Teaching to the Taste: Bringing Crops to Kids in Napa County Schools

edibles photowp

By Louisa Hufstader

In elementary schools from Yountville to American Canyon, thousands of little kids are eating their vegetables. Not only are these Napa Valley youngsters willingly choosing broccoli, kale and other wholesome produce not usually found in public school cafeterias, they are, through classroom “tasting kits,” meet-the-farmer videos and take-home bags of fresh food, learning how it’s grown and why it’s good for them as well as fun to eat.

Harvest of the Month

“The big idea is to get kids to know where their food comes from,” says Napa chef ,Elizabeth Skylar, whose Edible Education Napa Valley has partnered with the Napa County Farm Bureau to bring the “Harvest of the Month” program to more than 8,000 kids in all 19 elementary schools in the Napa Valley Unified School District.

After viewing a brief video profile; kale with “Farmer Thaddeus” of Capay Organics , the schoolchildren get a personal introduction to the crop-of-the-month: in this case, fresh kale salad prepared by Skylar They see it in my hand; they see me chop it up and make food with it,” Skylar says. And, then they eat it: You can see the smiling results in her snapshots on the Edible Education Napa Valley Facebook page.

Michelle Risso of the Farm Bureau’s, Agriculture in the Classroom program, which works with Skylar to present the monthly food spotlight at local schools, says the bureau’s goals include “increasing the intake of healthy fruits and vegetables by kids in the cafeterias” and finding markets for local growers.

State grant brings crops to cafeterias

Now, in its second year, Napa’s, Harvest of the Month is funded by a three-year, $250,000 grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Risso says.

“We have many partners on this,” she added, naming the Napa County Office of Education, which wrote the grant application, as well as the county agricultural commissioner’s office and the Food Advisory Council.

The program got off to a strong start in its first year, “even … when we served broccoli,” Risso says.

“We gave tasting kits to teachers, and the cafeteria ran out of broccoli,” she said.

The task of cutting up and serving fresh fruits and veggies in the classroom has teachers “very excited,” Risso says.

“We’ve received tons of really good feedback on the tasting kits, which include bags of the month’s designated produce, newsletters with food information and nutrition facts and cutting boards and knives for the teachers,” Risso explains.

Most popular of all, she says, are the Farm Bureau’s Ag videos, which can also be viewed online at napafarmbureau.org/videos.html.

“Kids just love those,” Risso says.

Last year, most of the Harvest of the Month fruits and vegetables came from the Central Valley breadbaskets of Salinas and Fresno, but now “we’re trying to find them within 100 miles of Napa.”

Along with classroom tastings, the Harvest of the Month is also served in the schools’ cafeterias.

Inspired by Alice Waters

In addition to preparing and presenting the Harvest of the Month, Skylar also contracts with local school groups to present after-school, “garden to table” food and cooking classes around the Napa Valley.

“Inspired by the work of Alice Waters, and the Edible Schoolyard, Chef Elizabeth Skylar creates Garden and Farm–based, Culinary Nutrition Education Programs,” reads the short description on her Edible Education Napa Valley, Facebook page.

Skylar discovered her calling after the high-profile failure of Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa.

“In the ill-fated year of 2008, I was senior culinary educator at Copia,” recalls Skylar, who has also taught at Ramekins and Silverado Cooking School.

After the bankrupt center closed its doors that November, she found herself “trying to figure out what was next,” before taking a subcontract to provide culinary, health education for children on Air Force bases in the United States.

“I liked doing it and, apparently, I have some aptitude in that area,” she says.

But, accustomed to life in Napa, where gastronomy is part of the ambient culture, Skylar wasn’t prepared for the scarcity of fresh, nutritious food for kids in the Air Force towns, where fast food and chain cuisine dominate the culinary landscape.

“We’re not feeding them very well and there are not a lot of options,” she says. “I didn’t realize how truly horrible it was.”

As she traveled from base to base, “the more I got involved, the more I realized what needed to be done, and it just took over,” Skylar says.

Back in Napa, “l went to Harvest Middle School and said ‘You have a garden and I’m a chef. Let’s talk,’” Skylar recalls.

Four years later, “I am still learning all the time,” she says. “I like to be in that position of constantly learning new stuff.”

In February, Skylar added another new skill to her toolkit: Crowdfunding. Inspired by Napa cyclist and open-space volunteer, Chino Yip’s “smoothie bike,” she mounted a donation campaign at fundrazr.com and, within five days, had received pledges for 75 percent of the $1,500 cost to have a similar, pedal-powered blender built for Edible Education.

“My plan is to take it around to the schools and use it as another part of the program to get kids excited about food,” she says.

Find out more about Edible Education Napa Valley online at edibleeducationnv.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/edibleeducationnapavalley. Visit the Napa County Farm Bureau at http://www.napafarmbureau.org

The Iconic Greystone Cellars

Greystone Campus

By Rebecca Yerger

Envisioned by William Bowers Bourn, Jr., the son of an Irishman, the visually impressive Greystone Cellars is the perfect historical subject for the month of March; the time to celebrate all things Irish.

With its solid, native-stone edifice rising from its terraced hillside site, Greystone has commanded notice and attention since its 1887 construction. While being physically solid, stately, and even formidable, Greenstone’s history has changed over time due to the influences of socio-economic changes.

Greystone began as a brain-child, business concept of William Bowers Bourn, Jr. who was the son of the late William Bowers Bourn, Sr. The elder Bourn had amassed a great fortune from his shipping company partnerships, and especially from his Empire Gold Mine during the mid-1800s. While both Bourns had many business interests and residences throughout California, they had strong ties to Napa County, and especially to St. Helena where Bourn, Jr. spent the summers of his youth.

Although an heir to his father’s estate, Bourn, Jr. was a savvy businessman in his own right and created an even greater financial dynasty. This entrepreneurial aptitude helped him recognize the opportunity and potential of a facility such as Greystone.

The genesis of Greystone was Bourn Jr.’s response to the autocratic, price-fixing conspiracies found throughout the Bay Area wine mercantiles. By imposing those unfair practices, wine dealers forced local grape growers and winemakers to take below-market prices for their commodities.

As a remedy to those underhanded tactics, the Greystone concept included creating a cooperative. In addition to building the one-million gallon winery, terms and options were drafted for those wanting to conduct their business with proposed Greystone. First off, it was emphatically stated, “NO Malvoisie, Mission, inferior grapes or grapes in bad condition will be received for winemaking.” As for the options, they were: 1) Greystone would produce wine, on shares, from anyone’s grapes, plus store the wine separately. 2) That wine, or any wine stored at Greystone, would be held until the highest price could be secured. Then, following the sale, the wine owner would be paid his share of the profits. 3) Any grower could sell their quality grapes directly to Greystone.

Bourn, Jr. began his Greystone campaign by first forging a business partnership with another young businessman, Everett Wise. Both of these men were in their early 30s. The next step was to find and/or rally support for the cooperative within the Napa County wine industry. To that end, Bourn, Jr. met with Henry Pellet, president of the St. Helena Vinicultural Club before meeting with the general membership. Pellet fully endorsed the idea and strongly encouraged his fellow associates to do the same.

After successfully gaining the backing of the local wine industry, Bourn, Jr. and Wise hired the San Francisco architectural firm of Percy and Hamilton to design Greystone Cellars. Some individuals believe Greystone was designed to resemble a castle in Ireland.

The final plans called for the use of cutting-edge materials and technology of that era, such as the brand-new, Portland cement. During the construction, that cement was used as mortar, as well as poured over the iron reinforcing rods built within the first and second floor elevations. The heavy timber construction of the third floor provided structural support for not only that floor’s cask, barrel and bottle aging space but also for the gravity-flow crushing area located within the floor above.

As for technology, Greystone was the first California winery to be operated and illuminated by electricity. A boiler and gas generator, located in a mechanical room below the central front wing of the building, produced the electricity. Another accolade garnered by Greystone was due to its massive dimensions. Greystone Cellars was the largest winery in California.

All that grandeur and state-of-the-art design came with an equally grand price tag, $250,000. That figure was an exorbitant amount of money in the late 19th century, even for the ultra-wealthy.

Then, within less than a decade of its completion, Greystone began its succession of property owners. By 1894, it was owned by Charles Carpy, and became the trademark for the CWA – California Wine Association. By late 1924, CWA had removed all of the 200,000 gallons of wine stored at Greystone. A year later the Bisceglia brothers of San Jose purchased Greystone, where they produced sacramental wines until 1930. Following a three-year hiatus, the Bisceglias restored operations at Greystone in October 1933.

Christian Brothers entered the picture in 1945 when they signed a lease agreement for the cellar. Five years later they bought Greystone. Decades later, faced with declining market shares and vineyard yields, as well as the very costly prospect of seismically retrofitting Greystone, Christian Brothers winery was sold to the Hueblein Company of Canada in 1991. A year later they sold Greystone to the Culinary Institute of America for $1.68 million. In three short years, after opening in August 1995, Greystone had been retrofitted and remodeled into the western CIA campus.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, Greystone Cellars is now enjoying a renaissance in purpose and popularity. However, it still lives up to the sentiments expressed in a circa-1900, CWA brochure. “Whoever visits Napa Valley…must inevitably have his attention called to ‘Greystone,’ our magnificent stone cellar which is a landmark for miles around, and which, for centuries to come, will be an enduring monument to its builders and owners…” and community.

Love Locally

Tom & Kellie Fuller wp

By ML Hilton

They say there’s a book in all of us – stories about entrepreneurial achievements, autobiographies, historical novels, or maybe even epic sport contests.

But, for some, that book might be a romance novel. Don’t snicker. Not the kind where the hard-working, underprivileged, but proud, feisty and beautiful heroine is rescued by the handsome, strong, rich, (not necessarily in that order) and probably misunderstood hero.

These are romance novels based on self-discovery, sacrifice, and maybe even a little luck.  Often, these stories are written with tenderness and joy, and sometimes a little awkwardness and every once in awhile, a bad case of indigestion.

And, many times our neighbors write them.

Tom & Kellie

How does a broke college girl and her long-time boyfriend – both “anti-marriage” — embark on more than 20 years of matrimony? After the vacation from hell, of course.

After saving for more than a year, Kellie and Tom excitedly flew to a Puerta Vallarta resort for a week-long
holiday. This is Kellie’s first ever vacation, and the couple couldn’t have been more thrilled.

“Within two days I was sick,” Kellie said. “Seriously sick. A nasty, nasty illness.” It was so bad that she couldn’t even stand and the hotel sent a doctor to their room to prescribe relief. It helped, but by then Tom was struck down. “The vacation,” she said, “was ruined.” During this time, when they could only lie in bed and watch TV, Kellie said that Tom continually cracked jokes about the situation, keeping them laughing constantly. “I could see his character. He was going to make the best of every situation…That’s when it dawned on me. I could believe in matrimony.”

Kellie and Tom were married in 1991. She says that Tom is the most romantic man. “Amazingly romantic, blow-your-mind romantic.”

“This guy is perfect for me. I was right. I am completely in love with him and I know that is rare.”

Matt & Tracy

Nowadays, online dating is the norm. Matt and Tracy had their first introduction as a matchmaker date on Doglover4U.  They’ve been married 10 years now and Tracy thinks that fun and communication play a large part in what keeps their romance alive.

“We are a couple that believe in a lot of hugs and a lot of playfulness,” Tracy said. “We really enjoy being with our circle of friends and sharing.” Tracy and Matt stay very active and are frequently seen at the most entertaining parties in Napa – whether open mic, sing-alongs, or red-carpet soirees. Tracy says, “embracing the moment keeps things joyful.”

But, life isn’t all fun and games, and 2013 was a particularly difficult year for Tracy. “I have a husband who is calm and centered. He is a really good listener and a great supporter.” And, even after 10 years, they are still improving their couple skills – especially communication. “You have to tough things out and work through them. You just have to get to the bottom of things and work things out.”

Kent & Hollie

Kent admits to not being Hallmark’s ideal when it comes to grand gestures of love. But, he also thinks that this time, both Kent and Hollie’s second marriages, they got it right. “I love hanging out with her and spending time with her,” he said, adding that he likes to create situations where they get to spend time together.

Kent says that Hollie makes that easy. “She makes decisions all the time,” he said, “yet she defers to me when it comes to the dinner reservations.”

“It’s more about – this is so cliché – she’s my best friend. I trust her so much, and she’s beautiful,” he said with a smile in his voice.

“I wish I could be more mushy. I just enjoy  her company.”

Julie & Greg

For this couple, it’s all about the wine  country. “There’s no better place to  find love than here. Over the past year, my now-fiancée, Greg, and I have shared the beauty of Napa and Sonoma Valley: hiking through vineyards blooming with mustard flowers, enjoying winery concerts, tastings and tours, eating at amazing restaurants, and canoeing down the Russian River,” said Julie.

A sense of place is important to each of them. They both work in fields that foster communication, growth, and support the health of their environments and community. Celebrating and enjoying these common pursuits recently brought this couple closer together.

“In October, when we hiked up to Jack London Park in Glen Ellen on a warm afternoon, I hardly imagined my world would change. As we sat on the stone wall surrounding the pond built by London in the early 1900s, Greg surprised me with a ring and a proposal,” Julie said.

“It was a moment I will never forget, and, hopefully, just the beginning of many more memories made in this magical place.”

Magic, trust, humor, and playfulness, all the essential components for a great romance novel. There might be one being written next door to you.

Napa Celebrates 100 Years of California 4-H

4H Story Kids WP

By Stephen Ferry

As California 4-H celebrates its centennial this year, Napa 4-H Program Coordinator Jim O’Neill is optimistic about the prospects for Napa 4-H over the next 100 years.

“I started 14 years ago as 4-H Program Coordinator in Napa County,” recalled O’Neill.  “October 6-12 this year was National 4-H Week, and nine of our clubs put together informational displays in local businesses for that week, to showcase Napa 4-H and get kids involved.  The Monticello 4-H Club made a display that was displayed the entire month of October at the Napa County Library.”

O’Neill explained some history of Napa 4-H.  “Napa High School was actually opened in 1897.  4-H started in the USA in 1902, and the Napa 4-H Program was started in 1919 as an offshoot of Napa High School Boys and Girls Club.  We have had a long, continuous history in Napa since then.  We started the Las Posadas 4-H Campout up at Angwin in 1928, and now that is our most popular Countywide project.”

The current Napa 4-H program includes 16 geographically-based 4-H Clubs in Napa County, covering every part of the County.  “Last year we had 604 4-H youth members and 223 adult volunteers,” said O’Neill.  “We offer over 100 different projects and seven Countywide projects – Camp, Rabbits, Horse, Goats, Poultry, Dance, and Teen Leadership.  Our ten most popular projects are Camping and Outdoor Adventure, Arts and Crafts, Food and Nutrition, Sports (Bowling), Swine, Poultry, Sheep, Clothing and Textiles, Community Service, and Leadership Development.”

“The clubs meet once a month.  Two of the clubs have farm plots associated with them, where the kids can actually grow things and also raise animals.  There is a big emphasis now on gardening and local, fresh foods.  All of the clubs participate in several projects each.  Each member in 4-H has one or more projects.  Participation in 4-H offers the kids opportunities to learn by doing and to develop leadership skills.”

“Our most popular Countywide project is the summer Campout at Las Posadas,” added O’Neill.  “The Las Posadas camping program has been going on continuously since 1928.  The swimming pool was built in the 1930’s by the CCC people.”

“We have two one-week sessions of camp.  In the past, one has been in June and one in July.  This year the Napa Town and Country Fair may change their dates, and we don’t want to conflict with that.  So next year the timing may be different.  We will know in January what the Campout dates for 2014 will be.”

“The kids go up on a Sunday afternoon and they stay until Friday night.  Things start off with an icebreaker so the campers can get to know the teenage and adult staffers who run the program.  Then through the week they have activities like archery, outdoor cooking, wilderness hiking, animal identification, lots of swimming, star gazing at night, day and night hiking, and a theme dance at the end of the week.”

“The kids sleep on outdoor platforms – no cabins or tents.  No laptops, no cell phones.  Campfire every night.”

Local youth make up a large part of the support staff for the Campouts.  “The campers are aged 9-14,” explained O’Neill.  “The staffer kids who actually do most of the work to run the program are high-school aged, 14-18.  We have about 30 of those.  Then we have the senior staffers, who have attended prior Las Posadas Campouts and who are usually juniors and seniors in high school.”

“Right now we are recruiting and taking applications for the staffer and senior staffer positions for 2014.  Tentative Campout dates will be the second week in June and the third week in July.  But if Napa Town and Country Fair moves their dates forward from August into July, then we would have to change the July Campout date, because so many of the kids show animals at the Fair.   We will know this month what the finalized 2014 dates will be.”

The Campout program is designed largely by the youths themselves.  “The kids selected to be staffers will be attending training/planning meetings every month from January through June,” said O’Neill.  “They will choose the theme for the dances, the projects that will be pursued, what kinds of arts and crafts, what kind of outdoor cooking.  In April and May we have on-site work days, where the staffers get the camp ready.  They work with
Cal Fire to clear brush and make the site clean
and fire-safe.”

“Attendance at the summer Campout is actually
open to youth not currently enrolled in 4-H.  This
is one way we hope to give them an idea of some
of the benefits of 4-H, and hopefully grow our
membership that way.”

“Parents who are interested in getting their child to experience 4-H in this way should contact me in April.  The enrollment always fills up, and we actually have waiting lists every year.  We have 150 people at the Campouts, which includes adult and teenage staff as well as about 110 campers.”

The applications for Campout attendance are available on-line after April 1,  and they are due April 30.  April is the month when parents must take the initiative to try to get their kids enrolled in the Las Posadas 4-H Campout.

“A big part of the kids livestock projects is showing at the Napa Town and Country Fair, and participating in the auction that follows.  Last year at the Fair we had around 300 kids that exhibited animals – sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, all kinds of goats, guide dogs, llamas, therapy animals.  In 2013 the 4-H livestock auction at the NTCF raised just over one million dollars.”

There is a sizeable contingent of 4-H families that get together and camp at the Fair for the whole duration of the Fair.

“A lot of the work that the clubs do is community service oriented,” noted O’Neill.  “At Christmas they will go caroling at the Vets Home and local nursing homes.  Three of our clubs send needed items to our troops overseas.  The kids work at local animal shelters helping to care for the animals.  They hold canned food drives to contribute to the local food banks, and winter coat drives.  One kid did a project to collect backpacks and school supplies from local vendors and then contribute them to less fortunate kids who need them for school.”

“For our 600 plus kids in Napa County 4-H, we have 250 parents acting as adult leaders.  That is a very strong leader-to-youth ratio.  Most parents involved in 4-H now are second generation, they want their kids to have that same experience that they had,” said O’Neill.  “I am happy and honored to help keep this great tradition alive and strong in Napa County.”

Napa County 4-H publishes a monthly newsletter, available on line at cenapa.ucdavis.edu/news_970/4-H_Youth_Development_Programs_Newsletter

And for more information about Napa 4-H in  general, go to the 4-H website at cenapa.ucanr.edu/Napa_County_Programs/4-H_Programs519

Something for Everyone at the Napa Truffle Festival

small truffle for WP

By Stephen Ferry

Have you ever been curious about truffles?  Novices and experienced connoisseurs alike will find plenty to inform their minds and entertain their palates at the fourth annual, Napa Truffle Festival, which will run January 17-20 this year.

Events will include winery, truffle lunches at Nickel & Nickel and Hall Wines, seminars covering truffle cultivation, business and cooking at the Westin Verasa, an elaborate Truffles & Wine Dinner at La Toque, where four Michelin-star chefs will work together to prepare one big, glorious, multi-course meal, and a Festival Marketplace at Oxbow Public Market that is free to
the public.

The Napa Truffle Festival is presented by the American Truffle Company, which was founded five years ago by ATC Managing Director, Robert Chang, and his partner, London-based, mycologist (fungi expert) and Chief Scientist, Dr. Paul Thomas.

Thomas has developed a method to cultivate black, European truffles, which are indigenous to Europe, but not to North America.  Thomas works with partners around the globe to develop truffle orchards, and Chang is his partner for North America.

ATC has partnered with both the Napa County and Sonoma County Farm Bureaus to present a series of truffle cultivation seminars.  All twelve seminars staged over the past couple of years have filled up.

Four years ago the, first truffle orchard in Napa was planted by Robert Sinskey in cooperation with ATC, and it serves as a demonstration truffle orchard for the Napa area, where anyone can make an appointment and view the progress of the planting.

A lot of truffle orchards have been planted across the US, but none are yet yielding fruit, as it usually takes at least five or six years for a truffle orchard to begin to bear fruit.  Orchards started in other countries some years earlier under Thomas’s guidance have already started bearing fruit.  Once established, a truffle orchard will require much less annual maintenance than a comparably sized winegrape planting, and the potential for profits is high.  No chemicals are used in the propagation of ATC’s truffle orchards.

There are literally hundreds of species of truffles, but only a select few species of European, black truffle are really high-end.  The most prized species is the Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum, aka ‘black diamonds’), which sells for big bucks – $800-$1,200 per pound.  The Burgundy truffle (Tuber aestivum/uncinatum) fetches a slightly lower price, but yields more prodigiously.  Either way, truffle orchards can be quite profitable.

In addition to reaching out to growers to generate interest in establishing truffle orchards, Chang’s American Truffle Company presents the Napa Truffle Festival each year as a way to reach out to the public and educate the consumer about the culinary aspects of truffles, particularly spotlighting the black, winter Périgord truffle.  Chang first visited festivals in Oregon, North Carolina, Australia, and Europe, and then took what he saw as the best elements from each to create the Napa Truffle Festival.

The four Michelin-star chefs will converge from around the world.  The host chef is Ken Frank of La Toque, who has been involved since the first Festival in 2010 and, this year, will be joined by: Alessandro Boglione, Executive Chef and Owner of Ristorante al Castello, Castello di Grinzane di Cavour, Italy; Carrie Nahabedian, Executive Chef and Owner of NAHA, Chicago, Illinois; and Jarad Gallagher, Executive Chef of Chez TJ in Mountain View, California.

On Monday, January 20 (Martin Luther King Day), all of the merchants of Oxbow Public Market will be offering their own truffle menu items for the Festival Marketplace between 10am to 2pm.  Menu items will be sold à la carte, so that anyone can come and get a taste.  The Marketplace is free to the public for browsing and purchasing truffle fare à la carte. Proceeds benefit the Napa Valley Food Bank/CAN-V.

There will also be free cooking demos, wine tastings, book signings, and other activities as well, including a chance to win a Marketplace Basket or a real black truffle.  This is the perfect time for someone who has wondered about truffles, but maybe not actually tasted them, to come down and see what the buzz is all about.

Information about all of the Festival events and tickets are available on the Festival website:   http://www.napatrufflefestival.com

Check out some of these offerings that will be available Monday, January 20th at the Oxbow Public Market:

Anette’s Chocolates  Rustic, rolled, dark chocolate truffles with roasted almonds 

Ca’ Momi Enoteca  Pizza al tartufo, paired with 2012 Ca’Momi Pinot Noir, and a cooking demo at 12:30pm

C CASA   Wild mushroom and goat cheese truffle enchilada, paired with Blue Plate Chenin Blanc

Cate & Company  Bite-size truffled potato and  zucchini quiche   

The Fatted Calf  Truffled pork crepinette, with Comte, caramelized onions, arugula and truffled aioli 

Five Dot Ranch Beef ribeye carpaccio, with black truffle and celery root mousse 

Gott’s Roadside French fries tossed in truffle butter, paired with Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut    

Hog Island Oyster Bar   Grilled truffled oyster

Kara’s Cupcakes   Truffle festival, cookies and cream cupcakes, decorated with little pink pigs  

Kitchen Door  Cream of mushroom soup, with fresh, grated truffle AND Egg pappardelle with winter mushroom bolognese and fresh, grated truffle with poached egg, along with a cooking demo at 10:30am 

Marshall’s Farm Hone Organic, gourmet honeys from the mountains, valleys, seacoasts,  and backyards of the San Francisco Bay Area

The Model Bakery Wild mushroom-truffle, savory, bread pudding 

Napa Valley Distillery Truffle-infused martini cocktail:  Napa Valley Vintage Reserve Vodka, served with olives and cheese (includes a signature Napa Valley Distillery cocktail glass)  

The Olive Press Fig, balsamic, caramel truffles AND Blood–orange, olive oil truffles 

Oxbow Wine and Cheese Merchant House–truffled, Mt. Tam cheese

Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen Truffled yucca fries

Three Twins Ice Cream  Organic, caramel-truffle-swirl ice cream, plus a special discount on all shakes

Whole Spice Truffled popcorn and fleur de sel 

The Story of Jeff Doran

SONY DSC

By Kimberly Horg

A family man, an entrepreneur and a visionary, are a few words which may describe Napa business owner, Jeff Doran. He grew up in Oakland, California and graduated from California State University at Hayward as a Philosophy Major, but ended up working for Breuners Home Furnishings in the 1970s.

“After climbing the bottom rungs of the corporate ladder, I began to appreciate how the integration of good design played well with my artistic interests, but still provided me with a long term business opportunity,” Doran said. “I became a Department Manager of the Design Studio in Sacramento, but wanted more opportunity than the company could provide.”

In the later part of the decade, he decided to relocate to Napa with his wife Nancy, where they had two children, Ross and Tara, and began his road to success by working at Allen and Benedict Home Furnishings. Several years of hard work paid off; he moved up the ladder becoming the President and sole owner of the company.

Allen and Benedict Home Furnishings closed in 1994 to make way for the Factory Outlet Stores. Longtime customers patronized our business on the opening day of the close-out sale. That was a very difficult day,” he said. Doran says, although it was a difficult time in the home furnishing business, he had a unique opportunity to change careers and try his hand at real estate development. Having officially left the home furnishings business, he had the opportunity to buy real estate in Downtown Napa. He grew his real estate business in the good times and changed its corporate name to Napa Valley Development.

He knew that even though downtown Napa was experiencing a difficult time, it had great long- term potential. So, instead of relocating his furniture store, he chose to buy the JC Penney’s store and lease it to Thomasville Home Furnishings. Eventually the Northern California Thomasville group closed the store due to financial problems. This endeavor left Doran with a 25,000 square foot store in a struggling, downtown neighborhood, with no prospective tenants. Instead of throwing in the towel, he decided to put on his thinking cap. He had a large store with little inventory and limited capital, so he made lemonade out of lemons by opening an antique collective. The dealers supplied the bulk of the inventory and eventually grew a strong customer base.

It was not too long after this, in 2004, when he recalls having a “aha moment” after leaving a city council meeting. He knew the Neighborhood Antique Store was going to close, and remembers looking down the street and imagined a thriving hotel on the corner of First and Franklin Streets.

“Rents always seem to be going up to meet expenses, but my hope was that an upscale hotel in Downtown Napa would justify higher rents, provide more foot traffic and give new life to a bedraggled downtown,” he said. “Despite the cities initial objections, we managed to problem-solve our way to the grand opening.”

He eventually partnered with LodgeWorks in Kansas City and the controversial, 5-story AVIA Hotel on First Street opened in 2009. The hotel is now operated by Hyatt and was rebranded as the ANDAZ Napa.

“With limited capital all our business endeavors had their difficult moments. However, success is only one, good idea away,” Doran said.

Simultaneously with his “other” career, Jeff developed another passion. “Living in the Napa Valley and appreciating fine wine, a good friend and I decided to make wine in a small backyard shed,” he said. This eventually led to the formation of  Rocking Horse Winery. He dabbled for a couple years until he had a good year in the furniture business (in 1986) when he could afford to buy equipment to make wine. He grew his production to 6,000 cases.

His first corporate office was a desk inside his furniture store, but after 20 years and expanding wine sales to 28 states and multiple, off-shore countries, the Rocking Horse property was sold. He came away with a greater appreciation for the sacrifices and capital necessary to enjoy all the industry has to offer.

A fond memory he has of Rocking Horse wine was at an exclusive restaurant in Washington DC (when he was in the process of selling it). “I walked through the front door and there was a 5-liter bottle of Rocking Horse Zinfandel. The owner proudly came up to me and said, ‘you see that bottle, see that table just behind your bottle? That is Ted Kennedy’s table,’” he said.

Besides his business ventures, Doran has served as President of the Napa Chamber of Commerce, the  founding Chairman of the Retail Committee, Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and Chairman of the Legislative Action Committee.  He is a past Director of the Napa Valley Economic Development Corporation, the Kiwanis Club of Napa, Sunrise Rotary, and the Executive Board of the Business Education Partnership.  If that wasn’t enough, he served as a liaison to the Downtown Merchants and Professional Association
on special projects.

“I was fortunate to have very positive experiences in all my business endeavors,” he said. Doran says a personal mantra of his is “protecting the village.” Not only is he a member of the community, but has a genuine belief in making Napa a place to call home. It is apparent throughout his business endeavors as well as his local involvements.

“Napa is a story about its people, lifestyle and genuine authenticity. Our many friendships, sense of community and the willingness of others to give generously make Napa a very special place,” Doran said.

Smoakville…Amazing BBQ food, great prices and a funky, down-home atmosphere

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By John & Dorothy Salmon

We took our good friend from Santa Cruz, Bob Edmund, to Smoakville. Bob is a talented home-chef who wanted some “smoakin” BBQ in a funky place. Smoakville is located in an industrial park just south of Trancas and east of California Boulevard. It seems as if you can smell it from your car as you pull into the cul-de-sac at the end of the street.

Food, not location, makes Smoakville fabulous. We met Tom Fuller and Jonathan Bodnar at the front door of Smoakville. The entrance is unassuming and fun. The food is fresh, the BBQ is amazing and absolutely nothing is non-fattening. Having just finished the holidays, we are all tired of turkey. Our guess is that you are also tired of cooking. We all know that we should be exercising more, eating non-fattening food and throwing away those last few pieces of See’s Candy. But, we also know that can only last so long. So, we suggest that you head for Smoakville when you are looking for great BBQ that you don’t have to cook; that you can pick up and enjoy at home with friends and family.  Best of all, Smoakville’s prices are a bargain, so you can feel good about eating great food and not spending a whole lot of money.

You can call in and order your take-out dinner for two, or walk in the door after you tell the love of your life, “I am NOT cooking tonight.” You can also make everyone happy at work and bring in lunch from Smoakville.

Lunches include Rib Dog or Pit Bull (hot dogs) with slaw, BBQ sauce and pickles for $7; Snap Dogs, Coney Island style with chili, Smoakville mustard and onions ($6); Torta, smoked turkey, Smoakville to-die–for, thick bacon, and avocado $8; Pulled Pork Sandwich with Cole Slaw and BBQ sauce ($8); their famous Brisket Sandwich with BBQ sauce; and Smoakville’s incredible sloooooow roasted brisket ($10). The coleslaw or sweet potato salad are each only $2.50!

Smoakville’s combo dinners are the easy way to make an enjoyable dinner by your fire and TV.

You can get an order-for-two of St. Louis Ribs/Chicken for $35, or St. Louis Ribs/Pulled Pork at the same price, or St. Louis Ribs/Beef Brisket for $32.

Smoakville’s “Very Tall Chef”, Jonathan Bodnar, is passionate about his food, loves to talk to his customers and is a no-nonsense kind of guy, who you have likely seen at community fundraising events that serve killer BBQ. Chances are, that it is Jonathan’s food with Jonathan at the end of the serving line, making sure that everything is perfect. Smoakville is not only in the small-serving restaurant and take-out business; they are REALLY in the catering business. That’s good to know when you want a mouthwatering BBQ dinner for a party, at a price that won’t break the bank!

Jonathan took all of us on a tour of his “back kitchen.” It was a treat to see how the meats are smoked and sides prepared. Jonathan smokes the meats lovingly for hours and hours and hours in his special smoking ovens. You can taste the time and talent he puts into his recipes. The service area is small. The dining tables only seat a few folks, but in the warmer months, you can sit outside or do what most locals do, order your picnic lunch or dinner and head outdoors to enjoy the beautiful Napa Valley. Bring lots of wet wipes with you. Smoakville food sticks to your ribs and to your face and fingers!

Jonathan not only knows how to smoke meat, make killer beans, cole slaw and sweet potato salads. He is also known for his pickles and for having the best butcher–cut  bacon on the face of the earth. He makes a mean mac and cheese, a fabulous corn casserole, and southern braised collards like Grandma made, with ham hocks, vinegar and hot sauce. All sides are only $4.50. Grilled corn on the cob is also available seasonally, along with great, seasonal smoked vegetables.  Even though you hardly need anything after a rib, chicken, brisket or pulled pork dinner, his desserts are amazing.

If you have not had real, southern, sweet potato pie, or salty, chili spiced and medium rare brownies, or the most amazing chocolate pecan pie ever, you need to, at the very least, take a slice home for $5 and pretend you are not really going to eat it right away.

So, how did we learn about so many different foods? Jonathan lined up a counter full of samples of just about everything that he serves so that we could taste it all in one sitting … and that is exactly what we did! The St. Louis Ribs are rubbed with over 20 spices, mopped with a PBR and apple cider vinegar, and glazed with lots of bourbon BBQ sauce. The pulled pork is a Lexington-style shoulder, smoked all night and then shredded and mixed with sweet sauce and a vinegar mop. The ribs are AMAZING, according to Bob, Tom and John. The brisket “burnt ends” are rubbed with “needs salt” cabernet salt, smoked all night, and glazed with Jonathan’s special sauce.  The half Mary’s Chicken is brined in herbs and spices, then slow-smoked for hours and finished with a bourbon BBQ glaze. The brisket would make any Jewish Mother proud!

Our assessment was that all of the sides were wonderful. Even though most of us were not huge fans of collard greens, we have to admit that they were really good. The guys persevered through it all and saved room to taste the brownies and the pecan pie. We took the chocolate pecan pie home and finished that off the next day.

Smoakville is a good place to call for your next party, your next dinner with friends, or your night of NOT COOKING. Sign up for their weekly newsletter by going to their website.

You can even get a special “Chain Smoaker” card if you buy 10 dinners. You get the 11th one free. For pick up, remember to call ahead at (707) 363-3447 and order for two the easy way. For catering, contact Kim Hurd at (707) 363-3447 or send an email to catering@smoakville.com

We guarantee your next party will be a success, reasonably priced and you won’t have to do all the work.

Christmas Traditions

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By Kimberly Horg

For Napa resident Cherie Knox, parenting had its ups and downs. Worrying about her child wasn’t uncommon as a lot parents have the same feelings when their child is struggling  with the troubles of becoming an adult.

Knox, however, knew her son, Josh Thornley, was coming out of a tough time. It was 19 years ago when he turned his life around. She remembers making plans to decorate a Christmas tree and he never showed up for the holiday tradition.

“This was to be a special year, a special Christmas, a celebration of Josh moving through some scary and difficult times and coming through it all to the other side,” she said.

This mother says there is no way to put it other than she “freaked out”, wondering why he didn’t call. She couldn’t take the sight of the bare tree. She picked it up, stomped outside and down the porch steps and over the bridge went the tree, hurled into the Napa River, under a downpour of rain.

“When I recall this now, it makes me laugh out loud at myself. What must passersby have thought of this crazy woman and her flying Christmas tree,” Knox said. A little while later, her son came home and the worried mother confronted him. He reminded her that plans were made to decorate it on Christmas Eve (the following night) and he was just at a friend’s house.

She remembers he looked at her and gave her a huge hug as tears started to roll. Looking in the corner of the living room, he wondered what happened to the tree. She told him how she chucked it in the river and then began to weep more. After telling him that she had thought the worst, he asked “so, what do we do now? We don’t have a tree.”

“I realized in that moment that my son was, and would be, just fine,” Knox said.

She was reading the book, Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach. It spoke of an ancient legend about the night of the Nativity, and an abundance tray which the writer recreates and leaves on her own porch stoop, for someone in need to come across.

She told he son that even though there is no tree, the
two had so much to be grateful for. So, there it began, the first time she made an abundance tray. The first year, the two used a basket and left it on the same bridge where the tree was discarded. Candles were lit on either side of it. Inside was her son’s sweatshirt, dollars and spare change, a book, a beanie cap and a scarf, some cheese and crackers, and a Christmas card which read, “This is for you, if you are in need. Merry Christmas, Josh and Cherie.”

There was a homeless community living on the river, so the family knew someone deserving would find it. And, sometime in the middle of the night, it disappeared.

That began an annual Christmas Eve tradition for the mom and son. The next year, the new, annual tradition was switched to a backpack, always left with a bow and a card addressed to “This is for you,” and signed with first names and a message inside. The backpacks are filled with items a person living on the street could use, including a poncho, a flashlight, rope, gloves, thermal underwear, socks, matches and, later on, added money and food, as well as a favorite book.

“It became the best part of Christmas for us. There were so much magic, mystery and holiness around it,” Knox said. One year, Knox recalls seeing an elderly homeless man wearing the sweatshirt of her son’s that she put in the basket by the bridge. “I smile still when I think about that day,” she said.

The tradition for them is to go out late on Christmas Eve and choose a spot to leave the backpack, usually in a different place. One of the greatest moments she remembers was years ago when her son came to her house in the early morning hours to see if the backpack, left the night before, was gone. The two drove around the back to the building and were let down to see it still sitting on top of a post along a trail to the river. Then suddenly, looking back through the rear view mirror, he son saw a homeless woman walk up to it, open the card and take the backpack. She hugged it to herself and scurried down the river trail. It was a moment Knox and Thornley would always remember.

“Knowing you made their night a little better is an awesome feeling. I think more people should do things like this,” Thornley said.

The mother thinks of her son’s rebellious years differently now, remembering a time when he himself was lost and homeless. The tradition is an affirmation of gratitude for them. It is an acknowledgement of faith in something greater than themselves; a tribute to the human spirit and the ability to overcome. It is a reminder to always hold the hand of those less fortunate.

Empire Napa…Cool, Hip, Nostalgic and a Tribute to Napa’s Bawdy Past

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By John & Dorothy Salmon

If you think Napa has no night life, then you have NOT been downtown in a few years. Most nights of the week, especially on weekends, downtown is bustling with lots of people. We recently spent a fun evening with our “kids” (a loose term for 40-somethings) at Empire Napa. We think of John and Michelle Truchard as our kids too, since our son Rob Lloyd and John Truchard make wine and magic together. Empire Napa opened in May of this year, and has become a hot spot for locals, visitors, hotel guests from Andaz and from the John Anthony Tasting Room next door.

Empire Napa is a tribute to the first commercial establishment in downtown Napa in 1842 … a saloon! Oh, how our history has been resplendent with hospitality, whisky, wine, food and, in the beginning, bad beer. According to our friend Don Winter, the original Empire Saloon was … partially erected in 1848.  It was the first commercial building in Napa County. It was built in the middle of hay and bean fields. But, the Gold Rush started and it ended up as an unfinished building, improperly situated in the middle of a street plot. When the miners returned to Napa, the building was picked up and moved to a proper lot, and a hotel was added. (Incidentally, the Empire Saloon was a polling station for the referendum for the California constitution).

The reincarnation of the Empire Saloon is 21st Century, with many periods of music playing, a well stocked bar with both original and well known drinks, modern, under–the-counter purse hangers, USB plugs and easy–access, electric plugs to charge our electronics. We all know what a horror it is to run out of juice on our cell phones. It won’t happen at Empire!

Dorothy got to spend some time with Nick Rimedio, one of the owners of Empire Napa and its General Manager. Nick is originally from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and comes from a big Italian family with a grandmother who was a killer cook. Nick fell in love with fine food and hospitality at an early age and perfected his management skills at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and in Las Vegas. He moved farther west to become the director of food and beverage at Carmel Valley Ranch, where he met Rick Riess, a former, leading executive from Auberge du Soleil, who introduced him to Napa, a place that immediately felt like home.

Together with Arthur Prieston, and professional interiors assistance from Michael Brennan of San Francisco, they designed Empire Napa. Arthur is a principal of the Prieston Group, whose restaurant investments include High Tech Burrito, Wild Fox in Novato, Per Bacco and Bar in San Francisco. Behind the bar, there are large pipes that look like a pipe organ and are reminiscent of the player pianos in the old saloons in the late 1840’s. The red velvet curtains that enclose the iridescent gold curtains give the place the feel of a speakeasy saloon. Empire is full of antiques, red velvet ropes and a red carpet, so you immediately know you that are in not in a typical Napa restaurant.

Nick told Dorothy that they added a large dining table in the front room, known as the “Gallery” that will accommodate up to 12 guests, in addition to several other dining tables. There they will host special, private, Sunday Suppers for 20-30 people with a special menu paired with wine and cocktails, for a set price. Empire is closed to the public on Sunday’s. Think about it … you can go back in time and be the only people in this very cool saloon/speakeasy. Nick might just surprise everyone and host the best early December party of the year, with a tribute to December 5th, 1933, when Prohibition ended. Now that’s a party we won’t miss since they will be serving Napa’s own “Sacramental wines” from the 1930’s!

Empire Napa is also gearing up for holiday parties this season. Empire Napa holds 120 people and has, not only a great feel, lots of energy, but also, fabulous wine and great food. Jennifer Petrusky is Empire’s hot, new chef and director of culinary programs. Jennifer also worked at Charlie Trotter’s. She competed nationally as the only female apprentice in the 2008, Bocuse d’Or USA competition, under Chef Michael Rotondo, and they walked away with the Bronze Medal and Most Promising Chef Award. In 2010, she returned to Bocuse d’Or USA and, as the only female chef in the competition, won for Best Fish Platter,. She makes small plates of very original food that give diners an opportunity to try lots of different and unique items. We started our evening with Almonds, Rosemary, Cashews and Peanuts ($7); Haricots Verts and Young Potatoes, with Dill and Almonds ($12); Wild Mushrooms, with Crispy Sage Polenta and Spinach ($11); and Lamb Belly, Moroccan BBQ and Pickled Cabbage ($16). We can guarantee that the original Empire Saloon did NOT have that selection on their menu!  Empire Napa also has killer Mac and Cheese ($8); a fabulous cheese plate ($18); and scrumptious meatballs ($15). Finally, we enjoyed the Lemongrass Chicken, with Mango, Peanuts and Cilantro ($10), mostly because Dorothy loves Cilantro on almost anything.

According to Nick, Empire Napa’s most popular food choices are Cauliflower Fritters with Chili Powder and Hummus ($11); the Chilled Shrimp, with Avocado, Cilantro and Ginger ($12) and the Mac and Cheese ($8). We spent most of the evening drinking Lloyd Cellars Chardonnay and John Anthony Cabernet (both made by
Rob Lloyd). We sampled the Napa Bull with Blanco Tequila, Lemon and California Lager ($10) and the Emerald City, made with Brokers Gin, Lime and Simple Syrup ($12). Those might have been served in 1848, but probably not! Empire serves great beers and features local wines from partners John Anthony Vineyards, Ceja Vineyards, Peter Paul Wines, G Wine Cellars and Lloyd by Robert Lloyd. Unlike most restaurants in Napa, Empire Napa does not have a wine list. Their selection of wines changes often and includes wines from Austria, Argentina and Australia. Most wines are priced between $11 and
$14 a glass.

Their fresh-baked cookies are now famous for those folks wandering First Street in Napa around midnight. Other deserts are the Chocolate Cake with Banana and Medjool Dates ($7) and the Carrot Cake, with Peach Compote ($7). If you pop into Empire Napa to see what it is like early in the evening, you will find a cool bar to visit before dinner. If you stick around, it becomes a restaurant, and then a hopping place from around 10:00 p.m. to midnight or 2:00 a.m., if you can stay out that late. With more to come including art and fashion shows, one–of-a- kind fundraisers and themed soirees, Empire promises to be the
place to keep your eye on and always penciled in  your social calendar!

1400 First St.  |  NAPA  |  (707) 254-8888  |  http://www.empirenapa.com

Tues. & Thurs. 7PM-12AM • Fri. & Sat. 7PM-2AM • Sun. & Mon. Open for Private Events

 

Spicy Chilled Shrimp Salad
with Avocado, Cilantro and Plantain 

1 lb Shrimp, 16/20 ¼ cup Sombal
1 Avocado 4 sprigs, Cilantro

¼ Red Onion, sliced & rinsed 1 cup Bean Sprouts

 

Plantain Chips

1 Plantain 2 Tbls. Curry powder 1 tsp. confectioner’s sugar

1 tsp. salt Grapeseed Oil for frying

 

Spicy Dressing

2 tsp. cornstarch (with water until wet sand consistency)

1 cup vegetable stock ½ cup rice wine vinegar

2 Tbls. Soy sauce 1 Tbls. Brown butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed 1 slice ginger, finely minced

1 Thai chili, seeds removed, minced

To make the spicy dressing, bring the vegetable stock up to a boil and add the cornstarch mixture. Stir until completely thickened. Add the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, brown butter and crushed garlic. Let infuse off the heat for 30 minutes to an hour. Strain the entire mixture and discard garlic. Add the chilies and the ginger to the strained mixture and chill.

Mix the shrimp and the sombal together and place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for at least a half an hour. Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and grill until just cooked through. Place the cooked shrimp on a flat baking sheet and chill immediately so they will not overcook.

Heat a medium size saucepan over medium high heat with enough oil to fry in. For the plantain chips, remove the outer peel of the plantain and slice lengthwise on a mandolin. Soak in water to remove any of the excess starches. Meanwhile mix the curry powder, confectioners’ sugar and salt together and set aside. Remove the plantains from the water and pat dry on paper towel.

Very carefully place the plantains in the oil and fry until crisp. Remove from the oil and season with the curry sugar mixture.

Assembly: Mix the dressing with the grilled shrimp and vegetables; season to taste.  Place the salad into individual serving bowls and top with cilantro and plantain chips.

Christmas in Downtown Napa

Spend time with family & friends in Downtown Napa

By Craig Smith

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Christmas is a special, magical time, when friends and families come together as perhaps no other time of the year. There are many festive experiences to be shared in Downtown Napa. Make some or all of these are part of your Holidays.

~  Ice Skating  ~

From November 15th to January 12th, children of all ages and those young at heart will be able to ice skate in downtown Napa. The 6300 sq ft outdoor rink is being completely re-designed this year including stainless steel railings, a better ice surface, a real Zamboni, hot chocolate, and your favorite Christmas music. Situated in the parking lot at the north east corner of Coombs and Second streets, the rink will be open until 10 PM Monday through Saturday, and until 8 PM on Sundays. It opens at 10 AM when school is out, 1 PM when students are in class. Skating is only $12 per person, which includes skate rentals. Tickets purchased before Nov. 1st  are available for $10 from selected merchants and non- profit groups. More information is available at Napaonice.com.

 ~  Christmas  Tree Lighting ~

The kids are home from school and the family is in town to spend Thanksgiving at your house. Join your neighbors the night before in Veterans Park, at the north east corner of Main and Third, when Mayor Jill Techel lights the 29’ tall Christmas tree. Free hot chocolate and cookies are the perfect accompaniment to enjoy children singing and dancing. A Barbershop Quartet will sing before hand, and lead everyone in Carols afterwards. Wednesday, Nov. 27th at 6 PM. Of course, it’s free and open to the public. Bring your skates, and enjoy the rink before or after the tree lighting.

  ~  Christmas Parade  ~

The 51st annual Christmas parade begins at 5 PM on Saturday, Nov. 30th. The theme “Jingle all the Way” lends itself to all kinds of creative interpretations, as Napans build floats; decorate cars, animals and children; and march down the street. Participants are encouraged to decorate using lights, with a prize of $500 going to the entry that the judges think does that better than anyone else. A second $500 prize goes to the entry that best follows the parade theme.

This year’s parade Grand Marshal is Cheryl Richburg, owner of Napa Valley Traditions at the corner of Main and Pearl Streets.  Richburg, whose family has a long “Tradition” in Napa, has owned the store for twenty years. Enjoy the parade with her.

This year, Santa is planning on coming to Napa during the parade. He’ll be visiting with children in the Andaz Hotel lobby on First Street immediately after the parade. Don’t worry if there is a chill in the air – there will be plenty of hot chocolate to take care of it. It’s all free and all fun.

 ~  Carriage & Trolley Rides  ~

Want to see what all of the lights look like downtown?   Wrap a blanket around the kids and check them out in the back of a horse-drawn carriage on Thursdays, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Two different routes each night – enjoy them both!  Or, come downtown between 3:00 and 6:00 on Saturdays and Sundays, and tour all of downtown in the Holiday Trolley. In fact, take a carriage ride, and enjoy a trolley trip as well. You deserve it. Celebrate Christmas in Downtown Napa!