Udder Fun: 10 Excuses to Visit a Goat 

IMG_5371(1)Before spring begins its do-si-do with summer, I wanted to herd my family up to a goat farm to witness baby goat (kid) goodness and participate in a farm tour. I singled out Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol – producers of some of my favorite goat cheese.

What was only supposed to be an hour car ride doubled, as my inner GPS and sheer stubbornness made several wrong turns. Thanks to a ‘book on CD’, a patient husband, and entertaining child theatrics, we arrived in good form.

The unexpected happened. This excursion topped the charts as one of the most memorable and enjoyable family adventures we’ve had to date. I kid you not.

10 Excuses to Visit Redwood Hill Farm

1. No excuses needed, really. Baby goats. Outdoors. Community. Cheese. What’s not to love!? It’s an udderly fun country-mouse excursion for any city-mouse family.

2. Essence of barnyard! We all need a whiff for the soul from time to time.

3. An opportunity to picnic in the shade of an apple tree and delight in a much needed down-shift with family, not to mention an opportunity to sample one of the many delectable Redwood Hill Farm cheeses. We inhaled the California Crottin, enjoyed with just-picked cherries from a local farm stand.

4. Spring on display in all its gorgeous glory: blossoming apple orchards, a kaleidoscope of colorful wildflowers, and new life in countless forms.

5. A chance to let your ‘kids’ milk a goat with their own city-bred hands.

6. A live bluegrass performance in an apple orchard.

7. Design your own wildflower-ensconced fairy wand at the craft table.

8. Watch a goat milking demonstration; an opportune time to ask questions about farm life from one of the founding farm family members.

9. Grin from ear-to-ear while surrounded by baby goats. Kids are extremely personable, energetic, entertaining, and they come in an assortment of unique personalities. Diva. Picky eater. Snuggle-bug. Social butterfly…

10. Hug a goat. Brush a goat. Have your hair nibbled on by a goat. Just don’t attempt to leave the property with a goat. They catch you (ahem).

Herd on over to Redwood Hill or a local visitor-friendly farm for a tour. You’re bound to have a goat time! Kidding! So cheesy!

Tour details.

10 Fun Facts About Goat Kids from Redwood Hill Farm.

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A Day Not To Be Forgotten

Toward the end of this past holiday weekend, Mateo and I knew that, in lieu of a traditional family vacation, we needed to take our kiddos on an adventure. To end our three-day weekend on a high-note, we planned a fun and food-filled trip into San Francisco. First, we drove over to Larkspur from the East Bay, and after grabbing some drool-worthy pastries (man, do they know how to make a croissant!) from Rustic Bakery at Larkspur Landing, we walked over to the terminal and boarded a ferry headed to the City.

I won’t bore you with oodles of details (you can see from our photos), we got just what we needed – concentrated quality time together, spontaneity, laughter, and wait for it….good things to eat. After sampling cheese at Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building – I now let Caleb do all the ordering and he went straight for the Redhawk – we walked over to Yank Sing for traditional dim sum. Playing tourist in our native city (at least for Mateo and I), we sampled everything we could fit into our bellies. After letting the kids chase each other around the courtyard for a bit, we headed back to the Ferry Building, then boarded our ferry.

With little energy left after a fun-packed day, Caleb and Sadie entertained themselves on the boat, by quietly drawing and reading. Mateo and I were sharing the same thought – how did we luck out with such amazing, funny, bright, and adventurous children?! What good fortune we came into.

Fairy Princess of the N Judah (and Other Tales of the City)

In our last installment, Sadie and Caleb were spared the wrath of the wild dingoes and dragged through yet another agonizing food adventure [insert tiny-violin concerto here]. Caleb had been dangling a rain-check over my head to ride MUNI around San Francisco…the time had come to cash it in. Funny how we frequently expose our children to exotic cuisine and enviable food adventures around the Bay Area, yet they nag and fantasize about riding the MUNI, which was not something Mateo nor I took any youthful pleasure in.

After driving in just after the lunch hour on Saturday, we pulled into a parking spot in front of Ton Kiang Restaurant on Geary for some of the best dim sum the City has to offer. Before Mateo could even take the key out of the ignition, the kids and I ran into the restaurant, up the stairs to the second floor, and began ordering and eating in a manic flurry of hunger and excitement. Mateo soon joined us and we dined on steamed and baked pork buns, char siu stuffed rice noodle rolls, pork shumai, foil-wrapped chicken, custard buns, and other delectable bites.

Sufficiently stuffed, we drove across the park to the Sunset District, parked and then walked over to a N Judah metro stop. On board, Caleb especially, could barely contain his excitement. Their enthusiasm was magnetic and other passengers fell into easy conversation with us. One young woman described Sadie, in her fluffy pink tutu, as “The Fairy Princess of the N Judah.”

Once the initial excitement wore off, we jumped off the train at Duboce park and walked over to a local playground. Eventually, we were back on the N Judah headed for Cole Valley. At Carl and Cole, we exited the train and headed over to Say Cheese, a sweet yet pricey cheese shop. After happily sampling our way across the counter, I settled on a large hunk of Challerhocker, a nutty Swiss alpine cheese. We brought the cheese and some chocolate over to what used to be Tasajara Bakery – now La Boulange, where we sipped on artful lattes and vanilla steamers for the kiddos. I treasure memories of going to Tasajara on Sunday mornings with my parents, sitting around drinking coffee milk, which felt very ‘adult’ to me, and eating a blueberry cheese Danish.

By the end of our day of traveling on MUNI and eating our way through some of my favorite neighborhoods, it was time to return back home. Rain-check redeemed, family happily fed, and kiddos wiped out from a day of adventure. Successful day? Check!

Oh When the Plates Come Crashing Down

spinningplates

I often don’t realize how many plates I have spinning on numerous poles until I reach a breaking point and some or all come crashing down. Recently, everything got to be too much and the breaking point – because there inevitably is one – came when attempting to decide what color to choose for an exterior paint job we have planned. Mateo came home from work one afternoon; I just crawled onto his lap and began to cry. Although, I consider this to be somewhat of a yuppie crisis, for me it happened to be the plate that sent it all crashing down.

To know me is to understand that I probably have too many plates spinning at any given time. I work full-time in a job that isn’t where my passions lay; I have two young children with tons of energy for my 44-year-old self, a mortgage to pay off, a marriage to nurture, and a constant itch to do something creative and fulfilling.

When I reached my breaking point last week, I realized that it was time to restore balance in a number of forms. First, I promptly employed a professional color consultant at the behest of a friend and in 90-minutes, we had the paint colors locked in. Whoo, what a load off! Then, there was the full-length massage given by a practitioner of Tibetan medicine. As I lay exhausted, overly stressed, and depressed on her table, she healed through her trained hands, as well as these Tibetan bells, which she placed along the chakra channel. Feeling the chiming reverberation through my body was simultaneously electrifying and deeply restorative. I came away feeling as if my re-set button had been pushed.

Next, I lined up a free day with a close girlfriend and together, we left our families and drove off to wine country where we imbibed and consumed gorgeously plated food whose taste was as divine as its appearance, at one of my favorite Yountville restaurants, Redd.

After lunch, we found some gelato and sat on a pristine lawn in the shade, where we continued to talk, laugh, and relate.

We then walked over to the French Laundry so I could pay my respects to the ‘Temple of Delicious’ and take some photos with Cecile. We crossed the road to the restaurant’s sizeable organic garden and brushed our fingers over the vast array of herbs they use in the kitchen. Then, I did something forbidden; I plucked a ripe tomato off the vine and quickly popped half into my mouth, then shared the other half with Cecile. I was willing to go to jail for this criminal act, but luckily the garden cops didn’t witness my misdeed.

The day was healing and it became apparent that I need more days like this; shared with family, friends, and on my own. With both arms, I need to push back the stresses of life, just a little more often and find a way to get more out of the present moment – whether it’s through cooking, laughing with a good friend, going out on a date with my husband, or partaking in a pillow fight with Caleb and Sadie. I need to question how many plates I have spinning at any given time, and then give myself full permission to lighten my load for sanity’s sake. It can just get to be too much.

Final FL 13

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese

Niki_Anya1

As we all learn one way or another, this life we were gifted with is extraordinarily precious. Time spent with those we love is fleeting, even though it’s hard to admit. I treasure perfect moments, which are the essence of life. Last night, an adventure into the city with my sister Niki, was filled with many of these perfect moments.

I recently asked Niki – big sister, second mother, and close confidant – if she wanted to join me for a cheese class in San Francisco. Apparently, I had her at cheese because recruiting her took no great coaxing.

Last night, we met just after work and immediately tripped over to North Beach to begin our cheese adventure. First, we enjoyed a simple Italian meal at L ‘Osteria Del Forno on Columbus Avenue in the heart of one of my favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco. Our Italian waitress hailed from the Piedmont region of Italy. I engaged her in a conversation about outstanding cheeses from her region, which is known for some exceptional ones.

Niki and I caught up over a lovely dish of burrata cheese laid out on a nest of arugula, beneath a drizzle of vinaigrette. I enjoyed a platter of thinly sliced prosciutto, white beans, shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese, and a drizzling of olive oil, salt and pepper. Talking with my sister over a rustic, Italian meal and a good glass of white wine (with North Beach buzzing just outside the window), was cheap therapy. I felt prepared to take on part two of our evening of cheese – our class at the Cheese School of San Francisco, Cheeses of the Loire Valley.

Our fabulous instructor, Colette Hatch, walked us through a spectacular plate of cheeses from the Loire region. Mostly goat. All delicious. We sampled: Couronne Lochoise, Pyramides de Touraine (one of my favorites; an ash covered, pyramid-shaped, well-aged goat wonder), Bucherondin, Le Chevrot, Tomme de Rabelais (transcendent; elegant, smoky, nutty, and rich – how I hope to be described in my later years), Tomme de Fontenay, Vandéen Bichonné, and Bleu du Bocage (the perfect example of a goat blue, which are hard to come by). The majority of the cheeses were made by the grand masters of affinage, Rodolphe Le Meunier and Pascal Beillevaire.

Having my sister join me for this class was a treat beyond words. I love that she so easily participated in a subject that I’m passionate about. This was an opportunity to share my pure enthusiasm for ‘all things cheese’ as she sat there alongside me, enjoying herself just as much.

The class wrapped up and Niki and I stepped back onto the city streets at dusk. As we walked to the car, then for the ride home, we talked excitedly about how much we enjoyed the class, eating a selection of phenomenal cheeses, and just how lovely it was to spend quality time together.

I went to bed with cheese on my mind and sumptuous memories of a succession of perfect moments spent with someone whom I love immensely. Did I mention the cheese?

Niki_Anya2

The Muffins That Sadie Baked

Zesting a lemon

Going into the oven

Cooking with my kids anchors me in the present moment, reminding me of what’s most important in life – spending quality time with family, especially when making good quality food that can soon be enjoyed around the family table.

Lately, I’ve been writing more about my personal adventures in food, namely cheese. A recent cheese experiment—attempting my first batch of homemade aged goat cheese—resulted in two gallons of very expensive goat’s milk going down the drain. Literally.

After a tiring week and an expensive cheese mishap, I was in need of an easy, happy experience in the kitchen. On Sunday morning, Sadie woke up before everyone else. While I attempted to scrape myself off the mattress, Sadie quietly entertained herself with toys in the living room. In appreciation of her sensitivity, and because Caleb was still asleep (Mateo is camping this weekend), I invited her to join me in the kitchen for a blueberry muffin baking session.

I love a quiet house on a weekend morning. I especially enjoy filling it up with the aroma of warm, sweet baked delights. Sadie and I carefully followed each step of the blueberry muffin recipe, until we had blueberry-laden batter ready to spoon into the muffin tins. Our time together was relaxed, not rushed, and I felt unusually patient in Sadie’s presence as she paid close attention to my instructions and did a wonderful job as assistant pastry chef. Caleb has always enjoyed helping me in the kitchen, but Sadie is especially patient and curious, and is clearly soaking up every lesson. I look forward to seeing what they both do with this kitchen training.

As the muffins were going into the oven, I could hear the heavier patter of footsteps coming down the stairs, followed by a sleepy “good morning.” With Caleb now awake and the scent of baking blueberry muffins dancing in the air, it was time to get the breakfast show on the road.

Once the gobbling commenced, happy sounds filled the air. The meal ended with Caleb’s butt poised up in the air on his chair as he examined the contents on the dining room floor, as Sadie sang a happy song which she had just made up. I just sat there admiring my treasures.

My children are happy, healthy, whimsical, curious, and creative. I am anchored in a loving relationship and surrounded by the best quality human beings for friends and family. I live in a beautiful and bountiful part of the world, surrounded by good food, nature, mixed cultures, and countless activities and opportunities.

All combined, it makes an unsuccessful first attempt at cheese making much easier to put into perspective.

 

Blueberry Muffins

From a Baker’s Kitchen by Gail Sher

Ingredients

1C fresh blueberries

1tb all-purpose flour

2C all-purpose flour

1tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ C sugar

1 C yogurt

1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp grated lemon rind

Wash the fresh berries, drain them on a towel, and place them in a strainer. Holding the strainer over a plate, sprinkle the berries with flour and tap the strainer so that the excess flour falls through. This will help suspend the berries in the batter and prevent them from bleeding.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a separate smaller bowl, mix the yogurt, egg, melted butter, and lemon rind. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, stirring only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Gently stir in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into well-buttered or paper-lined muffin cups and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

A Mountain of Blintzes

Mountain of BlintzesStone soup is overrated and recipes from children’s books seldom appeal to me. Several months ago, however, our family received a wonderful book from the PJ Library

We sat down to read A Mountain of Blintzes, which is about a poor Jewish family living in the Catskills in the late 1920’s. This loving family wanted to make blintzes for Shavout, a Spring holiday. Recognizing that they couldn’t afford the ingredients, each family member took on an extra job without telling the other. The story culminates in the making of a mountain of blintzes, which the family spread jam on, then feasted on around a festive holiday table.

For months, Caleb and Sadie have been begging to make the recipe from Mountain of Blintzes. This weekend, with all of the ingredients in our pantry, we finally did.

On Sunday morning, the kids took turns pouring, mixing, and assembling the ingredients and before we knew it, we were gently placing our neatly folded blintzes into a pan of sizzling butter. When each side had turned golden brown, we put the blintzes in the oven. Next, we prepared a simple berry sauce on the stove top. In about 45 minutes, we had our own ‘mountain of blintzes’. Well, not really. They were gorgeous looking, but a little too delicate to pile on top of each other.

I placed a spoonful of warm berry sauce atop each golden blintz and passed the plates around the table. The blintzes were sensational and elicited rave reviews from each family member. This may not be Spring, but there was nothing unseasonable about this recipe. Spirits bloomed, our family came closer together, and our bellies were well-rewarded for our hard work. We were even treated to an impromptu performance from Mateo who is teaching himself guitar on the weekends.

Later in the day, when we were walking with the kids, Sadie volunteered, “I liked the blintzes, but I don’t think we made a mountain!” We laughed and I thought, but like in the book, the family came together and did everything it took to make and enjoy blintzes. I was grateful too for the inspiration to make food from our roots.

Mountain of Blintzes1

A Recipe for Your Own Mountain of Blintzes

Adapted from the book by Barbara Diamond Goldin

Batter

3 large eggs, well beaten

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup water

¾ cup flour

Filling (mixed together in separate bowl)

1 pound dry cottage cheese or drained regular cottage cheese

¾ tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¾ teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

Dash of salt

Berry Sauce

1 bag frozen mixed berries from TJ’s

4-6 tablespoons sugar (to taste)

½ lemon squeezed

1 tablespoon flour

Butter for frying; sour cream, jam, and cinnamon for topping.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine eggs, salt, and water, and beat well. Gradually stir flour in until batter is smooth, with a syrupy consistency.

Grease a six-inch frying or crepe pan (we used a pancake griddle). Spoon enough batter to make a thin pancake. Tip the pan from side to side to spread the batter. Cook both sides of the pancake over medium to high heat, until lightly browned all over. Turn the pancake out onto a clean plate.

To fill the pancake, spoon a generous tablespoon of the cheese mixture onto the center. Fold in the sides and the ends to make an ‘envelope’ around the filling. Set aside. Continue making pancakes until all the batter and the filling have been used.

To make the sauce, add the frozen berries to a small saucepan, along with sugar and lemon juice. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat until berries have softened, then add flour to thicken (whisk, until flour has dissolved into sauce).

To serve, stack the blintzes to look like a mountain on a serving plate (ours were a little too delicate for this). You can also sprinkle cinnamon, and serve with sour cream, jam, or my quick berry sauce.

An In-N-Outing

In & Outing

Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year than with a family hike on a crisp winter’s day to Tennessee Valley in the Marin Headlands, followed by a well-earned round of double doubles at In-N-Out!

It has literally been seven years since Mateo and I entered an In-N-Out and after all of the smack-talk we give fast-food to our kiddos, we thought it was about time we chill out and introduce them to our happy medium. To feel like we could justify a 1,000,000 calorie meal, we first set out on a long hike on the Tennessee Valley trail.

I loved how Caleb and Sadie ran up ahead finding walking sticks to drag through the puddles and potential poison oak disasters to stumble into. The fog very soon burned off and the warm sun cut through the biting air. The lunch bell finally rang in the form of grumbling bellies and we headed back to the car and on to our final destination, In-N-Out in Mill Valley.

We ordered, sat down, and waited in great anticipation for our warm cheesy burgers of double double goodness, a chocolate milk shake, and fries (my order, of course, was topped with melted American cheese). When our lunch arrived, we each pounced and gobbled our food down in record time.

Now, I won’t say I did not feel lethargic afterward, but Mateo and I had fun sharing the In-N-Out experience with Caleb and Sadie. A good time was had.

Truth to tell, I needed some fun this weekend. Just this past week, I found out that a childhood friend had passed away. I’m attending his memorial tomorrow and perhaps the hike and the heavy meal was exactly what I needed to ground and brace myself for the emotional ride to come (or rather, to continue). If nothing else, my friend’s passing is crucial reminder of the need for a seize-the-day approach to life. A wake up call to be deeply grateful for the beauty and love in our lives.

Tennessee Valley Outing