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Travel: Winter is Wine Time in Healdsburg

 

 

Winter seems to have faltered in the Inland Northwest this year, bringing weeks of freezing fog but little snow to the region. So, when a trip to Sonoma County, California was suggested, I didn’t think twice. I’ve been hearing about Healdsburg, the small city in the heart of wine country, and was happy to do some research. 

 

Go: With Alaska Airlines offering direct flights from Seattle and Portland to Santa Rosa’s Sonoma County Airport, it’s easy to escape, soak up a little sun and spend a few days in wine country. The Charles M. Schulz Airport—look for some familiar faces—has car rental facilities and is only 25 minutes from downtown Healdsburg. (No need to fly into San Francisco and face Golden Gate traffic.)

 

 

Eat: The small city  of Healdsburg is charming, historic and home to some of the most creative chefs in wine country. Don’t miss dinner at Spoonbar! Chef Louis Maldonado is on the current season of Top Chef New Orleans and his food is as good on the table as it looks on TV. Another standout was Dry Creek Kitchen at the Healdsburg Hotel. The setting is upscale and sophisticated and the food is outstanding.  How good was it? When the chef Charlie Palmer stepped out of the kitchen, he was treated to a round of spontaneous applause. 

 

 

Stay: After three nights tucked into a big bed in a pretty room on the top floor of the Grape Leaf Inn, I could feel the difference. I was rested and refreshed. The rambling historic house is within walking distance of shops, tasting rooms and restaurants in downtown Healdsburg and the inn’s gourmet breakfast and frozen fruit “shooter” was a great way to start each morning. Coffee, tea and cookies are always available for late night snacking or an afternoon pick-me-up.

 

 

Taste: I tasted some wonderful wines but Lambert Bridge Winery was a standout. Winemakers JillI Davis and Jennifer Higgins create small-batch wines in a beautiful setting of manicured gardens and valley views. Lambert Bridge is recognized as a food destination. Be sure to book one of chef Bruce Riezenman’s wine-pairing tasting events in the barrel room. Riezenman is also the creator PairIt! of a successful wine-pairing app for iPhone and Android users.

 

Dip: I didn’t expect to bring home a suitcase full of olive oil, but I did. After tasting Dry Creek Olive Oil Company's oils, I was a believer. I also learned a lot as I sampled, including the fact that to be considered true extra Virgin olive oil, olives have to be picked and pressed within 24 hours, something many of the highest priced European oils might not be able to guarantee. Northern California is gaining stature as an excellent olive growing region and Dry Creek oils took gold at both the New York and Los Angeles international olive oil competitions.

 

 

Shop: If you like vintage finds you’ll enjoy Healdsburg Vintage. The rambling antiques mall is filled with everything from vintage clothing to one-of-a-kind architectural salvage. I spent an hour poking into every corner and my find-of-the-day was a $10 sterling silver photo frame.

 

Tip: The annual Winter WINEland festival each January is a great time to visit.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

A memorable feast under the Tuscan sun

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

   I have friends who actually plan each meal. Not just at holidays, but all year long. Even in the summer. Even on vacation. They look through magazines and cookbooks and pick a recipe because it excites them, not because it uses only four ingredients and the prep time is guaranteed to be less than fifteen minutes. Pushing a cart through the aisles of the grocery store doesn’t cause them to wilt like yesterday’s salad. They actually enjoy it.
   

    I am not like these people.
    

   And yet, by default, and I’m still trying to remember exactly how this happened, I am the person who has the responsibility of putting something (occasionally food) on the table each day. This is not easy.  I like to eat. I love food. I just like it better when someone else figures out what it will be and then makes it happen.
    

   As a young mother, with toddlers at my feet and a husband who was away three nights each week, we ate a lot of informal meals of fruit and cheese, hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes we added bread and butter to the feast. As a not-so-young mother working from home, writing around the schedules of four active children, I learned to love my crock pot. 
    

   It should be easier now but it isn’t. Now I lack any real motivation.  And I still lack imagination.
    

   I finally realized the real problem is that I’m just not a sophisticated foodie. I love to eat but, for me, the simpler the better.  I can sit down to fruit and a little cheese (tossed with a good book) and call it good. I like a nice piece of salmon. A piece of crusty bread and good butter. A bowl of strawberry ice cream. In the winter, simple and basic vegetable soup ( the one thing I like to prepare) can make me happy every night of the week.
    

   I was with friends not too long ago and the subject of memorable meals came up. I listened to the others rhapsodize about famous restaurants, Foie gras, thick steaks and various ragouts, reductions and complicated recipes. After thinking about it, I realized that, predictably, one of my favorite meals was one of the simplest I’ve ever eaten.
    

   My husband and youngest daughter and I were in Italy several years ago, in mid-October, strolling through a beautiful village in Tuscany. By noon we were ravenous. As it happened, it was market day and the town square was filled with vendors. I purchased a roast chicken from a mobile rotisserie and three clementines from a fruit stand. Actually, when the man realized all I wanted was three pieces of fruit, not the three kilo he’d thought, he gave them to me with a smile, waving away the Euro I offered.
   

    We took the warm, moist, roast chicken and the fragrant fruit to a small courtyard at the top of the city wall and sat looking out over the beautiful countryside as we ate with our fingers. My husband and I shared a bottle of local white wine as the sun warmed us. Bees droned in the flower garden and a local cat showed up to eat the scraps my daughter tossed to him. When we were done, the remains of the feast were rolled into the paper bag that had held the hen and thrown away. And that is my memorable meal.

   I watched people smile and nod, imagining the day and the moment as I described it. I’m no gourmand but even I know the secret ingredient of any feast is the simple pleasure of consuming it. Especially when you share it in the company of friends and family and, occasionally, a very good book.





Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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