Babymoon Bliss: The Big Island

Big Island View Last month Griffin, Big N, and I traveled to the Big Island to enjoy our last trip as a family of three (point five) and our last “babymoon” before Kidney Bean arrives and grounds us for a while.

Father and son The Big Island, the newest in the volcanic chain, is very different from Maui, Oahu, and Kauai.  It seems like half of the island is covered in hardened volcanic lava.  The western Kona area is drier and filled with the swanky resorts, while the eastern and wetter Hilo side boasts lush rain forest landscape and the world’s most active volcano.  We decided to split our time and spent a seven nights in a gorgeous condo (Kolea at Waikoloa Beach Resort, see our amazing view above) overlooking the “A-Bay” and another 2 nights in the Volcano Village area to explore the world’s most active volcano (Big N had visions of sticking a stick in the flowing lava, but the lava wasn’t cooperating the day we visited).

I can’t say we did much our first week except relax by the beach, take a few hikes, eat, and drive around visiting the sleepy sites.  Griffin quickly got into the mode, though traveling with an 18 month old is challenging to say the least.  We spent most of our  time keeping the baby entertained with toys and snacks so he wouldn’t disturb neighboring guests sipping their hard earned mai tais.  But we made do.  Griffin loved being in the water, finding seashells, and watching the napping turtles on the beach.  He even caught a few waves on the boogie board, and learned to say “Aloha” to every passerby.   Hawaii sunset

One evening we hired a reputable baby sitter to watch Griffin so mom and dad could enjoy some alone time with a romantic oceanfront sunset dinner.  (If you’re going to the Big Island, I highly recommend Canoe House at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Pahu I’a restaurant at the Four Seasons, which serves fresh tuna poke made tableside).

One of my absolute favorite things to do while traveling is to visit outdoor food markets.  It gives this foodie a chance to check out local offerings and once in a while to try something I’ve never seen before.  The farmers’ market at Kailua Village near Kona didn’t disappoint.  With a condo we took advantage of our fully stocked kitchen and outdoor barbecue to cook up local grass fed Hawaii beef and fresh caught ono during the evening, and in the morning we ate local fruits purchased at the market, coconut pancakes, and sipped on locally grown Kona coffee (we toured the Greenwell Coffee farm to see how coffee is grown and picked up fresh roasted beans there, yum).  At the market I found mini bananas, mangoes, eggplant, and rambutans (similar to lychee), all of which I’ve had before but they were much better of course in Hawaii.  And I tried two fruits I had never seen before: mountain apples, which are pear shaped but deep red, with spongy white semi-sweet flesh, and star apples, which look like a cross between a black plum and a ripe passion fruit, and have sweet purpley-white flesh on the inside.  If you cut them horizontally the fruit inside resembles a six pointed star.  These were creamy, juicy, and deliciously sweet, and I thought about violating customs laws to sneak a few on our flight back (I thought better of it later on, those customs officials are intimidating).

On our journey to Hilo we off-roaded in our Jeep for 2 hours to get to the secluded Green Sand Beach (it gets its name because it has ground up peridot mixed with the volcanic lava, very cool place), and ended up at Volcano Village Lodge- a five bungalow B&B in the middle of the jungle. Volcano Village Lodge I highly recommend a stay there if you’re visiting the volcano.  We explored the Volcano Area (smoke, glow at night, lots of views), thought about sacrificing Griffin on a couple of his particularly squealy moments, and then came home.  Kilauea Caldera

A very satisfying vacation.  Now all I need is one more Vegas fix (sans Griffin), and I’ll be content to stay the homebody once Kidney Bean is born.

Memories of Montalcino: Wild Boar Ragu with Fresh Pappardelle

While pregnant with Fin, Big N took me on a “babymoon” to Italy.  We started in Florence and travelled north in our Fiat Panda, stopping in Parma, Bologna, Milan, and ending in the breathtaking  Lake Como area.  On the journey, we lost ourselves in some of the most amazing countryside I have ever experienced.  Italy by car is the way to go because while the cities boast basilicas, duomos, art from the masters, and high fashion shopping, the villages and the countryside make up the heart and soul of Italy.  Highlights of our trip included exploring the amazing outdoor markets in Florence, the FOOD (Big N enjoyed the wine, I couldn’t partake), and our favorite stop, Montalcino.

Italians keep food fresh and simple, and a traditional meal has five courses. The antipasti will usually be cold cuts, vegetables, or a simple plate of beans, flavored to perfection. Next comes primo, which is usually a small portion of soup, pasta, or risotto. Pasta is rarely the main part of the meal. Next is secondo, the meat, poultry or fish course, accompanied by contorni, or side dishes, usually a vegetable. Finally, dolce, dessert.  Travelling through Italy you need to check your diet at the door and be prepared to feast on the amazingly fresh Italian fare.

While meandering our way through Tuscany, we stopped at wineries here and there to sample wines and cheeses and to take in the breathtaking provincial scenery.  Tuscan countryside We found ourselves at Le Ragnaie, an agriturismo guest house that sits on 28 hectares of organic sangiovese vines.  The caretaker was warm and inviting and took us into the celler to steal a sample of the wine in barrel.  We stayed two nights.  Le Ragnaie By day we explored the town of Montalcino, and during the evening we searched for family owned trattorias to sample typical Tuscan fare.  By far the best meal we had was at a small basement trattoria with a chalk board menu.  Husband was cooking in the kitchen, wife was bussing tables, and teen-aged children were waiting on guests.  We were the only patrons at the time.  The “house” jug wine was local Brunello de Montalcino, which would have been a $100 dollar bottle in any restaurant stateside.  I still remember my meal perfectly, zuppa di funghi with crusty bread and large portobello and wild mushrooms mixed in with the broth (to-die-for) and wild boar ragu with fresh house-made pappardelle (wide noodles).  The pasta coarse was so amazing I skipped secondi just for that night.  (I was pregnant, and eating for two after all).  So busy was I marveling at how such simple dishes in this unknown trattoria off the beaten path could be so fantastic, that I neglected to capture the moment on film.  But this meal lives on in my memory as one of the best I’ve ever experienced.

Until recently, the only time I’d had boar was in Montalcino.  But on a trip to my local butcher, Harmony Farms, I found wild boar in the case and purchased it on a whim.  In my freezer it sat, until Big N and I were talking about that Tuscan meal we had before Fin was born and I was inspired to give it a shot.  I probably used more boar than necessary, and my version of the boar ragu turned out thick and super meaty, but absolutely heavenly.  Wild boar ragu

Boar ragu is richer, more flavorful, and definitely more exciting than pasta made from plain old ground beef.  Big N helped me roll the pappardelle pasta from scratch, which added another layer of tradition and flavor to a simple dish.  I think even the Italians would treat wild boar ragu as a main course just this once.

Pasta rolling Making your own pasta is simpler than it seems (see my easy instructions below) and is an indulgent treat.  You’ll need a pasta roller (if you have a Kitchenaid stand mixer, these attachments work great because you don’t need an extra hand to turn the crank), and you can purchase a good one for under $70.  Well worth the investment to have fresh pasta any time you’d like.

Wild boar ragu with fresh pappardelle pasta topped with a generous helping of grated Parmesan- the sure-fire cure for any winter blues.

Wild boar ragu

Wild Boar Ragu

Serves 4
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 1 hours, 30 minutes
Total time 2 hours
Meal type Main Dish
Region Italian

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb Wild Boar (Shoulder and Shank cuts work well)
  • 1 Onion (Brown or Spanish)
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 stalks Celery
  • 2 cups Dry Red Wine (2 buck chuck Cabernet)
  • 2 cans Tomato Sauce (15 oz cans, organic is best)
  • 1 can Canned Peeled Roma or Plum Tomatoes in Puree (I like San Marzano or Carmelina brands, 28 oz can)
  • 3-4 cloves Garlic
  • to taste Herbs (Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Basil (your choice) plus 1-2 Bay leaves. Fresh is best)
  • to taste Salt / Pepper
  • to taste Parmesan (fresh grated is best)

Optional

  • to taste Chili flakes

Note

Adapted to my liking from Mario Batali's recipe.

There's nothing wrong with using good quality canned tomatoes.  Canned tomatoes are picked and canned at the height of their freshness.  If you're making sauce when tomatoes aren't in season, canned is your best option.

Directions

1. Cut boar into 1 inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sear in Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot until browned on all sides in sizzling hot olive oil. Remove boar from pot, keeping oil and all browned bits in pan.
2. Dice (1") onions, carrots, and celery and add to hot pan and saute until onion starts to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add finely chopped garlic and saute another minute.
3. Deglaze with wine, scraping up all the browned bits that have stuck to your pot with a wooden spoon. Reduce wine slightly to burn off alcohol, about 3 minutes.
4. Add canned tomato sauce, canned tomatoes with the puree (squeezing with your hands to crush if the tomatoes are whole), herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Return boar to pot.
5. Boil and simmer, partially covered (put lid on pot but leave gap to allow steam to escape), about 90 minutes, until boar meat is fork tender and falling apart easily. Halfway through the cooking check your seasonings to see if it needs more salt, pepper, or chili flakes.
6. Remove as much boar meat as you can with a slotted spoon and remove the bay leaves. Cool 10 minutes, then place remaining sauce in a food processor or blender and barely pulse until you don't see large pieces of carrots or celery any more. You want your sauce pretty thick. For the boar meat, you can leave it in cubes, or pull it apart with your fork, or give it a quick pulse in the blender until you reach your desired chunkiness.
7. Serve boar ragu over fresh pappardelle pasta (recipe follows) with grated fresh parmesan cheese on top. I added a couple of fried basil leaves for garnish.

Basic Pasta Dough

Serves 4
Prep time 40 minutes
Region Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 pinch Salt
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups Flour (All purpose or semolina or a combination)
  • 4-5 Eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil (extra virgin)

Note

This is a basic pasta recipe.  If you can find semolina flour (a high-protein flour made from durum wheat), try using it instead.  My preference is to use  50% all purpose and 50% semolina.

You want your pasta to just come together but be fairly dry.  Too much moisture and you'll have a hard time getting it to stay together when rolled.  Experiement with your flour to egg ratio.  This is just a basic recipe to get you started but can be adjusted to your liking.  The amount of oil and eggs you add to get the right consistency may need to be adjusted depending on how humid it is that day.

Directions

1. Sift flours together with salt. On a clean work surface, make a mountain out of your flour with a deep well in the center.
2. Crack the eggs into the well and add olive oil. Whisk eggs gently with a fork to break yolks. Using your fork, gradually incorporate the flour from the sides of the well. When it becomes too thick to use a fork, begin kneading with your hands.
3. On lightly floured surface, knead dough for a full 10 minutes (don't cut this step short) with your hands (push with the heel of your palm and use your other hand to fold it back on itself, then push again).
4. Wrap dough in plastic and let it rest for a full 30 minutes (important)
5. Break dough into 3-4 pieces, keeping the remaining pieces wrapped in plastic to prevent from drying out. Using a rolling pin, roll into a rectangle to about 1/4" thick. Then transfer to your pasta machine and roll through on the thickest setting. Roll through each setting twice, gradually turning the knob one crank until it gets thinner and thinner.
6. Cut pasta by hand for wide noodles, or with spaghetti/fettucini cutter for narrow noodles. Toss cut noodles by hand gently with a little flour to keep from sticking, then hang to dry. Repeat with remaining portions of pasta.
7. Bring large pot of water to boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Cook pasta until tender but not mushy (1-8 minutes depending on thickness). Drain immediately and toss with favorite sauce. Fresh pasta cooks much faster than dried so test it often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Getaway: Calistoga Ranch

I needed to get away, badly.  The pressure from months of 200+ billables at work was taking it’s toll, and combined with the stress of the holiday season, I was becoming a very unpleasant wifey.  Thankfully, Big N noticed and suggested that we spend Christmas this year away, just the two of us (that’s my sweetheart of a husband for you).  I first thought Caribbean, but didn’t want to deal with 8 hours of flights or more for just a few days trip.  Next I explored the Florida Keys, again, same problem. Plus flights to Miami were outrageous.  Finally we decided to stay in good ole California and head to our favorite hotel near Napa wine country: Calistoga Ranch

calistoga-6-of-7 Calistoga Ranch is, quite literally, the most glorious trailer park ever conceived.  The area was zoned only for a trailer park, but the folks at Auberge du Soleil refused to give up on this amazing property, nestled in the hills off the famed Silverado Trail north of Napa.  Instead they built the individual modern craftsman styled bungalows on wheels (and then carefully hid the upscale trailers so you can’t really tell the difference).  The bungalows each have a deck that separates the bedroom area from the sitting area (equipped with a generously stocked mini bar that’s free), and you have to walk outside to get to the living space.  The hotel made every effort to work around the natural beauty of the area, as trees often grow through the decks.  The property feels completely excluded from the outside world, and contains miles of nature trails, a spectacular bathhouse/spa with water piped in from the nearby hot springs, and the fabulous Lakehouse Restaurant, which served an amazing four course tasting menu with wine pairings for Christmas dinner.

Big N and I spent our days exploring and wine tasting at our favorite wineries, and our evenings playing board games and watching movies (all available for free).  We also booked a couples massage at the spa and I splurged on a restorative facial as well.  Even though the weather was a little chilly and rainy, we enjoyed staying in our room curled in front of the fire.  Other than venturing to the Lakehouse for dinner, we spent all of Christmas in our PJs.  Without a doubt, it was the most relaxing stress free Christmas I ever experienced. 

If you want to splurge on a Napa trip, do check out Calistoga Ranch.  You won’t be disappointed with the understated luxury of the hotel.  And if you want to splurge but can’t afford to go quite that big, I highly recommend the Auberge sister property: Solage, also in Calistoga.