Taco Tuesday or in this case Thursday

We are big fans of taco night in our house.  I think most families with kids at home probably are too.

About a year ago I went to make tacos and realized I didn't have the spice packet so I turned to Google to find spices that could mimic the packet and keep the troops happy.

I stumbled upon a food blogger who offered up her own version of the spice packet and all I had to do was pull out my spice drawer and do some measuring.  

I haven't bought the spice packet since!

Great way to know what is in the food and keep the sodium from being off the charts.

Tonight as I was waiting for my youngest (and only dinner companion) to bike home from his friend's house I prepped all the add ons by opened the fridge and pulling out what was available.  

I had one avocado, some romaine lettuce, grated mexican cheese, sour cream and shells.  In our house we like to have both...soft flour tortillas and crispy taco shells.  I also popped a cookie sheet of asparagus in the oven to roast for our veggie.

Looking at the romaine leaves I had a brainstorm.  I layered 4 lettuce boats on my dinner plate, sprinkled a bit of cheese on each and then topped with taco meat, some diced avocado and 2 asparagus sprigs.  Sounds kinda crazy but it was SO yummy!  

Taco seasoning for 1 pound of meat

1 TBL. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. red chili flakes
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. paprika
1.5 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

We have affectionately been nicknamed the blanders in our neighborhood so we use just a sprinkle of the chili flakes (or sometimes none at all).  And sometimes I don't use the full tsp. salt.  Feel free to tweak according to your family's taste levels.


First Timers Navigating Through Napa

It was my first time visiting the Napa Valley area. 

I was tagging along on hubby's business trip and we added a few days to ourselves on the front end.  We spent Saturday traveling across the country and relaxing by the pool before heading out to a dinner in downtown Napa.  

Angele did not disappoint....dining al fresco with no bugs and the perfect temp was such a treat.  Built into an old mill, the outdoor space was amazing!

A glass of white for me and hubby got a vodka tonic with handmade tonic. 

 And the food....this theme seemed to run thru all the food we ate...a bright freshness was the way I described it.

Hubby of course thought it was crazy but by the 3rd day he agreed and the secret to this bright freshness was lemon zest.  It was in most of the food we ate.  

Fried hard boiled eggs...sounds weird but trust me when I say they were heaven!  They were topped with pickled onion,   minced mint and of course lemon zest.

And the fish with tomatoes from the farm and coated in pesto with of course lemon zest was also delicious.

Sunday we set out for a day of adventure traveling up the Napa Valley.  

The main drag has you passing one winery after the next with grape vines all symmetrically lined up along the road as far as the eye could see.  We drove through Yountville, and then into St. Helena where of course this foodie needed to stop at a bakery I read about online.  We strolled the sidewalks dotted with cute shops and old buildings. 

Then onto Calistoga where we found the Sterling Winery.  

When we asked our concierge to help us plot out the day I said I was much more focused on views than wine so he pointed out this winery.  We rode a tram to the top, sampled wines and toured the building and decks with amazing views.  By the time we reached this top deck the temperature was 96 degrees.  

Gosh it was hot so we didn't stay up here too long and we were happy to hop back into our aircontidtioned car and shove off for Healdsburg.  

I got so many tips from friends and followers on Instagram and we were so happy to have them. Heading to Healdsburg was one of them!

It took us north and west of Napa Valley but we thought what the heck....we had no where to be and the whole day and night to ourselves.  

One hour later winding through hills and farms and vineyards we landed in the town of Healdsburg.  

Another charming town with a center green and the town laid out around it.  When the top rated tavern was too crowded (and loud) we went next door to a pizza joint and sat at the bar...one of our more fav places to eat...and boy were we glad we did.  Not only did we eat melon salads and pizza topped with beets and creamy goat cheese we chatted with the cook and formulated a plan to keep driving and head to the coast.  Hubby is an ocean/water guy and when he found out we could be there in an hour (or so) his mind was made up.  Luckily he was drinking diet coke with his pizza!

Bodega Bay sits on the coast...technically its Sonoma County.  The views as we wound along the coast were beautiful.  Wide open hills littered with cattle and very dry land with batches of big, old trees.  And then the water peeks out from the hills and its just so beautiful!

The crazy thing about California is that the temps in the valley when we left Healdsburg were 103...

and when we arrived at Bodega Bay it was 74.  

What a day!  

Monday we decided to check out Sonoma County which some wine enthusiasts prefer over Napa region.  It definitely is a bit more low key and a smaller region but we really liked the vibe.  

Another recommendation from the concierge was Artesa, a winery with great views and touch off the beaten path so that went on our to-do list.  We drove there and were blown away by the whole thing.  Down a few quiet streets which appeared as if no one was around and vines galore we came the to the entrance.  

Up and around the drive took us to the top.  
Oh my, what a sight.

And the building itself was built into the side of the hill and appeared to look like a modern bunker.  It felt like a scene from a James Bond movie.  

A total modern vibe with water features, modern art sculptures and beautiful plantings...we would have been happy to have seen just that.  We actually joked that should have chairs out on the lawn to spend the day.

Once inside we realized it was noon and if we started drinking now we may not make it to dinner so we hopped back in the car and headed directly to the downtown area of Sonoma which much like the other towns had a town green in the middle and of the square. 

The town is steeped in history and had a number of historical sites and buildings you could walk by and view.  We ducked into the first food place we found and lucked out!  Hubby can attest that I am not me when I am hungry.  The Sunflower Cafe had a menu that made ordering a tough decision.   

We kept the walk short as the temps were rising again and near 90.  A small but charming ice cream shop caught my eye and yes I had just eaten lunch but I could't say no.  

Coffee donut vs. Pear... When the owner told me the pears for the pear ice cream came from her yard I was pretty much done!  I know pear ice-cream sounds kinda weird but let me tell you it was pure goodness. 

As a store owner I found her sign sweet.

Back to Artesia we went.

Once there we decided to up our game and go for the longer, more elaborate wine tasting inside the inner bar. 

Wow, did we learn SO much about wine and vineyards and wineries with our own private vinter.  We drank delicious wine and ordered a case of wine which is well above our pay grade but what the heck, hubby says "you can't take it with you".

As left Artesa to head back to the hotel, the departing view was almost better. 

Last day in Napa I was on my own while hubby attended a meeting and played golf.  I ventured back towards Sonoma to experience yet more food at The Boon Fly Cafe.  

What I didn't realize until I gave myself a self-guided tour was that it was part of a larger complex that housed the Carneros Resort and Spa.   

Next time I will stay here!  

After a yummy taco, egg, cauliflower breakfast (and 2 freshly made cinnamon sugar donuts) I dreamed about the changes I would make to my patio next summer and how I I could re-create these water trough planters...LOVE! 

But the highlight of the day was dinner.  

Hosted by hubby's client Liberty Mutual, the group dinner was held at Silver Oak Winery.  

This one could go on the list of "great views" no problem. 

Wine tasting in this beautiful space...the insurance folks probably wondered why I was taking pics of the furniture and pillows...then drinks on the outdoor patio over looking the vineyard....and then a most informative tour of the facility (honestly I think you could eat off their floors!) and then back just in time for the sunset.  

On our tour we leaned the the winery is owned by Walt Disney's daughter and her 7 children who are all currently involved in the family business and it showed listening to our tour guide speak of the wine and the space like it was his own baby.  Such pride in what they do and what they produce.

I think the reason it took us so long to get to Napa was that I always thought it would be a trip that required a week's time.  

But honestly, I think we did the bulk of it (the touring not the travel) in two days.  That part surprised me along with the amazing food and newly acquired knowledge of all that goes into a the making of a bottle of wine.  What didn't surprise me was the overall natural beauty of Napa and Sonoma Valleys and the chill and laid back vibe of the area.  

If you haven't been there yet its a definite bucket list item!


smells and taste of childhood

A few days ago I dug up my Mom's recipe for Blueberry Buckle.  I know lots of people out there probably have some version of this crumb topped coffee cake style cake chock full of fresh blueberries.

When I was little my Mom often made a double batch (13x9) of it early in the morning before the house heated up in the dog days of Summer.  

Good news was it would fill the house with amazing, wake you up from a sound sleep aromas, bad news was this meant we were having friends to the beach club for dinner and would have to wait until dark to get a piece of the buckle.  

So worth the wait!

When blueberries get big and sweet and always seem to be on sale at the grocery is when I remember the buckle.  This year it took my college roommate's text asking for the recipe to jog my memory.  Thanks Amy for having fond memories of me serving Blueberry Buckle to you at our beach club!

While I haven't been doing a lot of made-from-scratch baking lately I still stand behind my motto (which was handed down from my Mom) that its SO worth the bit of extra time it takes to skip the mix and bake from scratch. 

So here is my Mom's version.  

Betty's Blueberry Buckle

Mix dry in a medium bowl and set aside:  
2 c. flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Using a mixer cream together:
1/4 c. unsalted soft butter (that's a half a stick)
3/4 c. sugar
1 large egg

After above ingredients are combined and mixed thoroughly alternate adding milk and dry mix to the mixer bowl to incorporate it all.  I usually split each into half...so 2 hits of milk and 2 hits of dry.

1/2 c. milk

Remove from mixer and gently fold (by hand) in a pint of fresh blueberries.  

Pour/spread into a greased  8" glass square Pyrex dish.*

Mix the following together in a medium bowl using 2 forks or a pastry blender.
1/4 c.  butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 c. sugar
1/3c. flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

When it resembles chunky sand spread evening over the batter.

Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

*this recipe happily doubles...use a greased 13 x 9 Pyrex.

We are partial to a la mode. 



Part 4....the last hurrah

I had been patiently waiting on a delivery to the store... 4 metal stools for my current project "Out East".

With a small window of time last week I headed back out to Quogue to do what was my last drop off and tweak of the beach house project.

When I opened No. 299 five years ago I had no idea what was in store for me and this project is just ONE of the amazing opportunities that have been a result of me chasing my dreams.  Sure, over the past few years I have worked with a number of terrific clients on a whole range of projects.  But this one is a bit more special.

I had a budget, the person who hired me just said do what you want (of course within reason) and I had the benefit of spending 4 weekends out in the Hamptons.  Even tough I spent the majority of time at the house working/painting/installing I did get to take a walk on the beach one late afternoon, have lunch with a handful of family members at their beach club, see a ginormous full moon over the water late at night and shop at one of my favorite stores...Homespun in the quaint little downtown of Quogue.

Plus, my I got to collaborate with my brother-in-law who is super handy and had amazing ideas for the house both inside and outside.  He installed an outdoor shower and built a cedar deck off the Game Room.  And then last weekend he texted me to ask how I felt about an herb garden on the side of the house.  You can imagine what my response was??!!  Hell yeah!  And for the record he was asking but 2 seconds later he texted me a picture of his already built herb garden.  This guy doesn't mess around!

It was like having my very own Chip Gaines on the project.  Lucky me!

A couple areas I have not shown you.  I mentioned that the old living room, a former 2-car garage, with vaulted ceilings was just TOO big to furnish.  So I decided to make it a GAME ROOM.  It makes sense given there are french doors that lead out to the patio and pool (and now the deck and shower too!) and this is a Hamptons Beach House so there needs to be an element of fun.

The ping pong table I ordered went smack in the middle. 

 I rehabbed an old wood table and opened it up to create a square.  A wood checkers board went on that and we surrounded it with metal stools.  

In the corner I put a metal, rolling bar cart to service the GAME ROOM and the patio...just roll it out!

And a round high top table and 2 stools went against the wall for spectators.  

Every fun room needs a flat screen TV for sports watching! 

The chest in the far left corner was the bottom portion to an old armoire and it fit so nicely in that back corner that I decided to keep it and give it a coat of Hale Navy to tie the story together with the high top table across the room.  The wood glass front cabinet was a hand-me-down (I really do have trouble throwing anything out!) and it now holds the extra ping pong balls and racquet's. 

Two of the three bathrooms were painted Hale Navy and believe it or not they actually enhanced the existing tile....grey and a grey-beige.  Here is the hall bath before...

New faucets, toilets, shower stall doors, shower heads and cabinet pulls (thanks to the handy work of my brother in law) and the bathrooms look brand new!  

The master sinks...

Early the next morning I made a last minute run to a local TJ Maxx to add that last layer.  Hand towels, bath towels, soap dispensers and a few other do-dads for the bathrooms and kitchen.   

They really do make such a difference!

I realized on my last visit that the full bath off the living space had no mirror so I hung this guy and couldn't resist a few new white towels.

The master bedroom is HUGE and so even after I worked my magic it felt empty and lacking.  But I needed to remind myself that it's staged to sell not be lived in so I am dealing with it.  

I painted the existing king headboard black, rehabbed 2 shield back chairs with chalk paint to match the night table and placed them at the oval, glass topped table that was in the pod.  I lucked out with this black and white large sized piece of art framed in the same warm wood as the table.

The cedar bench, also that same warm toned wood, was perfect for the empty wall opposite the bed and I simply painted over the toile floral design that covered the oval metal plate. The distressed star burst mirror filled the empty wall nicely.

The drop leaf table got a few coats of Annie Sloan Aubusson paint and became the night table (visible in the pic above) and I put new white linen fabric on the chair seats.

The kitchen got new hardware and the metal black and white SUPERMARKET sign.  

With that black and white tile floor I just couldn't resist.

Shocked that I found all of these do-dads on the clearance rack at TJ Maxx??!!

The small black wood sign is covering an old phone jack.

And I added a few more pieces to the walls in the living room. The triptych filled the large empty wall and gave the space a little something extra without stealing the show from the main piece over the fireplace.

And a pair of matching distressed star burst mirrors flanked the walls off the entry hall.

The front entry needed a spot to plop things down and what beach house is complete without a beach bag?

Last minute I picked up a navy and white striped umbrella and outdoor metal stool/side table to sit at the head of the pool.

Rushing to catch out ferry home I missed getting pics of other details.  Below is the link to the listing on Zillow if you care to see more.


Thanks for following along!