A few weeks ago I did a quick overnight girls trip with 2 of my best friends from college. We drove up to Napa County, which is about 2 hours away from where I live in the woods. I had always heard about Indian Springs the cool, old resort in Calistoga, and despite my parents living only 10 minutes from there, I'd never been! Kayoko (my good friend and co-founder of Umami Mart) suggested it, and it was perfect for our little getaway. I love its vintage white-washed look with palms, cactus gardens and striped pool awnings. And a real geyser that constantly bubbling! It was a 24-hour splurge, complete with delicious food and wine, hot springs and the best massage at their spa.
The drive home through Napa is so pretty, passing all the wineries and vineyards. It was a quick trip but I felt totally refreshed afterwards! I'll be back.
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Other Napa reccs:
The Calistoga Inn & Brewery: this is where I always go with my parents when I'm visiting them. We love to sit outside there and have a drink.
Cafe Sarafornia: great for a comfort food brunch!
Cook Tavern & Pizzeria: a tasty stop for lunch in St. Helena while wine tasting
As part of our 3-month trip around the Mediterranean last Fall, after Barcelona and Antibes, we took the train along the water to Genoa, then flew to the largest island in the Mediterranean: SICILY. I was excited to practice my rusty study-abroad Italian and visit a part of Italy I'd never been to. And I was eager to get some Sicilian recipe inspiration for my next book, #ForestFeastMediterranean!
Sicily is wild and beautiful. Amazing ocean vistas, ancient seaside villages, citrus orchards, olive groves, vineyards, vibrant bougainvillea vines and stunning beaches. To me, its beauty lies in the fact that it's not super developed or polished. It's lush but also a little rough around the edges, with rich history and agriculture embedded into the landscape and culture.
We flew into Catania and out of Palermo and explored the north-eastern side of the island during our stay. Renting a car seemed to be the best way to get around (although driving was not always easy). We stayed first near Catania in Acireale, where I found a unique Airbnb apartment inside an 18th century villa. The villa was walled and took up what felt like a whole city block, with persimmon and fig trees in the garden, an expansive patio and a tiled outdoor kitchen. Although a decent hub for day trips, I don't think we'd stay in Acireale again. It has a stunning historic downtown area, but it's much larger than we realized and difficult to drive in an out of.
One of my favorite days in Sicily (and potentially of the entire trip) started and ended at the ocean, but midday, we were freezing atop the volcano of Mt. Etna. We started our drive near Catania and wandered through the rugged and rural countryside, past vineyards and dilapidated stone farmhouses. We saw orange trees spilling out everywhere and chestnuts for sale on the side of the road. We passed through the town of Bronte, known for its pistachios. And Zafferana Etnea, known for its honey. We did a honey tasting at Oro di Etna and brought home some pistachio flavored honey that was delicious with cheese. Near Pedara, we pulled over to what we thought was a small convenient-type store and found that it was actually a wine cellar. Locals were lined up with big plastic water bottles to fill and take home. As we drove higher and higher, it was fascinating to see the landscape change and turn to snow. We barely made it up the mountain without chains, but finally parked and took a cable car to the peak which was FREEZING but offered a stunning view of the island and surrounding ocean. And, of course, they had more honey to taste at the lodge.
We also took a daytrip to the idyllic hillside town of Taormina, where we strolled the cobblestone main drag (with great shopping) and visited the ancient theater with a stunning ocean view. I ate Pasta alla Norma there which I am recreating for the book. The town is so pretty, it's a must-see.
Next we headed to Cefalu, where we stayed in an oceanview Airbnb full of antique furniture for 4 days. I loved Cefalu. We could walk to the beach and the downtown area and although it was December, it didn't keep us from playing on the beach and even swimming in the ocean. I loved wandering the narrow cobblestone streets of the historic area that runs along the water. Stay in this area if you can. I'd recommend a drink or lunch (mainly for the view, the food is fairly basic) perched over the sand at Il Covo del Pirata. We really enjoyed our meal in the pretty garden at Galleria Restaurant. I thought their dishes were tasty and had interesting flavor combinations and presentation.
On a daytrip from Cefalu, we explored country roads in the mountains and even had to stop once for a herd of goats! We LOVED the nearby town of Castelbuono. The town itself is adorable and has a beautiful castle to to visit. Just outside of town, we had a memorable lunch by the fireplace at a farm/hotel called Agritourismo Bergi. We were the only guests and they cooked just for us with ingredients almost entirely produced onsite. After lunch we strolled through the citrus groves and saw the animals.
Even though the winter weather is mild, I'd love to go back to Sicily in Summer, and explore more of the island.
After Cefalu, we flew out of Palermo to Lisbon. Stories from Portugal coming soon!
During our month in Barcelona last Fall, some friends who live there invited us over to their house to cook together. Monica grew up in Barcelona and Ricky is from NYC but has lived in Spain for many years. Together they founded the company Delicious & Sons which includes a variety of Mediterranean products (developed by Ricky) including sauces, spreads, oils, vinegars and more, that are all organic, vegan and gluten free...and, well, DELICIOUS! I had fun cooking with them because they infused flavor into a simple dish so effortlessly.
Ricky and Monica have a stunning home – it's like an oasis in the city. Their sun-drenched chef's kitchen overlooks a dreamy backyard that makes outdoor entertaining seem easy. Outside they have a huge vine-covered table that they gather friends around regularly. Using their products we made some simple appetizers to enjoy outside one afternoon during our visit. And of course, I took lots of photos as we cooked.
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QUICK RECIPES LINKS:
*This is not a sponsored post...these are just my friends and I love the cool food company they have created! And I think their products are really tasty. For the full blog post that Monica did on our day of cooking together that lists all my recipes and a short interview, click here.
As part of our 3-month #ForestFeastMediterranean journey, after our month in Barcelona , we headed to the French Riviera. We met Jonathan's parent in Antibes and we all stayed in a dreamy Airbnb that my mother-in-law found us right by the sea – an old stone house that was actually part of the town's ancient ramparts. Antibes is on the southern coast of France, not far from the Italian border.
We were just steps from the open air market which we passed through daily, picking up the most beautiful radishes, zucchini blossoms and cherry tomatoes. We had the radishes with butter at cocktail hour several nights in a row. Once a week the socca stand was at the market-- a traditional local chickpea pancake made in fiery oven as you wait. Delicious!
Antibes is the most adorable cobblestone town. Right on the water and a shot train ride from Cannes and Nice. We stayed in the old town and each evening we could walk to a different restaurant for dinner. We also rented a car and did day trips to the nearby towns of Eze and Saint Paul de Vence. It's a stunning stretch of coast and I can see why so many artists have been drawn to it. I loved our visits to the Matisse and Picasso museums and imagining them being inspired to make work there.
This was such a magical little stop on our trip-- I so recommend staying in the historic/old town of Antibes if you are in this area, especially with kids. It's a lovely little village, and very walkable. We were there in November for a week and it was still nice enough to eat outside! I hear the beach scene in summer gets pretty crowded, but I'd love to go back then, too.
Stay tuned for our next stop...Italy!
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We spent 3 months in Europe in the Fall of 2017 as I was doing research on Mediterranean food for my upcoming cookbook, The Forest Feast Mediterranean (Abrams, Fall 2019). For more photos from our entire trip, check out the hashtag #forestfeastmediterranean on Instagram.
Other posts in this series: