Drink, eat and sleep around Healdsburg’s square

(Photo courtesy of the Healdsburg Chamber)

Ever since multiple wildfires raged through bucolic wine country and neighborhoods in Sonoma County and Napa Valley, one message is clear. The region is resilient, rebuilding and open for business. Some of that business — namely tourism, through hotels, restaurants, and wineries — was very slow to come back in the weeks and months afterwards. January and February are traditionally slow and quiet months, but now that spring is in the air, folks are finding their way back to all that wine country has to offer.

The Uncookbook Cookbook: The New Napa Cuisine

Lena Creel
Lena Creel

Every once in a while a cookbook comes along that disrupts the conventional wisdom of what a cookbook should be.  That’s clearly the case with The New Napa Cuisine by Christopher Kostow, executive chef at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley.  This is the first book by the three Michelin-starred chef and it’s more an essay on his personal journey as a chef since taking over the reins at Meadowood in February 2008 than it is a collection of recipes from The Restaurant’s menu.

The Best English Muffin in the World is in Napa Valley


Where do wine country locals go in Napa Valley when they need a carb fix?  The Model Bakery of course.  For 30 years Model Bakery has been luring folks in for the mouthwatering pastries and bread.  But the one item Model is known best for is their world famous English Muffin.  People line up for the 1000+ muffins Model makes daily.  I produced this story for the new TV show Kristy Downing Rocks Local Food where we reveal the secrets of creating these fluffy and airy one-of-a-kind English Muffin.

Bringing Wine Country Living to Lowcountry Living

I grew up spending two weeks each summer going to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina with my family.  The Lowcountry is a special place for me.  Those summers were idyllic.  I love the beauty of the marshes and the long, wide sandy beaches with sand dunes and sea oats.  This is my second home (thanks Dad for retiring there!). I’ve always loved the easy, breezy Lowcountry beach lifestyle, perhaps even more now that I’m living on the west coast and don’t get to Hilton Head as often as I’d like. However, I’ve also fallen in love with the Wine Country lifestyle.  After all, I did a TV show about it for 10 years, In Wine Country.  So when I found out Robert Mondavi, Jr. and his wife Lydia were building a house and launching a home collection in Beaufort, SC, I had to find out more. The Mondavi name is…

A Progressive Food and Wine Pairing Journey at Jordan

Jordan Winery and Vineyards, located in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley just north of Healdsburg, is a vast 1,200 acre property, boasting not just 112 acres of vineyards but a cattle ranch, vegetable and flower garden, olive tree groves and a lake that’s a habitat for all sorts of fish and birds.  But visitors to the winery rarely get a glimpse of this sprawling estate.  Until now. “We never wanted to be a belly up to the bar wine bar,” says John Jordan, CEO of the winery his parents founded in 1972.  In fact, John was born in Denver on the same day Tom and Sally Jordan closed on the property for their first vineyard, May 25, 1972.  The estate property was bought in 1974.  Today, this land is also home for John, with his house overlooking the vineyards and lake.  For him to invite visitors to tour his backyard, the…

Fundraising with a Coastal View, and Pinot Too

When a charity event celebrates 30 years, no doubt it’s not only been successful but has helped beneficiaries and local community along the way. That’s exactly what Winesong, the annual fundraiser on the Mendocino coast of California has done for three decades. “Over 30 years we’ve raised $6.5 million,” says Jeri Erickson, executive director of the Menodcino Coast Hospital Foundation. “Our beneficiary and our sole purpose is to support the Mendocino Coast Hospital, a 25 bed hospital. We service 70 miles of coastline over 540 square miles, as were are a remote region. The closest hospital is an hour away through windy mountain roads, so a hospital in our community is absolutely vital.” Jeri owes part of Winesong’s longevity to its unique location. “All of our events have a coastal view,” she says. Winesong is always the first weekend of September. The Friday afternoon event is the Pinot Noir Celebration…

GourmetFest Brings Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams to Carmel

Twenty five chefs creating gourmet feasts.  70 cases of Champagne poured.  10 kilos of caviar consumed.  All in four days.  I can’t resist.  As cliché as it is, the “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams” tagline made popular by Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, just feels like the perfect way to sum up the experience at GourmetFest. Inaugural Event For a first time event, GourmetFest went off seemingly without a hitch during its inaugural weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  The weather cooperated beautifully, and Carmel was easy to navigate, not just by foot, but thanks to shuttle service provided by event organizers. You can tell this isn’t the first rodeo for David Fink, Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group CEO and organizer of GourmetFest.  He was part of the team that started the Masters of Food and Wine event at the Carmel Highlands Inn, a few miles south down the coast…

Share – The Cookbook You Must Share

“This is a book about humanity and eating and families and sharing and caring and generosity,” Jesse Ziff Cool is a well known restauranteur and cookbook author based in Silicon Valley.  She’s long been an advocate of eating locally, in season and organically, way before it was in vogue.  Jesse opened Flea Street Café in Menlo Park, Calif., where her menus have reflected this way of cooking and eating for 33 years.  She’s the first one to say however she’s not a chef, but “a cook.”  Jesse’s a passionate person, not only about food but about causes she believes in. When she gets behind a project, she’s all in, hands-on. Photo by Tracy Craighead The book Jesse’s talking about is Share:  A Cookbook That Celebrates Our Common Humanity.  “Isn’t it joyful?  It isn’t about despair, it’s about food and it’s joyful,” she says.  The cookbook is the result of a…

Make Sure You’re Buying The Real Thing – Shopping Tips For Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

With the holidays upon us, you may have butter and gravy on the table.  Why not add a bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar?  A few drops of balsamic adds a burst of flavor to any dish, and I love it drizzled on vegetables, especially roasted Brussels sprouts, and a drop on pumpkin pie would be fantastic.  Balsamic vinegar also makes a great gift for the foodie on your list. When you go to buy that vinegar, how do you know what to buy?  Facing supermarket shelves of balsamic vinegar is overwhelming.  I mean, where do you start?  On a recent visit to Acetaia Leonardi, an authentic, traditional balsamic vinegar producer in Italy, I learned what it takes to make this handcrafted, artisan product.  If you want to get a true traditional balsamic vinegar, an Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena D.O.P., handcrafted by a producer such as Leonardi, there are a few tips to guide…