Everything we ate in northern California



Barrak and I just got back from a long weekend in northern California. We went out for a big trail race in Auburn, California, near Lake Tahoe, and built a wine country visit around it. We ate and drank so well. The vistas — Redwoods, Pacific ocean, palm trees, eucalyptus trees, and constant sunshine — were STUNNING. And, I read a great book during the long flights to boot. So, it was a good trip.

Here’s everything we ate, with star ratings:

*= Good
** = SO good
*** = AHH-mazing

THURSDAY – Arrival Day


Lunch in Sacramento**
We sat outside in the sunshine and killed a tower of poke nachos for lunch at the Iron Horse Tavern in a cute little area in downtown Sacramento. These were no ordinary corn chips — more like the fancy homemade flour tortillas you can buy at Whole Foods. They were topped with huge chunks of raw ruby tuna and avocado and drizzled with some spicy mayo-based sauce. So good. One of the servers was from Columbus and came and sat with us. Small world.

Dinner in Guerneville***
This was our big expensive dinner of the trip — the only one we had a reservation for — and sort of a consolation prize for not being able to get into the French Laundry. The Farmhouse is a Michelin-starred restaurant with a sommelier and a fixed-price menu. Our server was an older guy who was like the butler in the movie Arthur if the butler in Arthur was jolly all the time. Our first courses were asparagus soup with Dungeness crab and gin-cured Ahi tuna. For our second courses (these are small plates), we chose the grilled octopus and crispy pork belly with quail egg. Our main courses were Alaskan halibut on risotto with spring veg and chardonnay buerre blanc (above) and rabbit done three ways. Dessert was a cheese plate. By the time we got our bill, I could barely keep my eyes open (we’d been up since 3:30 a.m. Eastern time and it was around 10 p.m. Pacific time). The cost was equivalent to a week of day care, two months’ of DirectTV or mulch for the entire yard (maybe). Was it worth it? I’m still deciding but leaning toward yes. Experiences not stuff, right?

Where we stayed
Autocamp in Russian River. So cool. You get your own high-end airstream: Casper mattress, Schoolhouse Electric lighting, Malin + Goetz products in the bathroom, giant fire pits everywhere and good coffee in the morning… all in the middle of towering Redwoods.

FRIDAY – Pre-race Day


Breakfast in Guerneville***
On the advice of the hip chic working the open-air lobby/cantina of the Autocamp, we had breakfast at a place called Big Bottom Market in downtown Guerneville.  We had warm, sloppy yet fresh “Veggie Sandos” with perfectly hard-boiled egg, baby spinach, grilled peppers and onions, Havarti cheese, pesto and aioli on ciabatta bread. And we split “Oprah’s favorite biscuit” with housemade blueberry jam and soft butter. Holy God, it was good. This was probably our favorite meal of the trip and it was $18.

Lunch in Santa Rosa
We split a basket of jalapeno & cheese-smothered pizza crust bites at the Russian River Brewing Co. Bad order, especially right before a race. We hardly ate any of it.

Dinner in Auburn
We went to some nondescript ale house in Auburn. It stunk. I got a house salad because I didn’t want to eat any meat. Barrak got himself In n’ Out burger afterward.

Where we stayed
Holiday Inn Auburn



Breakfast in Auburn
A Honey Stinger Waffle around mile 10, plus about 7 orange wedges during two aid station stops. I’ve never had orange wedges during a race and wow, they hit the spot.

Lunch in Auburn
They had a big party at the race finish line. So after finishing my 25k and not knowing anyone (Barrak and his friends were running the 100k) I wandered around looking for Advil, struck out, and decided to make a plate from the Mexican buffet. I didn’t want any meat so it was a vegetarian platter of rice, beans, grilled peppers and veg, and guacamole. Then I waited about four hours for Barrak to come through.

Dinner in Auburn**
After spending some time in the hotel hot tub with chilled champagne and cold beers, we went out in search of a decent dinner. We ended up at a place in downtown Auburn called Carpe Vino that was surprisingly good. Our party of three shared Skuna Bay salmon, mussels, halibut, veal breast, foie gras, pork cheeks and a great bottle of wine called Farm.

Where we stayed
Holiday Inn Auburn

SUNDAY – Explore-wine-country Day


Breakfast in Sonoma***
At the recommendation of my friend Beth, we hobbled the half-mile from our hotel to the cute little area known as Sonoma Plaza and had brunch at The Girl & the Fig. We sat outside among a LOT of women who brunch and had mimosas, a bloody mary, a peach bellini, smoked trout eggs benedict and lobster eggs benedict. Top-notch.

Lunch in Napa***
Heard about this place from Beth too. The Oxbow Public Market has lots of different vendors, food counters and restaurants — like a big Eataly. Even though we were barely hungry, we bellied up to the bar at the Hog Island Oyster Co. and had the most amazing raw oysters and grilled oysters. The grilled oysters tasted like steak. They were finished with a compound butter of horseradish, dill and lemon. Incredible.

Dinner in Sonoma
Again, we weren’t that hungry when dinner rolled around so we bought charcuterie from the Fatted Calf, artisan cheeses, a jar of local honey and a Model Bakery baguette from the Oxbow Public Market. We spread it out on our hotel bed, and split a bottle of Kamen cabernet. By this point, I was already tired of eating and pretty sick of red wine.

Where we stayed
Inn at Sonoma – A Four Sisters Inn. Great proximity to the Sonoma Plaza (so we could walk), right across the street from a Peet’s Coffee and relatively affordable. Still, I didn’t love this place. I thought it was kind of creepy and dated.

MONDAY – Let’s-wrap-things-up Day


Breakfast in Sonoma**
We had breakfast at the popular Sunflower Caffe on the Sonoma Plaza. Barrak had a great beet bloody Mary, I had an incredible peach bellini with a wedge of real peach soaking at the bottom. I had gently scrambled eggs with goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and spinach. Barrak had a burrito. All good.

Lunch in Sacramento
Based on a Thrillist list, we hit Burgers and Brew back in downtown Sacramento, across the street from Iron Horse Tavern. It was OK.

Dinner in Sacramento
We’d turned in our rental car that afternoon so we were stuck with hotel room service. Now I love a good room service club sando but here, cheese quesadillas seemed safest.

Where we stayed
A Four Points Sheraton by the airport. We spent most of the 90-degree afternoon by the pool reading a book. Er, I did. Barrak handled the car rental return, which took forever to the point that I started to get worried about him.

TUESDAY – Travel Day

You know how this story ends, right? Airport food at I-don’t-know-what-time-zone-we’re-in, pizza delivery for dinner when we finally arrived home.


A week of dinners


Slow-cooker chicken tortilla soup

The story: This is Pioneer Woman’s recipe and I like it because you do almost NOTHING in advance. No browning of meat, or even cutting of meat, necessary. You put the raw chicken breasts straight in the pot with the spices, beans, tomatoes, etc., flip it on, and go to work. Okay, I did chop the onion and peppers the night before and throw them in a bag.) When you come home from work, school and kids’ soccer games 11 hours later, it’s ready to be ladled up and topped with avocado, sour cream, cilantro, cheese, whatever. We would normally top with tortilla chips but only had lunchbox-sized bags of Fritos, which actually worked better. In fact, I pitched this to the kids as “Frito Soup.” (They didn’t fall for it).


Grilled hot dogs and brats with Bush’s baked beans

The story: The Cleveland Indians were playing, Magnus had a soccer game AND then baseball practice til 8pm, and it was an unseasonably warm spring evening, so we did hot dogs and brats on the grill. I have to say, it hit the spot.


Slow-cooker Indian butter chicken

The story: I got this one from a blog I like called Dinner: A Love Story. It was really good. Again, no browning in advance. Just raw chicken breasts in the pot with fresh ginger, chopped onion, garlic, tomato paste, coconut milk and spices like curry, cinnamon and cumin. At the end, you stir in greek yogurt and fresh lemon juice. They also have you stir in peas but I kept them separate for anyone who would object to green in their chicken business. I didn’t have as much rice as I thought so the kids had theirs on pasta shells, which they preferred anyway.


Pizza from Cheshire Market, the local bait store and pizza carryout

The story: No explanation needed.


12 West, a cool little restaurant in Delaware

The story: Greta had a movie night at the school so we took Magnus out to dinner. 12 West specializes in modern Mexican. There was a 45-minute wait so we had a round of drinks: a Shirley Temple for Magnus, beer for Barrak, and for me, a Tijuana Sour, which is bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup topped with a little red wine. We shared a platter of really good nachos and then got seated at the bar. We ended up being too stuffed for our entrees (a burger for Mag, tacos for Barrak, a vegetarian tostada thing for me). Not sure Magnus was a fan.


Herbed faux-tisserie chicken with small Yukon Gold potatoes and roasted broccoli

The story: This is weekend cooking but I’m still sharing it because you should know this recipe. You know how roast chicken sometimes looks a little undercooked and pink in places? This recipe has you cook a seasoned bird low and slow (3 hours at 300 degrees) like a rotisserie, so the meat is falling-off-the-bones tender. You do a seasoning rub of ground fennel seed, thyme, marjoram, salt and olive oil and set the bird on a tray of Yukon Gold potatoes, so the chicken fat drips onto the potatoes. I also threw some onion wedges on the tray because onions roasted in chicken fat is totally my jam. I made two chickens because both kids like chicken legs and there just never seems to be enough for the whole family with just one bird. Broccoli roasted with olive oil and salt is our go-to veg. Greta eats it like candy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In writing this blog post on a Sunday morning, I’ve paused to 1) go out to the backyard to inspect a rip in Mag’s new baseball trainer net, 2) go to the bathroom with Greta to see her glow-in-the-dark slime, 3) go back to the backyard to inspect Mag’s jaw where he got hit with the baseball, 4) hold a balloon open for Greta so she could scoop baking soda into it, and 5) answer a question that couldn’t wait: “Mommy, would you rather live in Target or Kroger?” This is why I haven’t blogged in almost 12 months.

Kale toast

I call this dish “When your husband is sautéing a bunch of kale, garlic and shallots for his omelet and offers you some.”

This was a brunch-time snack for me last Easter Sunday and a riff on a kale appetizer at one of my favorite restaurants in Columbus called Third and Hollywood. They serve a Staub pot full of housemade ricotta with a side of braised greens and artisan toasts that look like little surfboards.

Since I don’t have housemade ricotta on hand generally, I used plain Philadelphia cream cheese. The bread is “Farm Loaf” from Whole Foods.

A week of dinners

{Homemade blue cheese dressing from Friday night’s dinner. Pardon the streaks down the jar. Is that a gross photo?}


Donato’s Pizza take-out

The story: Greta scored a goal in her soccer game so when it ended at 7:30, she got to choose dinner.


City BBQ

The story: Magnus’s soccer game ended at 7:30, so we let him choose dinner. Our ribs were kind of gristly and gross so I’m not sure we’ll be going back anytime soon.


Traditional grilled cheeseburgers for Barrak and Magnus, a turkey burger with fontina for me, and leftover pizza and ribs for Greta.

The story: Because god forbid we’d all eat the same thing.


Angel hair pasta with Carfagna’s classic marinara, Whole Foods meatballs and homemade garlic bread

The story: It’s a family favorite, duh.


“Daddy Wings” and roasted broccoli drizzled with olive oil and kosher salt

The story: Another family staple. Barrak cooks the wings in the deep fryer outside. The kids eat them plain and Barrak and I sauce ours separately with Buffalo sauce. I made homemade blue cheese dressing from My Father’s Daughter. I omitted the shallots because it was for wings, not salad. It’s a great, easy recipe.

Dinner A Love Story: Porcupine Meatballs

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{What do you think of this fancy slide show?!?}

I discovered the Bon Appetit podcast back in April. Love it. If you like podcasts, I highly recommend. One of their guests is a woman named Jenny Rosenstrach. She’s a magazine writer / working mom / cookbook writer / blogger. I really got into her Dinner: A Love Story blog while we were on vacation in July so I bought her book.

It’s the kind of book I read in bed at night, like a novel. She has a great writing style and I relate to her laments about parenting, her memories of growing up in the 80s, trying to have some semblance of a solid dinner tradition as a working mother.  There are a few notable differences though. Her husband sounds a little more…. how can I put this…on the same page? She doesn’t seem to have to report to an office every day, although she did when her kids were younger. And her family is more open-minded about food. For starters.

Last week, I made her Porcupine Meatballs. I thought for sure I could get a win with this on name alone. It calls for uncooked rice in the meatballs, so as they braise in a sweet tomato sauce (tomato juice, brown sugar, a dash of Worcestershire sauce) the rice puffs and sticks out of the meatball like the spikes on a porcupine. It tastes sort of like stuffed red peppers.

I got home late and immediately set to work. It was 8 p.m. when we sat down.

The Verdict: One kid ended up sobbing in their room. The other went to bed hungry. Husband said “at least it was meat” and returned to the couch. I thought it was fine. But does it really matter?

Butter chicken 


This is called “Easy Butter Chicken” on Simply Scratch’s blog, and it IS pretty easy. This morning, I chopped up a bunch of boneless chicken thighs, tossed the 1-inch chunks with full-fat Greek yogurt and some fresh lemon juice and threw it in the fridge to marinate for the day. When I got home, the whole mess goes in the pot with sautéed fresh ginger, minced garlic, a bunch of spices (most notably garam masala and cayenne), tomato puree and a can of coconut milk. Store-bought naan warmed in the toaster and dinner is served!

Recipe here.

Easter, baby

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What a gorgeous Easter Sunday! We skipped the honey baked ham and cheesy potatoes in favor of a salad with grilled chicken, chopped bacon, cherry tomatoes and avocado — a sort of Chicken BLT salad. I made a fab herby buttermilk ranch dressing to go with it. It’s Pioneer Woman’s recipe but I subbed tarragon for oregano because I love tarragon, and omitted the Worcestershire because sometimes it can be overpowering.

Greta is guinea pig-sitting (see Carmel above). She desperately wants one.

And, it was 14 years today. RIP dad. Miss you.

Happy Easter everybody.