You guys are going to hate me. I was in Napa Valley, California during the "historic blizzard" that dumped 37 inches of snow on Northern Virginia.
And while this sounds amazing for me, I kind of didn't mention that the only way I got to California was by being put on every standby list out of the airport going to San Fransisco and camping out with my fingers crossed. Because they shut down the airport and cancelled flights. As an organized, planning type person I can't express how hard that was for me to do (show up with a cancelled flight and hope I could make it home in the blizzard if they had no flights), but I made it! So all that cliché 'life begins at the end of your comfort zone'....okay. I get it.
So for the past few days I was in Napa at the Culinary Institute with the USA Pulses to celebrate the International Year of Pulses! For those of you who don't know what pulses are (many people don't!) they are dry peas, dry beans. lentils and chickpeas. There are a TON of nutrition benefits to them and ways to use them. The research is actually staggeringly in favor of eating more pulses for weight loss AND helping our environment. Thanks to the chefs at the CIA we also learned about how to make them into flour and therefore sourdough bread, meringue (seriously) as well as some favorites like soups and salads.
I know Napa is a definite must do for many of you and I always look for blog posts with hidden gems and tips so hopefully if you're headed to Napa, this is useful! Because I was there 'for work' and had a set schedule, I didn't get to do everything I wanted to. Let alone SEE San Francisco from the outside of a car.
Day one my friend Kara and I Ubered from Calistoga to St. Helena which is a small town about 10 minute away. We did breakfast at The Model Bakery where they make amazing english muffins. You need to get their breakfast sandwich on those muffins. Also, gorgeous latte art. So even though we felt dead, because it was already noon eastern time for us, we did 'breakfast' and thought we'd hit the shops. Which didn't open for another while (some 10, some 11). For about 45 minutes we did the mains strip of shops and for any of you from the DC area, it's very similar to Middleburg. When we finished the shops we got a car to Frog's Leap winery which I HIGHLY recommend. It's a gorgeous farm with a wrap around porch. It's beautiful. One thing that was super new to me was this concept of making a reservation to do a tasting. In "East Coast Napa" or Loudoun county where I'm from, you don't need a reservation unless you have 6-8 or more people. So just a FYI..... some places don't take walk ins. Luckily, Frog's Leap had an opening and I had a pinch me moment. Literally, a rainbow was ending in the vineyard.
From there we wanted to hit one more winery before lunch so we did Raymond Vineyards which is basically the Vegas club of wineries and it was amazing. We talked to one of the managers there and the winery is run by the son of a huge family that produces wine in France. They basically said "Please move away with your crazy" and so...Hi USA! The Crystal tasting room for example was filled with manaquins in scantilly clad outfits and neon lights...but by the way, LOVED their wine. They also have a wine maker for a day experience where you can create your own blend and they bottle it for you/ keep it on file so you could always order more.
Lunch was at Farmstead which was back in St Helena proper. We basically did a tiny loop. So if you want to grab lunch there, Farmstead is totally walkable from the shops. It was PACKED but we scored a seat at the bar. They also have gorgeous outdoor seating with their lemon and lime trees. THERE ARE CITRUS TREES EVERYWHERE. Like in people's yards!! I lost my mind. so cool. We made it back just in time to catch the shuttle to the Culinary Institute with the rest of the group where we did our introduction to cooking with pulses and a small tasting. From there Alex, Kara and I decided we needed dinner and went to the Calistoga Inn. It looks like it was designed by Nancy Meyers..it's beautiful.
The next morning we all went to the CIA for lectures and hands on kitchen time. We split into groups and cooked a RIDICUOUS amount of food using pulses. After that Kara and I headed to Yountville which is THE town you need to stop in if you're in Napa valley. Adorable and great places to stop and walk. We were there a Sunday night so not a ton of shops were open but we hit Bouchon bakery and then a tasting room and then Ad Hoc for dinner. And FYI, it's also where French Laundry is located. Someday...
My final day in Napa Valley was super short as the East coast crew of us had to travel to SFO (an hour and forty five minutes away) that morning. We did some baking at the CIA and then I grabbed lunch at the airport. SFO has an AMAZING selection of places to eat after you go through TSA. Lots of healthy options and even artisanal chocolates, macarons and other goodies. This is your place to stuff your bag with desserts and bread to bring home.
Let me know your favorite Napa spots!
Disclosure: This was a sponsored travel opportunity by USA pulses. I was not compensated for tweeting, photographing or writing about my time there.
Dietitian Nutritionist. My husband Chris and I create food and beverage photos, videos, stopmotions and recipes. And they're really cool.