Travel

Napa, CA

Admission time: I’ve been planning my bachelorette party since I was a little girl. Probably for as long, if not longer than I have been planning my wedding. Like the imagined wedding of my youth it has gone through many revisions. But one thing was for sure, it would be filled with friends, food, drinks and very little sleep. In recent years I have developed a deep love affair with wine and wine related vacations. When I discovered the Napa Valley Wine Train I know that was the ideal destination for the festivities I had in mind. Luckily Lloyd proposed shortly thereafter and following many months of planning and anticipation Napa Girls’ Trip 2018 is in the books. And it was indeed filled with friends, food, wine and almost no sleep.

We rented the cutest little cottage/bungalow house just down a ways from Main Street, Napa. There were many homes on offer in the Napa Valley through AirBnB and VRBO. But we were a large group looking to stay more central since our main event was the Wine Train and this cozy space met our needs perfectly. We actually rented through HomeAway and the property itself can be found here. It was painted a rustic green that made me think of grapes and vines and was well appointed with plenty of sitting space (inside and out) as well as rather snugly beds. It had an easy to use and well maintained gas grill as well as an hot tub. Both of which we very much enjoyed. And the kitchen had everything we needed to put together a lovely meal. We even used some of the fresh lavender that was growing next to the house to make simple syrup, as well as some Meyer lemons from Ermentrude’s backyard.

xmgamygdskkzbgmjgaps8g.jpg

As wonderful as the kitchen and garden were the best part of this home was the gorgeous backyard with the aforementioned grill and hot tub. We spent one evening grilling meat and enjoying an homemade Mexican fajita bar and the next night in the hot tub drinking our bodyweight in Cava, Rose’ and West Coast Chardonnay.

The house had some really cute touches that I really enjoyed. The TV stand had a bowl of wine corks that people had signed and there was an adorable little fireplace in one corner. I really appreciated that they had plenty of pillows on the bed. When Lloyd and I sleep apart I make a Lloyd shaped pillow pile on my right side and pretend like it’s him. It’s not nearly hot, sweaty or snoring enough, but it does the trick!

If you ever have an evening free to spend with your girlfriends might I suggest a fajita bar? Make a couple of different dips and salsas, caramelize some peppers and onions, grill up your favorite meat and open many, many bottles of wine. Some people might ask why I skipped out on the classic margarita and to those people I say… tequila is a bad decision juice, that’s why. Even with sticking to wine I managed to forget to take pictures of the vast majority of the food we made that night including a tomato salsa, guacamole, a corn and black bean dip, caramelized red/orange peppers and onions, grilled chicken, steak and tortillas. Not mention a multitude of nibbly bits like almonds, cheese and crackers. And wine. Did I mention wine? So much wine.

My lovely ladies and most spectacular Maid of Honor, Olivia, really outdid themselves when it came to the decorating. There was glitter, bridal paraphernalia and male genitalia all over the place. I’ll keep the pictures of the naughty stuff off of here. But there were inflatables and straws and a world of other risqué items that had me blushing all night long!

Olivia even had shirts made for all my girls. Which was simply the best thing. She did a great job picking out shirts for people she had only ever heard me talk about. She is thoughtful and introspective that way. Also, etsy for the win! It was really fantastic having all these women I know from different walks of life under one roof. Having moved a lot for school and work I have a lot of close friends that live all over the country and the world (Australia, in particular). So I rarely get to see some of my nearest and dearest and most of them have never even met each other. It was a really special weekend for me watching all my best friends get to know each other!

I’ve been hemming and hawing trying to avoid crying while I write this. But I have to mention a special gift that Claire curated for me. In addition to being an excellent doctor and oenophile she is also a gifted scrapbooker. She got in touch with all the girls I invited to my bachelorette and asked them all to send in pictures of us together and fill out a little questionnaire she had put together. I read all the letters out loud and cried through all of them. It was one of the sweetest and most touching gifts I’ve ever gotten. Made more so by the inclusion of those friends who couldn’t make it. I couldn’t believe all the time and effort people so obviously put into answering Claire’s questions about our friendships. Their words and love touched the very cockles of my heart. And the whole thing proved exactly how much I need waterproof, air brushed, shellacked makeup for my wedding cause I can’t even type this paragraph without tearing up.

Every picture and page and letter included in this scrapbook makes me eyes well. This weekend taught me how important it is to cherish your friends and cultivate your friendships. All of these amazing women were in my life before Lloyd and helped me become the person he loves and wants to marry. They watched me stumble, grow, change and strive to become the woman I am today. They are my roots.

Travel

Oakland, CA

I love airplanes. I love the rush when they take off. I love that they get me to the West Coast in twelve hours and nobody dies of dysentery. I love that plane selfies are more acceptable than work selfies. I love being the first one to do the crossword puzzle. But most of all I love when they take me to visit a friend I haven’t seen in years.

 

On the way to my bachelorette party in Napa I stopped to pick up my officiant, Ermentrude, in Oakland. We’ve known each other since high school and we are basically common law married on facebook. She moved to the other side of the country a few years ago so it’s been ages since I’ve seen her in person. But Ermentrude knew exactly how to welcome me to her new home.

gdzcueizspmhwpnkuknba.jpg

I had a great time exploring her neighborhood and spending quality time with one of my oldest friends. I got to meet her beau and discover exactly how close she now lives to Trader Joe’s. Walking distance, she lives walking distance from the world’s best grocery store. I was so jealous I took this weirdly distorted picture of the sign that can be seen from her street in a mock rage.

uEPItCXLSFm0iNtpOTueRQ

One of the wonderful thing about Richmond is how amazingly tolerant we are as a city. And one of the thing I loved about visiting my friend’s neighborhood in Oakland, CA is realizing that tolerance is everywhere. I saw dozens of signs touting this philosophy and was touched by every one.

23ERJ5pKSsecw5esyr1miA

I was also in awe of all the cute homes and their gardens overflowing with gorgeous succulents. There were huge, they were colorful and as odd as it sounds they made the whole neighborhood smell amazing. Although that might have been the pot that was being smoked all over.

 

I just think you should know that I am succulent murderer. I don’t mean for them to die. But they die. I think if I lived in San Francisco and not Richmond I would have less of a murderous past. While I was in San Francisco I also murdered this delicious coffee and toast breakfast from Oliveto’s.

 

Of note when you go to another local shop they have a basket of freshly boiled eggs sitting next to the cashier. Just sitting there. Being adorable. And slightly overcharging you for the luxury of a pre-boiled egg.

VFWjN6W9Q9iguncTTz7neQ

After our morning ramble we went to back to Ermentrude’s quaint cottage and got down to business before heading back to the airport to pick up another couple of ladies and finally head to Napa! Since all my girls has been so kind as to fly all the way in from various parts of the world and country I wanted to make sure I had a lovely little welcome waiting for them. I had spent a considerable amount of time scouring etsy, pinterest and instagram for the perfect gift and eventually settled on gift bag stuffed with travel essentials. Fortunately for me we live in a world with Amazon Prime and I was able to find everything I wanted to include and ship it directly to Ermy’s house for free. I tried to load it down with practical things that would make a girl’s weekend more enjoyable. I settled on a water bottle (glass, so you could drink wine), a scarf and collapsible makeup bag that I filled with smaller treats. In the makeup bag I had two different lip stains that worked great together, oil blotting sheets, a tide stick, fun sunglasses, a sheet mask and of course ferraro rocher!

 

I did order some iron-on decals off Etsy from Chessa Creations. I’ve ordered from her before and would absolutely recommend her to anyone looking for a custom made order! I was very scared about ironing on the decals myself but her instructions were perfect and they turned out great! It was really a lot easier than I thought it would be. I now want to personalize everything!

8ggKUz25RWylCz6Wx7huhw

All in all my one night in Oakland was definitely the perfect start to my bachelorette festivities! If you have a long time friend you haven’t seen in a while I suggest you make a plan right now to go visit them. In this age of facebook, instagram, snapchat, iMessage, gmail, FaceTime, etc. I feel like we sometimes forget how special it is to actually be with someone. So go take a vacation with your bestie!

Food

Girls’ Night Guacamole

I like my guacamole like I like my men, bright green and thick. So basically what I’m telling you is I have a weird thing for Shrek and I’m about to divulge my not so secret guacamole recipe. I was recently in California and the opportunity to use the freshest avocados I have ever seen to make this guac. It was something that had to be recorded for posterity because you don’t get avocados this fresh in Virginia. Especially not in March. Also, of note, it is currently snowing in Virginia. It wasn’t snowing when I was in California yesterday.

w5uymrqqcg3mefljmaqw.jpg

The thing that really blew me away was how easily the pit came out. No need to thwack the knife into the pit to pull it out risking serious hand injury. My friend, Claire, who is going into hand surgery has a minor heart attack every time she sees me make guacamole. This time she did not have to worry as they practically fell out. Your avocado skins can be saved to use as tiny serving dishes later on. But usually I can’t even get it transferred into a serving bowl before people are scooping it out. Now most of you probably know the rudiments of guac crafting so I’m just going to share some helpful pointers. First and foremost, microwave your limes! What? That’s crazy! Nope, it’s actually a really good habit to get into with any citrus fruit if you want to get the max juice out of it.

fVdNURddR%KDZz8bI25wzQ

YOU PUT THE LIME IN THE MICROWAVE AND SHAKE IT ALL UP! DOCTOR!

Okay, I’m all better now. But, honestly this is a hack worth remembering. A warm citrus fruit will release a significantly greater amount of juice. Depending on how cold, ripe and big your lime is the perfect length of time can vary. I usually start with 15 seconds and go up in increments of ten. I know it’s ready when it feels a world softer and is just hot enough that it’s a little uncomfortable to hold in a closed fist. This is good because the next step is to roll that lime around in between your palms pressing gently, this releases the juices even further. For a larger fruit, like grapefruit, it might be easier to roll it between your palm and the counter. Once your cut it in half squeeze like your life depends on it! And don’t forget to use your pulp. I cut it off and scrape it into whatever I am making

LY3tbeAhS26iyRu%oxygQQ

My other little hack is in regards to your garlic. We didn’t have a handy piece of Tupperware to shake the cloves in to help us peel them but this stuff was pretty fresh and peeled easily. Have I mentioned that California produce is insanely fresh? I just want you all to know that I keep a large of jar minced garlic in my fridge and a backup one in my pantry so I will not judge if you decide to go that route. But every now and then I think their are times when fresh garlic is worth the hassle. And girls’ night guac is one of those times! So once you have your peeled garlic it’s time to get to dicing. I find it easier to squash all my cloves with the flat side of my knife blade and then sprinkle the cloves with a little salt before doing a quick rough chop. The salt helps bruise the garlic and seasons it all at the same time. I wanted ya’ll to see how to the hold blade for the rough chop so I asked Hand Surgeon, turned Hand Model, Claire to demonstrate.

WigEA3M9RDK8JNf0T2YFlA

Once you have your avocados, onions, garlic, salt and lime all sorted in a bowl it’s time to customize. Some would argue that garlic and onions should be part of customization. But guacamole without garlic and onions is like wine without grapes. It just makes no sense. And I feel almost as strongly about coriander and tomatoes but there are people who I know and cook for that do not eat tomatoes and coriander. It’s shocking, I know, but there you have it. So at this point you have the option to add in jalapeños, coriander, tomatoes, cumin, bell peppers. I personally don’t like bell peppers but the rest all goes in. I’m also not a huge fan of that raw onion taste to I tend to use milder onions like shallots or scallions instead of the red onions that you will often catch me cooking with. As far as your jalapeños go the finer your chop them the less likely that someone is going to get a great big piece in their mouth and be on fire for the rest of the night. If you want to avoid getting the capsaicin juice all over your hands and then in your eyes when your friends are so sweet that they make you weep tears of joy (I’m speaking from experience) you can avoid hand chopping by just blitzing them in a blender or food processor. I really wish I had done that because my eyes and face burned for the better part of the night.

2Iba3zOPQKqehgcJgQjxaw

Funny story, I ended up mixing this up in a cooking pot because it was the only receptacle large enough and while I had every intention of plating it into something pretty and getting a picture of my bright green guac surrounded by a plethora of blue and yellow corn tortilla chips my girlfriends devoured it before I got a chance. Truthfully the began devouring before I even had it completely spiced. All under the guise of “taste testing,” I’m sure. So I will leave you with this picture of a heaping bowl of diced avocados instead.

f8zuGALkTkqfsOXDoPFzsg

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 6-8 (based on the number of avocados you use, for the seven of us I used six largish avocados)

Ingredients: These ingredients are directly proportional to the amount of avocados you use and my particular taste. Feel free to adjust for your palette and the number of people you are serving. 

  1. 6 largish avocados
  2. 1-2 fresh limes
  3. 1-2 jalapeños
  4. 6-8 cloves of garlic
  5. 8 -10 scallion heads thin chopped
  6. Handful of coriander rough chopped (including finer chopped stems)
  7. 1 medium tomato
  8. 1 Tbsp salt
  9. 1 Tbsp cumin
  10. 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  11. 8 -10 scallion heads thin chopped

Recipe:

  1. Dice your avocados. Cut in half, remove pit while avoiding slicing your hand open, use a dull blade to section your avocado cross and length wise, scoop into very large bowl with a spoon.
  2. Cut and juice lime as above.
  3. Peel and dice garlic as above.
  4. Fine chop or blend an jalapeño, more or less depending on your taste.
  5. Chop your onion, I used the scallion whites and saved the greens for another dish. But you can use whatever you prefer.
  6. Rough chop the coriander leaves and finely chop the stems before adding to the bowl.
  7. Finely chop your tomato and scrape the juices and seeds into your mixing bowl.
  8. Add in your dry spices, I use a little extra garlic powder to give the guac a more uniform garlicky flavor. Add your salt in small amounts and mix well before trying. It’s very easy to go overboard but an under salted guac is too sad to fathom.
  9. Mix, mix, mix until you have the consistency that you want.