Thursday, March 13, 2014

Napa Valley Conference - Day 1

I feel like I'm sitting in an Italian villa drinking my white wine...but I'm really in Napa Valley in a cute hotel called Villagio. Michael and I are here for a four day conference (that I was dragged to against my will) called Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives which is being held at The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA.

Now let me explain something to you...I don't necessarily consider myself a unhealthy cook...but I do cook more red meat than it is suggested we eat. I have this unhealthy love of butter and bacon...and lets not forget spam! So when this conference through Michael's CME (Continuing Medical Education) came up he strong armed me into it. **I only agreed because it's in wine country. lol**

So this morning we got up at it isn't a fun thing when your alarm goes off at that time! We were out of the house and on our way to Sea-Tac by 5. We had a short flight down to Sacramento and then we got our rental car to head over the hills to Napa Valley. Now I'm going to share something with you...Michael is a horrible navigator! On our trip to Montana he didn't have his google maps zoomed in all the way so we missed the turn off to head to Ennis...and ended up having to go through Milligan Canyon on a dirt road. Now every time he tells me the wrong direction I say..."Milligan Canyon." And we both just laugh.

Well today he told me that I needed to turn off on a highway...well again...he didn't zoom in so we went 10 miles out of our way and had to go down some cut across road. I told him to give me the phone and for him to just sit there and think about what he did wrong. I love that we can get ourselves into these things and laugh our way out of them. LOL. It makes traveling with each other so much easier when we have this fun banter back and forth.

After we finally made it on the road that we needed to, we started to make our way over the hills. Holy cow, that road reminded me of the road to Hana, with all the twists and turns! I was starting to get a little car sick from all the turns (and I was driving!!). We finally made it to Napa, but we decided to push on to Sonoma. Together we've taken two trips to San Francisco and each time we made our way up to Sonoma. So being that we were in Napa we decided to go again. Michael's maternal grandparents are interred at the Sonoma Cemetery. I'm not sure if you've seen my past pictures of the cemetery, but it is a hauntingly, beautiful place. The trees are covered in Spanish moss, and many of the stones and mausoleums are worn down or broken. I get the same feeling that I did in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. It's sad to look at the head stones and monuments knowing that they were built and cared for at one time...but now are left to crumble.

We purchased two small planters and some flowers to place on his grandparent's space and the one of their family friends. Whenever I go to any sort of cemetery it's hard not to think about all the people who are laid to rest there. There are stones from the late 1800s, and I wonder what their lives were like...what the area looked like. Everything has changed so much in such a short period of time. Here I am going on a tangent! Sorry! Back to the story...

We put together the planters, watered them and placed them. After that we walked around some of the raised areas and straightened up flowers and planters that had been knocked over on other graves. After our time there we made our way back out of the cemetery and I couldn't help but take a few pictures of two of the mausoleums that caught my eye.

After our stop at the cemetery we made our way back into Sonoma to have lunch. We ate a cute café, and I had a yummy prosciutto and brie on a baguette! Took me right back to Paris! :) After lunch we made our way back over to Napa Valley. We decided to stop to see if we could check into our hotel in Yountville before heading to the conference for the evening workshops. Well it proved to be not really worth our time because we ended up having to wait until a little after 4 to get into our room. But we are staying at a very cute place. I truly feel like I'm in Italy...not that I've ever been to Italy...but I suppose this is what its like. :) Since we couldn't check in we decided to walk up and down the street...that lasted about 20 minutes since it was 80 degrees here today! What, WHAT!

I bought this shirt in Seattle...but I love the irony of it LOL

Where we are staying

The entrance to the lobby

One of the art installations in town

Love this!
After walking around we decided to sit on a bench and play on our phones until our room was ready. We knew we needed to be at The Culinary Institute no later than 5, so as it neared 4 PM we started to get antsy and asked if our room was ready. It wasn't, so they told us we could go change in the spa. We made our way to the spa...they took us back to the changing area...and just as I had my shirt half way off, the front desk called Michael and told him our room was ready. Seriously?!? We were there literally 4 minutes before that! **sigh** So we made our way back and got the key to our room to finish getting ready.

After the fiasco that was checking in, we made our way up to St. Helena to The Culinary Institute just in time for the session to start. I honestly didn't know what to expect. Michael has been to countless conferences like this...but this was my first. The first few people got up and talked...they were actually kind of boring. But then it came time for the 4 cooking presentations. Each of these chefs had 12 minutes to do their dishes. It was so much fun to watch them! (I could kind of sympathize with them because I know what it's like to be on camera and trying to cook and talk! Granted mine isn't LIVE in front of 400 people!) One of the chef's names was Suvir Saran...and he by far was the most entertaining to watch. And he made a comment that had everyone included! He had toasted some cumin seed and was grinding it in a mortar and pestle and said, "This is the bacon bits of Hindu cuisine!" By far the best thing I've heard so far!

After the presentations we made our way down to the second floor for the Tasting Reception. This is where the fun began. We were able to try several wines as well as foods that were prepared by the chefs and students at CIA (Culinary Institute of America)! The one that stuck out most in my mind was the Creamy Carrot, Ginger, Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup. I can't wait to get home and make this. And I PROMISE I will make a video for this. You will honestly love it! I went back for seconds of this soup...shhhhh! :)

The kitchens at the CIA!

Tasters Reception

I want this wine barrel in my house!

The atrium at CIA! So pretty!
At the end of the reception I made my way to the table where the chefs from the night's presentations were sitting selling their books. I decided to buy Tapas: Sensational Small Plates From Spain by Joyce Goldstein. Watching her cook was great, and I can't wait to try out some of her recipes!

After buying the book we made our way back to our car and back to the hotel. I snapped a few pictures from outside CIA.

Moon over Napa Valley

Part of the CIA building. So pretty!

Michael Yelped places to eat and we settled on a cute place not far from our room. I was only going to get a small thing to eat, but ended up getting the steak dinner! HA! :) It was so good! And now here we are...sitting in our room getting ready for bed. When we got back we had a bottle of wine waiting for us...NICE TOUCH! And I also noticed a picture that was on the dresser!

They must have known a crazy chicken farmer was coming!

Well my faithful is time for this Queen to go to bed before I turn into a pumpkin. We have a long day tomorrow! Hopefully we have some good sessions and I come away with some wonderful recipes to share with you all! :) And in case you wonder what it looks like when I'm blogging...well here is me blogging...Italian Villa Style!

Until next time...Keep Cooking!


  1. Hmmmmm, I'm not sure what to think of Carrot, Sweet Potato soup. I hate sweet potatoes, but I love carrots!!! Maybe when I get back to the world of kitchen appliances and my pots and pans I will give it a try!
    So jealous you're at that Culinary Institute, I would just love to see that!!!!! Have a great trip!!!!

  2. Brian, Can't wait for that soup recipe as well as all the other recipes you'll bring back from this weekend. Sounds amazing!

  3. Believe me Jennifer, this soup is amazing! It doesn't taste like sweet potatoes at all. It's a very creamy and lovely soup! I promise if you make'll LOVE it!!!

  4. It's been so wonderful Mary! I can't wait to share them with you! I've gotten some wonderful ones from this weekend, as well a few new cookbooks! HA! :)

  5. Well when I move back and unpack my stuff I will give it a try! Currently I have one small crappy pot, a dull-ish knife- and a stove you have to light with a lighter and has one setting! Cooking won't be happening much here :). Well, I can make eggs and grilled cheese :)

  6. Can't wait. I'm cooking more and more thanks to you!

  7. HAHA! Well make what you can! :) And this will give you something to look forward to if you ever come back to the states! :)

  8. That makes me so happy to hear!