Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Napa Valley Road Trip ~

There's something special about the Napa Valley besides the's the smell of the air, the earth, and the beauty that is present everywhere you look, which makes it a fabulous place to visit any time of the year.

One of my dearest friends from the Basque Country, Nere, was visiting here for a month and had never been to Napa, so recently we decided to jump in the car and make a day of it! Mind you, the predicted forecast for that day was in the high 80's, however, by mid-day it reached 107 degrees in St. Helena! We were sweltering and needed something cold to drink, of course, but first we stopped at the delightful and newer Historic Napa Mill and Napa River Inn - Napa's only Michelin starred luxury hotel. There some terrific history to this site in downtown Napa and it's all chronicled on their website.

There are four lovely restaurants in the Mill to choose from, so we decided on something more casual and "safe" for me, the Celiac, and dined at the The Napa General Store's cafe. The store is darling, filled with eclectic and Napa Valley-based products, and the cafe offers indoor or beautiful outdoor patio seating - but it was already 100 degrees at lunch time, so we opted for a table near the bar in the air-conditioned dining room.

The day we ate lunch there, one of the specials was Gazpacho soup, which I adore! After careful discussion with our waiter, I was assured that the soup was 100% gluten-free, and it was. Muy delicioso! In addition, I ordered the Greek Salad served with plain grilled chicken and all the traditional ingredients (romaine hearts, feta cheese, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, Red onion), sans the garlic flat bread, and did very well. The waiter brought me a freshly mixed side of balsamic vinegar and oil and was very careful to ensure that my meal was completely safe and delicious - so I enjoyed.

As we made our way north on Hwy. 29 towards St. Helena, we decided to only taste at wineries that I had never visited before, and given this was my friend's first time in the Valley, we had quite a few wineries to choose from. Our first stop was the glamorous Opus One - just for a photo op. A single tasting is $30, so we decided to go elsewhere for a little more "bang for our buck" to speak. It's worth the visit though, and the architecture of the main building is quite something to see. I have drunk Opus One before, and it's a lovely Mondavi & Rothschild joint creation.

Next stop - Peju Province Winery for a tasting and to enjoy the beautiful grounds and Rutherford Estate Wine Tasting Room.

We tasted five of their most popular wines and then decided to purchase their Provence California Red & White Blend Table Wine which is served chilled and I have to say, has gone very well with spicier, BBQ'd dinners - I've really enjoyed this bottle.

Our next stop on the drinking tour...haha, was at V. Sattui Winery. Little did we know that the rest of the free world had also decided it would be a great place to pick up some lunch, do a little tasting at the massive bar, and sit outside for a picnic! The family-owned winery was established in 1885 and is quite an impressive stop on the tour. The grounds are well-designed and beautiful, and Nere and I thoroughly enjoyed the lively "bar" atmosphere and the "$5 for 5 wines" tasting. As we sipped our vino and enjoyed the people-watching, we discussed how the atmosphere was similar in a way to that of bar-hopping in San Sebastian, Spain and all the fun that goes along with "El Tapeo", or meandering from bar to bar in search of amazing Tapas(Pintxos).

V. Sattui also has an authentic, old-world style deli and it's loaded with goodies that any Celiac would enjoy; beautiful Italian and Spanish cheeses, fresh-cut salami, ham, turkey, you name it, along with some delicious and safe salads and plenty of chocolate that would pair so nicely with that bottle of wine. It's quite possible to simply bring your own gluten-free crackers and create a delicious meal to enjoy on the grounds of V. Sattui, without any worries about what you are eating.

Our next stop was to the quaint and posh town of St. Helena. I have some dear family friends who live there, growing and bottling their own grapes at Shibumi Knoll, as well as owning one of the most spectacular 360 degree views of the Valley - see for yourself.

The view and their wine are so spectacular that I had to take my friend by the Knoll for a visit where she fell in love with the views and the essence of Shibumi Knoll. I'm a bit biased, but I can tell you that their Chardonnay is simply fantastic and one-of-a-kind, with so much passion and heart put into every bottle.

As the evening was creeping up on us, we made one last stop at the famous Mondavi Winery. We missed the tasting by 30 minutes, but were able to tour the grounds and give my friend a little history about one of the most famous California wine makers. Honestly, I just love their location and how the Spanish-style architecture fits in so well with its surroundings.

Our final-final stop was at Dean & Deluca to pick up a few snacks for the road, and don't we just love that store! There are a lot of gluten-free items for sale and though we can't partake in the beautiful bakery selections, there is yummy Gelato that will do the trick when a sweet-tooth ensues.

By the way, October is a spectacular time to visit the Napa Valley and partake in not only the harvest, but the gorgeous fall colors that are appearing on a daily basis.

Viva la Vida ~

Monday, September 21, 2009

Changing Leaves ~

Fall officially arrives tomorrow and honestly, I cannot comprehend where this year has sped off to. I'm happy to enter into fall, though not sure I'm ready, as I'm thoroughly enjoying these Indian Summer days and evenings.

With change always comes the reevaluating of self, surroundings and information that we depend upon - change is inevitable...but that's really a good thing.

There have been several global Celiac news stories that have popped up this week; two that are a bit daunting (if you ask me), and another that's interesting. I've included the links for your review. I suppose the benefit of these stories is not intended to frighten anyone, rather adversely, to motivate and push harder for faster diagnosis time and further research.

Celiac disease poses slight death risk
Zikkir World (blog)
OREBRO, Sweden — Patients with lesser degrees of celiac disease symptoms, such as intestinal inflammation, have a modestly increased risk of death, ...

Tips for avoiding high risk of pancreatic cancer
Among the top five leading cancers in the US, people suffering from diabetes, gall bladder disease, celiac disease and liver damage are particularly ...

Maltese researchers find new celiac disease gene
Times of Malta
Maltese researchers have identified a new gene that contributes to celiac disease, a gluten intolerance that affects an estimated 600 Maltese. ...

I would be interested to know what my readers think of these articles - if there are others to be brought to light, please send them my way.

Increase awareness - that's all of our job!

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Salad for Every Language ~

While visiting the gorgeous city of Geneva, Switzerland en-route to Crans-Montana located in the Alps, I was lucky enough to have dined on this gorgeous French salad (above) that was quintessentially, well...French. It was a Salade Ni├žoise, that also included two lightly fried eggs perched atop the towering greens, and were the perfect companions for the freshly sliced ham, real Swiss cheese and fresh tomatoes. And the way they drizzled just the perfect amount of oil and vinegar on the salad almost seems like an art because it NEVER tastes the same to me, once back in the States...Thousand Island dressing, Ranch...PLEASE! All you need to be happy and satisfied is oil and vinegar, and we'll allow a pinch of Sel de Mer, if you please.

What I admire most as a Celiac, when eating overseas, is the simplicity of ingredients and the realistic and civilized-sized proportions of food served. I mean really...does anyone need a super-sized plate of ribs, 2lbs. of mashed potatoes and 1/2 lb. of beans served at every good ole American eating establishment?

I digress...When I say that I could eat an Ensalada Mixta every day of my life, I'm not joking or exaggerating- I really could...and practically do! It's gluten-free heaven jam-packed with amazing flavors, textures and whole-food goodness and every western European country has there own version that speaks to their traditions and culinary pleasures.

This delicious tomato, mozzarella, basil salad I ordered while in Zermatt, Switzerland is a direct take-off of a Italian Insalata Caprese, but this version (much more influenced by Swiss-German cooking) included a much stronger Swiss-Gouda type cheese, a spicier vinegar, pine nuts and more peppery herbs. It was delicious and fresh, but I could really taste the difference vs. eating the same salad just over the boarder in Italia.

La Ensalada Mixta however, is truly my favorite in Europe and is served throughout Spain and the Basque's worth the trip just for the salad! After eating a Mixta day after day, it's easy to become quite used to the simplicity and deliciousness of this meal and then long for it with great desire once the feet are planted back on American soil because let me tell you, it's tough to recreate the real deal...but I try, and keep trying. The Mixta below is my creation as I painstakingly attempted to mimic the Mixtas from San Sebastian(Donosti) or Bilbao.

The recipe is rather easy, though depending upon where you live, tricky at times to find authentic Spanish ingredients, such as tuna in a jar, white asparagus and real Spanish olives. Keep trying until you do - it's worth it, or check out the Spanish Table in the Bay Area - they have a lot of the goodies I mentioned that you'll need for the Mixta.

Here's the recipe/creation I threw together, but feel free to experiment with your own flavors and flair - that's what makes it fun:

Prep Time: 10 minutes


•1 head Iceberg or Romaine lettuce (I use red leaf butter lettuce)

•2 tomatoes, cut into 8 pieces

•1 cucumbers, peeled and sliced

•1/2 cup green olives, stuffed with anchovies

•1 can (approximately 15 oz) white asparagus

•1 red or yellow pepper, sliced in long thin strips

•1/4-1/2 yellow or red onion, sliced thin

•1 carrot, grated

•1 6 oz can tuna, drained

•2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut into quarters

•red wine or sherry vinegar

•extra virgin Spanish olive oil

•salt to taste


•1 15 oz can baby corn, drained

•1 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained

I also love to add a small plate of Basque cheese and Membrillo...along with my any gluten-free crackers to accompany the salad. Whole foods has a nice assortment of Basque cheeses and the membrillo can be found there as well, or at the Spanish Table.

For me, part of the true joy that travel brings to my life is not only the excitement that overtakes me when lost down some amazing cobblestone alley somewhere/anywhere,...but also the happiness that eating other countries' food adds to my life...and again, I always find that eating in Europe as a Celiac is much easier, though mistakes do happen. But food that was enjoyed while overseas or in any new location on the map has a way of conjuring up such feelings of nostalgia, once home and reminisced upon. You get a whiff of that "fresh Parisian bakery" while walking down the street, or perhaps a home-made omelette reminds you of sitting along the Seine in Paris sipping wine, eating pomme frites and watching the Bateaux Mouches float by - food and travel, travel and food - either way you rotate them on the page, they are sure to bring up feelings of happiness in your heart...they sure do in mine!

Enjoy bringing a little bit of Europe into your kitchen and please feel free to send me any of your favorite dishes and recipes from travels abroad.

Coma! Mangia! Manger! Essen Sie!