Oh the Wonders I’ve Seen…

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Roses, Hotel Costes in Paris last week.

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Hi there! Remember me??

I’ve had another grand adventure and finally back home to put pen to paper, so to speak.

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In Lisbon, I found some of the most beautifully cobbled  streets in the world. (Sorry Prague :()

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Traveled by an old wooden boat through the Douro wine region of Portugal

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Devoured Portugal’s famous egg custard tarts for breakfast and dessert

Every day.

No, seriously, every day.

You only live once. Reason enough to visit Portugal.

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Experienced a true Princess Moment (albeit on a shockingly bad hair day)

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Learned about Lusitano horses and wine…

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The procedure for uncorking very old bottles of port

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and, as always, continued my quest to find the World’s Worst Dessert.

So far, no luck.

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We hobnobbed with jockeys

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A bag in the Longchamp shop on Rue St. Honore’

Did a wee bit of shopping in Paris (It was Fashion Week after all :) )

Saw Kate Moss twice in one night

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and enjoyed some world class people watching…

all of which I’ll share with you over the next few weeks.

Just as soon as I get unpacked and plow through the mountain of mail that faithfully greets the weary, wine-soaked traveler.

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Despite the grey skies, it’s nice to be home.

I’ve missed you!

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A Tourist at Home

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Los Olivos, CA

Los Olivos, California

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Recently my husband and I have been playing tourists very close to home.

Not quite sure what’s come over us, but it’s fun!

I guess these are the things you start to do when your children begin leading their own lives (the nerve)

Truth be told, we’d also become a little guilty of what I call “Disneyland Syndrome” – you know-living so close to something special that you end up taking it for granted?

 Like the person who tells you they live within the shadow of the Eiffel Tower but have never been to the top and you’re thinking “Whhaa??? Are you nuts?!”

Well, that was us.

So on a day when Santa Barbara was tucked beneath a heavy duvet of marine layer, off we went to Los Olivos, located aprox. 40 minutes north east of us.

In less than 25 minutes we were feeling the kiss of the sun as we crested the top of the mountains separating the ocean from Solvang, Santa Ynez, and Los Olivos…

home to some of the finest vineyards in California. World-class vineyards.

That’s right- there was WINE over there for God’s sake!

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Wine country, CASlim Paley photo

and beautiful scenery, epically different than Santa Barbara’s.

Positively “Bonanza-esque”

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Cows

Large animals with big horns

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Slim Paley photo

Wind-thingies

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Wine country, CA

Our first stop was  Harrison Clarke Wine where Roger Harrison (accompanied by sweet Rita above) gave us a most enjoyable and educational tour of his vineyards.

Roger is a man in full with a real passion for what he does.

What a pleasure to see.

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Wine Country, Santa Barbara area, CASlim Paley photo

Really, the photos don’t even do it justice.

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Slim Paley photo

Magic beans!

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Roger’s lovely wife Hilarie led us through a fun tasting, and I must say, the couple were very gracious about our total lack of wine knowledge.

We just knew that all the wines tasted good to us.

I was reminded of one of my most important New Year resolutions; To learn something new every day.

Doing fairly well on that front :)

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Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at “Sides” in the little town of Los Olivos.

Good thing a friend had told us of the restaurant.

As you can see, it exists quite happily with no signage.

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Naturally I felt compelled to order sorbets to match the awnings. 

The one on the right was lemon verbena flavored, fabulous.

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We ended this most excellent day by stopping by the Clairmont Lavender fields

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fields of lavender, Los Olivos, CA

Which were not quite in full bloom  (NOW is the time)

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 Meryl, the proud owner of the farm, shared a photo of her fields published.

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Who knows what or where our next local adventure might be?

The infamous pea soup in Buellton??

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Wine country of Santa Barbara

It’s a beautiful life Rita.

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Comprehensive List of Santa Barbara County wines & vineyards

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Happy Weekend Everyone!

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Napa Valley Weekend

Slim Paley photo

napa valleySlim Paley photo

I‘m baaack!

Were you worried??!

I know… I should have called…

Things have been a little hectic around here, and as usual, the best laid plans will go awry when you least expect it.

The good news was that my husband and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary by going to Napa Valley over the weekend.

Other than a couple of very quick (well, as quickly as you can dine at The French Laundry!) evening trips over the years, we hadn’t visited the valley since before we had our children.

Now, we have two graduations this month, one from college, the other from high school.

HOW did that happen??

It was, indeed, time to drink some wine!

Napa, CASlim Paley photo

It was a perfect couple of days, with turquoise skies and gloriously sultry weather.

Slim Paley photo

Salmon tartare at Bouchon

We began with a scrumptious lunch at Bouchon   As long time readers know, one of my favourite things about traveling or just dining out in general is getting to be a butterfly (so much nicer than a fly ) on the wall and ease dropping  catching the odd word here & there from neighbouring tables. If that’s not possible, usually not the case given my supersonic hearing, I’m compelled to strike up conversations just to garner more info. What can I say? I’m a curious person, or rather, I’m a person who is curious.  In Bouchon we sat beside a lovely elderly lady who had been lunching at Bouchon every week since the original restaurant opened. She always orders red vermouth and was enjoying delicious looking breaded escargot. Her companion offered for us to try some, which was very kind but my husband declined. Whatupwiththat?

Barn, Napa, CASlim Paley photo

I fell in love with a million places, including this big barn house, which had the most beautifully patina-ed metal roof, though it doesn’t show up well in the photo.

Slim Paley photo

raw oystersSlim Paley photo

Sweet oysters at Bouchon.

Used to hate them now I love them.

Just like martinis; never give up- you have to keep working at it.

a delicious light white to go with lunch.

wild red rosesSlim Paley photo

The roses and the trees in the Napa Valley are BEYOND.  B E Y O N D   I tell you.

 My particular favourites were the magnificent Deodar Cedars and the deciduous oaks which we do not really see here in Santa Barbara, though I do spot them in Ojai.

As it happens, I am planting a new Deodar next week.

little white house, NapaSlim Paley photo

There were endless charming houses like this to stop and photograph but traffic was very busy, being Cinqo De Mayo weekend,  and there’s only so many times you ask your husband to stop for a photo op. so most of these were taken from a slow moving car.

You think it’s easy being Mr. Slim Paley?! :)

gnocchiSlim Paley photo

We had dinner one night at “Bottega” which was very good, in particular, the giant potato dough gnocchi stuffed with spinach, ricotta, black truffles and lastly, a poached egg hidden within that bursts to perfection when you cut the gnocchi open.

ivy clad buildingSlim Paley photo

Tra Vigne

A wonderful old “Wonderful Drug Store” embedded in the sidewalk just off the main street in St. Helena’s.

Slim Paley photo

and I don’t know if this slightly irked peacock coloured bird made one too many visits to the “Wonderful Drug Store” or I’ve become ‘The Bird Whisperer’ but I think I could have sat on him and he wouldn’t have moved. I suppose he could have also been to a tasting..

vintage typewriters, art

We returned to The Hess Collection where I was thrilled to see “Homage”, the fiery typewriter by artist Leopoldo Maler,  still there after all these years.

The typewriter is an homage to the artist’s uncle, a well known journalist killed for the inflammatory content of his political essays, I assume in Argentina (Maler was born there  in 1937).  But of course the beauty of art is that it’s subjective and open to personal interpretation and this piece really resonates with me.  It’s such a literal yet ephemeral symbol of the power of words, the struggle of writers and the sheer ‘fire of creativity’.

andy goldsworthySlim Paley photo

I was also very taken with “Surface Tension” (1991).  This floor to ceiling installation by artist Andy Goldsworthy  is made entirely of leaf stalks from a Horse Chestnut tree, wetted, then pinned together with Hawthorn thorns. The thorns hold the entire piece to the wall, ceiling and floor- no glue or hardware is used!

Patience, much??! 

white wisteria Slim Paley photo

The white wisteria arbor at The Hess winery, Napa Valley..

Oh, yes, they do make nice wine there too

Our Tasting Steward Anthony helped us make some selections to take home.

To be honest, neither of us are exactly wine connoisseurs.

OK, that’s putting it mildly.

My husband barely drinks and my wine tasting vocabulary goes a little something like this;

“I like this one”

“This one’s good too

“Mmmm, smells delicious and tastes even better”

“Why does his glass have more in it?”

“Hello, come to Mama”

and

“Can I get a flask for the car?? My husband is driving”

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Learning about wine will be something I do when I really grow up.

Slim Paley photo

We made the trek to “Artesia” vineyards & winery designed  by architect Domingo Triay.  The building is beautiful and from the outside melds almost seamlessly into the mountaintop, allowing spectacular views of the valley below while maintaining a discreet, unassuming profile.  Unfortunately, I was unimpressed with the interior, as well as the ambience, although to be fair it was extremely busy, but I felt like I was in a World’s Fair pavilion rather than a winery.

 Of course that didn’t stop me from buying some wine, but that might have been because Daniel,  our “pourer”  was adorable,

plus he had that broken pupil thing in one eye like David Bowie.

Slim Paley photo

Slim Paley photo

We stayed at the Calistoga Ranch,  well tucked away and rustically  gorgeous-just like being in a tree house..

The French Laundry, CASlim Paley photo

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Lastly, to really celebrate our 24 (!) years of life, love, kids, friends, family and food together

We revisited “The French Laundry”

Never have the words “laundry” and “pleasure” been so closely related.

We arrived suitably starved with excited anticipation at precisely 8:15pm

We rolled out at 1:00am.

May I add  there was a table of about 10 people there when we arrived, who were still present (and sitting upright) when we left.

no joke.

In homage to the night and Thomas Keller, I left my camera in my bag, but trust me when I say it’s always a pleasure…

and the lump on my husband’s shin for daring to suggest we skip the last course has begun to subside.

Here’s to year 25!

xx

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