The Laguna

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The Laguna de Santa Rosa and the vineyards near it are one of the most beautiful places I have ever laid my eyes on.  I mean, I haven’t really been to that many places in my short life, but I have traveled extensively in California and this one tops the list.  This whole area is a 12 on a 1-10 scale.  It just takes my breath away.

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4th Food and Pics

This is the first 4th we have had in Sonoma County and it was great!  A couple of days ago I thought our 4th was ruined when our cranky neighbor called and told us that if anyone shot off any fireworks in the neighborhood she was going to call the cops.  Considering we live in a town where fireworks are legal I was pretty angry.  However, I decided to call the local fire department and ask them if fireworks were legal in my neighborhood and found out that I live in a 1 mile stretch of unincorporated city where fireworks are illegal.  The mean lady won, and we did not shoot off our own fireworks.

Instead we headed out to Red, White and Boom at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds.  They boasted the best fireworks show in the county and we were not disappointed.

I was really excited to try out some of the local gourmet food trucks so that was our first stop at the fair.  There was quite a selection.  Two kinds of BBQ, Fish, Mexican, World Fusion, and Cupcakes!  And that was just the food trucks.  We couldn’t pass up the Fish on Chips truck, so Tom and I both got that.  They were great.  The fish was moist, batter crispy and golden.  The fries were just as good sprinkled with a bit of lemon and dipped in tartar sauce.  Definitely a place I would hit up again.

Next we stopped at the Sift Cupcakes truck.  They have been on my list of places to go since I discovered they won Cupcake Wars.  They deserved to win too.  I got The Samoa cupcake which is a coconut cake filled with chocolate ganache and topped with caramel frosting and rolled in toasted coconut.  It was, by far, one of the best cakes I have tasted.  The flavors were spot on and the cake itself was tender and moist.  Unlike any cupcake I have had before.  I still plan on stopping by their store in Santa Rosa one of these days to try their Cupcake Wars winner, the Pink Champagne cupcake.

The fairground was packed with people, about 10,000 people showed up by the end of the evening.  There were live bands, dancing, jumpy houses and a climbing wall for the kids.  It was quite an event.

By the time the fireworks started the kids were hopped up on sugar and literally crying for them to begin.  We tried to grab a quick family photo but this was the best we got.  Brae was in a funky sugar rush and did not want to take a picture with us.  Tom was able to snatch her as she ran off and we snapped a few quick ones with the iPhone.  As I tried to get us all together I was reminded that this would be the last 4th with just the three of us.  For next years photo we will be a family of four.

We hope you all had a wonderful and safe Fourth of July.  Can’t wait until next year!

Happy New Year!

Hope you had a happy and safe New Years Day!

After a day of building new mews (houses) for the falcons we headed to Salmon Creek Beach just north of Bodega Bay to watch the sunset.  It was freezing and very windy, but so beautiful.  I decided that one of my resolutions this year is to have someone take a family photo of us every time we go somewhere memorable.  We have very few photos with me in them and I have decided that is going to change.  Awhile back I read about Martin and Julie and their Global Mobile Family.  One of the things they do is take family photos at the places they visit.  I love the fact that they are biking around the world and I love the idea of taking a family photo at all the places we visit so my resolution is to take a family photo every time we visit a memorable place.  Anyone want to join in with me?

Our Best Wishes for the New Year to you all!

Welcome 2012 – With Pictures from Bodega Bay, CA

I want to spend the next year the same way I spent the last week.  With good food, good friends and fun adventures.  A college friend of ours is visiting for the New Year and we spent the week showing him around this area.  This Thursday we took a quick drive to Bodega Bay.  My neighbors had told me the coast was only about 20 minutes away and that it was a beautiful drive, but that was an understatement.  It was one of the most breathtaking drives I have been on in my life.  I sat there, watching the jaw dropping scenery pass by while occasionally repeating, “Oh my god, this is so beautiful.  I can’t believe I live here”.  I am sorry to tell you that I did not take a single shot the whole way there.  I didn’t want to miss a second fiddling with my camera.   Nothing is going to keep me from taking countless drives out to the coast from now on so don’t worry!  There will be pictures eventually.  Especially since I heard about the amazing bread baker in this tiny town called Freestone.  Can’t wait to visit them.  For now I hope you enjoy these pics from Bodega Bay.

We drove past Spud Point Crab Company on our way out to Bodega Head.  It was this tiny white fisherman’s hut that had a huge line coming out the door, through the patio and out to the sidewalk.   The bench style patio tables were full of diners.  This was obviously the place to eat.  We had to stop on the way back.

The food was amazing.  Super fresh crab hauled out of the water that morning and turned into crab sandwiches, soup and cakes.  As you walk up to the front door there are two giant vats of clam chowder bubbling away on the patio.  We arrived at about 1pm and they were already sold out of the red clam chowder and the crab cakes so we got a bowl of white clam chowder and a crab sandwich.  Both were awesome!  Don’t ask me why the only shot of my food was through Instagram.  I haven’t gotten used to taking photos of my restaurant food yet.  I always get a bunch of funny looks from other diners and it makes me feel like I am a total wacko!  Anyone else get that or is it all in my head?

Across the street is the Marina where all the crab boats are docked waiting for the next morning’s run out to sea.  It was so calm and peaceful that day.  The only noise was a couple of guys working on a boat and the low murmur of diners from the Crab Company across the street.

We heading back to the coast for New Years Day.  I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year.

There is a lot planned for Shoots and Roots in 2012.  It’s high time we take this blog to the next level!

Cookie Month: Caramel, Walnut and Chocolate Thumbprints

I woke early.  The morning was unusually quiet.  Fog enshrouded our hill and the valleys beyond it dampening any sound.  I put the kettle on the stove, made a fire and then sat on the couch for a while just staring at the landscape, the fog, the apple trees.  Suddenly I was overcome by a desire to walk amongst it all.  To be there in it.  I headed back to the bedroom to change, wrote a note to Tom and headed down the road.  I eventually ended up in a big apple orchard near my house.  It was beautiful.  The leaves were yellow and occasionally the lightest breeze would shake one loose and it would twirl silently through the fog to rest on the ground.

I am amazed by the bounty of life in this place.  Maybe it’s because I was raised in the desert where life is harsh and brutal.  Out there you are more likely to come across a pile of bones than a live animal.  Northern CA is very different.  I found late blackberries still growing on vines near my road.  Mushrooms everywhere.  Those red ones were gigantic and were growing right next to our mailbox.  I found tracks for a small herd of deer, but not the deer themselves.  Starlings have flocked to the vineyards by the hundreds gobbling up everything the pickers have left behind.  With them came extra hawks and turkey vultures looking for the slowest birds of the flock.  Plus we have been on the lookout for raccoons, opossums, and foxes breaking into our bird house.

Its been fascinating to watch the transformation of the vineyards.  The brilliant colors were completely unexpected.  I thought grape leaves just turned brown and fell because that’s what the grapevines back home did, but here is different.  Its been a pleasure to drive past them each morning and watch as the leaves transform from green to yellow to russet and then suddenly vanish overnight in the crazy windstorm we had.  Now the vines are beautiful in their stark barrenness.  Perfect rows of empty brown vines reaching for the sky.  Bright green grass blanketing the paths between and eventually disappearing into the low fog that hugs the foothills beyond.

All this beautiful winter weather really put me into the Christmas spirit.  I started by joining in on the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  You can check out all 500+ cookie recipes through that link.  The cookies I received were awesome and I cant wait to participate next year.

When I was 6 my new step-father moved into our house bringing with him a passion for Christmas cookies that he could trace all the way back to his Ohio born great grandmother.  I have many happy memories of deciphering her 100 year old recipes,  mixing the dough, freezing dough, sneaking bites of dough, and making more cookies than anyone would ever want to make in a weekend.  We would send these cookies out to every person my stepfather had ever met and then sink down with exhaustion and swear not to make another cookie until next Christmas.  Of course, that never lasts.

I asked my stepdad if I could share some of his family’s recipes and got a resounding NO!  Instead I am testing out new recipes for my old favorites starting with caramel, shortbread and nuts.  Any combo of these ingredients and I am in love.  This year I came across an awful recipe for Caramel Walnut Thumbprint Cookies.  I wont say which recipe it was, just know it involved a lot of premade ingredients!  What does matter is that I completely reworked the recipe and came out with something I really liked.  The chocolate cookie base is Alice Waters Pate Sucree recipe I have used before with a little chocolate powder thrown in.  The caramel sauce recipe belongs to David Lebovitz.  His helpful instructions on making caramel were vital to my success.  Hope you enjoy them!

Caramel, Walnut & Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

For the cookies

  • 8 tbsp butter (1 stick), softened at room temp for 15 minutes
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk, room temp
  • 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp chocolate powder
  • 1 cup of crushed walnuts

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  In a small bowl stir together the flour and chocolate powder and set aside.

2.  In a medium sized bowl beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until smooth & creamy.

3.  Add the salt, vanilla and egg yolk and mix until completely combined.

3.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until until there are no dry patches.  Form into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap.  Chill for 4 hours in the fridge.

4.  When firm let the dough soften on the counter for 15 minutes then break off pieces of dough and roll into 1 inch balls.  Roll the balls in the crushed walnuts.  You may need to press the nuts into the ball slightly.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  Press your thumb into the center of each ball making a crater like depression.

5.  Bake in a preheated oven for 12 minutes.  Remove from the oven and fill the depressions with warmed caramel sauce.  Bake cookies for another 3-5 minutes or until the caramel smooths out.  Let them cool completely before serving.

For the Caramel Sauce

This is David Lebovitz’s recipe found via The Purple Foodie.

He sure to read David’s Caramel Help Page before attempting to make caramel.

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp sea salt

1.  Spread the sugar evenly over the bottom of a light-colored heavy pot.  I like using my white enameled cast iron pot.  Heat the sugar over medium heat without stirring very much until the sugar is completely melted and has turned a rich amber brown.  Gently swirl the pot or push the sugar toward the middle of the pot if it looks like it is darkening too quickly.

2.  When the color resembles the top photo on David’s help page, a rich amber brown, very carefully take the pot off the heat and carefully add the butter & cream.  Expect foaming and bubbling so stand back and let it go for a few seconds.  When the steam has cleared stir everything until smooth.  Stir in the salt.  Let cool.

Store in a bell jar in the fridge.  It will last for weeks.  Eat from the jar with spoons or put on ice cream, or cookies, or on top of my Chocolate Tart.