A few weeks ago, my husband Andy and I attended the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show put on by the Specialty Food Association. The show is basically the Superbowl of the food world, and the biggest tasting event I have ever attended with items ranging from snacks to cheeses, meats, candies, chocolates, specialty food items, spirits, wines and more!
It’s a great excuse for Andy and I to travel to San Francisco for the day and meet the people behind the products (many of the inventors or creators of the items are there to represent themselves or their brand), foreign and domestic. It was also another way to temporarily satisfy my wanderlust by visiting the booths assigned to items from other countries. Andy went vegan for January, so he was limited on what he could taste, but I was there to sample it ALL… especially the charcuterie and cheeses I don’t normally buy because of the price… and the calories! 😉
After tasting through the entire show in about 4 hours (we moved quickly), I came up with a countdown of my 5 favorite products from the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show, why I liked the food/product, and most importantly, where YOU can find it!
5. Pan’s Mushroom Jerky
Since Andy went vegan for January, we were scanning the show specifically looking for anything he might be able to eat, as well as a vegan product I liked enough to write about it here. I was contacted via email before the show about Pan’s Mushroom Jerky, so I was happy to find their booth and try their offerings.
What is it exactly?
It’s a vegan “jerky” made from shiitake mushrooms. The idea for the jerky was born when its founder Michael Pan was traveling throughout Malaysia visiting extended family. While on his trip, he was offered a rich, savory snack that he thought was a pork-based snack. He discovered that it was a family recipe featuring shiitake mushrooms, and he liked it so much, he wanted to share it with the world!
I tasted the Applewood BBQ flavor. It was very tasty and well-seasoned. It also had the mouth-feel of a real jerky. It did, however have a strong mushroom flavor. Since I like mushrooms, I was fine with that. If I were vegan, I would definitely buy it as a substitute because it has the umami flavor of a meat jerky. The flavor I tasted was smoky, salty, and sweet, and overall pretty yummy.
Where Can I Buy It?
Here’s a link to all the flavors they produce. You can buy the jerky directly from the company on their website. You can also enter your zip code here to see what stores close to you carry the product.
4. Calivirgin Olive Oils
Number four on my list is Calivirgin Olive Oil, and not just one oil in particular, but I was lucky enough to sample several of them. Calivirgin was founded by the Coldani Family, and their headquarters are located at Coldani Olive Ranch. All of the extra virgin olive oil is estate grown, they don’t use any pesticides, and all of their products are organically and sustainably produced. AND a bonus for Sacramentans and Bay Area residents, Calivirgin is a local company! They are located in Lodi, California.
At the show, I was given a Mini Bottle Set that contains 100 mL bottles of the following products: Lusty Lemon Olive Oil, Guilty Garlic Olive Oil, Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Calivinegar Barrel-Aged Balsamic, and Bountiful Basil Oil. I haven’t sampled all of them yet, but I have had the lemon and the basil oils. I used the basil kind to put an extra boost of basil flavor in a vegan pesto I made for my husband! It was excellent.
Where Can I Buy It?
You can buy their products by calling 209.210.3162 or directly from their website HERE.
This brand of pecan oil is unique because it’s pressed from American native (wild) pecans, which have been untouched by fertillizers and pesticides. The resulting flavor is sweeter, and more buttery, and the oil itself has more nutrients. It has a high smoke point (470°F) and can be used as a complete butter substitute. You can find out more information about the oil HERE.
WOW! So incredibly rich, and tasted JUST like drinking pecans. If you are thinking, “Why would I want to drink pecans?” Well, believe me, you do. The flavor is was deep and buttery and would make anything taste good. So much better than some of the other oils I have tried.
Where Can I Buy It?
You can snag some Pure Pecan Oil HERE. It’s $18 for an 8 ounce bottle.
2. Counting down to number two, we have the line of meats I tried made by COVAP Specialty Meats & Cheeses!
I would be lying if I didn’t say the Fancy Food show is a forum where the Spanish meat and cheese producers get to show off (in a good way)! Just take a gander at that leg below! It’s from an acorn-fed 100% Iberian pig with a long curation time.
It was one of the most satisfying and silky tastes of Iberian ham I have ever tasted. I would die to have a little slice of this every evening with a big glass of tempranillo.
I also had the opportunity to try the above chorizo and blood sausage (morcilla) from the same manufacturer! I want to thank the host of the COVAP booth, Juan Ballesteros for allowing me to try each one. Last month, I tried blood sausage (morcilla) for the first time in Portugal and actually liked it! I was so happy to see it at the Fancy Food Show at the COVAP display and I am hoping to work with them on a future food and wine pairing post highlighting food and wine from the Iberian Peninsula.
Where Can I Buy It?
To see ALL the products in their online store (including their cheeses, sausages, ham), you can click HERE.
And… The Number ONE spot in my 5 Best Tastes of the 2019 Winter Fancy Food Show goes to…
You’re rubbing COFFEE on my CHEESE?!? Oh yes, they are. Just hear me out…
Sartori is a fourth-generation family owned and operated company and they make a full line of artisan cheeses. I actually try and stuff as much as I can into my mouth and in my purse each time I visit their booth. Is that bad? Now that we have an understanding that I really like their stuff (I miiiight have their Merlot BellaVitano in my fridge right now), let’s talk about the particular product they make that gets my Fancy Food #1st place:
OK… let’s talk about the Espresso BellaVitano. Yes, they actually rub freshly-roasted espresso into the aged cheese. It’s insanely good because the espresso has a bitter note and the cheese is nutty and sweet. It doesn’t seem like it makes sense, but it does. And, I didn’t really shove extra cheese into my purse. 😉
Where Can I Buy it?
Lucky for you, you can buy it online along with several other mouthwatering cheeses at the Sartori Online Cheese Shop HERE. Feeling really cheesy? A 20 lb wheel will cost you $317 dollars, but you can get a more reasonable size (5.3 oz) for only $7.75.
OK, that’s all I’ve got for now… Cheers and happy eating!
About the Specialty Food Association
The Specialty Food Association is a thriving community of food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs. Established in 1952 in New York, the not-for-profit trade association provides its 3,800 members in the U.S. and abroad the tools, knowledge and connections to champion and nurture their companies in an always-evolving marketplace. The Association owns and produces the Winter and Summer Fancy Food Shows, and presents the sofi™ Awards honoring excellence in specialty food. Learn more at specialtyfood.com.
Specialty Food Association Media Contact:
PR Department, (646) 878-0130, email@example.com
Dear Readers, Happy New Year!
Andy and I just returned from our first ever journey to Europe. We traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for 5 days, and I am still rubbing my eyes like it was a dream! I’ve come up with a few lists about the trip…. why we chose Lisbon, how to pack for Lisbon, what to expect upon arrival, and the must-do activities and recommended restaurants in Lisbon. After reading this, it is my hope you are further inspired to travel to Lisbon, or even to travel to a place you have never visited.
Of course, you might ask why I did not choose Paris, Rome, or London for my first excursion across the Atlantic. Somehow, I knew Lisbon would be perfect for us. Here’s why:
1. Lisbon has a very moderate climate in the winter months like San Francisco (which we are used to), and doesn’t rain a lot in winter.
2. Lisbon has a very strong culinary and wine scene. (Important to me, because if the food isn’t good, I’m not interested!)
3. Lisbon has a magnificent history, and is manageable to see many things/places/landmarks in the amount of time (5 days, 4 nights) we actually had to visit.
4. I had a primer on Lisbon thanks to the Somebody Feed Phil documentary hosted by Phil Rosenthal. I modeled a lot of our trip on places I had seen on the show, but at the same time, we went to a few places we found on our own. You can watch the show here. #NetflixandPhil 😛
5. Lisbon is on the Tagus River (aka Tejo River) and we love places that have a view/are located near a body of water!
6. Lisbon was the closest place to get to in Europe from Sacramento. If you wait until summer of 2019 to book your trip, lucky you! TAP Portugal will be offering non-stop service from SFO to LIS!
7. Many Portuguese speak English and it is easy to communicate, especially with people who work in restaurants, shops, and hotels.
8. Lisbon is less crowded than other major cities, especially during December.
9. Lisbon has a very good public transit system and you really don’t need a car! Just your legs to take you to a subway, bus, tram, or train stop/station.
10. Lisbon is the perfect mix of old world and new world. It’s an upcoming and modern city, but has the beauty of monuments and cathedrals that are hundreds of years old. You will see evidence of this everywhere. Especially on the beautiful sidewalks!
Preparing and Packing:
1. Speaking of the sidewalks, leave your heels at home. The sidewalks and even some of the roadways in Lisbon are made of limestone tiles (aka Portuguese pavement or calçada portuguesa) and are very challenging to walk on, especially in heels of any kind. Don’t worry about looking unhip. I didn’t see any other women in heels, either. Most of the time, I wore these Clarks with a rubber wedge and they were awesome. I also wore these shoes (also Clarks) when I wore a dress.
2. Purchase a converter plug. I found this one and bought it because it converts to EU, Australia, the US, and the UK and it has four USB ports for easy charging.
3. Select a place in your purse or carry on bag to put your passport (preferably a pocket that is inside of the bag and zips up) and always keep it in that place!
4. Pack snacks like nuts, trail mix, protein bars, beef or turkey jerky (my go-to right now is Nick’s Sticks), or pretzels in your carry on in case you get hungry and need a pick-me-up. Sometimes you’ll have to walk farther than you thought in the airport and sometimes the escalator or the elevator will be broken and you will appreciate the extra energy.
6. Use a backpack for your personal item on the plane and use it when you are sightseeing. I packed a purse (that I never ended up using during our trip). Instead, I used this Pacsafe Intasafe Anti-Theft 20L Laptop Backpack on the plane and to carry my items around Lisbon securely. I stowed both my camera and my wallet in it. I chose this backpack because it is theft-resistant. It is made with slash-proof material in the body and the straps. It also has a pocket with RFIDsafe blocking material for credit cards to safeguard against hacker scanning. It also has locking zippers. I love it, and the peace of mind I had carrying it around and knowing my items were safe was worth the expense. Bonus: the backpack has two pockets for water bottles on the sides.
7. Bring plenty of cash (you can convert to Euros at the airport when you arrive). Most of the non-touristy, local restaurants DO NOT accept credit cards. If you are afraid your cash will get lost or stolen, another alternative to packing a bank roll is to use your ATM card to withdrawal cash. There are several all over the city.
8. Download an app like Duolingo and learn a few phrases in Portuguese. It goes a long way if you can say “please” and “thank you”. Which, by the way in Portuguese is: please “por favor” and thank you “obrigado”.
9. Pack clothing that you can wear in layers. Since Lisbon is on a body of water, it can get windy, and you might get cold. Sometimes you’ll be walking and get too hot. What I am saying is, it’s easier to wear a T-Shirt and jeans on the bottom layer, a sweater or sweatshirt over that, and in winter, possibly a coat over that. You can always take layers one by one off if you get too hot.
10. Invest in a power bank to charge your phone/iPad/laptop. Sometimes you won’t be able to charge your phone on a long flight. Since you’ll definitely want to have a decent amount of power when you land to check your messages, check in with loved ones, and map out the area, it’s a good idea to have a back up power source.
Upon Arrival to Portugal:
1. Expect to wait at least an hour in line to get through customs and into the country.
2. Keep your passport and any important documents in place easy to access, because you will be showing them many times during travel into and out of the country.
3. You will have several transportation options out of the airport. Decide beforehand which one you will choose to get you where you need to go.
4. Before you leave the airport, there is a kiosk near the airport exit to exchange USD to €, and you can exchange as much money as you would like for a flat rate of €5. Again, get as much as you can, because many activities and many of the really good restaurants don’t take credit cards, and you’ll be spending a € here and there, so it’s just more convenient to carry some pocket change.
5. If you only have carry on luggage, you can most likely take the Metro to your destination. The Metro system is mapped out clearly at the airport, and it’s quite easy to figure out.
6. If you have large bags/luggage, invest in a cab to get to your hotel.
7. Be patient. The airport is very crowded–a lot of people who are different nationalities and speak different languages than you do. Practice kindness and don’t be the ugly “in-a-hurry” American.
8. If you are using the Metro or another form of public transit, you can buy a Viva Viagem card. It costs €0.50 and can be reloaded an unlimited number of times during one year after purchase.
9. It can be confusing at first when you land in a new place, but take a deep breath. You’ll figure things out and laugh about how confused you were later. I am hoping to demystify some things with this article, so if you go you will already be a pro!
10. Get ready to have a blast!!
Must-Dos While in Lisbon:
1. Eat at Ponto Final. Take the ferry (from Cais do Sodre in Lisbon to Cacilhas) across to Almada to Ponto Final. If it’s cold outside, wear extra layers and eat outside on the pier. You’ll enjoy phenomenal views of Lisbon across the Tagus (Tejo) River!
2. Visit the Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei. After Ponto Final, you can walk to a lift that takes you up to a 2-mile path up to Cristo Rei (Christ the King). The Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei was completed in 1959 after ten years of construction. The statue was built by the support/approval of Portuguese bishops at the Portuguese Episcopate conference in 1940 as a symbol of peace to both plea & thank God for the absence of Portugal in World War II. It’s quite the journey to get there from Ponto Final, but worth it once you get there!
3. See a Fado show with dinner. Fado is a style of Portuguese music that is both beautiful and haunting. It is associated with the word “saudade” or longing, and sort of represents to me a kind of sad hope. It’s kind of described like when you love someone and they go away you miss them and feel sad, but it is a good thing that you miss them.
We found a restaurant with FREE Fado every night beginning at 7pm. The food was fabulous and the Fado singer (or Fadista) was even better! We chose Pastel do Fado, a restaurant Andy happened to find when we were walking around Almada. (It’s near the Lisbon Cathedral). Remember, sometimes when you are seated at a table, there will be food already on the table. It is NOT free. If you eat the bread, butter, olives, you WILL be charged on your final bill. 😉
4. Ride Tram 28 and get a scenic view of the city. Make sure you get on at Martim Moniz (or Campo Ourique) so you’ll have a better chance of getting a seat! You’ll enjoy a memorable ride through Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela screeching and rattling up and down the narrow streets.
5. The Santa Justa Lift: A top tourist attraction, but also a transportation device that takes you from the lower streets of Baixa, up to a platform connecting to Carmo Square. Tip: Get a Viva Viagem card and use it to ride the lift, metro (subway), buses, trams, and funiculars. You can pay €6.15 for 24 hours, or choose the re-load option. You can also pay the extra €2 to climb the observation platform. It’s totally worth it!
6. Go to Time Out Market Lisboa for a meal. Even a picky eater will find something they will like. Time Out Market is like a giant cafeteria, except that there are little food stalls all around the perimeter and the food doesn’t suck. You can find everything from sushi to hamburgers, octopus, several different takes on bacalhau, piri-piri chicken, gelato, chocolates, and the ubiquitous pastry of Lisbon, the Pastel de Nata at Manteigaria.
7. Go to Sintra to see the castles! Take the train from Rossio Square to Sintra (runs every 20 minutes). If you are paying for one-way tickets, make sure you buy two zones or you won’t be able to exit the station. (This might have happened to us!)
8. Enjoy Portuguese Wines! If you are in Portugal, you might as well drink like a local! There are so many wines to choose from, they are very affordable (about €12 average per bottle in most restaurants), and nearly everything is good. Here are a few bottles we polished off:
9. Eat bacalhau! Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, and if you come to Lisbon, bacalhau is EVERYWHERE on restaurant menus. The bacalhau in question is salt cod, which has been preserved by drying/curing with salt. Before it can be eaten, salt cod must be rehydrated by soaking in cold water for a few days, changing the water two to three times a day. This also helps remove most of the salt content. My favorite way to enjoy bacalhau is in a pastel de bacalhau from Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau! It’s basically a cod fish fritter filled with Serra da Estrela cheese. Downright decadent and one of the best bites of food I tried!
10. Stop for a shot of ginjinha! GInjinha is a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherry) in Aguardiente (an alcoholic beverage that contains between 29% and 60% alcohol by volume). There are several places to try ginjinha. We tasted it at Ginjinha do Carmo, (a stand in Comércio Plaza) exactly one block away from our hotel (so that we could stagger back to our room). The liqueur is sweet and powerful, and sipping it slowly while we talked about our trip was a perfect way to cherish the last moments in Lisbon while standing in the plaza.
Thank you Lisbon, for being so lovely and delicious in every way possible. Andy and I enjoyed everything about our vacation, and we are so glad we chose to travel there to spend New Year’s holiday. The food, wine, and weather were all so perfect. And now I know what it is like to experience saudade…but this time to long for a place. I miss Portugal already, but each day that goes by brings my closer to our next visit, and next time we will visit Porto for more adventures!
Lastly, I want to thank Anthony Bourdain, Phil Rosenthal, and Mark Wolters for giving me a template for travel to Lisbon. Mark Wolters of Wolters World especially gave a lot of tips of what to expect when in Lisbon, and I’m pretty sure Portugal would not have been on my bucket list without all of your influences, and I know my visit to Lisbon was enhanced by all of you.
PS: If you liked what you saw on this blog post, there’s more pictures from this trip over on my Instagram page. Be sure to visit and follow me there!
Every holiday table needs a little pizzazz. And so does every potluck. I present to you today a recipe that even the laziest person can whip together in less than 20 minutes (depending on how fast you can slice), but it will seem like the most gourmet salad you’ve ever made. More importantly, it’s gluten free, nutritious, and just happens to even be vegan. The star of the salad is Pazazz itself. Pazazz apples, that is!
Pazazz is a descendent of the Honeycrisp with a sweet, yet tart flavor. You may or may not have seen them in your grocery store, because they are quite new to the market. Pazazz apples are grown sustainably by second and third generation family orchards, who make sure the natural orchard habitat and the land is protected.
I was sent a box of Pazazz apples by Honeybear Brands to develop a recipe and feature it here. Since one of the main characteristics of the Pazazz apple is its crunch, I decided to use the apples raw. I also didn’t want to add any heat that would change their skin’s beautiful color. With those parameters, I chose to make a simple Fennel and Apple Salad with Lemon and Toasted Walnuts. I wanted a lighter counterpart to all the heavy food we tend to eat at holiday parties and family dinners.
4 Pizzazz Apples
1 Whole Fennel Bulb
Fennel Fronds for Garnish
Juice from 3-4 Lemons
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tbs Lemon Zest
1 tsp sea salt (to taste)
Cracked Black Pepper (to taste)
3/4 cup toasted, chopped walnuts.
7. Sprinkle the fennel fronds over the salad for extra flavor and garnish. Salt and pepper to taste.
Besides leaving you this recipe, I also want to say thank you for reading for another year. I haven’t written as often as I would have liked, but I hope next year it will be more often. This blog has been cavegrrl.com for nearly 8 years now, and I am headed into my 15th year as a blogger. I can’t believe time has gone by so quickly!
I wish you and your family a happy and healthy holiday season. I am off to travel for the rest of the year, but I will be back with more in January! Follow me on Instagram here to see what I am up to until then. Cheers!
The perfect drink always starts with the perfect pour of spirits. And the spirits are pretty perfect when they come from J.J. Pfister Distilling Company located right here in Sacramento!
J.J. Pfister Distilling Company is Sacramento’s only organic “farm-to-glass” distillery. To be an organic distiller, the products produced in the distillery have to be made from all organic ingredients. Also, there can be no pesticides or any other non-organic chemicals used in the distilling process.
Andy and I were invited to a media event at the distillery last month and treated to a spread of hearty appetizers, special cocktails, spirits tasting, and a behind the scenes look at how grain and potatoes turn into some of our favorite adult beverages!
Since this is a food blog, let’s take a look at the tasty vittles the people at J.J. Pfister provided for us, BEFORE I tell you about the distillery and its history. There was a gorgeous fruit and vegetable tray with hummus, gluten free crackers, potstickers, a charcuterie tray, a cheese platter, buffalo chicken skewers (a personal favorite), meatballs, caprese salad skewers, shrimp cocktail in phyllo cups, and even a few things for those with a sweet tooth. No thank you, I’ll have more vodka, please.
OK, enough with the food. Now let’s talk about what we really came for: the spirits! To best showcase the Capitol Gin made at J.J. Pfister Distilling Company, we were served a special cocktail called “Gin-gle Bells” The gin was combined with pomegranate honey, lemon juice, and apple cider, and packed a punch with its spice and herbaceousness. If you’re interested in trying it, the recipe is below.
• 2 cups raw honey
• 1 cup water
• 6 bags rooibos chai tea
.75 cups pomegranate molasses
Make pomegranate-rooibos honey. Combine honey and water in a saucepan on medium heat until incorporated. Add tea bags and let steep for 1 hour. Remove tea bags, add pomegranate molasses, and stir. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Combine gin, pomegranate-rooibos honey, lemon, and cider in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain mixture into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with apple slices and freshly grated cinnamon.
Though I love a good cocktail, I preferred the gin straight. It was interesting to taste and smell the ingredients: juniper, orris root, angelica, cardamom, cubeb berries, coriander, lemongrass, fennel seed, and lavender (aka botanicals, above) used to make the gin.
After sampling the food and drinks, we were taken on a brief tour of the production facility. While on the tour, we learned that the gin is actually made from an ultra-premium rye vodka base and the botanicals are later added in.
The machine below processes potatoes. Did you know it takes 15 pounds of potatoes to produce just one fifth of J.J. Pfister’s Potato Vodka? The potatoes are, of course, organic, and grown in Klamath Basin in Oregon.
The pipe-organ looking apparatus above is called a “Rectifying Column Still”. It has partitions that set up chambers within the still. As the still is heated from the bottom by pumping steam into the bottom and letting it rise, the mash enters at the top and sinks toward the bottom. As the liquid encounters the steam, the heat vaporizes the mash and forces the alcohol up the still. Each time the vapors reach another partition, they get rid of more and more water and grain solids, and eventually become ethanol. The ethanol comes out of the top of the still and transferred into a condenser to become liquid again. Sound confusing? Luckily, we don’t have to make it, we can just drink it!
The name J.J. Pfister comes from owner Kevin Keck’s great-grandfather. J.J. Pfister was born in Switzerland in 1844 and learned the knitting trade with his brother Henry. By 1876, J.J. had moved to the United States and started a business in a one-room factory (in which he also lived) knitting stockings, mufflers, and wristlets to sell on Market Street in San Francisco. This tiny operation eventually grew, and by 1916 the company was making their signature garment, the knit shoulder to knee swimsuit. J.J Pfister also made sweaters, knit caps, baby clothes and athletic apparel. If you tour the facility (which I highly recommend you do), you will see several pieces of clothing they produced.
Fast forward to 2015. By this time, Kevin Keck is a retired physician and his son Brian has earned graduate degrees in both Chemistry and Viticulture and Enology. The men decide to open their own distillery with Brian as Master Distiller. Their new business needs a name and the Kecks decide on J.J. Pfister Distilling Company in honor of their family patriarch, and to carry on his legacy and dedication to excellence.
Very soon, J.J. Pfister Distilling Company will launch other spirits, such as rum, bourbon, and rye whisky. For now though, they have their vodka and gin for sale in their tasting room. If you are still looking for Christmas gifts, they have holiday packaged bottles ready to go, and a portion of sales goes to both the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge and the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex in their missions to restore and preserve habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife. You can also find their spirits for sale at Total Wine & More and Nugget Markets. Click here to see a full list of locations, including restaurants, where J.J. Pfister spirits are available.
J.J. Pfister Distilling Company is located at 9819 Business Park Drive in Sacramento, and is open for touring and tasting on Fridays from 3-6pm and on Saturdays from 12-6pm. To schedule private events or tastings please call (916) 672-9662.
I have lived in California since 2004, and will admit I had never visited or heard of a small oceanside town called Pacifica until just last month. I was invited on a press trip to check out the little place just 15 minutes south (by car) of San Francisco along with a few other travel writers, podcasters and bloggers.
Quite frankly, once I experienced staying, eating, running, hiking, and basically existing in Pacifica, I felt like i had been let in on a very well-kept secret. I was shocked I had never been there before. I was spooked that it wasn’t more crowded with tourists, but at the same time that’s what I loved about it. I treasured the uncrowded (other than locals) feel to the town. It’s just a day-in, day-out beach town with incredible morning waves for surfers and a small, but great night life for anyone and all to enjoy.
I fled to Pacifica the last week of October when a work event I had organized in San Francisco felt OK enough to leave to coworkers. I escaped just in time to a media dinner at Nick’s Restaurant, an unapologetic old school joint that sits (incredibly enough) right on the oceanfront. I chose the special of the evening, which was tilapia served with butter beans, arugula, and a brown butter sauce and tried several other menu offerings along with other media and influencers seated around our table. I took several photos of the food we enjoyed and I present them to you below (beginning with that mouth-watering tilapia special!):
After introductions and multiple bottles of wine, our group walked over to A Grape in the Fog for even more wine, tarot card readings, and this fantastic cheese plate.
The next day I met up with about half of our travel group to hike along the California coastal trail segment of Pacifica led by Pacifica Beach Coalition’s Lynn Adams, and local trail advocate (and major Creedence Clearwater Revival fan) Jim Sullivan. Along with taking in some really beautiful sights along the hike, we learned the trail doesn’t groom itself and there are several volunteers who give their time to help clear the trail and plant flowers along the path for others to enjoy. There are also beach cleanups that take place on a monthly basis.
After working up an appetite, our group caravanned to the Little Brown Church/Pacifica Coastside Museum for a Pacifica Jack Cheese and Rosalind Bakery bread tasting, washed down with vodka, absinthe, rum, and gin samples from local alcoholic beverage producer, Tripp Distillery.
Pacifica Jack? Yes, according to a historian at the museum, we learned that the recipe for Jack cheese came from Italy straight to Pacifica by way of a man named Stefano Mori. The cheese recipe was allegedly stolen by an employee of the Moris, and taken down to Monterey (to the Jacks Ranch). From there the cheese began being produced commercially and called… can you guess? That’s right! Monterey Jack. Don’t believe it? Well, there is indeed corroborating evidence of Jacks’ theft in the book “Roadside History of California” by Ruth Pittman. Recently, a woman by the name of Kathleen Manning decided to put the Pacifica back in Jack cheese, and went on a mission to track down the original recipe by Stefano Mori. Along with the recipe, she also found a cheesemaker to produce the cheese, and it is currently available to taste and purchase at the Pacifica Coastside Museum.
Not being one to normally indulge in bread, I couldn’t help but wolf down a few pieces of the spongy, brown, baked goodness, speckled with walnuts, that was provided to our tour group by Rosalind Bakery. At the other end of the sampling table, we were introduced to Jason Tripp, of Tripp Distillery (also located in Pacifica). Tripp Distillery is open to the public and often invites various food trucks for their customers to buy food to enjoy with their products. If you visit, look for their original red (as in the color red) vodka (if it isn’t already sold out). You can follow them on Facebook to be notified of special events at the distillery.
Our Friday evening culminated with an appetizer reception and tour of Sam’s Castle (a properly that lived former lives as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, an underground abortion clinic, and a World War II Coast Guard Station, before it was purchased in 1959 by Sam Mazza). The castle tour was all the more interesting because every single room was decorated for Halloween.
I was delighted by the attention to detail and all the spooky props on display. We enjoyed beverages provided by A Grape in the Fog (wine) and (brews from) Pedro Point Brewery. It was real Pacifica trick-or-treating in the dining area with delights from Tam’s Cuisine of China, the Moonraker, Rosalind Bakery, and desserts from the French Patisserie and Shampa’s Pies.
We also took turns sitting on the crimson red velvet throne in one of the castle’s main rooms. I left feeling so lucky to be asked/included on these types of media events and how being a travel writer has opened up so many unique opportunities.
Our lodging in Pacifica was provided by the Lighthouse Hotel. The hotel sits right on the ocean (located in Rockaway Beach Plaza) and many of the rooms offer views of the beach and the mesmerizing waves. It was very clean and comfortable, and I would definitely stay there again. Important information for wine writers: There is FREE wi-fi and there is a refrigerator in your room. Below is a picture of the view from my room!
Ah, Pacifica… a not-overly-crowded charming little town right on the ocean with great eats and friendly locals (and even a golf course)! If you’ve never been to Pacifica, I urge you to check it out. It’s so close to San Francisco and perfect for a mini-vacation by the sea!
This Pacifica Media Familiarization Tour would not have been possible without Mortgage Loan Specialist Darlene Gonzalez and public relations guru Molly Blaisdell. Thank you, ladies! Disclosure: I was invited on this trip at no charge to write about the area, giving my own impressions and opinions.
Back in June, I traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona to attend a conference. Instead of staying at the big-ticket host hotel, I looked for a less expensive option that was still within walking distance to the event I was attending, and after a brief internet search, I found The Gainey Suites Hotel.
After a giant airline delay in my trip, and missing the first afternoon session of the conference, I finally got settled in my hotel room. Suite 320:
Inside the room was modern, well-furnished, impeccably clean, and well-lit. It reminded me of a small apartment. I remember being very impressed, because the room looked as good or better than it did online, and I was already pretty glad I skipped paying extra just to stay at the conference hotel.
The beds at Gainey Suites Hotel are covered in 300 thread-count linens on a plush, allergy-free featherbed with down pillows, and a duo of cute Gainey Bears for guests to take home. It’s one of the most comfortable beds on which I have ever slept, even more comfy the one I sleep on at home. OK, definitely might move into this place. 🙂
My one bedroom suite was also equipped with a full kitchen (minus an oven). For dinner during my first evening’s stay, I walked over to the Sprouts Farmers Market grocery store next door and picked up groceries to stock the full-sized refrigerator in my room, and made dinner for myself on the stove top and microwave. The room had everything I needed to eat in my room, too, such as bowls, plates, cups, and silverware.
The hotel is walking distance to The Shops-Gainey Village (also where Sprouts Farmers Market is located) a collection of unique shops and restaurants. The shops feature everything from apparel to lifestyle items, and the restaurants offer several different cuisines to suite whatever you might be craving. There is also a nail salon, a day spa, and a salon located in the village in case you need a little polishing up!
Every morning at Gainey Suites Hotel, there is a complimentary hot breakfast buffet, featuring eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit, oatmeal, bagels, pastries, and cereals, along with orange juice, milk, tea and coffee. If you’re on a budget, your first meal of the day is completely covered in your room stay.
Every evening, the hotel has a reception with hot and cold appetizers, beer, wine, and soft drinks. It is unbelievably included in the price of your room. This is to say you could technically get by on breakfast in the morning and appetizers in the evening and not spend any more on food or dining except for a few snacks to store in your full-sized refrigerator!
I really appreciated the HDTV with Chromecast feature in each room, because I was able to watch Parts Unknown on demand during my dinner.
In between sessions at the conference I had some down time, so I decided I would head out to the pool and get some sun. The pool is clean, spacious, and surrounded with plenty of chairs with umbrellas in which to lounge.
Other hotel amenities include: No resort fees • Free Wi-Fi • 24/7 fitness center • Desktop power/charging stations • In-suite coffee makers with complimentary coffee & tea • In-suite hair dryers • Iron & ironing board • In-room safe (lap top size) • Cordless phone/voicemail service • Valet laundry service • Guest laundry facilities • Courtesy shuttle service (within a 5-mile radius, 7am-6pm daily) • Evening room service from The Village Tavern (restaurant next to the hotel, 5-10pm) • Complete business center services with free-to-guest PC and internet services • Daily and weekly passes available for the exclusive Health Club at Gainey Village
You can find Gainey Suites Hotel on Facebook here, on Instagram here, on Twitter here, and read reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor here. If you’re ever in Scottsdale, definitely make a stay at Gainey Suites Hotel part of your travel plans!
A few months ago, I visited Scottsdale, Arizona during the National Alopecia Areata Foundation’s Annual Conference. Typically when I travel, my trips become more about the food and wine available at my destination than the main reason for the trip, so I do more research on places to eat/drink than I do on anything else! Since my hotel room at the Gainey Suites Hotel was equipped with a full kitchen, I planned to get groceries and make my own dinner for the first evening. Then on the second evening of my stay, I would dine out. Since I had never been to Scottsdale before, this would require some web surfing on some of my trusted travel sites.
I stumbled upon Starlite BBQ and Whiskey Bar after only searching for a few moments. Since opening last year, Starlite BBQ has been named one of the Seven Metro Phoenix Restaurants you Need to Try Right Now by the Phoenix New Times, as well as one of the 11 Best New Restaurants in Phoenix, Arizona (area) by Eater.com. Starlite BBQ was also selected as an 2018 OpenTable Diners’ Choice Winner. This would be the place for Friday night’s dinner for sure!
So on Friday evening, after a short Uber ride, I ended up in a shopping center where Starlite BBQ resides. It sits prominently on the edge of the center, complete a facade decked out with hip white font lettering that can’t be missed. There is an outdoor seating area, but during my visit it was over 100 degrees, so I opted to sit inside and people watch as the filled up the place for dinner.
I sat at a small table against the wall, facing an already lively bar scene and two televisions broadcasting different sporting events–one of them a Diamondbacks game. Across from me on the table was a selection of house-made sauces. I was eager to try them all, but stopped short of squirting the bottles directly into my mouth. First, I selected a beverage to nurse while I contemplated what to eat.
Prosecco was the perfect drink for an opening act. Starlite also has a specialty cocktail menu featuring many whiskey-based drinks, as well as four rotating handles of beer on draft, an ample selection of bottled and canned beer, and a nice list of wines available by the glass or bottle.
While I was selecting my entree, this skillet of cornbread topped with an enormous dollop of melty honey butter appeared on my table. Now this is something I don’t normally eat, but it was really calling my name. The cornbread was still warm, both sweet and savory, and I still remember its delightful texture (just enough crumb without being too dry) even three months later! I’m not exaggerating when I said it was one of the best cornbreads I have ever had.
The Grilled Cauliflower (with Green Goddess, Crispy Black Eyed Peas, Arugula, Pickled Onions) dish really caught my eye (I saw it served to another table as I was about to order), so I snagged one for myself. The dish’s flavor was expertly balanced by the sweet and sour of the dressing (and just enough of it without making the dish soggy), the char on the cauliflower, the crunchy texture of the black eye peas and the peppery arugula.
For the main course, I selected the 1/2 plate of Chopped Pork. It comes with pickled onions and mustard on the side. I ordered a glass of rosé to pair with the pork. I could have gone a little heavier on the wine, especially because of the sauce on the meat, but in the heat of summer, I am hardwired to order bubbles or rose, no matter what the protein or the “traditional” pairing.
I guess you could say I ordered these potatoes for “dessert” and an excuse to try one more dish. Crispy little potato nuggets. This is where the aforementioned BBQ sauces come in. I tried them all on the potatoes and it turns out the middle “Starlite BBQ” is my favorite. I wish my husband had been with me so I could have sampled a little bit more of the menu items. Instead, I was already taking half of the meal back to the hotel in boxes, which was great because it made for the next night’s dinner. In other words, the portions are large and perfect for sharing.
Also good to know: Starlite BBQ supports local organizations and uses local vendors, such as Arizona Beef, organic produce from McClendon’s Farm, fresh breads daily from MJ Bread, and local pecan and mesquite woods to smoke their meats.
Starlite BBQ and Whiskey Bar is located at 7620 E Indian School Road Suite 101, Scottsdale, AZ 85251. You can contact them at 480-553-9330.
They are closed on Monday and Tuesday, and open Wednesday and Thursday from 4pm-11pm, on Friday from 4pm-midnight. They are also open on Saturday for Brunch and Regular Menu 10am-midnight and on Sunday for Brunch and Regular Menu 10am-10pm. The bar is open until 12 Midnight on Wednesday and Thursday, until 2 AM Friday and Saturday and 12 Midnight on Sunday.
Disclosure: My meal was complimentary in exchange for social media exposure and this blog post, however my opinions are all my own.
The 28th Annual Curtis Park Wine Tasting, Silent Auction & Beer Garden returns on Saturday, October 6th, 2018 from 4-7pm. I am honored to be a part of this year’s planning committee, helping to organize some of my favorite local restaurants and wineries for my Curtis Park neighbors and for my husband, who I met at this event in 2011.
This year’s event will feature a special ticket for VIP is available (which includes admission at 3pm for an extra hour of wine sipping and tasting galore). We are proud to announce our VIP Restaurant sponsor will be one of Sacramento’s newest and (hottest) restaurants, The Diplomat, located directly across from our State Capitol building! The VIP wine sponsor will be Ironstone Vineyards.
Returning to support this year’s event are Curtis Park Wine Tasting veterans Selland’s, Dad’s, Espresso Metro, Miso Japanese, La Famiglia Catering, Gunther’s Ice Cream, Casa Garden, Sugar Plum Vegan, and Oak Cafe as well as the culinary students from American River College (under the tutelage of the amazing Chef Roxanne O’Brien).
New to the event this year (so far!!) are Cellar Door Platters (a custom charcuterie, fruit, and cheese platter creation service), Seasons 52, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Burgess Brothers BBQ (Antojito’s), Thai Farm House BBQ & Bistro, Buffalo Pizza and Cornflower Creamery, and Adamo’s Restaurant!
Wineries set to participate are Revolution Wines, Moniz Family Wines, Tryphon Vineyards, Matchbook Wines, Seka Hills Winery, Steiner Family Vineyards, and Via Romano Vineyards. If you’re a cider fan, we’ve got Two Rivers Ciders coming, and as always Pangaea Bier Cafe‘s Rob Archie will coordinate his fabulous Beer Garden for all the brew lovers out there.
I have intentionally tried to reach out to restaurants that produce food that not only pairs with wine, but restaurants that will give this event more variety and make it more culturally diverse. If we all have one thing in common, it’s that we need to eat to live. Food can be a great connector to people who have different backgrounds. I feel this event is a great way to taste and get introduce Curtis Park residents to restaurants they might not normally seek out on their own. As one of my favorite travel hosts (and star of Netflix show “Somebody Feed Phil”) Phil Rosenthal says, “Food is the great connector for me, laughs are the cement. It’s all about getting to know people.” Yes!
Proceeds from the SCNA Wine Tasting, Silent Auction and Beer Garden help support upkeep and maintenance of the historic Sierra 2 Center and Senior Center, community events like the Spring Egg Hunt, Music in the Park and Curtis Fest. Additional funds go toward Bret Harte’s 6th grade Nature and Science Camp and the McClatchy HISP program and the debate club.
We are still looking for restaurants and wineries who want to showcase their food at the event, and particularly restaurants/wineries to represent different cuisines/wines throughout the world. If you are interested in participating, please contact me by calling 916-612-0035 or email me: misscavegrrl at gmail.com!
For information about participating, donating or volunteering, you can also contact Terri Shettle at the Sierra 2 Center, 452-3005. No prior event planning is necessary, and it is a great way to connect with neighbors and support your community.
Guest Blog Post by Alana Savard
It seems like there is always something new popping up in the Sacramento area! Here are some of the newest eateries, food trucks, and breweries to check out in Sacramento. Whether your ideal is a laid back environment or you’re more into a high energy spot, there’s something that you and your group will enjoy checking out. Looking for a way to visit them without dealing with traffic or parking? This Sacramento and Napa Valley Party Bus offers the perfect solution to all of the inconveniences that often come with a night out on the town.
This food truck serving Sacramento is serving up vegan goods! These tacos are ridiculously flavorful, and you will not be missing meat at all. They also have a delicious menu of hand crafted frozen fruit pops to choose from. Their schedule is listed on their website, and can often times be found at Two River’s and the Our Street Night Market.
The Other Side
There are never enough beer destinations in Sacramento! You will primarily find comfort food on the menu here. The panic fries are the perfect mix of flavors. They also fill growlers here for you to take home and enjoy!
Maya Traditional Mexican Cuisine
Traditional and authentic Mexican food is the focus at this new restaurant downtown. We love the infusion of classic and creative flavors on the menu. It has a charming, rustic interior that gets pretty busy, especially during the weekend. Don’t miss out on their amazing margaritas during happy hour, as it’s a total steal.
Bru Co Taproom
Here’s a new taproom located in downtown Sacramento! We love the cheery, bright atmosphere and their varied selection of brews to choose from. Their selection changes daily, and there are also wine options if you are not a huge beer drinker. If you have any questions about their selection, the staff is happy to give you information and help you make the best decision.
Here is another new food truck that is serving Sacramento, and they’re focused on creating a menu that represents all different cuisines! You can really take your taste buds on an adventure sampling the food here. Some of the dishes include Thai noodle salad, a Mediterranean meatloaf sandwich, Asian pulled pork sliders, and an Indian madras wrap.
And speaking of wrap, that’s a wrap for us now! Here’s to trying something new everyday. Cheers!
I am assisting in planning the Curtis Park Wine Tasting & Beer Garden and Silent Auction 2018, set for October 6th this year, and here’s a little on why this event means so much to me. Here’s a throwback post from September of 2012!
Hope you will join us as a restaurant participant, winery participant, or as a guest of the event. We will have some fun new details very soon to come and I will update you here when tickets are available for this year’s event! Cheers. 🙂
Just to let you all know, this event is kind of major for me. 😉 Last year at the tasting, I met the love of my life! 🙂
Now, I didn’t go WITH my love to the 2011 event, I actually MET him there. Like, he just so happened to be there! How weird is that nowadays? Until then, I had been meeting people via an internet dating website and not having much luck at all. Then all of a sudden, somehow, someway this guy (with all these things in common as me) happened to be single and in the right place at the right time…I am still sort of shocked at my luck!
I had two tickets to…
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