Category Archives: organic

Travelogue: Embracing Calm in the Valle de Guadalupe | Baja, Mexico

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Eileen walked into the common room and with the most genuine smile on her face said “Do you guys want to see something completely magnificent?” As we stepped out barefoot onto the stone tiles of the villa, she pointed out in the distance to a gigantic new moon– the biggest we’d ever seen. It was silent, it was dark, and we were awe-struck. This was the Valle de Guadalupe.

While the Valle de Guadalupe wine country has been slowly picking up momentum in recent years, it’s charm remains completely in tact. It’s still quiet here. There is still a “middle of nowhere” feel. It hasn’t been Disneyfied like it’s northern Californian neighbor, Napa. The valley is host to dozens of up and coming (and established) wineries– vineyards tending to actual old vines and keeping their grounds bio-dynamic by farming a plethora of vegetables and other native plant-life. A Baja-med climate akin to Tuscany and a deep valley within minutes of the sea lending a terroir that is not unfamiliar to winemakers in California’s Santa Ynez.

Our recent stay at La Villa del Valle immersed us in this terrain. Verdant and bare simultaneously at the height of January’s winter. Beautiful greens and browns that felt like a mix between the Italian countryside and the Arizona desert. While the lawn and flowers were beautifully tended to– trees and herbs were allowed to become unruly; allowed to flourish and be lush. The clear blue skies were striking as a frigidly cold breeze slowly rocked the post that usually holds up the villas hammocks in the warmer months. January is probably the season’s least visited seasons, but that didn’t stop us from making the trek across the US border in search of delicious food, relaxation, and surprisingly impressive wines.

For those looking to really get some R&R, La Villa del Valle cannot come more highly recommended. Located right off the Hwy 3 on the historic Ruta del Vino, this 6-room villa has five-star amenities including luxurious common areas,a wine and botana reception in the evenings, and even a beautiful (heated) pool area. The surroundings are gorgeous– as characteristic as an artist would have portrayed the area decades ago. Old boats abandoned on the far reaches of the property help mark where you are when you’re navigating in the pitch black darkness over the dirt roads leading to the main house.  A pack of dogs scamper about the grounds greeting guests; eager to say hello to a new face.

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While the bedrooms are comfortable, a nap meant to recharge you for an hour could easily turn into an all-afternoon slumber. This is, however,  the sort of place where you want to enjoy outside your room–out in the common area where a library of (actually good) books are available at your fingertips, a spacious living room surrounded by windows complete with couches, a wood-burning fireplace, and an acoustic guitar; on the veranda of your room, or the many seating areas around the villa that become host to your sunset viewings.

I’m not always one for silence and leisure. I was raised on the go and most of my travel involves drowning myself in experiences, sights, sounds…But while there is a unique experience to be had here in the Guadalupe Valley, you’re also thrown into something very unexciting. A slower pace, less noise, a feeling of solitude. This is exactly the kind of unexciting atmosphere one needs from time to time, and after having spent some time with owners Phil and Eileen Gregory, I can’t blame them for leaving Los Angeles when they did. (Interestingly enough, the couple spent many years living just a few blocks from where I live right now– it was great to chat with them about what Franklin Village was and still is…)

I cannot wait to return.

Still not convinced? Check out my photo gallery and take note: the food and wine at Corazon de Tierra (located on the property) is worth visiting alone– we dined there four times in three days and never had the same meal twice, but I’ll dive into the restaurant in another post. The wines that owner Phil creates are expressive and worth a try, and the “little things” such as Eileen’s line of lavender toiletries (which uses the lavender grown on site), the impeccable 5-star service, and the complimentary fresh breakfasts at the restaurant make for the best getaway close to home.

 

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Filed under Lodging, Mexican, Mexico, organic, Travel, Travel Advice, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Dining: Just in time for Umbrian White Truffles at Spirito di Vino | Montefalco, Italy

My series of entries from my time in Umbria concludes with our last dinner in Montefalco at the award-winning Spirito di Vino. If I could go back in time to the day of our visit, I would change only two things:

-I wouldn’t have over-ordered.
-I would have made arrangements to stay in Montefalco instead of driving back late (in pitch black darkness) to Perugia.

Spirito diVino has got to be one of my most favorite dining destinations in Italy. Why? Because they’ve got a ridiculously solid wine list (boasting hyper-local and natural wines), and their simple farm-to-table cuisine is rustic yet luxurious. Aside from the copious amounts of Paolo Bea’s wine, it was one pasta dish that particularly blew me away. This, my friends, was the BEST pasta dish we had in Italy:

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Handmade pasta with a light truffle cream sauce, generously covered in fresh white truffle shavings. OMG.

Need I say more? Had the meal ended right then and there, I would have been happy as a clam. My error was in thinking that this needed to be a multi-course affair. Once my (still delicious) pork tenderloin came out with a melange of sweet peppers, I began to fade into the depths of too much food & too much wine sleepiness. My couple of bites of the boy’s eggplant dish was cheesy, comforting goodness which also didn’t help in aiding my looming exhaustion from the day’s wandering.

Luckily, dessert helped put the pep back into my spirit. A clever dessert of sorbets and gelato utilizing the shells & bodies of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that lend them their flavors was an almost meta dessert experience. Walnut ice cream made with the walnut meat and then shoved back into the shell, a sweet green bell pepper turned into sorbet and scooped back into it’s body…flavors I wouldn’t have dared to consider as a sweet end to a meal. And on top of that, a small tiramisu because I’m just a sucker for those it seems.

Overall, this intimate meal was a memorable one. And while the prices weren’t as economical as other places we visited on this trip, it surely didn’t break the bank and was worth every penny. Be sure to make advanced reservations, and be patient with the service. Our lovely hostess was also the only waitress of the evening, but with that wine list, who can really complain?
Spirito di Vino is located at Piazza Mustafa 2, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy, 06036. www.spiritodivino.net. 

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Filed under Comfort Food, Dinner, fruits and vegetables, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, organic, Pasta, Pork, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Dining: Meat & Potatoes | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

I’ve been sitting on this post for about a month now, which is nobody’s fault other than my own. Our dinner at Pittsburgh’s Meat & Potatoes was pretty much my favorite meal on our recent trip, and yet, it’s the last to get mentioned on this blog. I started a new job a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been playing catch-up on the web, so before this glorious meal starts to fade in my memory (which on second thought, probably wouldn’t happen since it was darn good), let me tell you of a place you must try if you find yourself in the area.

While searching for a place for dinner with the boyfriend and the pseudo-in-laws, I stumbled upon the website for M&P. Open for less than a year, the menu for this awesome gastropub made my mouth water. A stellar selection of craft beers, decent wine, and a cocktail list using fresh ingredients that could warrant the term “mixology” but without the “mixology” price tag? I’m in!

But while the casual-hip atmosphere and well-curated libations are definitely reason enough to go here, the food stands out as innovative yet familiar; filling, well-executed, and affordable. Our table started the meal off with an order of their mussels cooked in a white wine sauce and served with fried taters (fries) with a black truffle aioli. These mussels were fresh and quite flavorful with the addition of smokey chorizo, chili, and broccolini– it’s broth soaking in great flavor and accentuated with a touch of cream.

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The boyfriend’s parentals ordered the salmon (pictured at the top of this post) and the roast chicken, respectively. The salmon had a beautiful presentation and was exotic and packed some heat with its Brussels sprout kim chi, pineapple, chili, and Korean BBQ flavors. The Pan Roasted Chicken had more south of the border flavors with black beans, yucca fries, salsa verde, and queso fresco.

Boyfriend went the route of their Hudson Valley Duck Breast which was cleverly crusted with pastrami seasonings and served with sauerkraut pierogies, ramp butter, dandelion greens, and chimichurri– we shared bites of this and I must say, that duck was served at a perfect medium-rare and had loads of flavor. For my entree, the Braised Lamb Shank. I surprised even myself when I made this my dinner of choice, but the description sounded too good to pass up (and it did not disappoint). A giant bone-in lamb shank was placed before me; perfectly fall-of-the-bone tender and covered in a glorious sauce and gremolata. This entree was served on a bed of creamy Tuscan white beans, broccolini, and a bitter braised kale that helped cut through the fatty, homey goodness of the lamb. If you can’t tell, I was an absolute fan of this dish.

Completely stuffed from this rich and comforting dinner, we opted to skip dessert. But with Southern Tier’s Creme Brulee stout on the menu, the boy and I couldn’t resist. Do yourself a favor and head to Meat & Potatoes next time you’re in downtown Pittsburgh.

Big thanks to the McDowells for a lovely time!

Meat & Potatoes is located at 649 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. | http://www.meatandpotatoespgh.com 

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Filed under beer, Cocktails, Comfort Food, Dinner, duck, lamb, local eateries, local food, microbrew, organic, seafood, Travel, Vacation

Dining: Bluebird Kitchen | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Before heading to Pittsburgh this past weekend, I consulted a friend online about where some of the best local spots downtown were. He had mentioned that there were many changes happening in downtown Pittsburgh; both good and bad. When the boyfriend and I walked over to Market Square, just a mere block from out hotel, I was saddened to see major chain restaurants slowly taking over the area surrounding this adorable public space. Chipotle and Starbucks have been making their presence known next to old oyster houses and a dying breed of long-standing locals. However, there was a glimmer of hope just outside of the square. Bluebird Kitchen has only been open for a few months, but I can say with confidence that it is one of the most charming local spots in town.

We only had a couple of days to explore Pittsburgh, so we got up early and wandered a few blocks away from The Fairmont hotel and grabbed a quick breakfast at Bluebird Kitchen. It seems that this place is more of a grab-and-go type of spot for locals and business folk on the run. Prices were incredibly reasonable and the quality of ingredients were top notch; from house-made breads, local eggs, and even agriculturally responsible meats and organic produce. We both ordered their egg sandwich which was a steal at $4. Served on a thick pretzel roll with fried local free-range eggs with crisp lettuce, cherry tomatoes and gooey cheddar and Gruyère cheeses. I opted for some house-made sausage on my sandwich (an additional $1.25); light and full of flavor.

A hefty breakfast for two clocking in at under $10? We will surely return on every Pittsburgh trip. The lunch menu looks pretty great too.

Bluebird Kitchen is located at 221 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA| http://www.bluebirdkitchen.com 

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Filed under BLD, Breakfast, local eateries, organic, sandwiches, Travel, Vacation

In the Kitchen: Avocado Key Lime Pie

Avocados rank pretty darn high on my list of favorite foods. Being a California girl and all, we’ve got no shortage of them year-round. From giant Pinkertons and Zutanos to the delectably creamy Gwen and Haas varietals, our Golden State has got an avocado for every occasion. Simply put, this pie will blow your mind.

I’m not much of a baker (although to be fair, I haven’t tried much), so when I saw this no bake recipe for Avocado Pie on Evan Kleiman’s Good Food blog a few days ago, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had a vague memory of having a similar dessert at a friend’s house growing up, but over the years, the notion of such a thing had fallen into another dimension. Thanks to the internet however, I found out a little more about this wonderful pie (although not enough to really know it’s origins).

Also called Jagger Pie, this recipe is painfully easy. I decided to put my own spin on it however so follow the recipe after the jump for a slightly sweet, slightly tart cream pie that will sure to please your friends are this summer’s picnics and barbecues.  Continue reading

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Filed under Desserts, fruits, fruits and vegetables, organic, other blogs, recipes

In the Kitchen: Buttermilk Chicken Tenders

My mind has been all about summer lately and with that comes my appetite for things like fried chicken, fresh corn, and seasonal fruit pies. While jotting down my week’s grocery list, I got the idea to make my own crispy chicken tenders. Flipping through a few cookbooks and some recipes online, I came upon a recipe from none other than celebrity southern belle Paula Deen.

I tweaked her original recipe a little and added a bit of my own taste plus a couple of old fashioned techniques I picked up from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. The result is a very flavorful chicken tender that is juicy on the inside and coated with crispy goodness on the outside.

Recipe and directions follow the jump.  Continue reading

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Filed under Chicken, Comfort Food, organic, recipes

Dining:A Modern Brunch at Caficultura | Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Our last meal in Puerto Rico was definitely bittersweet. We had fallen in love with the island and had experienced much of its trademark cuisine. However, our last brunch in Old San Juan slowly brought us out of the city’s vintage charm back into present day. Caficultura, located in a hip dining neighborhood was exactly what we needed to punctuate our wonderful trip.

Well-known for their coffee, which is sourced from a local farm and is roasted in house, Caficultura reminded me so much of my favorite local coffee shops in Los Angeles. Playing off of Old San Juan’s classic European architecture with hip and bright decor, this place was virtually a hipster coffee geek’s dream come true. Fortunately, the coffee wasn’t just the only thing that would make this a must-try destination. They make one hell of a brunch and next to the traditional mallorcas at La Bombonera, they’re at a dead tie for the best morning meal of our vacation.

The dish that won my heart was their sweet potato crepes (photographed above). Two rich sweet potato crepes stuffed with delicious Puerto Rican longaniza (different from the Filipino style sausage) and creamy goat cheese. The sausage was tender and savory, playing well with the tangy cheese and the sweet crepe. Served with a side of maple syrup (which I barely even used because the dish was perfect), these little guys were full of flavor.

Their coffee was some of the best that we had on this trip. Deeply rich and nutty espresso without the bitterness provided the backbone to my machiatto and my mocha (decorated with puppy latte art) and their simple latte was irresistible. We enjoyed their coffee so much, we ended up taking some home with us. I am convinced that Puerto Rican coffee is very underrated on a global scale– overshadowed by Columbia and Costa Rica to the southeast.

Artsy and local, if I lived in San Juan, I would probably come here every day.

Caficultura is located at 401 Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan, PR. 

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Filed under BLD, Breakfast, Brunch, Caribbean, coffee, local food, organic, Travel, Vacation