California Road Trip 2: The Sonoma Valley

As it’s a cold and dreary January day outside, I thought I’d continue the posts about our California road trip, just to daydream a little!

sonoma vineyard

After San Francisco, we headed North to the Sonoma Valley. We chose to stay near Santa Rosa, which is centrally situated for what we wanted to do, plus it was cheaper than a lot of options in the area. Quaint little towns and villages in this area offered some lovely guest houses but as it was Labor Day Weekend, the prices soared!

We stayed at the Double Tree Rohnert Park, a hotel I already knew well from family trips and is a familiar and comfy place to stay. From this base, we visited some local wineries, but mainly enjoyed the scenery. There were some beautiful views of the vineyards set over gentle, rolling hills. We visited (well, the outside as it turned out it was closed!) Paradise Ridge Winery. It’s a shame it was closed as the view was so idyllic, I could have happily sat there hours!

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Love!

Paradise Ridge Winery

A perfect spot for a glass of wine and a picnic…

On our second day, before heading South, we took a scenic drive as suggested in our trusty guidebook (Lonely Planet, Coastal California) starting in tiny Occidental. The centre of Occidental was so tiny, we went straight through it before realising that was actually it! We headed from here, to the coast. We passed through dark forest for quite a while before the trees opened up and we were met with a spectacular view of the Sonoma coastline shrouded in morning fog. It was like driving through the clouds!

Sonoma Coast

When we reached the coast it was still pretty foggy, but it had started to lift. The beach was a little chilly for my liking but families were heading out for a day at the beach.

We decided to go back inland and visit Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. It was fun to visit, though not exactly what I was expecting. It was indoors and full of delicious food of course, but it was much smaller than I’d imagined. We munched on Venezuelan corn bread sandwiches which were full of flavour, though maybe a little rich.

venezuelan

After two sun soaked days in Sonoma it was time to hit the road again. South, direction; the beautiful Central Coast…

Happy 2014 : )

jan sunset

Not bad for a January evening!

Wishing everyone a belated Happy 2014 : )

After a wonderful (if busy!) Christmas with family, it’s back to real life and the start of a brand new year.

January is a pretty dreary month and the come down after the festivities of December is always hard to deal with.

This year I’m planning lots of trips and exciting things to come. I’m choosing to look at January as another cosy winter month which I can fill with friends, happiness and lots of good, warming comfort food!

There is however, one last thing to celebrate in early January and that’s Epiphany. Around this time of year local boulangeries fill their windows with tempting displays of galettes des rois. The galette comes in two versions, my favourite being puff pastry, sweet almond cream filled deliciousness or alternatively a round brioche topped with a sugar glaze and candied fruits. Both types of galette are sold with a paper crown. Traditionally, the person who finds the ‘feve’ (a token hidden in the cake) is the king or queen for the day and gets to wear the crown. Nowadays the person who finds the feve still gets the crown but also is the person to buy the next galette!

If you want to try to make your own here’s a nice, simple recipe using ready made pastry, from the French recipe site www.marmiton.org/

galette

Ingredients

2 sheets of ready-made puff pastry

100g  powdered almonds

75g caster sugar

1 egg + 1 yolk (mixing the yolk with a little milk to make an egg wash)

50g softened butter

A couple of drops of almond essence

A token to hide in the cake!

 

1.) Put one sheet of pastry in a tart dish/tin and prick it a few times with a fork. In France you can buy ready-made rolled puff pastry which is ideal for this.

2.) Mix the powdered almonds, sugar, egg, butter and the almond extract in a large bowl.

3.) Spread the mixture over the pastry in the dish and place the token in the mixture.

4.) Place the second sheet of pastry over the top, closing the galette.

5.) Using a knife, you can make a criss-cross design on the top of the galette and then brush it with the egg wash.

6.) Make a few small holes in the pastry to allow air to escape while the air cooks.

7.)Bake the galette at 200°C for around 30 mins. Depending on your oven, it may need up to 40 minutes, until the pastry is a nice golden brown colour.

Bon apétit!

Getting ready for Christmas…

Christmas

Can you believe Christmas is only 20 days away? As I am flying home at the very last minute this year I need to wrap up and post all of my presents beforehand and fingers crossed my journey home will be free of any stress and severe weather!

It never quite works out that way as I’m not an organized and early Christmas shopper. As lots of fellow expats I do a lot of shopping online, though I missed out on the ‘black friday’ ‘cyber monday’ madness that seems to have finally crossed the Atlantic in full force this year!

I don’t let myself pull out the Christmas cards, tinsel and start my shopping until 1 December. After the 1st, for me, Christmas really can begin; cheesy songs, fairy lights and mulled wine aplenty!

It doesn’t always feel like Christmas when we’re away from home. This year I’m looking forward to spending Christmas day with the people I love the  most.  Christmas is very different in France and when I first moved here I found Nice disappointingly unseasonal. Sunny and mild days and the sparkling, azur blue sea don’t always make for the most festive setting, but the effort the city puts into decorating has definitely improved from the sparsely decorated Christmas trees that lined the Promenade des Anglais back in 2008.

christmas market

The Christmas market on Place Massena is a happy place to wander through, browsing stalls selling roasted chestnuts, ginger bread and homemade gifts. There’s a bar area next to a little ice rink, a place to stop and recharge waning batteries after Christmas shopping marathons. Here they sell the local speciality ‘socca’ (a type of pancake made using chickpea flour) and my favourite, Nutella crepes (an essential part of my French Christmas, even though we of course eat them year round, they always seem like a festive treat at this time of year!)

nutella crepes

I met some friends by the market yesterday and as we sat sipping a glass of bubbly in the winter sunshine, I think I appreciated really how festive my adopted hometown has become.

Hope you’re all enjoying the build up to Christmas and feeling festive wherever you are!

Linking up with http://postcardsfromrachel.com/ and http://lostintravelsblog.com/ and http://www.betsytransatlantically.com/ for the expat link up again this month : )

christmas lights