Western Hills Garden a Gem

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There is so much to see and do in Sonoma County. There is the coastline, the Russian River and the party town of Guerneville. You can wine taste in Healdsburg or Sonoma. Great food abounds in Petaluma and throughout the county. Many of the historic Italian dining rooms dotted throughout the western county are still serving lunch and dinner. One that holds many memories for me is Union Hotel in Occidental, California. I don’t know how young I was the first time I rode in the car from Occidental, up and over Coleman Valley Road and dropped down to Highway One and the Bodega Bay on the other side. Dramatic scenery abounds and if it is foggy it adds an element of terror to the ride. I have a romantic spot in my heart for Coleman Valley Road.

When my Auntie J sent me the notice about the Western Hills Garden reopening for visitors this summer and I saw the address (16250 Coleman Valley Road), I got a little thrill. We needed to go on Saturday because that is the only public day that I generally have free. I saw that dogs on a leash were welcome so I packed up Lulu the adventure dog and we headed to Petaluma to pick up my Auntie.

IMG_4468We drove the backroads through Valley Ford to Occidental. Coleman Valley Road deadends in to the middle of town. The garden is part way up the hill from town on the right. There is parking along the road. The garden and plant sales are open Saturday from 10 – 4 as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.

The entrance fee is $12 for adults. The garden provides a map but the 3 acres of paths are straightforward. Lulu was so excited by the smells of garden cats and wild animals. We were excited by the amazing plants–oversized lilies, large rhododendrons, and a tremendous diversity of plants.

We saved some time for plant shopping. I found some specimens that are hard to find in most nurseries. Now that I have so much shade, I can consider some plants that couldn’t survive in my Central Valley garden with hot summer sun.

IMG_4478I’d go back to shop for plants (no entry fee needed) or to show the garden to friends. It is always inspiring to see a truly well designed garden.

We returned to Petaluma via Sebastopol and to Amy’s Drive In in Rohnert Park. Amy’s features delicious vegetarian diner food. It is just a block from an In-N-Out if you prefer a double-double.

 

 

Cooking Adventure in Santiago, Chile

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Tevis Spezia loves to travel and has negotiated a month off to be able to recharge from his hectic nonprofit job. This year his destination was Chile, landing first in Santiago. With friends in Santiago there was plenty to do and still he found time to take a cooking class with his friend Edmond.

Tevis has cooked since his senior year in high school and he’s developed some skills from cooking with friends weekly in San Francisco and taking some classes in Southeast Asia. He’s also game to try new things. Based on past good experiences, he went on Trip Advisor and found a class.

 

They walked to the markets and took the subway to the kitchen. The teaching chefs had already prepared the dough to make dosladitas–a Chilean bread that is similar to sourdough that you eat with salsa or butter. The class put the bread dough in the oven and prepared the salsa (pebre). They also made ceviche. No recommendation here (Tevis is not a fan of fish, cooked or raw). They mixed up pisco sour cocktails (which can make you invisible but that is a tale for another day). The menu was rounded out with a pork and potato dish (Chorrillana de Cerdo) and a Panacota de Chirimoya dessert.

All of the food was very tasty. Tevis thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone spending time in Santiago.

Cooking classes are a great way to get to know a culture more intimately. Taste preferences are created over a lifetime. We assume pumpkin pie is delicious to everyone, but when I asked the chef at Moreton’s in St. Heliers/Auckland to make one for our family Thanksgiving dinner, he scrapped it because it tasted off to him. He remade it with butternut squash. And this in a country that eats pumpkin all the time.

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The recipes and the knowledge of how to make them are the ultimate souvenir to take home.