Out with the OLD…In with the NEW

Hope the cards fall in your favour!

new year2newyear4I’ll be posting again on Monday, January 6th.  



The CULTURE of WINE in NAPA…..& more

This post goes out to friends Carolyn & Martin who live in South Africa and will be making their first trip to California’s premier wine region,  not to mention one of the premier travel destinations in the world.  They asked for recommendations based on several trips I’ve made to Napa.  Plus we all enjoy a nice glass now & again…okay now and NOW. 

Grgich Hills Estate Wines
Grgich Hills Estate Wines

Napa Valley  – breathtaking views abound at every turn, picturesque rolling hills planted with vineyards year-round and wineries of every stature. Whether you are wine tasting, dining at renowned restaurants like Market or the French Laundry, pampering yourself with a mud bath in Calistoga, or just enjoying your stay at quaint bed & breakfasts, hotels or resorts … Napa Valley is worth the visit.  My personal favourite area to stay and shop in Napa is St. Helena.  It’s a walkable town with excellent restaurants (try “Market” – 1347 Main St. You can bring your own wine with no corkage fee but their own wines are very reasonably priced).  For in between wine tastings visit Woodhouse Chocolates  – 1367 Main St for scrumptious creative varieties and St. Helena Olive Oil Company – 1351 Main St.  Dean & Deluca for gourmet food & gifts – 607 St Helena Hwy. & Sunshine Foods – 1115 Main St. for amazing specialty foods & wine.  I always end up bringing stuff back from this store. For shoe shopping make sure to visit FootCandy – 1239 Main St.  They have Charlotte Olympia & other divine brands.  I stayed at El Bonita – 195 Main St. which was very comfortable and reasonable with friendly staff.  More $$ to spend on shoes and wine.  Wine suggestions: Grgich Hills Estate – 1829 St Helena Hwy., Orin Swift Cellars – 1325 Main St.  If you want to visit Artesa (a beautiful location) you could also visit Domaine Carneros.  The Rubicon Estate Winery (formerly Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery) is located at 1991 St Helena Hwy.  Hollywood meets Napa Valley at Francis Ford Coppola’s spectacular 1880s ivy-draped historic stone winery and grounds.  A must-see although I can’t recommend their wines.  I do enjoy Sofia Coppola blanc de blanc sparkly on occasion….occasions that call for bubbly…in a can.  Poolside, Picnics & Purse – for places that don’t allow you to BYOB (bring your own bubbly) – shame on them!

Rubicon winery
Rubicon winery
Here is a NAPA VALLEY GUIDE from Michele and her mother Melinda, the makers of Lorenzo Rose. 

Photo - Garance Dore
Photo – Garance Dore

Garance Doré says “Napa Valley is such a special place to visit, and I wouldn’t trust anyone else more than these two for recommendations!”  Here is an interview from her blog:

How would you describe Napa?

Napa Valley is heaven on Earth! And also where Michele’s from… Saint Helena to be exact! One of the things we love the most about Napa is that there is a balance between luxury and country. The wine business and Napa Valley itself can be quite posh, but at the same time its a farming industry at the end of the day. We love how low key the locals are here. They make the most delicious and fabulous wine in the world, but you will find them driving around in an old truck, spending their days in the vineyards surrounded by nature.

What are the best times to visit Napa Valley?

Yes, harvest just wrapped up, 2013 will be a stellar vintage! There really is no bad time to visit, but each season offers something different to experience. My favorite time in Napa is Summer because it gets HOT and I love to swim. The Calistoga fair and 4th of July parade are not to be missed! Spring is beautiful and also not as touristy as summer. The energy surrounding harvest in Fall is really exciting and the leaves change colors which is STUNNING! We were there together just last week and it blew us away with the beauty! Winter time is very mild in Napa. It does rain, but there are usually clear blue skies to follow, plus the wild mustard blooms making the entire valley bright yellow! So cool.

What should you pack?

Dress is very informal, its definitely a function over form situation! “Napa Valley Casual” is basically jeans, a nice t-shirt/button/down/sweater and flat boots. That will get you anywhere but, you may want to bring a nice dress for dinner out should you score reservations at The French Laundry where a jacket for men is required! If you’re lucky, your winery hosts will take you into the vineyards, so leave your heels at home! The weather year round is nice, but the evenings get pretty chilly even in the summer! Bring your Barbour jacket and you’ll fit right in.

What hotel do you recommend for friends visiting from out of town?

Some of our favorites are Carneros Inn, Calistoga Ranch, Solage, and Bardessono. El Bonita will be easy on your budget and will leave more to buy wine!

How should you get around Napa? Is it easy to take a cab? (We don’t want to wine taste and drive!)

It is important to have wheels in Napa! Rent a car at the airport, but if you’re going to do a full day of tastings, we suggest hiring a driver who can also help arrange your visits. Two of the best are Jarrar Tours and Napa Tours and Transportation. Ask your concierge to book your taxi back from dinner in advance.

Where should they eat and what should they order?

Model Bakery for english muffins and pizza slices. La Luna for authentic burritos. Bouchon for oysters, champagne and truffle fries. Oxbow Market in Napa is a fabulous place with about 30 food and drink vendors. Highlights include C Casa for tacos, The Kitchen Door and Oxbow Wine Merchants for a glass of wine and cheese!

Your favorite spots for…

A coffee: Ritual at Oxbow Market
Brunch with friends: French Blue or SolBar
Dessert: Get a “mundae” at Cook
A night on the town: The Thomas in Napa is a great new restaurant which has a rooftop bar! FUN!
*Wine shop: 750 Wines in St. Helena for rare and eclectic wines and private tastings. We adore David and Monica! 750wines.com/

Five wineries to visit (including Lorenza!): 

Schramsberg for delicious sparkling wine and some of the oldest wine caves in the valley.
Frog’s Leap for fabulous gardens and organic wines.
Forman Vineyard a super special experience and insane Chardonnay!
Continuum which is Tim Mondavi’s winery on Pritchard Hill. The real deal!
Lorenza Rosé call us ahead for a taste of our wine 707 287 4113 http://www.lorenzawine.com

Any wine tasting tips? How do you avoid purple lips, sound like you know you’re talking about and not get too… well tipsy?

Make sure you eat… a lot! Pick up sandwiches at Dean & Deluca or Bouchon Bakery for the car for a snack between tastings. Visiting 2-4 wineries a day is plenty. I highly suggest spitting! Its not rude or weird or gross, but a necessity! Listen to your guide and ask questions…no one is expecting you to be an expert! Have fun and learn a lot! Also come prepared to buy wine! Its customary to make a purchase when visiting. Its super easy to ship home and the best way to remember your fun time in Napa. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for purple lips!

When you’ve had your fix of wine, where can you go for a good beer or cocktail?

Goose & Gander or The Thomas for a cocktail. Panchas in Yountville for a dive bar experience and dollar PBRs.

Where can you find the best views of Napa?
On the deck at Auberge du Soleil! Chic!

The best Napa hike? And how about a beautiful drive through Napa?

Bale Mill State Park, Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, Las Posadas in Angwin.
There are two main roads running parallel through Napa Valley. Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. Both are gorgeous and surrounded by vineyards and wineries!

Nothing pairs better with wine than a some time at the spa. What is your favorite spot for pampering?

The spa at Solage or Indian Springs. Calistoga is famous for its hot springs. Try out a mud bath if you’re adventurous! Mindy’s fave!

How is the art scene in Napa? What galleries are worth seeing?

Maisonry is a cool tasting room and gallery in Yountville. I also love popping into Martin Design which is an awesome gallery and store on Main St in St. Helena.

And if you want to catch some good live music, any favorite spots?

The Uptown theater in Napa!  Its not necessarily good live music, but there’s Karaoke on Thursday nights at Ana’s Cantina!

Click here for more city guides.

 TIP: If you plan to visit SONOMA you must go to Cline Cellars, Gloria Ferrer, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards (ask for the chocolate shot) & Chateau St. Jean – more recommendations from The Girl Who Would be KING.  You won’t be disappointed! All of these are at the South end of the Sonoma Valley – just off the highway on route from San Francisco.  Be sure to take the Golden Gate Bridge North from San Francisco to get there.  You can do this before going to St. Helena.  Don’t do this in between – only at the start or finish when driving from or to San Francisco.

Any more recommendations?  Send them over.

Simply Satisfying – Chocolate Dipped Orange Shortbread

 You can get creative with all your cookie-making at Christmas but don’t leave out the shortbread.  It may be too late for this Christmas but the results are worth it.  If you don’t have time,  file it for next year.   

Dish from ClayZone
Dish from ClayZone

I love cookies anytime.   My baking favorites are thumbprint (with homemade jam centre), writer’s block (oatmeal, raisins & chai spices), chocolate chip (using 4 different kinds) and old-fashioned peanut butter.

A friend gave me this recipe (originally from Canadian Living) which is perked up with orange rind and partially dipped in chocolate.  What can be better than orange & chocolate?


1 cup (250 ml) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup (125 ml) superfine sugar (like castor but I ended up using organic cane)

2 tsp (10 ml) finely grated orange rind

¼ (1 ml) tsp salt

2 cups (500 ml) all-purpose flour

3 Tbsp. (45 ml) cornstarch

3 ½ oz (100 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, orange rind and salt until fluffy.  Stir in flour and cornstarch to make a smooth dough.

Divide dough in half.  Form each into 10-inch (25 cm) log.  Wrap each and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Slice logs into ¼ inch (6 mm) thick rounds.  Place, 1-inch (2.5 cm) apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake in 325 F oven until firm, about 15 minutes.  Let cool on pans for 5 minutes, transfer to racks and let cool completely.

Coating:  In heatproof bowl over sauce of hot (not boiling) water, melt chocolate, let cool to room temperature.  Tip: I put the chocolate in a small pot placed right in a steamer which lets it gently melt without burning.  Try to use the best quality bulk chocolate you can find.  I use Callebaut.

Dip half of each cookie into chocolate, gently shaking off any excess.  Refrigerate on waxed paper-lined baking sheets until firm, about 30 minutes.  Makes about 30-35 cookies.

Christmas culture, décor & traditions from around the globe

xmaslightsDecember 25th takes on a unique local flavor depending on where you find yourself on that  day.  In some places Christmas falls on a different day entirely.  Have a very Merry Christmas wherever you live and whatever day you end up celebrating!

A look around…….

  santa fe 2Christmas in Santa Fe – I’ve experienced & loved it!
Visit the historic Santa Fe Plaza on any chilly, clear evening from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, and you will find silvery lights strung on every tree, sparkling against the gray winter dusk. The farolitos, luminous brown paper bags of candles and sand, are lit by hand each night, to flicker on the rooftops of the surrounding adobes. The City has a hushed, reverent quality at this time of year, regardless of the number of locals and tourists who partake of the numerous holiday festivities.santa fe 1

Colosseum Christmasxmas colosseum

In Italy, Christmas decorations may traditionally be put up on the 8th of December, a national holiday. Depending on the region, Christmas gifts might be given on Christmas Eve, or on Christmas Day. Decorations are taken down on the 6th of January and in some areas, female puppets are burned to signal, along with the end of Christmas, the end of the old year and beginning of the new. Photo: Jakob Montrasio

Parisian Christmas

Unlike the tradition of hanging socks by the fireplace, many French children will put shoes out for Father Christmas to put presents into. Photo: Her Own Journey

xmaschocolates ParisParisienne Chocolates – always a treat!


Christmas is widely and seriously observed in Ethiopia by its Orthodox Christian majority. As the country follows a calendar based on traditional Coptic calendars (which denote the current year as 2003 like the Julian calendar), Ethiopians will celebrate Christmas on January 7th. Photo: Richard Stupart

Brazil Christmasxmas3brazil

Brazilian Christmas follows similar traditions to Northern Europe and America. Some cities, such as Curitaba, will have decoration contests where judges will inspect interior and exterior decorations of competing houses to proclaim the most beautiful.. Photo by Denise Mayumi

xmas4germanyGerman Christmas

In some parts of Germany, St. Nicholas will come and visit children on St. Nicholas’ Day, giving out sweets. Sometimes he will be accompanied by his servant Ruprecht, dressed in dark clothes and occasionally with a devil’s tongue.

I've stollen a recipe from the Germans - YUM!

I’ve stollen a recipe from the Germans – YUM!

Ruprecht carries a stick, in theory to punish naughty children. Nowadays, he mostly hangs around looking scary and reminding German kids to behave ahead of Christmas. Photo: Marius Kallhardt

IndiaN Christmasxmasindia

In India, Santas sleigh and reindeer are often replaced by a horse and cart. Although Christians only make up about 3% of the country’ population, Christianity has a long history in India, allegedly founded by the Apostle Thomas himself. Photo: Meanest Indian

xmas5russiaRussian Christmas

Christmas in Russia is actually celebrated on the 7th of January like it is in Ethiopia. The Russian Orthodox Church still operates according to the Julian calendar, which runs 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar of the rest of the world. As a result, Christmas gets bumped back almost a fortnight until after the New Year. Photo: Dmitry Boyarin

Australian Christmasxmasaustralia

While Christmas traditions in Australia are very similar to the UK, Canada and other Commonwealth countries, it is less well known that the country is responsible for starting the tradition of Carols by Candlelight. The practice began in 1938 after Norman Banks, a radio announcer with Melbourne station 3KZ saw a woman singing Away in a Manger by candlelight and had the idea to organise a large candle-lit singalong. Photo: Ctd 2005

xmasjapanJapanESE Christmas

Christmas in Japan is both popular and secular. Christmas is not a national holiday in the country, though gift giving is popular. Its first Christmas was held way back in 1552 by Jesuit priests in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Photo: mendhak

Scandinavian Christmasxmas12scandinavian

In Scandinavia, the Julbock or ‘Yule Goat’ is the traditional bringer of gifts at Christmas time. Large versions of the goat are frequently put up in towns and villages over the festive season, while in older traditions, smaller-sized versions of the animal made of straw or wood would be snuck into people’s houses as a prank. Houses finding goats in them had to pass them on by pranking others.                 Photo: Seppo Laine


Vancouver Christmas – anything goes!

Here comes Santa - my style!  Reindeers can be unreliable these days.

Here comes Santa – my style! Reindeers can be unreliable these days.

I didn't really mean that Rudolph!

I didn’t really mean that Rudolph!


I’ll take this Reindog anytime!

Words…Holly vs. Mistletoe

I just cut some Holly…or was it Mistletoe… from a tree up the street.  Which is which or is it the same thing? I should know this stuff but just to make sure I consulted a website & came across these snappy little rhymes below that will help to differentiate the two organisms in such a fashion that you never get them confused again:

In our modern society, so far removed from nature (for most people, not us Vancouverites), people often make mistakes that would have been unthinkable a few centuries ago – like confusing holly and mistletoe. Both are plants, both bear tiny inedible berries, and both are used as decoration around December. Those are the only things they have in common. Somehow, people get them mixed up, usually hanging holly as mistletoe (oops), and attempting (improperly!) to kiss beneath it.


Berries of white, kissing’s alright.
Berries of red get you hit in the head.

Okay, I’ve got rhyme, now to work on meter… maybe if I mix it up with a limerick….

There once was a garland of red,
Who rustled his spikes and said:
“Though I’m decoration,
I can’t cause affection,
I wish I were mistletoe instead.”

I think we’re onto something, here.

Traditional antidote for poison
Though most have an allergic reaction
The druids don’t care
They’re too busy sharing
a kiss to compile reliable medical information.”

Big showstopping number!

The holly looked up t’ward the tree,
“How do you do it?” said he.
“You drain sap like a vampire,
Yet folks say you inspire

Far more kisses than me.

    The mistletoe softly replied,

“Though I wear white like a bride,
It’s your red berries
that  make people merry,
Mine’s a minor tradition beside.”

Okay, that’s about as good as it’s going to get, here. I hope we’ve all got it straight, now:

Holly has red berries and pointy leaves.

Mistletoe has white berries and round leaves.

from tailsteak.com

B well – seasonal plants can be hazardous to your pet’s health

Little healthful tidbits that go a long way….

Did you know….that many of the plants that are popular at this time of year can be harmful and even poisonous to cats and dogs?  Here’s a rundown of some to keep them away from:

poinsettiaPoinsettia – The flowers and leaves can upset your pet’s stomach but it’s an urban myth that this Christmastime staple is deadly.  You do not have to banish it from your home for fear of pet fatality.  That said, try to keep it out of the reach of prying paws.

Mistletoemistletoe – consuming a few leaves or berries causes mild gastritis.  But store bought mistletoe often has plastic berries, and if large quantities of plastic are ingested, your vet may need to induce vomiting.  If the plastic remains in the digestive tract, your pet may require surgery.

american hollyAmerican Holly – This plant contains potentially toxic compounds that can cause gastrointestinal irritation.  Make sure to keep it out of reach as well.

Amaryllisamaryllis – All parts of this plant are toxic.  Eating the flower or the stem can cause vomiting.  But consuming the bulb is most harmful, resulting in hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and neurological issues.

kalanchoeKalanchoe – If ingested, this flowering succulent can lead to gastrointestinal issues.  Place it up high so your pet cannot reach it, or in a room your pet cannot access.

This will help in knowing that you can still enjoy your merry plants.

While we’re on the subject sometimes I’ve been confused between these two plants but I do like the representation….the holly, with its green leaves and red berries, reflects a passion for new life and fresh beginnings. mistletoe symbolize romance and the immortal values that society preserves in its rituals.

p.s. – how do we perceive real quality?

Do we really understand quality anymore?

Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe

Taken from an article by Pasquale Cusano (founder & publisher) of Montecristo magazine – on The Value of Value.

Hermes scarves
Hermes scarves

It got me thinking too because I believe quality matters and it’s not always to do with material things. When thinking of objects of desire, from a handcrafted piece of jewellery to a stylish car, an elegant suit or pair of designer shoes,

Manolo Blahnik
Manolo Blahnik

yes, there is a monetary price that can be invested to obtain these things. When we seek quality items, we assume that a brand name is a seal, an assurance and a promise of high quality.  In most cases, this is true.  In some cases, this is not.  But what about investing in the little things that matter?quality2

What about the value of taking time and the genuine, simple things in life?  The barber, the tailor, the shoemaker, the baker. Even the old fashioned watch maker, took all their time.  Maybe we do not really understand quality anymore, because we’re all too busy to see underneath the appearance of things, too preoccupied to understand their true value.quality1

Quality was about using the best raw materials possible, and using the best techniques and some creativity, to achieve the desired results.  Products that are beautiful but also durable, not just a brand name.  They represent slow work.  Therefore, some brands take decades to emerge as leaders.  Until then, they are obscure, known by very few.  When discovered, some styles are considered “classical” while others are “outrageous”, representing things that will only be appreciated years from now. So how do we perceive quality?

Become curious.  Ask questions about what you are about to consume, purchase, invest your time in. What is quality?  First and foremost, it is attention to detail.  Quality is not appearance only, but what is under the skin.  The powerful brands of today need to bring back, to reinforce the message that quality is about inspiration, stimulation, to get the younger, emerging artisans of tomorrow to reach new, higher levels.  To stay true to their vision, taking no shortcuts.

the best quality
the best quality

Fortunately, many quality experiences are simply free or of little cost.  Time is the ultimate cost, and the ultimate luxury.  The amount of time you invest in simply enjoying something, learning about something, experiencing something, that is the most valuable, long-lasting pleasure.  It’s in the tiny details that constitutes what real quality is.

How do you perceive quality?

beauty – Sephora Splurge

Five Essentialsblog1

It’s dangerous at the best of times walking into any Sephora. 

Sometimes I manage to bypass many of the temptations & go for only exactly what I came in to buy. This is done with great difficulty because it means not looking at all the shelves that pull you in with such appealing product displays.  You have to remain strong & focused.

This time of year we get an extra discount for being a ‘VIP insider’ (which I’m sure most of us that shop there become on the very first visit) and can save $15 on a minimum purchase of $50 (not a difficulty).  So we walk in with our VIP cards that give us that little extra bonus to choose a small gift whenever we spend a minimum of $100 (not a difficulty).  If you spend $500 (not a difficulty) even better –  more choices.  Since we always need something from there, any extra savings is a bonus.

I’m sure I needed something – just can’t remember what.  Maybe extra bronzer & a nice blush.  For sure I needed the inexpensive nail polish remover that you dip your fingers into & almost instantly dissolves all polish.  Done!  Then in the lineup for the till I spotted an Yves Saint Laurent lipstick in a most beautiful color (#12) in one of the discount bins – although I found out that it was put there by mistake so it was really regular price.  I believe it found me so into my bag it goes.  Then on my way home I realized the discount coupon was still in my purse – can’t believe it.  So back I go thinking I’ll just get a rebate for the difference….until I noticed the YSL touché éclat (magic wand that every makeup artist swears by) in the bin for exactly the price of $50 – Done! 

What a great deal because it really only cost me $35.  I’m such a smart shopper!

  How do you shop at Sephora?

Stuff I needed: Sephora instant nail polish remover.  Other stuff I wanted needed: Guerlain Terracotta Bronzing Powder, Nars (the multiple stick) in Orgasm, YSL RougeVolupté – silky sensual radiant lipstick (SPF 15), YSL ToucheÉclat pen, Nars blush/bronzer duo (in Orgasm & Laguna) for purse & travel convenience.

Something I liked but didn’t buy:

Kat Von D eye palette with great piment
The most beautiful eye pigments in the Kat Von D eye palette.