It begins in the middle of January and continues through the beginning of March. Here at The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, we call it “Napa Snow”. The trees bloom in spectacular glory with these white blossoms and when the wind comes the blossoms come flying off and there is “snow” everywhere. It is stunning. Admittedly our winters are mild compared to the East Coast and elsewhere in the world, and for this reason we live here. Oh, we have our share of frosty mornings with an occasional powdered sugar dusting of hail or light snow on the hilltops, but nothing like the inches of white cold others experience. It’s a great time to be in Napa, to see a different kind of beauty on the streets.
In the vineyards the mustard is growing up between the vineyards. Pruning has begun which means you will see long lines of black stumps surrounded by bright green vegetation of yellow flowers. It is our second favorite time of year here next to harvest. Standing in the tasting rooms, looking out the windows onto the vineyards,with a large glass of luscious Cabernet Sauvignon in your hand- this is winter in Napa.
Just a short ten minute walk from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Fuller Park. It is where I walk the dogs each morning after breakfast service. Over the course of the year it changes with the seasons and every year I think one season is better than the next. When actually they all have their merits. In winter the leaves are gone, the air is crisp, the sky blue, and there is winter leaf-mulch all around. There are fewer people in the park so it makes for a lovely walk in silence and solitude. Until those squirrels decide to play naughty and run across the paths of the dogs. Calvin is incredibly fierce in his determination to chase, but alas he is called back to formation with the pack.
For me it is the long shadows with the sun hanging low in the sky that calls me to attention. It is romantic in its own way, creating an ideal of shadow and light that equally play together into something beautiful. It is serious, yet playful; simple, yet full of delight. While visiting here in Napa, at any time of year, take a walk around Fuller Park and discover some of the beauty that other than grapevines and wineries.
First and foremost we are doing very well. We want to say “thank you” to all our guests, family, and friends who reached out to us with emails, phone calls, and texts of concern, love, and support. It means very much to us and and reminds us of how much love there is in the world around us.
We, Jamie and Jim, were in Santa Cruz at the time of the earthquake for a niece’s wedding. A friend called at 4 am Sunday and said we needed to come home right immediately. All guests were accounted for and uninjured. We learned Calvin hid underneath a night stand. Maxwell jumped up on the bed, barking (naturally). Hugo stood up and watched the whole thing happen. No injuries, just scared little dogs needing some love and attention.
Our interim innkeeper, Cindy B., out-did herself keeping things calm and cool in the aftermath of our 6.0 earthquake. We lost a lot of “things” and any damage to the historic mansion is cosmetic (cracked plaster, paint chipped off). We called the staff and told them to take care of their families, and if they had time to join us later for clean-up. Cindy B. rallied the troops around us and we began the process.
We closed the inn for two days to clean up the mess. Lots of broken glass, lost dishes (a 100-year old hand painted china set- ugh!), two armoires that fell over and broke apart , and the picture window in the living room overlooking First Street.
However, as you can see in this next picture we had cleaned up by Sunday evening, and most things were back in order. We only lost six bottles of wine in the basement/cellar and although everything fell over or off its perch in the attic, very little was lost. All Christmas decorations managed to survive!
We were told to repair the cracked stucco on the chimney and the living room window won’t be repaired for awhile what with all the other businesses and homes in town in the same post-quake boat.
When you visit you are apt to see the plaster cracks in the living room and foyer even though we are structurally sound. Again, the damage is cosmetic. We are currently ordering new items for the rooms that need it, so please forgive the mismatch of lamps, etc., until we are able to restock our inventory. Apart from some of the visual clues around the house, you would be hard pressed to imagine we experienced an earthquake at all.
What about the aftershocks or tremors? We felt two this morning but thought it was the dogs jumping onto the bed. That was the extent of movement we experienced- very short, very small. As seasoned Californians we know these come and go and we find them more amusing as there is no damage to the house or belongings. Our guests from Georgia slept through the first one and she thought the second one was her husband shaking the bed to wake her up. They are with us for another night. Others, though, for their own reasons canceled and while we were sad to see them go we understand their comfort level is different in regard to this event and they didn’t want to visit Napa, or even California at this time.
As with all things Californian recovery comes quickly and the community moves toward full recovery. The Oxbow Market, our local Napa gathering spot with shops, stores, and restaurants, is already booming with activity. I walked around today purchasing produce, spices, and meat as I wanted to support local vendors in their loss of inventory over the weekend. It was nice to see so many other people doing the same. They reopened Main Street today and they are currently looking to reopen First Street this weekend. There are parts of outer Napa (away from downtown where we are located) where water is still an issue with broken water mains. The majority of downtown restaurants are open, some with “limited menus” until inventory is restocked, and wine tasting rooms are still open for business. The wineries are open after their own clean up, and the local grocery stores are looking to be reopened by Friday (the clean up there is pretty significant).
How can you help? Come visit. Taste wine. Go out to lunch and dinner. Support the local community. Let Napa know that we can and should carry on with the great gift of hospitality that is offered to all.
I usually blog about the restaurants (you’ll see more soon) or wineries (always more to share), but today I wanted to share something a bit more personal and compelling for me as Chef and Co-owner of The Inn On First, a luxury bed and breakfast inn in Napa.
Annually Jamie gives me one week to go away so that I can spend a lot of time in silence and reflection with my BFF from southern California (Linda, whose husband is also generous in letting her go for one week). We rent a cottage on a 25-acre retreat property, are self-sufficient for the day in terms of breakfast and lunch, and then gather at dinner to cook and share our thoughts about the day. Each day we independently choose our theme for the day: what’s on our minds or hearts that is calling for attention? It could be work, relationship, self, family, friends. It doesn’t matter. There is no formula. You spend the day however you choose (reading a book of reflection, walking at the beach, going for a hike, sitting in your room, sitting by the river, enjoying the views, swimming in the pool, drawing pictures) and trust your heart, mind, and body to lead you through the silence.
My overall theme this year was Joy. It always seems to elude me. I feel love and peace so often, so why not joy? I also know that sometimes I have to work at love: that some days love really is a decision even though I don’t “feel” it. That I have to work at peace: taking time to sit for five or ten minutes in quiet and solitude, a moment set aside for my heart to settle down for a bit. So, where is joy in all of this? And how do I go about working at it?
Over the week of reflection I realized that I have defined joy as effervescence, a giddiness or happiness that bubbles from within. How wrong I have been! I realized that joy is the simple action of appreciation, a moment when I am awed by nature, or touched by a friend’s concern, the deep abiding breath you take when you are simply awed by a view from the mountain top. I came to understand that it is an “ah” (or “aha”) moment when you are not necessarily effervescent but simply in appreciation for what you have before you. Thanks and gratitude. Not overflowing, but simply in appreciation and simplicity.
I returned home to The Inn On First from retreat and sat in the garden. I saw the hummingbird feeding from the salvia flowers in the yard, watched the fish swim excitedly in the pond just before I threw in their food, and enjoyed watching a couple sit at a table, conversing and sharing a glass of wine. I thought about all the ah-some moments I have had here at the inn over the past seven years and I took a deep sigh in gratitude. Of course, this is my joy. People, food, wine, nature, Napa. All of it put before me. Not in giddiness. Not effervescent. Simply grateful and appreciative for what was right in front of me.
The work of joy for me, then, is to take the time throughout my busy and not always joy-filled day to “look” for those ah-some moments: in the laughter of guests at the breakfast table, in the tenderness of a couple sitting quietly hand in hand in the yard, in the joviality of a couple playing chess over a glass of port, in the sound of a guest playing the piano in the living room, in my surprise at the guests who enjoy throwing the ball for my dogs as much as I do, in the delight of guests who share their appreciation with the morning’s selection for breakfast, in the clink of the glass cookie plate cover (meaning someone else has returned to the jar once more for some chocolate love) multiple times over the course of an evening. All of this brings joy to me.
So don’t be surprised if you find me glancing your way with a smile as you sit in the yard sipping wine, or see me sitting in the yard with a cup of coffee enjoying a moment of quiet gratitude as you return from your day of wine-tasting, or walking by your breakfast table with an appreciative nod as you eat my food with delight. It’s just me, working at joy, finding it in every ah-some moment put before me here at the inn, hoping that, maybe, you’ll find some too.
A ten-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging property in Napa, is the restaurant called Torc. It opened a few months ago and I wanted to give it awhile before tempting fate with such an eclectic menu. We shared the evening with our friends, Don and Kathy, so that meant more bites to enjoy.
Beginning with the artichoke soup with mint and lemon, I was in love with the velvety finish. The portions are not large (we had read about this beforehand) and yet when I saw what was put in front of me I appreciated that they seemed just perfect for dining on multiple courses. The Kampachi Crudo was incredible, a white fish with a citrus sauce and avocado, as was the Roasted Beets with Burrata and a Sherry-Maple glaze. Growing up on canned beets I thought I would never try them again. Since trying roasted fresh beets my heart has been changed, and Torc delivered it with gusto.
We also tried the Deviled Eggs, and the Pakora, as well as the Jamon Iberica, all great small starter appetizers for the meal. Jamie had read about the Coconut Rice and the flavor on that dish was subtle and fun to eat. We also enjoyed the Pork with the Cheddar Grits and a Buccatini Pasta with a Lamb Bolognese. We enjoyed all of it. Prices for apps and sides run $5 to $15, and the entrees are from $14 to $29.
Torc is willing to accommodate changes to dishes to present Vegans, Vegetarians, and Gluten-Free guests. That is something not every restaurant in Napa offers. The menu changes seasonally so I am looking forward to some really great meals in the future.
Only a 10-minute walk from The Inn On First, a provider of romantic lodging in Napa, is a restaurant called Fish Story. They opened two years ago and chose to follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium lists for sustainable fish that are good for dining. It was good but I could make almost everything on the menu at home; and when I want to eat out I generally look for chefs that will teach me, or tantalize my palate, or offer me things I would never do at home.
When the new chef came one month ago we were intrigued by the new menu. Celebrating our 20th anniversary of our first date we decided to give the restaurant a try. I texted a friend immediately after dinner: “Just go!” Everything we had was delicious.
Jamie started with the tuna tartare with sourdough crisps and balsamic vinegar glee with a violet mustard. Every bite was incredibly wonderful with little bursts of the gelee that would shine through the tartare. I was tempted by the cold green garlic soup that was light, refreshing, and creamy goodness in a bowl. For a main course Jamie ordered the Lobster “pot au feu”, a fish stew with a large lobster tail in the center, mussels, clams, and a luscious sauce to be sopped up with the hot bread they bring to table. I ordered the sturgeon and it was perfectly cooked, a bit meaty and every bite tender, with this bed of leeks underneath that was a great complement to the fish as well as wild escargot bites that were incredibly tender. I didn’t want my meal to end.
For dessert we enjoyed the soft vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and it was a perfect ending to a delightful meal. The wine list for March was 1/2 off (their version of March Madness) so we splurged on a Storybook Zinfandel that was perfect with our meal. First courses run $9 to $15, and entrees $17 to $38. If you’re looking for some incredible flavors to go with fish, this is a great place to dine.
One last note: on the menu they state that “many items can be prepared in a vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free fashion.” That really impressed me as so many of our guests are looking for alternative cuisines due to dietary restrictions.
The Inn On First, your luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, is proud to be the first to offer Fly Fishing Lessons to our guests. This is a unique experience that can enhance your stay here in the Napa Valley.
You begin your day at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of the inn where you will meet your guide, Richard Loft, who will offer you an early morning continental breakfast.
You will sign all the necessary paperwork, he will hand you a map, and you will follow him for 45 minutes up into the hills beyond the Napa Valley. When you arrive he will suit you up in your waders and boots, and explain the basics of fly fishing. After a few lessons of casting and reeling, the real fun begins! Wading out into the river you begin the process of catch and release. Plan on a minimum of two to three hours in the water. Snacks and water available as you fish. When you are finished you can sit down to enjoy your sandwich lunch soaking up the beauty of Napa County Wilderness. Generally you can plan on returning to the inn no later than 1 p.m. which still leaves time for wine tasting in the afternoon. (Disclaimer: As with all fishing excursions, expect to have fun but catching of fish is not guaranteed). $525/couple, or $325 for one person. (50% deposit required, and there is a 72-hour cancel policy)
Fishing in the State of California requires a license which can be procured from the California website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/ols/, or you can make a visit to Sweeney’s in Napa (1537 Imola Ave West., Phone: 707 255-5544, Store Hours: Mon-Fri 9:00 – 6:00, Sat 8:00 – 6:00 Sun 9:00 – 5:00).
The Inn On First, your favorite romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, was happy to be a part of DoNapa.com’s efforts to showcase culinary talent in the City of Napa. As part of their chef’s series they asked to film Chef Jim Gunther prepare one of his 120 breakfast creations, the Corndog Omelet.
Don’t forget, to access local downtown Napa news and events, visit DoNapa.com.
Only a ten minute drive from your romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, lies a corporate park of which there are many tasting rooms and even a wine country hotel. We were invited to come and try out the Spelletich Family Wines, SpellWine.com, by daughter and tasting room hostess, Kristen, and her co-host, Miguel. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the wonderful greeting from Molly, the house dog.
On entering the tasting room you immediately sense how much work they put into the detail of the tasting room, providing a seating area with big, comfy chairs and a coffee table, as well as a large table with bar stools. The colors, the layout, the wine display, have all been carefully crafted together to give you a homey and yet elegant feel to the room. With nuts and crackers on the table we were escorted to our tasting chairs and presented with a menu of wines we were to enjoy for the day. From a crisp and yet creamy Chardonnay, to a lovely, toasty Pinot Noir, and even a taste of their soon to be gone Zinfandel Port.
Barb and Tim Spelletich are the creators of these wines, and surprised us with a French Bordeaux they make. Yes, I said French, not Napa Bordeaux-style. They import the juice from France and make a Bordeaux of their own with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Wonderful berry notes with a bit of tobacco bring pleasure to the palate as you taste. Then we were given the 3Spells Cabernet Sauvignon, a seductive wine that is soft, with a lot of fruit and very soft on the finish.
We liked everything they poured and, even better, their price point is phenomenal: $10 Chardonnay, $35 Pinot, $22 Bordeaux, and $30 Cabernet. You can’t beat that for these lovely, very enjoyable and drinkable wines. Tasting fees range from $15 to $40 depending on how many and which wines you want to try. I know we all think of vineyards and large wineries with spectacular views as part of the Napa experience, but finding great value and flavor in wine is part of that experience too. The whole winery operation is there, it’s just not surrounded by vineyards. Especially for those who have been to Napa before, or are looking for something new, different, and unusual, I would encourage you to seek out Spelletich Family Wine Company as part of your stay in Napa.
Breakfast here at The Inn on First, a luxury bed and breakfast inn in Napa, is a big deal. I really appreciated a recent guest review on TripAdvisor that stated that B&B really stood for “Best Breakfast”. Thank you! Currently I am on breakfast 121: Cheese Fritters.
It started with Fondue. I love breakfast Fondue: yes that is one of the 121 breakfast recipes (served with quail eggs, roasted potatoes, and roasted and buttered bread cubes- homemade bread, of course).
I was thinking about fondue and remembered how my brother Andrew loved fried cheese when he was a child. I wondered it I could create something similar, with a fritter, where the cheese would come oozing out as you cut it open and yet retain the crustiness of fried cheese that you get in a pan. After some experimentation with eggs and flour, I found what I wanted. I could use a small round of bread as the base, create a cheese paste mixture with gruyere, cheddar, and pepper jack cheese, egg and flour to be scooped on top, and then deep fried until everything was crusty on the outside and oozy, delicious on the inside.
Next came the decision about what type of egg to serve: poached, fried, scrambled. Poached seemed like the obvious choice so that the yolk and whites could easily be mixed into the melted cheese on the plate.
I also wanted more flavor infused into the dish and so I added basil oil. I realized I can play with infused oils over the next few years and try a wide combination of cheese flavors with different oils.
Lastly, I wanted something to finish off the dish. Homemade toasted bread to finish wiping up the cheese from the plate, and homemade jam to finish with any leftover toasted bread.
Thus, Cheese Fritters with Poached Eggs, Basil Oil, homemade toasted bread with homemade jam was created. This is going to be a delightful addition to my winter menu.