Food

I am participating in Operation Come Home’s 24 Buck Challenge this week, during which I am trying to provide meals for myself with a budget of just $24. You can read why in my inaugural post here.

I love food and I love to cook so shopping for this challenge was difficult and uninspiring for me. I mean, check out this menu:

24Buck Challenge menu

I know, right? Where’s the beef? In fact, where is just about anything that is good and decent in this world? I thought, “Well, coffee and drinks are not included so there’s my breakfast smoothie and coffee” forgetting that I put strawberries, mangoes, bananas and protein in my smoothie. Then I saw ahead to Thursday evening where I will find myself at a dinner party with some girlfriends. Bingo! Free food. I’ll bring the wine! Then I remembered I was attending a potluck on Saturday evening for which I am expected to bring food. Bummer. No food! Looks like I’m bringing deviled eggs to the potluck if I can snag a few mustard and mayo packets from Timmies. AND if I don’t manage to eat them all myself.

Day One started out beautifully: a lovely cheese omelette with a big glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee. Actually I would call that pretty normal even for a Sunday. And dinner? Of course I would have preferred a fresh salad and fresh green beans but chicken, rice and canned green beans was tolerable. But my arrogance and confidence faded quickly after my hardboiled egg breakfast – and I am not looking forward to a whole week of them.

I’ve only just finished Day Two and my favourite expression has become, “Are you gonna eat that?” My family is ok with it but my co-workers find this a little disconcerting.

Day Two and I am also cheating; I can’t help myself. I managed to fit in a loaf of bread on the budget so grilled cheese sandwiches were doable – depending on how far I could stretch 200g of grated marble cheese – but I had no money left over for peanut butter and jam. Let’s just say these things mysteriously appeared on my doorstep one morning, just like the cooking spray and salt and pepper.

Now if only a nice strip loin with a peppercorn sauce with mysteriously appear on my doorstep.

Several years ago, a friend of mine started volunteering his time with Operation Come Home, an employment, education, and support centre for homeless and at-risk youth age 16 and up. Based in Ottawa, their programs focus on what works and what matters to youth, as well as encourage personal growth of everyone as an individual. My friend started out cooking breakfast for their program one a week. He quickly earned respect for many things, not least of which was his menu planning (bacon) and diversions (reading homeless youth their horoscope). I know they appreciated this. (The bacon, I mean). He has gone on to lend his expertise in many other programs and events including 24 Hours of Homelessness, during which he slept outdoors with a group of volunteers for 24 hours. In Canada. In January. It was only 24 hours for him, but not so for many homeless youth in Ottawa.

I knew I could not participate in 24 Hours of Homelessness, not without forsaking my kids RESPs investing in down clothing and bedding, so decided I would show my friend my support by participating in the 24 Buck Challenge. This is a new addition to Operation Come Home’s “Reality Campaign” intended to raise awareness for the income challenges of the average youth living off of welfare. I have $24 to spend on food for the week January 31 to February 6, 2016. The cost is determined by calculating the amount the Ontario Works provides to youth for a monthly allowance minus expenses like rent, a phone bill, bus pass, etc. What’s left over for food would be approximately $24 per week. That’s $3.43 per day or $1.14 per meal. Luckily for me, coffee and drinks are not included in the $24 total. Woohoo!

Some of you may recall the family Lent project I did during which I endeavoured to feed my family of five on the equivalent funds of a family on social assistance. At the time, 2009, my budget was $14.66 per day. You can read my reflections on this challenge on my blog. So this “reality campaign” was a challenge with my name written all over it in peanut butter. I thought, given it was just me participating and not my whole family that it would be a piece of $1.14 cake. Today is Day One and I am quickly finding out how very wrong I am.

My trip to the grocery store played out as follows:

Food Cost
Eggs (doz) 2.78
Cheese (200g) 3.97
Bread (loaf, whole wh) 2.17
Hunts Pasta sauce 1.25
Fettuccini noodles 1.79
President’s Choice Mac & Cheese (2bx) 1.98
Chicken thighs (4) 3.74
Green beans, canned .99
Corn, canned .99
Tomato (fresh, 1) 2.00
Uncle Ben’s Fast&Fancy Rice (1pkg) 1.00
3 fresh bananas 1.07
Total $23.73

 

As the cashier quickly bleeped up my total, I realized how depressing this week would be. I have a 27cents left in my food budget for the week. And you think that shopping list is depressing? Wait until you see my menu for the week, which I will share tomorrow.

Seven days, $24, and no butter. Someone, throw me a bone … please.

Here is another delicious, nutritious slow-cooker soup to complement the busy hockey mom’s recipe book!

hearty minestrone

Hearty Minestrone

1 Tbsp  olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 each, stalk celery and carrot, sliced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

½ tsp salt and pepper

1 can tomato paste – 5.5 oz/156ml

1 smoked ham hock (1lb/500g)

1 piece Parmesan cheese rind

8 cups  water

1 large potato, peeled and cubed

1 sweet red pepper, diced

1 small zucchini, sliced or chopped

1 cup each rinsed and drained canned red and white kidney beans

1 cup dried pasta

~~

Fry onion, celery, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper and scrape into slow cooker.

Stir in tomato paste, ham hock, parmesan rind, potato, red and white beans and water.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until ham can be easily pulled off the bone.

Discard bay leaves, parmesan rind and ham bone.

Increase heat to high and stir in red pepper, zucchini for 20 more minutes.

Add some cooked pasta (adding it uncooked to the soup is possible but may make it a little mushy).

My trick?  I make this on a Saturday and then leave it in the frig (or garage, if it’s winter!) and then leave it on “Warm” all day Sunday as my hungry hockey players come and go!  Enjoy!

From Canadian Living’s Comfort Cooking, Winter 2007

Work-life balance. It’s not easy to put food on the table and hockey skates on kids’ feet without spilling my wine, but I’ve think I’ve got it down now – not the days the wine store is closed mind you, but most days. There are so many evenings in this hockey mom’s life when I have to serve dinner at the speed of light which is generally not a problem for my full time cook. Except I don’t have a full time cook so am always on the look out for dinner recipes that are fast, easy and edible and do not involve an easily memorized phone number.

My slow-cooker is one of my BFFs, but she does occasionally let me down. I quickly realized that the idea of crock-pot cooking is far more tantalizing than the food it renders. But I am about to share a hockey family slow-cooker favourite. I’m not sure who to credit for this one except that I know I got it from my mom about ten years ago – about two years into my hockey momdom. I love this recipe for two reasons: 1. It does not require the meat to be browned first which apparently is a big slow-cooker no-no; and 2. It’s one of the few slow-cooker experiments I’ve undertaken that my family likes (and therefore will actually consume it). I have a standard rule in my house that if a new recipe gets a thumbs-up from 3/5 of my family (dogs, fish and hamster are not eligible voters), it’s worth repeating. If it gets a 5/5, it’s a keeper. This one’s a keeper!

Slow-Cooker Orange Chicken

8-10 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into chunks.

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder

1/3 cup orange marmalade

1/3 cup barbeque sauce (try not to use a smoky kind)

2 tablespoons low-sodium soya sauce

1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon minced gingerroot

1 clove garlic, minced

Green onions, chopped for garnish

Sesame seeds, toasted (optional) for garnish

IMG_2003

Mix the chicken with the flour and 5-spice right in your slow cooker. Combine the marmalade, barbeque sauce, soya sauce, chili paste, sesame oil, ginger and garlic and pour over the chicken. Stir it up, little darlin’, stir it up until all the chicken is covered. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. But here is my secret slow-cooker showstopper timesaver: I put the flour-and-spice-covered chicken in the removable cooking pot and prep the sauce in a measuring cup the night before. I mix it up in the morning and pop it back in the frig. Then I ask one of my kids to put it in the slow cooker when they get home from school. This may involve a reminder note on the front door, a text at 3:00pm, a phone call home at 3:00PM or all three, depending on the teenager. Luckily my oldest ones are home from high school around 3:00PM and areIMG_2006 accepting of this massive responsibility thereby making dinner servable anytime between 6:00-7:00PM. If your kids are unreliable and you consider cooking this on low for 6-8 hours like some slow-cooker recipes suggest (or 10 hours because you leave at 730AM and are not home before 5:00PM), this recipe will be overcooked and dry and not fit for human consumption (but the dogs will still love it).

IMG_2007Serve the chicken over rice with a side of steamed broccoli or green beans (I have a microwave steamer so I can prep this in advance too). This meal is on my table at least twice a month during hockey season. My son even takes the leftovers to school for lunch. Yes, he does. And he’s a teenager.

If you have any hockey family friendly recipes, I’d love to try them out 🙂

I am very curious to know exactly where the term “dinner hour” came from since I usually have my family’s undivided attention at the dinner table for about – oh – 13 minutes.  Sometimes you just want to get the conversation going at the dinner table and it’s exceptionally tedious.

Not that every dinner time is always quiet in our household.  Heaven knows that the clang and clatter of five dinner plates and two dog bowls served up with mismatched cutlery, a main entrée with a side of door slam, a salad tossed with two insults, two Oreo cookie dunks courtside with a basketball commentary (replaces hockey talk for the time being), one random physics factoid followed with an appropriately timed bodily noise, and one pre-pubescent female served up with a drama or two usually provide for ample dinner din.

But everyone seems tired tonight.  The weekend is not even close and I sense everyone here is still reeling from the clocks switching back an hour.  Judging from the looks on their faces from my end of the table, it seems that extra hour of sleep has hurt more than it had helped.  I am sensing that tonight will be one of those dreaded one-sided, motherloaded conversations and I need to spring into verbal action.

Let me see now; how can I get their attention?

“My bra strap came undone in the middle of a meeting today.”

Nothing…

“My security card fell in the toilet today and I had to fish it out.”

An eye roll…

My skirt was stuck in my panty hose as I left the public washroom.”

A slight movement in the corner of someone’s mouth…

So I set up for the ace …

“Oh – and I accidentally farted in yoga today.”

Yeah, the clatter and clang of the dinner dishes are back in full swing, but the last one might have just been a little over the top.  I’m about to open my mouth in a half-hearted retraction, and my daughter gives me the “Please stop talking” hand gesture, my sons actually get up and leave the table and my husband serves me the, “Are you happy now?” face.

Needless to say, pretty soon I am finishing my dinner entirely alone.  My plan has backfired.

Still…

It’s kinda nice…

Once in a while…

I just might try this again sometime.

What was the scintillating conversation at your dinner table tonight?

 

Shut Up and Eat!  Tales of chicken, children and chardonnay

Okay you had me at chardonnay…

I recently read Kathy Buckworth’s humour memoir on feeding children.  Really, this is subject matter that can ONLY be made into a humour memoir or else a miserable tragedy, so am glad she chose the former.

As her bio indicates, Kathy has written several humour books on parenting including The Blackberry Diaries:  Adventure in Modern Motherhood (which I have not read because, well, I don’t have a Blackberry), Journey to the Darkside:  Supermom goes Home (which I haven’t read yet either because I am still reeling from The Family Guy’s version of Star Wars and can’t venture to read a supermom’s rendition – even if it has nothing to do with Star Wars) and The Secret Life of Supermom (which I am decidedly NOT, so that too stayed too on the shelf).  She also appears regularly on CTV’s CanadaAm (though as a working mom, I never get to see this, and if I am home, my choice for TV is seldom if ever considered).

But chardonnay?  On that I DO consider myself an expert –  she’s a woman after my own heart.  Talking about kids in the same book title gave me pause to think but since the author is a mother of four, I guess she had to throw them in too!

I am a lover of books and of reading but every now and then I feel the need for a light read, a quick laugh and some reassurance that I am not the worst mother in the world and that’s what this book gave me.

How can you argue against gems of advice like?

On groceries:   Go grocery shopping on a Friday night – only you and all the other loser parents are there.

On weekend kitchen rules:   It should take one bowl, one measuring cup and one frying pan to make pancakes.  Just sayin’.

On dinner:  Most days I am absolutely thrilled if we can get through dinner without an explosive bodily function, head slap, or conversation that ends with one of my daughters stomping away and slamming a door” 
Note:  I finished the book and I don’t think she has quite accomplished that!

Crockpot:  Simply the best kitchen appliance I own – aside from the corkscrew, that is.

As an added bonus to her humour, she’s included actual recipes in this book! Well, okay, sort of, and no photos so don’t hold your breath.  But coming from someone has spent $50 on a cookbook only to flip through the pages like a toddler looking at the pictures, if I use but one recipe from this book and had a few laughs, then it was worth the purchase (see Pork Tenderloin, p. 98, Creamy Pizza Fondue, p 99 and Crockpot Peanut Chicken, p. 106). 

Kathy extols the virtue of dessert as a bribe, which I shamefully admit to having done as well, though my Clean Plate Ranger treats no longer make a appearance as often given my kids are now 11, 14, and 15 (they wish, though).

Because she’s funny, I shall forgive her potshots at American State Fair cuisine for we cannot no longer take pride in our country’s health statistics given  that almost a quarter of Canadians are now considered obese [Stats Can] – not far off the similar percentage of 33.8% of Americans [CDC]. Alas, I only protest that she forgot to mention Deep Fried Mars Bars and poutine. Sigh.

Where I sometimes long for a book in which to wrap myself around lyrical prose and linguistic magic, in this light-hearted book, I found solace in Kathy’s attitude toward feeding kids, her commitment to eating regularly as a family, and knowing I could probably entertain her well at my home confident she wouldn’t stress over the errant dog hair on her plate – providing I had plied her well with chardonnay beforehand, of course!

So if you happen to be in the mood for a quick, funny read just Shut Up and Eat!  No, I mean shut up and read, and pick up a copy of Shut Up and Eat!  And pass the chardonnay, while you’re at it!

What is your favourite food at the Fair?

Inspired by Stu Mills of CBC Ottawa Radio One, who has vowed to air a pumpkin story daily until Halloween, I’ve decided to write and post my own little segment of the Twelve Days of Pumpkin.  This is my third piece! 

***

We all know we can toast pumpkin seeds and eat them as snacks.  We all know we can whack the meat of a pumpkin to a fine pulp and put it in a pie.  In my series of pumpkin stories, I bring to you today, yet another great idea for pumpkins that you might not know:  Pickled Pumpkin.  

And you thought this was going to be a sordid little drunken story about me … shame on you.  Sorry to disappoint!

My mom shared this recipe of one of my childhood favourite side dishes, but she then confessed she stole it from Madame Benoit. 

Madame Benoit. 

Now, there’s a name I hadn’t heard for decades.  Madame Benoit was not the proprietor of some bawdy house in New Orleans as you might think; she was Jehane Benoit, the Queen of Canadiana Cuisine.  Outside of Canada, Mme Benoit is virtually unknown, but I grew up hearding her name regularly.   She was the French Canadian equivalent of Julia Child.  While she was famous for many French Canadian classics like French Canadian pea soup, pork and beans (made with maple syrup, of course),  cretons (a pork-based meat spread) , and tarte au sucre (hope you have a dental plan), I remember her best for her reputation for her classic Tortiere (meat pie).  When I was about six years old, I recall visiting her farm in Quebec once and cuddling with the little lambs on her farm, only to be crushed upon being told by Monsieur Benoit that Madame was experimenting with lamb recipes for a new cook book (and if I remember correctly, there ensued one of my many solo imprisonments in the big ol’ familyFord LTD).  This was a women whose recipe for meat loaf involved wrapping it in bacon and adding a spicy glaze of brown sugar and spices (it was “you had me at ‘bacon’” good).  Don’t you mock her – she lived to the ripe old age of 83!  Mercifully, before seeing poutine dubbed as Canadiana as toques, beer and hockey.

But alas, I digress.  Pickled Pumpkin is a wonderful accompaniment to tortiere, cretons and Mme Benoit’s meat loaf, but I’m sure you will find other suitable main dishes for yourself.  Enjoy!

Pickled Pumpkin

Ingredients:

16 cups cut-up pumpkin, (3/4 in.chunks)

4 cups sugar

2 cups vinegar

2 cups cider vinegar

3 cups water

6 oz. frozen orange juice-concentrate; thawed

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tablespoon whole allspice

1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves

  • In a large kettle combine sugar, vinegar, water, orange juice concentrate and spices (tie spices in cheesecloth, if desired).
  • Heat mixture over high heat until boiling, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.
  • Stir in the pumpkin chunks and reheat to boiling
  • Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until pumpkin is just barely tender, about 10 minutes
  • Ladle into hot jars to within 1/4 inch of tops, spooning in the hot liquid from kettle
  • Run a slim, non metal tool down along the insides of jars to release any air bubbles. Add additional hot liquid to within 1/4 inch of tops, if needed
  • Wipe tops and threads of jars with a damp clean cloth.
  • Put the lids and screw bands in place as per manufacturers’ directions
  • Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Coming up next in my series … pumpkin skin care …

Inspired by Stu Mills of CBC Ottawa Radio One, who has vowed to air a pumpkin story daily until Halloween, I’ve decided to [try and] write my own little segment of the Twelve Days of Pumpkin.  I shall endeavour not to post too many pumpkin pie recipes, but make no promises!

Here goes:

***

On the Twelfth Day of Pumpkin …

The Twelfth Day of Pumpkin happened to fall on my Dinner Club tonight with my lady friends (“Mom!  They’re called gal pals, now!” says my daughter).  Though we might meet more often by happenstance, we plan, organize, negotiate, swindle and bribe so that we can meet for dinner for sure every other month.  Since September 2004, we have been gathering to eat, drink and be scary.  Over those seven years, the menus have varied almost as much as the hairstyles.  Our members have fluctuated far less.

Seven years ago, I was a mother three young children.  I’d move mountains to make sure I didn’t miss this dinner (which really means I’d work extra hard to find a competent sitter but my definition of ‘competent’ relaxed as my options waned!).  My kids today are much more self-sufficient, but I am no less reliant on this group of women.  The mountains we move are less likely due to childcare issues but rather due to other commitments and responsibilities.  Yet somehow we all still manage to pull it off.  Somehow this gathering has remained a priority for all of us.  I can honestly say the unconditional support of this group of women has helped me parent through the carefree friendships of pre-school to the complicated relationships of high school.  I doubt our sagas are over.

Though the first few gatherings were fraught with high Martha-like menu expectations, we have occasionally succumbed to take-out.  I won’t say we don’t care what we prepare or eat, but as the years have passed, what we eat takes on less importance as with whom we eat!

Now.  Lest you thought I had completely steered off tangent, tonight’s meal was finished off with a delicous pumpkin cheesecake with a ginger crust.  AND … I snapped this quick shot of our adorable table décor for your pumpkin pleasure.

Yes indeed, this weekend would be Norman-Rockwell-picture-postcard-perfect.  I was looking forward to the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend with such bubbling enthusiasm that my poor siblings had to endure more than one email from me that began with “only # more sleeps!” until our reunion.  Imagine a vista where the slopes of the mountains were in their scorching splendour of furious reds, mellow yellows and vivid oranges, gentling protecting the beautiful Intrawest resort village of Mont Tremblant, Qc, Canada (about an hour north of Montreal).   Couple that venue with the crispness of a Fall morning that then gave way to uncharacteristically high daytime temperatures, transporting us all back into summertime mode (in fact, several heat records were broken on Sunday).  Then picture the cozy family campfire that transpired as the chilled night air returned.  Yes indeed, this weekend would be picture-postcard-perfect.

Perfect.

If you could take away the hike down the 875m mountain (2,871ft) on a trail called Le Bruler.  Translated, bruler means to burn, as in the knees, the quads, the calves, etc., as I quickly come to realize.

Perfect.

If you could take away that the younger generation effortlessly side-stepped shoe-sucking mud holes and gazelled from rock to rock.

Perfect.

If you could take away the image of the young father we passed heading down the mountain, while he was heading up with an infant in his front carrier and a toddler in his backpack carrier.  My sister couldn’t help muttering, “Show-off!” as she allowed him and his pre-school entourage to pass.

Perfect.

If you could take away the fact that the trail map suggested that Le Bruler was approximately a two-hour hike.  Never trust trail map approximations.  Three and a half hours later, I had made 2 frantic calls to my 74-year old mother back at base camp:  one to confirm we had acclimatized to the oxygen levels and were continuing our descent and one to coordinate lunch.

Perfect.

If you could take away the fact that due to this massive hiking expedition, Thanksgiving dinner took place at 10p – well passed the bedtimes of some of our younger guests (and mine, I might add)!

Perfect.

If you could take away the fact that the perfect homemade cranberry sauce (fresh cranberries, sugar, spices and a splash of Grand Marnier) never got served (but damn if that Grand Marnier didn’t go down good with 2k to go!).

Perfect.

If you discount the hydraulic patient hoist with which we all had to take turns the next morning to help us get out of bed, providing great inspiration to my niece aspiring to become a doctor (just not in geriatrics!).

Perfect.

If you could take away the unabated enthusiasm that surrounded the annual, traditional kids vs. parents football game.  Though my muscles begged for a forfeit, I endured my older brother’s Bluto-like soliloquy:  “’Over’? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!”  Alright, already (though I did manage to sneak off the field and participate as official photographer instead … laparoscopic surgery is postponed).

Perfect.

If you could take away the fact that the kids legitimately won and now hold bragging rights for an entire year.  And really!  Seriously.  What were we thinking?  They were all young teenage athletes, one of them playing high school varsity football!  There’ll be just no living with them, now (but wait!  I do need them to help me down these stairs!).

 

 

Perfect.

But really… would I really take away these little (ok, sometimes not so little) imperfections, entirely?  Approaching Martha Stewart standard, but never quite?  Will anyone actually remember these little blemishes?  Maybe.  But there are what makes us a family – and what moves us to make the effort to continue to gather annually from (presently) six different North American locations.  Maybe, not-so-perfect is a much better standard.

Yes, indeed this weekend was picture-postcard-almost-perfect.

Upon telling friends and family that my husband and I had decided on a summer vacation to California wine country together without the kids (while all at camp), I sensed some jealousy masked in their exaggerated “Oh, how wonderful for you!”  Upon hearing that we planned to cycle through California wine country together, they added some raised eyebrows with obvious concern that a reasonably decent 20-year marriage was about to fly over the handle bars and into the ditch.  I’m not actually a cyclist, you see, but the brochure looked so good that I signed off on the payment with reckless abandon throwing caution (and the two-page waiver form) to the wind.

Mile one

After a brief layover in San Francisco during which I clearly did not conserve sufficient strength in my legs walking up and down hills with grades not meant for mountain goats let alone humans or cars, we left the city behind and were shuttled to our first winery not far from the town of Sonoma.  After an introductory wine tasting at Etude Wines, delightful shady picnic lunch, and bicycle safety briefing, we took to our ride for the afternoon.  This warm up ride (HA!), intended to get to “know our bicycles”, began at 2 o’clock in the afternoon… on a hot, sunny Californian day … it was at least 90ºF (32.2ºC) out there.  I was not yet phased for I knew today’s route took us only 18miles (30km; never mind that I’ve actually only ridden 30k once in my life) via the historic village of Sonoma along with a visit to another winery.  The slogan for Ravenswood Winery is ‘No Wimpy Wines’ but thankfully not ‘no wimpy riders’, because I stumbled into their tasting room donating a lung and a barrel of sweat.  Their other motto is ‘if your colour is beige, you should probably drink something else’.  No worries there as my pale skin had just recently fermented into the colour of their beloved 2006 Cab.  Along with the heat, we also endured this totally freakish swarm of locust-like flying bugs, some of whom I believe are still making their home in my hair.  If these were the detested glassy-winged sharpshooters which I read threaten the wine country, then wine country and its tourism don’t stand a chance.  Resuscitated at Ravenwood, we set off again for the remaining 17 miles.  Our first night’s rest was at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, so I pedaled furiously thinking if that spa closes before I get there, someone’s going to get hurt – real bad.   Still married after Day One.

Mile 18

At some point during my dinner of roasted Sonoma duck breast with glazed cipollini onions, duck confit, foie gras farce, scarlet beets with port wine sauce, someone mentioned something about tomorrow’s invigourating climb up out of the valley over Sonoma Mountain.  I ignored them as I sipped my wine ; I’ll get the highlights over bacon and lemon cottage cheese pancakes in the morning.   We do not speak of my walking up and over Sonoma Mountain (just slightly smaller than Mont Tremblant).  We do not speak of my  riding the brake the whole way down the other side.  Nor do we mention that we passed the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center which was inexplicably closed (no meditating today, just haulin’ ass up a big mountain).  No, instead we speak of my first sighting ever of a coast redwood, under which I stood in utter amazement.  And speaking of udder amazement, our afternoon ride led us back toward the Pacific Coast along rolling farmland.  Though not on their résumés, an impromptu lamb herding exercise along Valley Ford Mountain Road tested my husband and our guide, who shall be henceforth be known as The Lamb Whisperers.   Though parts of the pot-holed Fallon Roadin the afternoon weren’t suited to a military tank, let alone a road bike, we arrived safely at Bodega Bay Lodge .  No marital flat tires yet.  Hot tub overlooking the ocean eases some of the aches and tension; dinner and wine afterward assures peace for another day.

Mile 62 (Day 3)

Must pay closer attention to elevation chart today.   The morning ride up Pacific Coast Highway 1 was almost dreamlike.  The initial fog, so common to this region, soon gave way to glorious sunshine.  This is good.  This is good because there is no cycling lane on Pacific Coastal Hwy 1, and I seriously wanted that cedar redwood logging truck to get a good visual on my location.  Though my eyes were glued to the obvious lack of any paved shoulder, I did steal the occasional view of the Pacific Oceanand the numerous state parks that dot that roadway.  A sidetrack to Goat Rock Beachwas strategically averted upon noting the elevation down to the beach and then back up (surely the view can be no better down there?!).  After following the Russian Rive rfor a while, we entered Armstrong Woods State Reserve (What’s the difference between a reserve and a park?  I do not know), where I got up close and personal with some of the largest and oldest living things on the earth.  Their size escapes description.  All I know is that it was so peaceful and all too soon I was hustled back to the roaring traffic.   Shortly after we stopped to ask about the well-being of our fellow travel mate and her new road rash after an unfortunate encounter with a parked car, my husband decided to take an alternative (read:  longer and/or different from my own) route, and I bravely forged onward to Napa.  He got a little lost and appeared at our agreed upon meeting sport (Twomey Cellars ) an hour later than scheduled.  There’s a ripple in my wine now.  I am a little pissed off that I have no time to check out the town of Healdsburg and only 15 minutes to dip in the pool before showering for dinner and meeting our guest speaker from one of the local Russian River Valley vineyards.  I make a secret pack with the ghost the purportedly haunts Madrona Manor  to haunt my husband all night long (but to no avail, and of course it’s me who wakes up and scours the room with my teeny weeny reading light before heading the bathroom).  I resolve to find my happy place on Day 4 and the chip my travel mate lost from her tooth.

Mile 105

I shall make the conversion for you:  I have now travelled 168km on two wheels.  Perhaps our friends pictured the two of us frolicking in the hot tub feeding each other Californiagrapes and wine.  To which I would say, “fuhgeddaboudit” (as my newest cycling friend from Long Island, NYwould say).  IF my east coast body clock managed to let me stay up until 10pm, I would shout out a couple of ‘woohoos!’ and pass out.  If my husband so much as looked at me and my aching quadriceps, I would come back with, “Are you an RMT?  No?  Then don’t talk to me.”  I know – the trip was my idea.

Today, some of the group decided to make a full day of it and ride from Healdsburg to Yountville (some 63 miles) bypassing our lunch at Robert Young Winery in the beautiful Alexander Valley of Sonoma County.  I was thinking, “Bypass lunch at the winery…?”  Then some others decided to head off quickly after lunch to tackle the challenge that included the words ”up” and “over” and then “down” into the town of Calistoga.  There was no way I was making the same mistake twice.  Nuh-uh.  Pack ‘er up; I’m riding with the Van Man.  Day 4 brought me closer to heaven.  There is a god and Napa by thy name.  I think I could live in Yountville, California.  I’d be fat and poor but really I could.  Dinner at the Thomas Keller restaurant Bouchon http://www.bouchonbistro.com/  left me a little uninspired and even questioning if a visit to its more famous sister restaurant, The French Laundry, would have been any different. The spa, however, at the Villagio Inn and Spa, left me wondering when I could move in.

Mile 146

So many wineries … so little energy left in my legs … so very little money left in our wallets.  Knowing our mode of transportation would not take us too far off track, we rode along the Silverado Trail and soon stopped at , Silver Oak Cellars , following soon thereafter with a visit to Beringer.  Morning wine tastings?  Why not?  We had arranged to have lunch at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Restaurant (former Christian Brothers winery).  Browsing the campus store was almost as enticing as lunch.  I’m sure equally excellent food was available in the town of St. Helena where I spent far too much on a single bottle of Napa Valley olive oil.  By the time we arrived back at home base (I did so enjoy calling The Villagio Inn and Spa, home, even if only for 48 hours!), I was ready toss my brand new cycling shoes.  You know something else, after 5 days cycling trying to look beyond the back of my ass, even my husband tired of saying “the view is great from back here!”

Mile 175

Screw this, I’m done, going to the spa.   Go away everyone and everything!  Especially you stinking cycling shoes!  Four hours and a year’s worth of my son’s tuition costs and I am restored!  And so… after a lovely lunch at NapaStyle, we bid adieu to our new cycling friends.  We boarded our shuttle to return to San Francisco, where my husband and I planned to spend the weekend before returning to reality in Ottawa.  We still had some sightseeing to do in San Francisco, you know, not having accomplished much on our initial visit upon arriving.  So, If you thought whipping through the streets of San Franciscoin a go-kart might be conspicuous, try doing it a GoCar painted bright yellow wearing the Great Kazoo’s helmets .  Though initially I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, I did determine that it was way more fun to smile and wave exuberantly at all gawkers who pointed and laughed at us.  By the way, a 6am flight out of San Francisco International Airport requires a 415am hotel pick up.  Remind me not to do that again.

Ahhhhhh, home sweet home.  Next stop? The Loire Valley (it really is a valley, right?)!

Post script: 

I should make it clear – we both agreed that this was one of the best vacations we’ve ever had!  Though mostly accurate, my blog post was tongue and cheek because I knew the memories of phenomenal people and sensational vinos, vistas and victuals would far outlast the painful moments described above  – along with the numbness in my right arm.  Backroads, the tour company with which we travelled, is second to none in service, tour excellence and local lore expertise.  My husband made a most deserved toast to our tour leaders Jill, Tony and Kaliegh over our last group dinner at Hurley’s in Yountville, and hopefully we see them again in our travels (hopefully in Yountville).

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles. astra
Buy Astra’s book “Offside by a Mile”!
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