So Many Wines, So Little Time (Santa Ynez and Edna Valleys)

I just love wine – I love learning about and especially drinking wine! So when our good friend Cheryl moved out to California to work in a winery, of course we were going to go visit her! Duh!

We decided to break the trip up into two parts – Santa Ynez and Edna Valley for four nights, and Paso Robles for four nights. In this post I will just discuss the Santa Ynez and Edna Valley wineries we visited.

I didn’t really know very much about Santa Barbara County Wine Country before going on this trip. Where should we stay? What wineries should we visit? Luckily I found a great blog post by Carpe Travel that helped a lot! We pretty much followed their itinerary for visiting wineries and picking up picnic lunches, and it worked out really well!

So where to stay? I really had no idea, but we had free nights at Marriott properties to use, so we chose the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton. Fun Fact – Buellton is the setting for one of my favorite wine movies – Sideways! I had not seen the movie for years, and so of course we watched it again before embarking on our trip.

One thing we did a couple of weeks prior to our trip was sit down and make an itinerary of where we wanted to visit – I would suggest 2 to 3 wineries per day. Then I went online and made reservations, planning out how long it would take us to get from one winery to another, and giving us at least one to one and a half hours for a tasting. We also researched what places allow you to bring in your own food.

We flew in to San Luis Obispo and then drove south about an hour and a half to Buellton. It was a really nice drive, and we stopped at Woody’s Butcher Block in Santa Maria for a sandwich – highly recommend! Very friendly service and delicious food.

Before our trip we were consulting with Cheryl and her co-workers in Paso Robles where we should go in the Santa Ynez Valley. They had a few suggestions, and in fact a wine maker from Buellton had just stopped by their winery in Paso Robles that week. She knew nothing about him or his wine, but suggested we stop in since it was located in Buellton. And that is how we made it to Imagine Wines – our first stop on our wine country vacation.

We met Ross at the tasting room for Imagine Wines, which is located in what looks like an industrial area of Buellton, but there were other tasting rooms and restaurants in the area. Ross is the owner and winemaker for Imagine Wines, and he had recently visited Paso Robles because his daughter had purchased some land up there and was going to start growing grapes. We had fun talking to Ross – he has lots of stories! A young lady named Camille visiting from the Los Angeles joined us later – she was attending a Sideways-themed bachelorette party. The four of us chatted and drank some of Ross’s wine. Ross purchases the grapes for his wines, and my understanding is that he takes more of a “winemaker influence” approach to his wines. This makes sense to me since he is not actually growing the grapes. I would recommend going here if you are going to be in Buellton, especially if it is your first stop. We had fun! But the visit really helped me to understand what an important role the quality of the grapes and how they are grown is to the winemaking process. I always understood, but now I had an experience that was fresh in my mind.

We ate at Industrial Eats for dinner – basically across the street from Imagine Wines. It was delicious!

On to our first full day of wine! We picked up our picnic lunch at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace located in Solvang. This place was awesome!! All you have to do is place your order online the night before. The we drove up to Foxen Vineyard and Winery, which had been recommended by Cheryl and her co-workers. Such a contrast to Imagine Wines! They really want the grapes to be the star of the wine, with very little winemaker influence. Their wines are delicious, and we really enjoyed our time there.

Bacon, Fig, and Goat Cheese Sandwich

After lunch we had an appointment at Pence Vineyards and Winery. I am so glad we decided to come here! This winery ended up being one of my favorite stops on our whole trip. Josh was our host, and he did a great job explaining the farming methods they use at Pence. Again, they let they grapes shine. Their Chardonnays are some of the best I have ever had! Another favorite was the PTG – PasseToutGrains – which is a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. After our tasting Tim and I walked around the property, and it is just beautiful. I highly recommend visiting Pence – you will not be sorry!

Dinner that night was at The Hitching Post II, which is featured prominently in the movie Sideways. It was good! The bar looks exactly the same as it did in the movie.

You can’t see him but Tim is in this picture!

The next day, which was a Saturday, we decided to head up to Edna Valley, which is about an hour north, close to San Luis Obispo. We picked up lunch again at New Frontiers Natural Marketplace and then headed up to Chamisal Vineyards. I had heard of Chamisal Vineyards before, and our favorite wine store carried their Chardonnay for a long time. It was a beautiful day but extremely windy. They used little magnets to keep the menus from flying away, and the wind was so strong it lifted the menu and the magnet, which went flying and slapped Tim in the head!

The wine here was delicious! I would have probably joined their wine club, but didn’t for two reasons: (1) some of their wines are available at retail outlets (2) we were running out of time since our host Will (who was probably the most knowledgable person there) kept being pulled away by one of Chamisal’s new wine club members who was sitting at the table next to ours. That person also had a “tasting room host”, but he wanted to talk to ours. And we found out that person belonged to 23 wine clubs – who does that?? 😀 We were there close to two hours and had another appointment that luckily was very close to Chamisal.

On to Kynsi Winery – I think it was only 10 minutes away maybe? Nevertheless I hate to be late anywhere. This was a really cute, pet-friendly winery. The wines were very good, and we ate our picnic lunch here. Luckily we were a sheltered from the wind, and we had a very enjoyable visit.

Wine Cat

The last winery we visited was called Center of Effort. It is located literally across the road from Kynsi Winery, but in look and feel they are miles apart. Where Kynsi was cute and quaint, Center of Effort is opulent and sophisticated. They both make wonderful wines, and it is really up to each person what kind of vibe they prefer. I liked them both!

The next day (Sunday) we visited wineries closer to our hotel in Buellton. Our first stop was at Brave & Maiden Estate, and I am so glad we decided to come here! We arrived a little early, and waited for our tasting room host to greet us outside. The experience was amazing! The location is beautiful, and their tasting room reminded me of a friend’s home (if they were really rich and had impeccable taste). We were seated in a very comfortable room, and the wines were all ready poured and ready to be discussed and tasted. Our tasting room host was Chris, and he was very friendly and knowledgable. Many vineyards in the area took out their Merlot vines due to the movie Sideways. Lucky for us Brave & Maiden did not. We had a delicious Merlot there, as well as their Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet. I loved it so much we joined their wine club! Their wines are only available at the estate, and possibly a few lucky restaurants in California.

Our next stop was to pick up lunch at The Lucky Hen Larder in Santa Ynez. Yum!

Just a few miles down the road is Gainey Vineyards, our next stop. We decided to share a tasting here. It is a completely different experience from Brave & Maiden Estates. It is a much more casual atmosphere, and the tasting room host brings your wine in small carafes. I honestly can’t remember the number of wines we tasted – probably five or six? It was hard to keep track because they bring them all at once, and also talk about each of them, then leave you to do the tasting. It reminds a little bit of a “fast-casual” restaurant experience. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the wines, but I would have probably enjoyed them more if I had a personalized experience. That all being said, they are able to accommodate a lot more people than Brave & Maiden.

We left Gainey and then headed to Sunstone Winery. This place is really cute! We sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather and wines. Our host was Andre, and we found out later he is also the cellar master at Flying Goat Cellars, and pours at Sunstone on the weekends. He was very knowledgable (of course!) and really took us through some great wines. He brought us a couple of “off the tasting menu” wines to taste as well. It was an excellent afternoon, and a great place to have a picnic lunch.

We ate dinner that night at Andersen’s Pea Soup – a local landmark in Buellton. I think mine is better, just sayin’. And when I say mine I mean Ina Garten’s recipe 🙂 But while in Buellton …

The next morning we took off for Morro Bay to see Cheryl – stay tuned! Cheers!

Mai Tais, My Friends, My Happy Place

We recently visited Maui, staying at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. I have been here several times and it is my favorite place to stay on Maui. IMO its location cannot be beat – best stretch of beach in front of the hotel and you are walking distance to great restaurants and shopping. We love it there!

We also love Mai Tais – I mean, this drink just screams Hawaii! Fresh juice, dark rum, and a whole lot of deliciousness. We drank a few Mai Tais and ate some great food, and in this blog post I want to share with you some of the places we loved.

And travel buddies Sharon and Randy were with us too!

Best Mai Tai goes to – Mama’s Fish House! Let’s be honest – this restaurant could be “best of” just about everything. The location is beautiful, the fish is fresh, and the Mai Tais were phenomenal! That being said, it is really hard to get a reservation here. We started trying over two months out from our trip, and luckily they had a lunch reservation open up. If you are a foodie, this restaurant should be on your “bucket list”.

The Mai Tai was a little tarter than the others we drank on our trip, and not too sweet. It was a perfect complement to Mama’s Curry.

Mama’s Curry

Tim ordered the Antarctic Toothfish, and Randy had the Bouillabaisse – everything was so good, and the service was wonderful.

Antarctic Toothfish

The most interesting Mai Tai goes to Monkeypod and Merriman’s. Pete Merriman is the chef of both restaurants, so the Mai Tai is the same. Monkeypod is a more casual place to eat, with pizza, sandwiches, salads, and fresh fish entrees, and Merriman’s is an upscale restaurant with a fantastic view.

What makes this Mai Tai unique is the honey-lilikoi foam that floats on top. This is really good!

Monkeypod is located in Whalers Village, close to our hotel. They do not take reservations, and it was pretty easy to get a table. We all agreed the food was good, and the Mai Tai excellent.

Mahi Mahi Fish Sandwich
Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi
Fish and Chips

Dinner at Merriman’s was amazing – and got our vote for best meal on the trip. It is a prix fixe menu, and of course the daily offerings change. You get to choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert. I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to explain how wonderful this dining experience was!

Tako A L’Escargot, Filet Mignon, Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi, Rosemary Roasted Rack of Lamb, Lilikoi Pot De Creme, Chocolate Lava Cake, Pineapple Macadamia Nut Bread Pudding – this is the kind of meal you dream about!

Tako A L’Escargot (Octopus)
Rosemary Roasted Rack of Lamb
Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi
Filet Mignon
Lilikoi Pot De Creme
Pineapple Macadamia Nut Bread Pudding
Chocolate Lava Cake

Another favorite Mai Tai was the first one we had when we arrived – we walked down to Whalers Village and got a table at Leilani’s Beach Bar. The fresh pineapple juice was so good! It was very delicious, and almost won as Best Mai Tai (of our group LOL).

Leilani’s Beach Bar is a very casual beach side restaurant. They do not have a big menu, but after a day in the sun all you really need are fish tacos and Mai Tais, am I right?

Leilani’s upstairs restaurant is another story – a full-scale restaurant with many food and drink offerings. I ordered the 1944, a Mai Tai made like the original. It was not as sweet as the fresh squeezed Mai Tai, but very good! I personally preferred the fresh squeezed Mai Tai.

For dinner we had the Herb Roasted Mong Chong, and it was really good!

Herb Roasted Mong Chong

We can’t forget the restaurant at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel – Hui Hui. The hotel recently went through a major renovation and built this beach-front restaurant. It was wonderful! The cocktails are great and the bartenders and servers couldn’t be nicer – what more do you need? The Mai Tai made here is also very good, and if I had not had the previous Mai Tais I would have thought it was the best LOL! The setting, the sun, the food … it’s paradise!

Hand Line Ahi
Banana Bread Ice Cream Sandwich

Last on our list for Mai Tais is Roy’s. We went to Roy’s on what we thought was going to be Sharon and Randy’s last night in Maui (luckily it wasn’t, but that’s another story). So we had tasted a lot of Mai Tais before going there. Although their Mai Tai may not have been my favorite, their food is outstanding! I may travel back to Maui just to go there and have the Misoyaki Butterfish! The beef short ribs were also excellent.

Look how big the calamari is!
Misoyaki Butterfish
Honey Mustard Glazed Beef Short Rib

And of course there are other places for you to get an abundance of Mai Tais – the Old Lahaina Luau will serve you as many as you can drink, and so will Trilogy. And they aren’t bad – in fact, sitting in the sun, contemplating how you can live on Maui, they taste pretty good!

Banana Bread To Die For

One of my favorite places in the world is Maui – like I could live here! Tim and I have been numerous times, but there was always one thing I wanted to do and that was to get some of the “world’s best banana bread” on West Maui.

I understand “world’s best” may be disputed – one of our servers told us the best to be had was on the Road to Hana. 🤷🏻‍♀️

And as a bonus our Thursday travel buddies Sharon and Randy are with us!

One of Tim’s favorite places is the Nakalele Blow Hole – usually not very crowded and can be very stunning. We are staying at Kaanapali Beach, so it really isn’t far. The farther north you get the landscape gets more rugged, and the road less traveled. No signage pointing “Blow Hole Here” either – you just kind of know where it is through either guide books or Google Maps. There are a couple of parking areas and walks to get down to the blow hole, or you can view it from a higher vantage point without risking a limb.

The “world’s best banana bread” is supposedly a little food truck past the blow hole. I had a guide book about 25 years ago that told you exactly where it was, but of course I didn’t bring it. We kept driving and made it to the Olivine Pools … very pretty to look at from above but beware if you want to hike down and swim – can be dangerous! We met a couple from San Diego who had also stopped at the Olivine Pools – very happy and friendly and a little older than us. They were looking for the blow hole, and I was looking for banana bread, so we happily exchanged information. Yes indeedy, they had seen the cute little food truck selling banana bread in a cute little town only about a mile from where we were. Since we had come this far of course we were going to go one more mile!

Not too much farther and the road became a little rough, and then turned into a very small one lane road along the side of a cliff – or maybe it is a mountain – but regardless there is a very steep scary drop off. So I proceed to keep going and of course I meet a truck – and there is no where to go! The truck driver backed up until he got to a place we could pass each other – very much appreciated by me! We proceeded into this small village and found a pink food truck that was selling banana bread. By this time I’m not even sure if this is the “world’s best banana bread” or not – and I did not care! We got some banana bread – yee haw!

So … we could keep going on this treacherous one lane road for another 12 miles or turn around and go back the way we came – and we chose the latter of course! I did meet a couple of cars on the one lane portion but was able to white knuckle it through.

Was it the “world’s best banana bread”? I’m not sure … I have also had some from the Old Lahaina Luau and from a food truck on the Road to Hana. The consensus from our group was that the banana bread from the Old Lahaina Luau was THE BEST – it had a cinnamon crunchy top that was just delicious.

I will say that ALL THREE of the banana breads I have eaten have been very good – but not worth dying over. And I think the couple from San Diego may have been smoking something 😜

Jar-din-air-ah (or Giardiniera)

Oh these fun to pronounce ingredients! Is it giardiniera, giardano’s, or giada?? I chose Alex Guarnaschelli’s (gwar-nah-shelly) cookbook Cook With Me for Cookbook Club. We love Alex! In my opinion she is the princess to the queen Ina Garten 🙂 The recipes in this book are all easy to follow, with simple ingredients. So let’s go!

Alex has quite a few cocktail recipes, as well as non-alcoholic sodas, in her cookbook. We chose the Spiced Negroni, even though we had featured a Negroni in a previous club meeting (See No Reservations About Rao’s Restaurant). This drink was not a winner for any of us, with the Campari overwhelming the rest of the ingredients. A little addition of club soda did help though, and luckily there was plenty of Italian wine to drink.

Nancy brought the appetizer, a Salami and Cheese Platter – and yes, this is in the cookbook! You can see why we love Alex – easy peasy! Actually the hardest part for Nancy was trying to find some good Italian cheeses, which led to the conversation “Why doesn’t Springfield have a good Italian deli??” Ughhhh!! Anyway it was delicious as always!

Dee made the salad, which was Iceberg Giardiniera – iceberg lettuce cut into wedges, with the dressing being as simple as giardiniera (store bought is fine, but she does have a recipe for homemade in the cookbook) and its brine, Dijon mustard, and mayonnaise. We all thought the giardiniera was a little spicy, but delicious! This is a salad that I will definitely be making again.

So, how do you say giardiniera? I wish I had a video of all of us trying to say it LOL … Nancy found a t-shirt that Jeff Mauro was wearing with the correct pronunciation – jar-din-air-ah. So there you have it!

Since I was the host, I chose to make both the Godfather and Goodfellas Spaghetti and Meatballs. The meatballs are the same in both recipes, the difference is in how they are cooked. The Godfather sauce has spicy Italian sausage in it, and is more “saucy” to me. The meatballs are cooked in the sauce. The Goodfellas sauce is more basic, includes onions, and the meatballs are added to it once they are browned in a skillet. The Godfather Spaghetti and Meatballs was the winner, mainly due to the addition of the spicy Italian sausage. But both were yummy and very easy!

And last but not least, dessert, and the reason I picked this cookbook in the first place. On the back cover of the cookbook Alex has a picture of her Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars. I have been obsessing about these, and asked Laura to make them. So delicious! Definitely going to make these myself!

So, to recap – giardiniera is not scary, Springfield needs an Italian Deli, and Alex is great!

Favorite Dishwasher

Food and Fun in Southwest Florida

It was time to head to Florida and visit my good friend who had recently moved there. She is a fan of the blog and wanted us to do some cooking together during our visit. We’ll call her E, since she is sort of like M from James Bond – badass, totally in charge, and likes her privacy 🙂

First of all, the last time I had been to Florida was in early 1990’s, and I have never been there on vacation or a leisurely visit. So this was something new to me. My vision of Southwest Florida was completely different than what I experienced. I expected loads of traffic and lots of “old people” (like me I guess LOL). Instead I found a really vibrant community with lots of amenities, great Happy Hour specials, excellent places to purchase wine, and lots of shopping and dining options. What’s not to love??

After a day of traveling we just wanted to relax, and E made a delicious taco casserole that night. Actually, she was the sous chef and I put it together – so nice to cook with somebody! This recipe is really good and forgiving – for example, we didn’t have enough red salsa for the casserole, so we used what we had and added some salsa verde. Same with the corn – just add another vegetable if you have it for some bulk. It was really easy and delicious, and just what we needed. Lots of leftovers!

We have a tradition when we are staying with E of having a little drink of bourbon before calling it a day. The first night we had Dave Phinney’s (of Orin Swift fame) bourbon called The Burning Chair. It is a delicious bourbon, easy going, and I would say it would appeal to those who are either new to bourbon or don’t like the burn you can sometimes get when you drink it.

The next day we drove over to Sanibel Island and had lunch at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille – super casual and yummy food! On the way home we stopped at ABC Fine Wines and Tommy Bahama’s in Coconut Point for a little retail and wine therapy 🙂 Did you know you could get a drink at Tommy Bahama’s? Who knew??

The next night we prepared the meal I want to highlight in this post. We started the day by going to DeRomo’s Gourmet Market & Restaurant in Bonita Springs to pick up some shrimp. I think if I lived in the area I would go to this market every day! The biscotti is the best I have ever have, and the store itself is just so interesting and inviting. Obviously we don’t have anything like this in Central Illinois!

Best Biscotti!

When we got back to E’s house we started preparing the Key Lime Pie. Confession – we almost forgot about it! But I’m really glad we didn’t – the pie needs about three hours in the refrigerator to set up.

For our side we had the Bang Bang Cauliflower – again, so good and easy! Very flavorful too, so if you like spicy but not too hot this is for you!

On to the main dish – Spicy Shrimp with Charred Poblano Romesco. Another very simple recipe that comes together quickly. Quick note- do not turn your back while you are toasting the almonds – it does not take too long to toast them, and you do not want them burnt. We may or may not have had to do this a couple of times 😀 Good thing we had bought more than we needed! E does not have a grill yet so we cooked the shrimp under the broiler, and they turned out perfectly!

E is big on presentation as you can see – which made the meal even better!

The next day we wanted to go to brunch at Three60 Market & Wine in Naples before heading to Marco Island. This is a pretty small location, but we found out that they are expanding to a much bigger space across the street. The brunch was good – I ordered an omelet, but I had food envy for the tomato pie that E ordered. It was so delicious, and what they are known for.

French Press Coffee!

When we returned to E’s house that night, we just wanted to stay in, and luckily we had the leftover taco casserole. I was able to use crescent rolls and make a “taco stuffed wreath” for dinner. I’m sure you all have done that before, and it is a good way to change things up a little bit with leftovers.

Last day in Florida! We drove to Naples and did a little window shopping in their downtown area, and stopped in at The French for a cocktail. Florida knows how to do Happy Hours the right way! Delicious cocktails and small bites held us over until we went to dinner later that night.

Dinner was at Yabba Island Grill. It was great to eat outside in December – something we can’t do in the Midwest. We started with The Original Swimps, and I had the Crispy Crab Stuffed Grouper for main dish. The Christmas decorations were beautiful, and it was a great way to end our trip.

Even though we were only there for a short time, I can see the appeal of either moving there permanently or being a “snow bird”. And I’m definitely not going to wait another 30 years to visit Florida 🙂

Sangria, Apples, and Wine in the Metro East

Another girls trip! The guys were busy, so just me and Sharon this time. We decided to go south again, and started at The Weingarten in Belleville. It is about a an hour and a half drive to get there (maybe a smidge longer). The last time I was in Belleville was for my high school best friend Anne’s wedding, and that was in 1988! So it’s been a while …

The Weingarten may technically be in Belleville, but it seems to me to be on the outskirts. It is in a really nice setting, situated on 20 acres of countryside. And … there is a cemetery! This may sound weird but I really love cemeteries … really. Lots of history and mystery, and some spookiness.

We were greeted by Kyle, and he instantly made us feel welcome. It was a Friday, and I was surprised we were the only ones there. The benefits of retirement! Kyle explained the wines to us – they do not make their own wine, and they are known for their sangria and a whiskey drink called Honey Pot. They were featuring Apple Strudel Sangria, and we were surprised that it was red instead of white. Kind of like a mulled wine but cold – and really good! We both ordered the sangria, and had a yummy lunch of grilled cheese, tomato soup, chips, and spanakopita bites.

After lunch we took a “walk-about” to the cemetery – some really old stones but well maintained. A great final resting spot.

So where to next? We noticed Eckert’s on the way to The Weingarten – like really close by, lucky for us. I had heard of Eckert’s before but had never been. You can “pick your own” apples if you want, or you can head into their store (which is amazing by the way) and buy them already picked. Guess what we chose? The store of course! We both got some apples and something from the bakery – yum!

Our plan was to then start heading back north, but hopefully stop at a couple of wineries. We found Bella Vista Winery in Maryville on the map, so off we go. Sharon thought she had been there previously for a wedding, but was not sure. It was a memorable wedding because she wore a sleeveless dress and the wedding ended up being outdoors (which she didn’t know until they were almost there) and she froze her buns off. So if your husband/boyfriend invites you to a wedding, be sure to take a peek at the invitation so you know whether it is outdoors or indoors :).

Bella Vista Winery has only been open a couple of years – there was a different winery at this location previously. It is really cute with lots of seating indoors and outdoors. We sat at the bar and talked to a very friendly person – and I feel really bad I didn’t get her name. The winery is owned by the same people who own Hidden Lake Winery (see previous blog post about our trip to Hidden Lake).

The last winery we visited before heading home was Shale Lake Winery in Williamson, Illinois. This winery is located about an hour from Springfield. It has a very eclectic feel to it – lots of different spaces located inside the winery to go have a drink – plus a large patio when the weather is good. If you are lucky you may see some deer or turkey! We were warmly greeted by who I think was the owner. Sharon and I each got a glass of wine and then explored the different spaces – this would definitely be a fun place to go with a group of people.

They have cabins to rent as well if you want to spend the weekend there. As we drove back to see the cabins, a deer ran in front of our vehicle. So exciting! But I was glad I was only going about 5 mph. This would a great place to unwind.

We drove back to Springfield on Illinois Route 4. Lots of cute towns to explore on this route! And another fun day with Sharon 🙂

You’re Shrimply The Best

Fall is just the best time of year! Leaves, bonfires, warm apple cider … I could go on and on. It’s also this time of year that our friend Jacob has his annual Shrimp Boil.

You remember Jacob (see Cioppino in the Garden) – wine connoisseur, foodie, dog dad to Libby, and works part time at our favorite place. He’s also a great host and loves to entertain. We are so lucky to know him!

For this shindig, Jacob served pulled pork, homemade vegetable soup, and of course the shrimp boil (with sausage, potatoes, and corn).

This pulled pork – OMG! It was so good! I had a little, and when I turned around it was gone! Here is Jacob’s recipe for Pulled Pork:

I used Salt/Pepper, Black Magic from Spiceology, and Garlic Powder as the rub, let that sit for 60 minutes. I mixed 1/3 cup of berry jam, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2-3 tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons honey mustard as a glaze.

Put into an oven preheated to 275 for about 40 to 45 minutes per pound. Internal temp of the pork shoulder should be 185. Let it rest for 15 minutes at room temp then start shredding the pork.

So good!

Here is Jacob’s go-to recipe for shrimp boils – great for a crowd!

The vegetable soup was amazing as usual, and Jacob shared his recipe with me:

Jacob’s Veggie Soup

6 cups of chopped veggies (cut to about an inch)
Caramelize 2 medium Onions
1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups red wine
2 cans of crushed fire roasted tomatoes
1 can of chopped fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup of lentils or quinoa (I used French lentils)
1 cup of chopped corn (I used one bag of frozen corn)
8 cups of vegetable stock

Caramelize the onions then add the garlic.

Chop the vegetables, toss them in oil, salt/pepper, herbs d’province, and roast them on 375 for 30-45 minutes.

Put the tomato paste and balsamic vinegar in the onions and stir to incorporate. Add the vegetable stock and wine to the onions/garlic and cook the lentils till almost finished. Then add the tomatoes, frozen corn, and roasted veggies.

I used 1 tablespoon of the Oh, Canada seasoning from Robert’s Seafood (Spiceology) and 1 tablespoon of Braggs Aminos.

Simmer for 20 minutes…then ready to serve.


Guests brought side dishes and appetizers … and I kind of messed up. I have a lot of phyllo dough left over from Cookbook Club (see Movin’ to the Country, Gonna Eat a Lot of Peaches) and my plan was to make some Spanakopita Bites. Two problems – I thought I had a mini-muffin pan and I don’t, and secondly, I forgot to get the phyllo dough out of the freezer in time to make these. So …. on to Plan B since I didn’t want to go empty handed to the party.

I found a recipe (Spinach Feta Dip with Lemon and Oregano) on Pinterest that pretty much used all of the ingredients I had purchased for the Spanakopita Bites, minus the phyllo dough. I will admit, it wasn’t too bad! I served it with pita chips, but I think you could even warm this up and serve it over pasta.

Another successful party for Jacob! Great times, great friends, and great food! It was “Shrimply The Best”!

I Like Big Buttes (in Sedona) and I Cannot Lie

Being flexible during the pandemic is really important – you should always have a Plan B and Plan C if Plan A goes awry. Our Plan A was to go to Belize for a week – but 30 days out from our trip Belize goes on the “Do Not Travel” list from the CDC and State Department for high COVID numbers. UGHHHHHH! What to do? It was easy to decide to postpone our trip to Belize, but we still wanted to go someplace fun. So we got together with our travel buddies Jamie and Karen and came up with a plan – go see one of our favorite musicians, Frank Turner, then fly out to Arizona and travel to Sedona.

You really need to check out Frank Turner if you have not heard of him – he is just amazing! In concert it was just him and one of his bandmates, Matt Nasir, playing for a couple of hours. They were very funny and loose, and the audience really connected with them. We saw them at Delmar Hall in St. Louis, which is a great venue! Check it out!

On to Sedona! We flew into Phoenix – easy peasy – then went to get a rental car. I feel like I need to mention this next part as a PSA for those renting cars right now – sign up for any program that allows you to go directly to your car and not the counter – seriously. Jamie and Karen were able to go directly to their car (they’re smart) while Tim and I stood in line for two hours (not smart).

When we arrived in Sedona it was already dark, so I had no idea of the majestic beauty we were traveling through. We stayed at the Poco Diablo Resort right outside Sedona – great location, close to the town of Sedona and hiking trails/scenic routes. It was a Monday, and a lot of places were closed, but we found a great little pizza place called Sedona Pizza Company and had a bite to eat and some wine. Travel days are always so exhausting.

The next morning Tim and Jamie got up and hiked the Cathedral Rock Trail. According to Tim, it was a lot more challenging than the “moderate” rating listed. When they returned we drove the Red Rock Scenic Byway. I don’t think I would ever get tired of this view!

Afternoons are made for relaxing, and I don’t know a better to relax than with a glass of wine 🙂 We headed to Vino Di Sedona, a place that had come highly recommended by several of our wine store peeps. Wes Schemmer, the owner of the wine bar, used to live in the Chicago area and worked for a wine distributor whose territory included Springfield. He’s got a great place in Sedona and we loved it! You can buy a glass, flight, bottle, drink it there or take away, food, cocktails, beer, you name it! They also have music every night and a really sweet patio. Tim and I loved it so much we went there twice during the trip!

After wine we headed up to Airport Mesa to Mesa Grill to eat dinner and watch the sunset. Gorgeous views and great food! The shrimp and grits were especially good – the pork belly was yummy.

Our next day consisted of more rocks, more wine, and more food – of course! Karen and I even did a little hike 🙂

We went to the Art of Wine for some pre-dinner drinks and snacks. Very cute place close to everything in Uptown Sedona. Our server Ruben did a great job helping us pick out our wine.

For dinner we went to the The Cowboy Club, a restaurant that back-in-the-day hosted several of Hollywood’s greatest Western movie stars. The food and drink was really good!

Finished the night off with Orin Swift’s 8 Years in the Desert – it seemed like a very appropriate wine for the area!

Sadly, Jamie and Karen left the next day to go back home. Tim and I did a drive through Oak Creek Canyon – it was just beautiful! Unfortunately no pictures since I was the driver 😦 Trust me, it was amazing!

After the drive we went back to Vino Di Sedona – of course! We really loved this place, and was introduced to some delicious Arizona wines.

Our last day – boooooo! A “must see” site in Sedona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. But if you don’t get there early (like right when they open), you will have trouble finding a place to park, and it will be overrun with people. We tried to go there late morning on the previous day (Thursday), and I almost had a panic attack with the amount of people and cars that were there. Different story on Friday – the gates open at 9:00 a.m., and we were there by 9:01 a.m. No problem!

The chapel is located at one of the vortexes in Sedona – and I think I felt a spiritual cleansing and calmness while I was there, but I am sure I did not the day before with the tons of people of and cars. Anyhoo, I highly recommend going. The view from the chapel is unbelievable!

So on to Arizona Wine Country! Yes, you heard me right – Arizona has great wines! Our friends Nancy and Zach recently returned from a trip to Arizona, and when she told me Arizona wines were legit, I was skeptical. But after having a couple of these wines during the week, Tim and I ventured to the Verde Valley Wine Trail.

The wineries we visited are only about a 30 minute drive from Sedona on easy roads. We started at Page Spring Cellars, and Caden was our server. She was really awesome, and talked to us about each wine as she was pouring. This winery grows their own grapes, and if they need extra they get them from Mexico. Caden also explained that they made Rhone-style wines, which is probably my favorite style at the moment. We really enjoyed our time here 🙂

Less than half a mile up the road is Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery – another great place to visit! We were very lucky that the weather was great and not hot, and were able to sit outside on their patio. We did not eat here but their charcuterie plate looked awesome!

The last winery we visited was Javelina Leap Winery – you could literally see this winery from Oak Creek Vineyards. We had a nice glass of wine there and listened to some music – a wonderful way to spend the day 🙂

Exciting things are on the horizon for Arizona wines – we learned while taking to everyone at these wineries that Arizona is on track to be the next AVA – which is great news! Don’t be afraid to buy an Arizona wine – you’ll be happy you did 🙂

I had one last thing to do before getting on the plane and heading home – we had lunch with Tish, an old friend/co-worker who had relocated to the Phoenix area and is loving life! So good to see her and reconnect! I would also recommend eating at the Perfect Pear Bistro – it’s close to the airport and the food is amazing. Check it out if you are in Phoenix!

I’m not saying goodbye to Sedona, I’m saying “See you later!” Here’s to Plan B’s <clink, clink> May our Plan A’s work out as well!

Please Pass the Jello Salad

Doing a 1950s-themed cocktail party has long been on Nancy’s list. And since Laura was the host and had the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, it seemed like the perfect time to do it!

Instead of a main entree, we decided to make several appetizers, a couple of salads, and dessert.

But first, the cocktail – we went old school with a Tom Collins. Very refreshing and easy to make, a perfect drink for anytime! There is also an interesting back story to the Tom Collins cocktail if you are in to that kind of thing.

Dee is still off alcohol, but she found an interesting non-alcoholic wine from Gruvi that she can enjoy in the mean time. It tastes so much like real wine that she almost didn’t believe there was no alcohol!

I was in charge of the salads, and of course one of them had to be a molded Jello salad. The first thing I think of when I think 50’s Dinner Party is a molded salad LOL … and there were many to choose from! I chose to make the Perfection Salad, which according to the cookbook is a “Molded version of an old church supper favorite from the Gay Nineties”. It was comprised of lemon Jello, salt, cabbage, celery, pimientos, and sweet pickles. The cookbook suggested serving it with a dressing of mayonnaise and tomatoes (I added some red wine vinegar and salt and pepper). Hmmmm ….

The consensus – it wasn’t too bad! Something like a palate cleanser … even so, I will not be making it again! LOL

My second salad was called Star Salad. From the cookbook – “Alternate wedges of lettuce and tomato in effective star design on large round chop plate. Garnish of lacy watercress or crispy endive.” I served it with Western Dressing, a favorite salad dressing of mine from way back when. It couldn’t have been easier!

So on to the appetizers! Dee volunteered to bring Shrimp Cocktail (from Robert’s Seafood – they have the best shrimp and cocktail sauce!) as well as the Cheese – Olive – Anchovy Spread with Ritz Crackers (of course!). Can’t go wrong here!

Nancy brought the Savory Mushroom Canapés and Peanut Butter and Bacon Canapés. Confession – we picked these out for her. They really liked their toasted bread in the 50’s! Oh, and mayonnaise! Anyway, these were both tasty options.

Laura made the Hot Cheese Puffs and Hot Crabmeat Puffs, and Miniature Pigs in Blankets. More toasted bread and mayo! And who doesn’t love a pig in a blanket??

For dessert Laura made Chocolate Frosted Brownies – all I can say is yum!

So, 1950’s Cocktail Party – Check! Please, no more Jello Salads 🙂

Guess who saw The Rolling Stones in St. Louis!

The Lincoln to Mackinaw Valley Vineyard Trail

We got a little later start on our trip than I intended due to my doctor’s appointment going a little longer – which I am not complaining about! Our plan was to head north and eat lunch in Lincoln, then head up to the Mackinaw Valley Vineyard.

Now where to eat lunch … the only place I knew about in Lincoln only serves dinner, so I went to one of my fountains of information – my mother! I knew she would know, and she did! Funny thing is that Sharon was also doing her research, and they both came up with the same place – The Blue Dog Inn.

I cannot say enough good things about The Blue Dog Inn – with the first thing being so obvious – they love dogs! There are dog pictures and paintings all over the walls – I love it!

The second thing I love about this place is the history – the lady working that day told me the building used to be part of (or maybe just next door to) a hotel that burned down several years ago. Gangsters (think Al Capone) from Chicago and St. Louis would meet at the hotel in Lincoln since it was out of the way plus in-between the two cities, and play cards and drink in the building where The Blue Dog Inn is today. So, when you are there, you are walking on the exact floors that Al Capone or Bugsy Moran may have walked on. Pretty cool!

And the third thing I love is of course the food and service – nothing fancy but really good food! And of course the service was great! We will definitely be coming back 🙂

I like ketchup on pretty much everything!

So onward to Mackinaw Valley Vineyard! Sharon and I had decided on our last road trip that we wanted to take more local roads and less interstates to and from our destinations. It is a much more relaxing way to travel – kick back (unless you’re the driver LOL) and enjoy the scenery and conversation.

Randy may or may not have been asleep 🙂

I had heard a lot about Mackinaw Valley Vineyard over the years, and I really couldn’t believe I had never been there. My first impression when we pulled in was that it was very organized, and had many spots for people to congregate with friends and family. The grounds are very beautiful and well maintained, with a pond as a backdrop for pictures and lazing around with a glass of wine. They host lots of weddings and usually have a band or some other event on the weekends.

We were greeted by Carly, who we found out later is the owner’s daughter and a winemaker herself! She described all of the wines to us, and gave us some helpful hints about tasting. Tim and I (and Randy and Sharon) each shared tastings of six of the wines. We all like dry wines the best. Our overall favorite was Alexander’s Conquest, which happened to be an Off Dry wine – and Carly does a good job explaining the difference between dry and off-dry wines. Regardless, Alexander’s Conquest was the winner to us, and also a 2021 Double Gold Medal Winner at the Illinois State Fair.

When we finally left, we realized we would be going through Lincoln again around dinner time – and if you are in Lincoln at dinner time you really need to try Guzzardo’s Italian Villa. It is a BYOB place, and conveniently there is a craft beer and wine shop called Spirited Republic located at the entrance to Guzzardo’s. Basically you go to Spirited Republic (located on the square), pick out your wine or have a pre-dinner craft beer, leave through the back, and voila – there is Guzzardo’s!

We were very hungry, so we ordered two appetizers and the each of us got an entree – seriously, this was enough food to feed eight or more people! I think next time we will share an entree, thought it was nice to have leftovers for a couple of meals.

Another fun day out – I think I will keep this retirement gig! Until next time!