Ever since I went out of town, back in December, I’ve had a hard time getting back to my writing. All I wanted to do while I was away was write. Then, I get back home, to my computer and there’s just too much catching up to do. So, what do I do? I take a day off. My partner was attending a conference in Napa Valley and so I decided to tag along. I had visions of sitting on the edge of a grapevine filled field with the hills in the background, the wind sweeping through my hair that is now twice as long as it should be and a strange grayish orange color because I missed my scheduled appointment, with my computer on my lap, using the inspiration to type the day away. Of course that didn’t happen. I didn’t even take my computer. I did drive through many miles of countryside with every possible spot of dirt containing a grape trunk. I find that California is most beautiful on the coast and in the country where every square inch of land has some sort of produce on it. But it’s not the little mom and pop places that wow me. It’s the miles and miles of acres that roll up and over hills, climb tiered steps up the sides of mountains and reach to the sea. It’s beautiful. Sometimes smelly (like brussel sprout season) but beautiful still. The endless, perfectly straight rows of farmland are simply stunning.
I find it funny going to Napa. It’s all about the grapes there which means it’s all about the wine. Being a non-drinker, it’s not very conducive for me to be there but with this being my second time in the area, I decided to go as a treat to myself. I found that where there is great wine, there is incredible food. It’s not only a wine drinkers’ paradise but a foodies’ as well. I started my day at the Oxbow Marketplace in downtown Napa. It was the one place I could find that was open fairly early in the morning. It was a small converted warehouse that had a few restaurants, a coffee bar and several specialty food markets. I bought some freshly pressed olive oil infused with white truffles, some porcini fettucini from an Italian market and a jar of black truffles from another fresh market. I failed to mention that there is an abundance of olive trees in Napa as well. Not just Napa but all over California. But since Napa is that food paradise that I mentioned and the soil and sunshine is particularly good for the grapes, it is also equally good for olives. There’s not a one for one bottles of olive oil to bottles of wine but it’s close. With great olive oil goes great vinegars and the list goes on.
I drove through some countryside to get to the CIA – not the government type but the food type – the Culinary Institute of America. It’s the Harvard or Yale for foodies. I’d been to the CIA in New York and was excited to visit yet another campus. It didn’t take me long to reach the school so I decided to pass it by and head into the little downtown area of St. Helena. I perused a few stores, bought a couple greeting cards and found a local mom and pop hardware store. For some reason, I love little hardware stores. I always seem to find something neat in them so find it hard to pass them by. I think it reminds me of going to Fredericksburg Hardware as a kid with my dad. He’d be looking for something in particular which gave me time to wander around the store and check out aisles of things I had no idea what they were but it was all so interesting. I still wander around them getting ideas of things I want to do to the house or yard. Attached to this particular hardware store – Steve’s Hardware – there was an attached housewares store. I picked up a few items and was happy to be out and about.
It was nearing lunchtime which was when I’d planned on making it to the CIA. I wandered around the downtown area a bit more and found it getting too warm for the fleece I’d thrown on that morning. I had a gitty up in my step. It was such a nice day and the drive here and there had been so nice. It was just a few minutes drive to the CIA. When I pulled up, it reminded me of Hogwarts – a giant stone building with turning steps leading up to it. It was grand just as the one in New York had been. I felt starry eyed and envious of every student there. I entered and saw the kitchen marketplace but wanted to have lunch first. There was an Illy cafe that the student run so I made a b-line for it, excited of what tasty bits awaited me. I’d told myself that I wanted a nice salad or maybe a toasted or grilled sandwich but when I saw the first item on the menu to be a chicken pot pie, I simply skimmed the other offerings and made my way over to the counter to order. I sat at a tiny table and was brought my Coke followed by the pot pie in a small cast iron pot. It was placed in front of me and I could feel the heat coming off of it. The puff pastry was brown and crisp and rested on top of a cheddar béchamel gravy that swam with roasted root vegetables that were still firm. I ate until the little pot was practically clean. And once I’d finished, I couldn’t wait to get into the store. I took my time which hardly ever happens because no one likes to study each and every item like I do. I can spend hours in a grocery store or a high end kitchen store so I’ve gotten to where I don’t even like to go into them if I’m with someone else. It’s just not worth it. But, I had the day to myself so I could spend as much time as I wanted. I got a few items and was happy with my purchases when I walked out, back down the steps and on my way to the next stop.
I was so glad that the GPS was taking me a different way than just going back along the same roads. I was all for seeing new things. It’s crazy that there’s a vineyard every 500 feet or so. “Free tastings” marked outside on the sign of each one. I’d be shit-faced every day if I drank. But maybe they don’t let the locals have free tastings. Who knows. I don’t know how visitors do it. Just then, I see a giant bunny. It was a sculpture at one of the vineyards. I loved it and wished I’d pulled over to take a photo of it but then I saw a Dean and DeLuca. I put my blinker on and got turned around. I was on a mission. I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to pull over and take a picture of the bunny or turn into the parking lot of the Dean and DeLuca. I did a couple of questionable moves in the car and finally decided to pull into the parking lot before the tractor and trailer ran me over. I parked and walked down the sidewalk a ways and got a snap of the bunny. It was beautiful. It was like he was hopping right out of the grapevines.
I made my way back to the Dean and DeLuca. There’s a certain smell in specialty grocery stores. It’s bread and cheese and meat and pastry all mingled together. It takes my breath away. It’s similar to a Whole Foods but not as floral. I love it. And being Dean and DeLuca, it reminded me of Michael. He’s been showing up in my life recently and it makes me feel so overwhelming grateful and whole and sad and hurtful all at the same time. I miss him. I realized I was standing just inside the door taking it all in and thinking. I moved quickly to not look like a lunatic just standing there. Once I had my arms full, I put it all on a display table and retrieved myself a basket to put it all in. Again, I stayed in there probably way longer than a normal person would but I just loved it. I hated that I didn’t think to bring a big ole cooler and ice packs with me. I’m sure for a small fortune, I could purchase such items but I decided not to.
Back on the road, I decided to check out the outlet stores to see if there was anything interesting and found it to be less than a great shopping experience. It wasn’t like the massive outlets that are normally advertised so I chose to skip them and headed back downtown to see what else I could find. I was certain I was finished with food and kitchen item shopping when I came across another mom and pop kitchen shop – Shackelford’s Kitchen Shop. It had quite the variety of everything. I made a few purchases and then realized I’d missed an aisle and went back for more.
I still had some time but thought I’d head over to the conference center and check it out while I waited for Chris to be done for the evening. Just as I was turning down the street to the hotel, she texted me that she was done. We had dinner at a Thomas Keller restaurant (Bouchon) and then made the drive home. It was a fun day and one that I needed.
Since my dad had his stroke, I’ve had countless dreams of him and think about the ordeal quite a bit. I’ve had a hard time forcing myself to sit and write – this being the first time in a few weeks that I’ve actually written anything. If feels good to hear the clacking of my keys again. Now if I can just prioritize writing over every other chore that I have, I should be back on my way in no time. I think I’ve just been out of sorts and need to get back into my routine of making writing first. Oh, and marketing my book which I have spent several days on in the past few weeks. But I have gotten a few leads that may work out. We’ll see.