eat and relish in reading a cookbook like a good novel. Between design projects and book tours, I was able to squeeze in a few days in the Napa Valley proper after the ACS convention was adjourned. A dear friend from home said she would meet me there, and our journey through the aforementioned valley began.

Allow me to divulge a Farmer faux pas - I do not drink much wine and worried a trip to Napa would not be as grand sans vino - boy was I wrong! Trust me, I sipped and savored some of the best vintages the valley had to offer, yet it was the food that hung the moon for my Napa trip. As I'm in a food coma recovery program now, allow me to try my best at recalling some highlights from these days of delights. In the words of Julie Andrew's “Maria” from The Sound of Music, let's “start at the very beginning- a very good place to start!"

Boon Fly Café. This cafe nestled into The Carneros Inn is wonderful! Just outside of the town of Napa towards the Sanoma Valley, Boon Fly Cafe was highly recommended for its breakfast. Now, I truly adore a big breakfast and any place that offers a starter to the starting meal is right up my alley. I commenced with some hot Earl Grey and their famous donuts. The donuts were small and delicious and served in a small galvanized metal pail. I'm a sucker for galvanized anything and a galvanized pail of cinnamon sugar donuts just may be a Farmer's fave! I grew up with a cattle farm and our cows ate and drank from ginormous galvanized troughs- looks like I'm grazing in the same fashion! Once a farm boy, always a farm boy!

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