Sasha has joined Columbia Hospitality after more than 20 years delivering unprecedented levels of excellence at iconic Pacific Northwest brands - Starbucks Coffee Company and Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. Now her expertise in all things food, wine and travel will mean exceptional experiences for our guests. Sasha will be sharing insider tips and unusual finds with all of our Columbia Hospitality travelers.
Sasha attended the University of Washington and has called the Northwest home for more than 25 years. She lives in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle with her husband and daughter, and loves champagne, salted caramels and a great handbag.
It's Something About a Full Moon
There are a plethora of myths and folklores around the moon when it's at its fullest, approximately every 29.5 days. Full moons are believed to be a source of inspiration for the lucky, have meaningful life significance for some, and often the cause of unexplained behavior amongst many. Others even believe that full moons are responsible for insomnia.
Across the globe, festivals are planned around full moons such as the Full Moon Party in Kho Phagan, Thailand (fullmoonparty-thailand.com). The full moon referred to as the "Blue Moon" had a song written about it that was sung by such music icons as Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan; not to mention a Belgian white beer that is awesome with a slice of orange.
The term, "honeymoon" was coined in reference to the increase of weddings that took place in June which happens to be an ideal time between the planting and harvesting of crops. Surprisingly, full moons are not actually round but rather egg-shaped. Every month my dad calls and howls at the moon with my daughter over the phone, an awesome tradition. And remarkably, the Earth's tides are directly impacted by the moon with the most intense tides occurring during full moons. So cool!
This year the full moon will give you a great reason to venture out to Salish Lodge & Spa. Beginning in July and running through October, Salish will host a Full Moon Dinner alongside the incredible Snoqualmie Falls as a way to celebrate the newly launched Chef's Studio, an intimate and hands-on dining experience that you are certain to not want to miss.
To the moon and back,
When Life Gives You Cherries
When life gives you cherries you make cherry pie; Cherry Pie and a Damn Fine Cup of Coffee for that matter. Well at least you do if you are a fan of the TV show "Twin Peaks" created by Mark Frost and David Lynch which was first broadcast in April 1990. Current word on the street is that nine new episodes are set to begin filming this upcoming summer after a 25-year absence, and that perhaps Salish Lodge & Spa will make an appearance playing the role of the Great Northern Hotel, which served as a prominent location in the cult classic.
Regardless of the new episodes, it is certainly worth planning an overnight to Salish to take full advantage of their Great Northern Escape package, the ultimate Twin Peaks adventure. The experience includes an overnight stay, a map of the show's hot spots, two Dale Cooper cocktails, Cherry Pie & Damn Fine Cup of Coffee for two, and an Amazon gift card that allows you to stream season one when you are ready to settle in for a series refresher.
And just in case you can't get enough Twin Peaks , Salish's gift shop, The Country Store, is carrying a great selection of Twin Peaks goodies such as coffee mugs, wooden ornaments, magnets, glass owls, t-shirts and jars of Salish's own cherry pie filling. Each jar is the perfect amount for one mouthwatering pie and even includes their recipe for pie crust; $14.95.
If you are anything like me all of this talk of Twin Peaks makes you thirsty, so feel free to join me in mixing up a few Dale Cooper's at home while you make your plans to head out to Salish.
The Dale Cooper Cocktail Recipe (1 serving)
2 slices of lemon
1.5 oz. of Batch 206 Gin
Splash of Salish Honey Cardamom Infusion*
Splash of simple syrup
Salish Lodge & Spa Dry Honey Cider
Muddle the lemons and gin. Add honey and syrup and shake well. Strain into rocks glass, on the rocks. Top with Salish Lodge & Spa Dry Honey Cider. Enjoy!
*Salish Honey Cardamom Infusion Recipe
1/4 cup Salish Lodge & Spa Honey
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. whole cloves
2 tsp. whole cardamom pods slightly crushed
Heat all ingredients over medium until mixture reduces by approximately half; strain out cloves and pods. Let cool. Store in refrigerator for up to two weeks.
For the Love of Chocolate
No matter if you consider yourself a purist and will only eat pure dark chocolate or if your preference is white chocolate filled with a raspberry cream, chocolate seems to go hand in hand with all things love much like Mickey & Minnie, Rhett & Scarlett or Kayne & Kim.
With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, I made up my mind that I wanted to come up with a unique (and fun) idea for a date with my special someone. That led me to two really cool chocolate tasting tours – one in my home town of San Francisco and the other in my current backyard of Seattle.
Gourmet Walks and Kenwood Inn and Spa:
Launched in 2005 with a focus on exposing tour participants to what makes up fine chocolate while introducing them to some of the latest trends in artisan chocolate, Gourmet Walks is a tour that you won't want to miss. And if the chocolate was not decadent enough, make sure to follow your tour with a reservation at the incredible Kenwood Inn and Spa where you will be surrounded by pure decadence – think fluffy robes, a roaring fire, soaking pools, massage, lots of wine and their mouthwatering house-made KIS Dark Chocolate Port Truffles (recipe below).
Recipe: Dark Chocolate Port Truffle
4 ounces 72% Chocolate
2.5 ounces Heavy Cream
1/2 cup Port
4 ounces Dark Chocolate (for dipping)
- Reduce 1/2 cup of port to two tablespoons.
- Melt chocolate with cream.
- Combine with reduced port and remaining port.
- Once combined put into refrigerator until set.
- Scope with melon baller and roll into a nice ball.
- Dip in melted chocolate using a toothpick and roll in coco powder
- Store in air tight container for up to three weeks.
Savor Seattle and Salish Lodge & Spa:
In Seattle, visit the fine folks at Savor Seattle where you will have the pleasure of trying more than 15 different types of chocolate, learning about Seattle's more than 50 chocolatiers and also discover which Seattle chocolate is President Obama's favorite. This tour would not be complete without an overnight at the stunningly beautiful Salish Lodge & Spa where you can sit and listen to the roar of the majestic waterfall from the comfort of your own room, take advantage of a few new romance tips provided by Salish's own Romance Concierge, enjoy an in-room bath butler (one of my personal favs) and with a bottle of Salish Lodge & Spa Brut Rosé paired with their signature Salish Honey Truffles. Hello!
Until next time,
New Year's Resolutions
It has been said that resolutions have been an essential part of ringing in the new year since 2000 BC when Babylonians marked the start of the year by paying off debts and returning things they had borrowed. Move through time and in 1907, the five-foot iron globe adorned with 216 electric lamps was revealed for the first time in Times Square. Now, in 2015, the 1,200 pound sphere engulfed in Waterford® is a sight to be seen and one that often is accompanied by famous individuals like Justin Dick Clark and Lady Gaga.
According to Wikipedia, the act of making a resolution is such that, "a person makes a promise to do an act of self-improvement or something slightly nice, such as opening doors for people beginning on New Year's Day". Today some of the most popular resolutions are:
- Improve one's physical well-being
- Be more positive
- Save money
- Get a better job
- Make new friend
- Try exotic foods
And my personal favorite:
- Travel to new places
Many studies have been done that indicate that a significant number of people who make resolutions give up within the first 60 days of setting them. It has also been identified that those who achieve their goals have two things in common:
- They write their goals down
- They tell other people about their goals
So, I am going to take this opportunity to write down my resolution and share it with all of you. This year I will:
- Continue with my golf lessons such that my game warrants a full round of 18.
- Take this new skill and not only travel to California to rediscover my old neighborhoods of the East Bay of Northern California but I will also play a round of golf with my husband at Ruby Hill Golf Club.
What do you say? Will I uphold these resolutions? I sure hope so!
Happy New Year,
Cookie Decorating "Big Kid" Style
A close group of friends and I are always brainstorming fun and unique ideas for get-togethers. In fact, we are often enjoying one of these events when we begin planning for our next. Please tell me that we are not the only ones that do this? This year I suggested we meet at my place on a late Sunday morning for a few hours of serious cookie decorating "big kid" style. Naturally, our party could not be confused with those that we participated in years ago – oh no! Here’s how I suggest setting the stage to create an experience that is sure to become an annual tradition.
Two Weeks Prior to the Party
- Time to shop for all of your cookie decorating and packaging supplies. I suggest either ordering online (Joanne’s Fabrics or Karen’s Cookies) or visit Sur La Table in Seattle’s Pike Place Market where you can pick up your supplies as well as some great wine and assorted appetizers to serve at this cookie extravaganza. Oh, and don’t forget some festive take-home packing too! Packaging Specialties is my "go to" shop for everything paper. They also teach amazing classes about gift wrapping such as their Incredible Edibles class where you will learn creative ways to package up all of your home baked goodies.
- Pull out your favorite family recipes and add your needed ingredients to the shopping list. Speaking of recipes, one of my favorite recipes was given to me by the pastry chef at Salish Lodge & Spa. Chef Lynn makes a special Spiced Honey Almond Cookie every year for the Salish Holiday Afternoon Tea that I think about all year long. This cookie is the perfect combination of spices and honey from the bee hives at Salish Lodge – you will not be disappointed (see recipe below)!
- Next, get as many of your cookie dough recipes made ahead of time, store in plastic wrap and freeze. Makes the day of the event just that much easier. Fewer cleanups are always a winner in my book.
- Take inventory of your rolling pins, spatulas, cookie sheets, cooling racks, etc. Ask guests to bring along with them if you find yourself a bit short. Remind them to bring an apron too.
One or Two Days Prior
- Remove one of your cookie dough rolls from the freezer and let thaw. Prepare a few dozen cookies to have available upon guest’s arrival. Seal in a heavy duty plastic bag or reusable plastic container until needed.
- Put any white wines or Champagne that you plan on serving in the refrigerator. My go to wines for this type of gathering would be either a few bottles of Pierre-Marie Chermette Chardonnay Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc or Savage Grace Wines Chardonnay Celilo.
Day of the Party
- About an hour before guests arrive, set out your appetizers. Don’t forget cocktail napkins, small plates, serving utensils, a bottle opener and your wine glasses and/or Champagne flutes and, of course, some fabulous holiday music.
- Set a large decorating work space for your guests with the following items positioned in the middle within arm’s reach for all to use:
- Cookies that you baked in advance.
- Royal icing in festive colors.
- Icing bags and assorted size tips.
- Various toppings such as colored sprinkles, sugar, chocolate chips, red hots, flaked coconut, and my new found favorite edible gold dust made in Italy which I picked up when I was out shopping at Pike Place Market (similar to this one offered at Sur la Table).
- Small decorating knives and spatulas.
- Large plates to place completed decorated cookies – a tiered stand would work perfectly if you’ve got it.
- In the kitchen, create an area that will allow guests to either prep cookie sheets with cookie balls or if needed, cookies that require rolling and cutting. In this area you should plan on having the following available:
- Pre-made cookie dough at room temperature.
- A few rolling pins.
- A small ice cream scooper.
- Six to eight cookie sheets.
- Parchment paper or silicone baking sheets.
- Cookie cutters of varying shapes and sizes.
- A few spatulas.
- Plenty of cooling racks.
- Gather all your packaging supplies so that once all of your guests have completed decorating cookies you will be prepared to transition from baking and decorating to packaging very easily.
- After guests have settled in, take a moment to give a “tour” of each of the work stations and suggest that the group divide themselves up so that some of them get started on decorating and others can start baking. Once a batch or two of cookies are complete, the groups can flip.
- Once all of the cookies have been baked, and decorating is complete, clear away these two areas and get everyone set to package up their goodies. Voila! Gift giving made easy (and so much fun).
This holiday season, may you enjoy the simple things surrounded by friends and family…and one too many cookies.
Recipe: Salish Honey and Almond Cookie
1 cup Butter
1 cup Sugar
4 teaspoons Salish Honey
1 teaspoon Almond Extract
3 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ginger
1/4 teaspoon Cloves
Pinch of Cardamom
1. Combine butter and sugar in mixer with paddle on low.
2. Add in eggs, honey and almond extract gradually.
3. Scrape bowl.
4. Add in all dry ingredients and mix until combined.
5. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick and refrigerate.
6. Cut with cookie cutter once dough sets up; approximately one hour.
7. Bake at 300°F for approximately seven minutes until golden brown.
The Flavors of Fall
Photo: Mind Castle Studios
As a self-proclaimed foodie, fall may be my favorite season to focus on the incredible bounty of flavors found in my very own “backyard”. The farmers markets around town are just overflowing with peppers, squash, mushrooms and apples that have me reeling with ideas and excitedly planning an evening with friends, a few bottles of wine and sitting around the table for hours savoring every last bite of what has been prepared.
Fall is also prime time to get out and visit the farms that grow these amazing crops and indulge in the many farm to table dinners that are going on around the region. One series that recently caught my attention is the San Juan Island Farm Dinners at Friday Harbor House. Chef Aaron Rock and his team feature many of the farms found on the island which allows guests the opportunity to have a very unique connection with not only Friday Harbor House but also to this spectacular island itself.
The evening that I attended Chef Rock served a heartwarming potato bisque topped with Madrona dusted popcorn that I was fortunate enough to get the recipe for and gladly share here with you.
Chef Rock’s Potato Bisque
Yields four quarts
2lb Yukon Gold Potatoes (peeled and cut in to quarters)
1 Fennel Bulb (thinly sliced)
3 Celery Sprigs (roughly chopped)
1 Yellow Onion (thinly sliced)
3 teaspoons Olive Oil
½ cup White Wine Vinegar
5 Sprigs of Thyme
1 quart Rice Milk
3 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoons Ground White Pepper
Vegetable stock to cover
In a deep pot, heat olive oil over medium. Add celery, onion, thyme and fennel to pot and cook on medium until vegetables are soft but not brown. Nextadd vinegar and cook until almost gone, then add potatoes, salt, pepper, rice milk, and vegetable stock to cover by about 3 inches. Simmer until all vegetables are soft, about an hour. When done strain off excess liquid. Use an emersion blender to puree all ingredients until the soup is smooth, or working in batches, fill a blender approximately 3/4 full with vegetables, adding enough liquid to cover and blend until smooth adding more liquid as needed to achieve desired consistency and repeat until done.
Now call up a few friends, grab your soup spoons and enjoy an evening full of delicious food, laughter and fun.
Until next time,
Washington Apples and Pears, Oh My!
The days have certainly become shorter. I hope you will join me in the saying that, "I’m not ready". I am not ready for bulky sweaters and boots or baking my first loaf of chocolate chip pumpkin bread. On the other hand, I am excited to think about the fact that it is Cider Month here in the great Pacific Northwest and it is Honey Month across the nation. Yum!!!
For most of us the word cider conjures up days of going with our elementary class to a local farm and pressing apples only to create enough "juice" for a little paper cup's worth before it was time to saddle back up onto the school bus to make the last recess. But in many parts of the world, cider refers to an "over 21" beverage that is enjoyed on its own or turned into a fantastic cocktail such as this one that is featured at Salish Lodge & Spa this month:
Washington Apples and Pears, Oh My!
- In a shaker combine:
- 1.25oz Grey Goose® La Poire Flavored Vodka
- .75oz Lillet Blanc
- 2 squeezed lemon wedges
- .5oz of simple syrup
- Shake and strain over ice in a collins glass
- Add 4oz sparkling hard apple cider
- Garnish with a lemon twist
I am also excited to tell you about a super delicious new cider that will be launched in September by none other than Salish Lodge & Spa - it's first ever Dry Honey Cider using honey from the hives that make up Salish Lodge's apiary. This cider is handcrafted in collaboration with the winemakers of Treveri Cellars in the methode champenoise style from Washington State clone apples (think Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Red Delicious) rather than cider apples. A perfect marriage of cider + honey!!! Don’t delay, book a date and meet me in The Attic for Happy Hour to taste this fresh off the press goodness.
Girls Road Trip Weekend
Hooray! Spring has finally sprung in Seattle, and none too soon if you ask me. And with that, I began planning a girls road trip weekend – somewhere warmer than Seattle proper but easily accessible by car. After several email exchanges between us girls, we all agreed to point “Belle”, my adored electric blue MINI Cooper, in the direction of the incredible Cave B Estate Winery & Resort in Quincy, Washington.
In preparation for the trip we had all agreed to accomplish three things:
- Prepare a music playlist of our favorite (read: essential) road trip songs. Without question my list included such hits as, “We Belong” by Pat Benatar, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain, just to name a few.
- Make a few pit stops along the way so as to break up the trip into mini adventures within the adventure. Here is where we landed:
- Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg, Washington where we enjoyed a small taste or two, grabbed a few 22 oz. bottles of Double Rainbow for Father’s Day gifts and pushed on.
- Next stop was the Wenatchee Farmers Market in Wenatchee, Washington. Here we had decided we would pick up a few snacks to keep in our room (a girl can never be too prepared you know!), enjoy a little lunch and perhaps find a few additional gifts.
What we discovered were some incredible sheep’s milk cheeses produced by Alpine Lakes, perfectly ripened fruits from Feil Orchard – a family run business for more than 100 years, and a freshly baked loaf of bread from Scott and Ruth Parsons. We ate a simple but delectable lunch of tacos and tamales made by Ariana Bakery followed by freshly roasted iced coffee by J5 Coffee. Deliciousness surrounded us!
Not to be forgotten were the jars of candied jalapenos made by Kelly’s Kitch’n to accompany the gifts of brew, and a few beautiful angel wing necklaces crafted by Balsamroot Ranch Jewelry to gift our amazing mothers on Mother’s Day. We were now ready to hit the road.
- Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg, Washington where we enjoyed a small taste or two, grabbed a few 22 oz. bottles of Double Rainbow for Father’s Day gifts and pushed on.
- And to maximize our stay at Cave B. We had all heard about this beautiful resort but none of us had ever had the pleasure of staying. We were all so excited! Our stay was downright terrific. Our two-bedroom Cliffehouse was incredible – stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge, great amenities, and plenty of room for us just to hang out and catch up.
After our long and strenuous drive (hah), we figured that taking advantage of The Spa was well deserved. I booked the Signature Cave B Wine Facial which was just what I needed to take away that last bit of winter that was still hanging on. The girls each took advantage of the great selection of massages and were equally as impressed.
Dinner was planned for 7:30pm at the onsite restaurant, Tendrils. The menu had a genuine focus on seasonally local food – always a welcome treat. We enjoyed several mouth-watering dishes but a few of the highlights were the Brussels Sprouts with Aged Port, Organic Chicken Saltimbocca with Wild Mushrooms and New Potatoes and the incredible Chocolate Lava Cake that is not to be missed.
The return to our room was an adventure in and of itself. The warmth of the night coupled with the endless amount of stars was nothing short of awesome-we definitely took the long path home.
Sunday had us up early’ish for a great hike to work off the snacks and dinner from the day before, not to mention the anticipation for the morning’s brunch we had planned. The resort provided a detailed hiking map which we all agreed was an awesome touch. Three hours later we were back unscathed and thirsty for a round of mimosas and a mouthwatering plate of Brioche French Toast. Following brunch, we headed over to the winery where we were greeted with a tasting of estate grown wines – the Cab Franc was the all-around favorite. This wine is perfectly balanced between fruit and earthiness-think blueberries and cranberries meet leather and cedar. Our tasting room host recommended the wine to be served along with first- of- the- season salmon and an arugula pesto. Yum!
It was about this time that we decided that we should start gearing up to head back west. We were all thrilled that we had accomplished what we had set out to do with our getaway and are already planning our next road trip.
Cooking with Love
Oh February, the month of all things romance, reminds me of how my life with my valentine began over food and the simple pleasure of preparing it together. Two independently planned trips to Europe resulted in our meeting up in the amazing country of Italy and falling in love with each other as well as the food that we discovered and shared. This ultimately led to our getting married and building a home filled with cookbooks, bottles of wine and hungry friends.
One of our favorite cookbooks is called, "Caprial and John’s Kitchen-Recipes for Cooking Together" by Caprial and John Pence. The chefs wrote this book to, "share our philosophy of celebrating at the table and spending time together creating in the kitchen." The hubs and I are both totally Type-A personalities so this book most certainly helps us to each have our "place" in the kitchen as the menus and recipes are divided between Cook One and Cook Two - perfect! One of our "go to" menus is the Pan-Fried Oysters with Spicy Pepper Relish, followed by Honey-Glazed Grilled Duck, Couscous with Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes and Grilled Zucchini with Sweet Soy Sauce followed by Chocolate Fondue. Add a bottle of your favorite red wine and this meal is simply divine. Not to mention aphrodisiac central!
Also high on our Valentine's Day celebrating list was a trip to the wine country in Sonoma County, California. Nothing says romance more than a weekend away at Kenwood Inn and Spa in Kenwood, California. Executive Chef Steven Snook heads up to kitchen in this intimate restaurant with tables for two in front of fireplaces and an always offered La Cena Con Amore menu specifically made for sharing with your partner. Here’s the amazing menu he’s offering up this Valentine’s Day. Last time we were there Chef Snook taught us how to make the most incredible pasta dish that I often find myself dreaming about and am happy to share the recipe.
No matter what you choose to do, whether it is "chefing" it up yourselves, or packing your bags and heading to the airport, may you enjoy the time rediscovering why you are together and what having a valentine is all about.
Homemade Linguini Pasta with Dungeness Crab and Roma Tomatoes
4 1/2 cups (550 grams) All-Purpose Flour
4 Whole Eggs
6 Egg Yolks
Pinch of Salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Mix the eggs and oil together and set aside, place the flour and salt in a mixer and mix, slowly add the egg mixture while spinning until the mixture is the texture of wet sand, turn out onto a hard surface and squeeze into a ball and kneed for 3 minutes until smooth all over.
Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes. Now using a pasta machine roll out dough to a nice thin linguini and set aside. If a pasta machine is not available, use a rolling pin to roll out dough until very thin and cut into ribbons by hand.
1/2 pound (250 grams) Freshly Picked Dungeness Crab
6 Roma Tomatoes
1/2 Bunch of Cilantro
4 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 cups (100 grams) Butter
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Seasoning to Taste
Cut your tomatoes into quarters, remove the seeds, cut into small diamonds and set into a pan with a little oil and half of the butter, soften the tomato and add the crab, thinly sliced scallions, and season to taste.
Drop your pasta into a pan of boiling water and cook for 2 minutes (it won't take long because it is fresh pasta) bring your crab and tomato sauce back up to temperature and drop in the remaining butter. Add your pasta and toss until all the pasta is coated.
Present the pasta in a large bowl to share and finish with a little more extra virgin olive oil and your coarsely chopped cilantro.
It is hard to believe that we are rapidly approaching the holiday season... Where has this year gone? As I sit and think about the months to come, I am excited by the thoughts of all of the welcomed traditions that have become such an important part of my life, and those I surround myself with like:
- Thanksgiving morning bubbles + pastries with dear friends
- Gathering with my parents and longtime friends who have become family, to give thanks and share lots of laughs over a slice of homemade pie and a game or two
- Chinese food, more bubbles, and the movie, "Young Frankenstein" on Christmas Eve
- Early morning Christmas pictures of all of us walking down the stairs with our bedheads and holiday themed PJs. My mom says we will never be too old for this... Really???
- Sitting around the tree for hours as we take turns "opening" our stockings and creating mounds of ribbon and paper while sipping on coffee and listening to Barbra Streisand's 1967 release of "A Christmas Album"
What traditions come to mind for you? Kind of fun to stop and think about the memories you and yours share now isn't it?
And because it is the season of giving, I thought I would share a fantastic "sip" that my friends at Glass Distillery came up with just in time for all of the festivities - The Holiday Halo. This cocktail is certain to cause quite the buzz (pun intended) as it combines two of my favorite things: Salish Lodge & Spa Honey Flavored Vodka and Salish Lodge & Spa Brut. Here's the recipe:
- 2 oz. Salish Lodge & Spa Brut
- 1/2 oz. Salish Honey Flavored Vodka
- Splash of Chambord (for color)
- Sugar for rim of glass
Shake vodka over ice, pour in sugar-rimmed flute, top with Brut, finish with a splash of Chambord and float a mint sprig on top. Delicious!
Wishing you much happiness and health this season, and in case you couldn't tell, perhaps a glass of bubbles - or two!
*Photo courtesy of Kip Beelman Photography 2013
How to Host a NW Wine Tasting With a Twist
If you've wanted to host a gathering, but simply can't fathom the thought of putting together a multi-course menu, a fantastic solution just might be a simple wine tasting with a bit of a twist.
Important to remember is to keep things informal, don't get too overly ambitious. Start with a simple email sent out to 6-8 guests, I have found that Thursday nights around 6:30 PM work great for most. Dependent upon your style, you can either ask that each guest bring a bottle (or two) of wine to share with the group, or you can simply arrange yourself. If you have a chance, stop by Pike and Western Wine Shop as they have some fantastic finds, not only from Washington and Oregon, but also from around the globe.
For this type of experience, I like to have 3-4 whites and an equal number of reds. If you happen to have any left at the end of the party you can always cork the bottles and send them home as "party favors." Right now I am a big fan of the following:
- Sparkman Cellars 2012 Pearl Sauvignon Blanc
- HKG 2012 Pinot Grigio
- Argyle NV Brut
- DeLille Cellars 2012 Chaleur Estate Blanc
- Dunham Cellars 2010 Trutina
- HKG 2011 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
- McCrea 2008 Syrah Boushey Grande Cote Vineyard
- Domanico Cellars 2008 Le Monstre
In terms of food, I would suggest that you focus on some key seasonal ingredients — your goal will be to assemble just the right components that allow you to introduce what are considered "bridge components" in a fun/more unique way to learn about wine. And just in case you are not sure what bridge components are, they are those ingredients that help to connect the food with the wine, hence the creation of the "perfect pairing."
As we move into fall I suggest things like:
- Fresh figs with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt and extra virgin olive oil
- Grilled plums
- Pears with roasted almonds or hazelnuts
- Smoked Morel mushrooms (like the ones on the menu at Salish Lodge & Spa right now-incredible! Visit www.salishlodge.com and check out their dinner menu for more information)
- Charcuterie platter-check out the great selection at Tom Douglas's new grocery
- Heirloom beets
- Honeycrisp Apples
- Granola made by Seattle-based company Marge
- Locally harvested Mediterranean mussels. Taylor Shellfish along Chuckanut Drive is an awesome source or perhaps surprise someone by booking a weekend at Friday Harbor House to enjoy these and many other incredible dishes
- And it goes without saying, a tasty selection of local artisanal cheeses
And as the picture reflects, I also am a fan of creating one big platter of all of the food and putting all of the wines out at once and encouraging your guests to pour and explore - allow folks to come up with their perfect pairings! If you want to be an overachiever, you can create wine tasting notebooks (the web has several options of downloadable templates) or you can simply take my suggestion and just encourage group conversation - so much more fun in my opinion!
Setting the table should be pretty basic. At each place setting have a small plate, a cloth napkin, two wine glasses, a water glass, a dump bucket and a pen/pencil if you are providing notebooks. That's it! Now have some fun.
*Photos courtesy of Kip Beelman Photography 2013
The Perfect Summer Picnic
When the days become longer and the temperatures climb, all I want to do is pack a picnic and get outside. Living in Seattle, where we are always surrounded by incredible farmer's markets, I am able to buy the freshest ingredients I can find while keeping things easy for on-the-go dining. Here are my three key ingredients to a successful summer picnic:
- A picnic blanket
- Salt and pepper shakers
- Paper napkins
- Biodegradable forks, knives, spoons (both for serving and for eating) and plates
- Plastic wine glasses
- Thermos® (to fill with warm water so that you have something to rinse your hands off post picnic)
- Mini-speakers that plug into your iPhone for great picnic tunes
- And perhaps most important, my 2013 Summer Picnic Playlist that includes some new tunes by The Maldives, Shelby Earl, Star Anna and Kris Orlowski. Getting ready for Music on The Green at Salish Lodge & Spa of course.
I have found that there are three types of picnics: the everyday picnic that works for all occasions; the gourmet picnic that your friends will think you hired a caterer to make; and the ready-made option perfect when you don't have the time (or desire) to make your own. You decide which is right for your picnic plans!
Everyday Picnic Menu
- Chilled bottle of 2011 Terra Blanca "Arch Terrace" Rose
- Macaroni Salad with Cured Ham and Green Peas
- Yukon Gold Potato Salad with Smoked Bacon
- Grilled Corn with Chili Mayonnaise
- Rosemary-Brined Fried Chicken (Take the time to make this — you will not regret it!)
- Mixed Berry Shortcake with Vanilla Whipped Cream
Picnic Gourmet Menu
- Chilled bottle of Treveri Cellars Brut
- Olive Oil Marinated Albacore Tuna Salad with River Rock Creamery Feta and Ligurian Olives with Fresh Seasonal Greens
- Heirloom Tomato and Fried Cheese Curd Sandwich on a rustic baguette with a side of Tilden Farms Pickled Beans
- Grilled Peaches with Smoked Ham Shank and Goat Cheese
- Cherry Clafouti (Yakima cherries make this dessert a true show stopper)
Grab your picnic essentials kit and pop into Picnic for a complete meal to go. This Seattle food and wine boutique offers all your picnic needs, including cheese, charcuterie, salads packed with locally grown veggies, fruits at the peak of the season and more. The best part: enjoy a glass of wine while you wait.
- Ebey's Landing Historical Reserve (Coupeville, WA)
- Olympic Sculpture Park (Seattle, WA)
- Lincoln Park (West Seattle, WA)
- Bellevue Botanical Garden (Bellevue, WA)
- Luther Burbank Park (Mercer Island, WA)
- And for something completely different, rent a boat from Seattle Electric Boat Company on Lake Union and take a spin around the water amidst sea planes, kayaks and houseboats.
Cheers to summer,
Getting Spring Ready
I don't know about you but "springing forward" has delivered those much anticipated longer days and reignited my desire to get out and explore a bit. Not having much time for an extended trip, I have found myself looking for closer getaways; places I can easily get to after work on Friday. Here are a few enticing ideas I stumbled upon:
For a trip just 30 minutes away from Seattle, head east to the quaint town of Snoqualmie and plan on spending the weekend checking out the area (and Salish Lodge & Spa's Rainy Day Retreat package offers a one-night stay, bottle of wine and $50 dining credit starting at $219 per night. It's a great deal!).
Explore a cheese making class at local favorite River Valley Cheese. Spring is my favorite time of year to visit this creamery as spring goat's milk makes the best cheese — and River Valley Cheese has a ton. Right now, if I had to pick one, it would be the Goat Cheese with Fig and Almond.
Sip your way through nearby Woodinville Wine Country and experience a taste of Washington's finest, including my two favorites tasting rooms conveniently located within walking distance of each other:
- Family owned and operated JM Cellars where you must grab a bottle of their 2011 Bramble Bump White which was recognized by Wine Enthusiast Magazine as "Editor's Choice." A perfect match with the "Valley Girl" grilled cheese sandwich that you are certain to make after you visit Julie at River Valley Cheese.
- Then head over to Mark Ryan Winery (2011 Winemaker of the Year) where you won't be disappointed with a bottle of his 2011 Viognier that is certain to deliver notes of orange blossom, Meyer Lemon, subtle banana and buttered bread. A must have with Dungeness Crab!
And if you can find a little extra time don't forget San Juan Island, just named as top island in the United States by TripAdvisor's Traveler's Choice Top 10 Islands Awards and christened as a national monument by President Obama! Grab a ferry in Anacortes and head to Friday Harbor House. Stay in April and your ferry fee is discounted from your room rate! Details:
Arrive to graciously appointed Friday Harbor House after smartly booking the Ferry for Free package!
Set sail with Schooner's North to delight in the whales returning to the San Juans and be sure to stop by Market Chef for a picnic basket full of locally made favorites for the voyage. I can't say enough about their White Prawn Tacos with chili lime slaw, tomato orange salsa and house "special sauce" with a bottle of Mountain Dome Sparkling Wine and the to die for Key Lime Cookies.
Unwind with a luminous "C" and Sea Facial at Spa d'Bune which combines a proverbial blend of refreshing Vitamin C with repairing freeze dried seaweed. A perfect treatment to get your skin summer-ready.
Top the weekend off with a fabulous breakfast at Friday Harbor House especially their signature house made granola — so delicious you'll need the recipe so you can recreate the experience at home.