Here in Napa Valley The Inn On First, a Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, Jamie Cherry works hard to prepare for the Christmas season. Weeks before Thanksgiving he sets out all the boxes in the attic, organizing what goes out first and what can wait. On the Friday following Thanksgiving (yes, he still holds to the “no decorating before turkey day”) he begins the process. This movie is a little clip into what he does and how he helps guests and friends enter into the magic of the holiday season.
All the shelves are emptied and new items are put into place. There will be one live tree in the living room next to the piano, and then multiple non-living trees that are decorated.
The doorways are decked with garlands, the historic mansion stairwell filled with miniature ornaments, and in the living room you will find the Holiday Village where there is a blend of both historical (Victorian homes) to modern (sixties trailer park) items all around.
The fireplace mantle becomes a festival of lights where all of our stockings are hung. Yes, even the dogs get in on the action for the Holidays. In the dining room the cabinet is filled with Holiday dishes, and special holiday teas and hot chocolate are available. We now have an ever-hot tank of water so there is no more waiting for the tea water to boil, and with our tea pots and mugs, as well as a wide selection of loose leaf teas to choose from, we make experiencing the Holidays around the fireplace with a warm drink easy to come by.
One of our special treats during the Holidays is to make the Cherry Family Holiday Sugar Cookie Recipe. We roll them out, bake them off, coat them, and then decorate them into all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Imagine sitting in front of the fireplace, the smell of a pine tree in the air, a twinkle of lights all around, a hot cup of cocoa, with a small star-shaped cookie that has a slight hint of lemon and buttery goodness in the crust, with a sugar-frosting and colored sprinkles, and you have a good idea of what celebrating the Holidays is like for us here at The Inn On First.
The decorating starts the weekend after Thanksgiving, so if you want to come and enjoy the Holiday Wonderland, book your reservation between post-Thanksgiving Weekend and New Year’s Day. We do close down Christmas week (Dec. 21-25) to celebrate our own holiday. Hope to see you in the Holiday Season. If not, enjoy this Holiday Recipe from The Cherry-Gunther Family:
Oven Temperature: 350 degrees, Yield: About 2 dozen 3″ cookies
- 1 pound, Unsalted Butter, softened
- 1-3/4 cup, Sugar
- 5, Eggs, Large AA
- 6 cups, All Purpose Flour
- 4-1/2 teaspoons, Baking Powder
- Pinch, Kosher Salt
- 1, Lemon, Large (Rind only, grated)
- Juice of 1 Lemon, Large
- 1, Egg White
- 2 teaspoons, Water, hot
- 1 cup, Powdered Sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon, Lemon flavor
- Colored Sugar Sprinkles, various
In a mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar until combined, and then add the eggs. Mix until well combined. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir until combined. Add to butter-egg mixture. Add the lemon rind and lemon juice. Mix until a smooth dough forms. Cut into two balls and flatten with your hand into large, thick pancake shapes. Wrap in plastic and place into the refrigerator and chill for two hours or more, until firm.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface roll out the dough to 1/4″ thick and cut out desired shapes. Be sure to dip the cutter forms into flour before cutting so the dough won’t stick. Dust off excess flour and place onto non-stick cookie sheets. You can do all of this days ahead and freeze these shapes for future use as needed.
Place into the oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until the edges just begin to turn brown. If you cut out larger shapes, greater than 3″ in diameter, plan on 11 to 16 minutes to bake. Remove from the oven and let cool.
In a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment add the egg white and hot water. Whisk until soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Place the frosting into a wide baking dish so you can dip the cookies into them. Set up cookie cooling racks over baking sheets, and have your sugar sprinkles ready. When the cookies are cool, dip them face down into the frosting and allow the excess to drip off. Place face up on the cooling rack. After one-half dozen cookies have been dipped, decorate liberally. Repeat with the process until all cookies are decorated. Let the cookies dry. Once dry store in a covered container for up to one week.
I would be remiss not to talk about the Red Chair’s last day with The Inn On First. As a special treat the Red Chair enjoyed Jamie’s 5-Hour Transportation Package in his Ford Flex. Jamie had worked hard with the Red Chair to decide which wineries and experiences would be best based upon the Red Chair’s needs and wants.
So, first stop was Jarvis Winery. This is a high-end winery that is built completely underground, with a large cave door to walk through to enter into the complex. The Red Chair couldn’t help but think of the movie “The Hobbit” and entering the dwarf kingdom. Except here it was offices, to processing grapes, to storage, and even their own bottling machine. Everything is built into one enormous cavern. The owner is the founder of fiber optic cable and it is present all over the property. These are high end wines that are paired with cheeses so that you can enjoy the full dimension of flavors the wines have to offer.
Next stop was a forty-five minute drive away up onto Spring Mountain to visit Pride Mountain Winery. This mid-sized winery has the distinction of sitting on the county line between Napa and Sonoma and must process the grapes from each county in separate equipment that is stored on the proper side of the county line. With a cave tour and barrel-tasting, this is an exceptional winery tour where you enjoy blended wines with big, bold flavors.
Extending the stay a bit longer at Pride
the Red Chair joined some other guests in the picnic grounds with a view of the hills surrounding Napa and the vineyards. It was a perfect Fall day to enjoy sandwiches and a view with some delicious Pride wine to go with it.
The Red Chair was even kind enough later in the day to offer Jamie a place to sit and rest a bit before they headed back into town. It gave them a great opportunity to become acquainted before the Red Chair would be leaving Napa for other great inns to visit.
Alas, as with all things, it was time for the Red Chair to leave. We are so grateful to the Red Chair for visiting Napa. It has been fun to be a host to its national travel saga. The Inn On First wishes the Red Chair all the best in the days ahead.
The Red Chair’s day began with a fireplace chat at The Inn On First. It was cool in the mornings and it was a great opportunity to sit with the Chairs of the Inn to discuss life in Napa. “Yes,” the Red Chair was told, “cool mornings are part of Napa all summer long. Then the temperature changes dramatically, rising from 55 degrees upwards toward 90 degrees or warmer. The grapes love the diurnal temperature range- maturing in the warmth all day and slowing down at night. It permits them to hang longer on the vine and to develop greater complexity and flavor.”
It was time for breakfast and the Red Chair looked forward to enjoying Chef Jim’s Huckleberry Fritters. “Huckleberries have a short season,” the chef stated, “only about four weeks long. So I try to use them as much as possible while they are around.” The assistant innkeeper offered extras to the Red Chair as well as the fresh fruit salad, the homemade granola, yogurt, cereal and milk.
After breakfast the Red Chair went for a walk with the three dogs and the chef around the neighborhood. The inn is part of the historic downtown district of Napa where there are homes dating back to the late 1800’s. They are so beautiful and grand, making for a delightful walk after breakfast before spending the day touring the city of Napa.
After breakfast the Red Chair and Chef Jim walked around town, visiting the Napa Valley Visitor’s Center for an overview of the valley, then through Veteran’s Park that overlooks the river, and finally down to the River Front parkway for a riverside view lunch at Angele, a lovely California French restaurant with great cuisine.
The Red Chair then went out for the day on Platypus Tours. This is a small group tour in a stand-up limousine that visits 4 wineries, provides snacks and water on board, and a picnic lunch at a winery, all for just $110 pp. From 10:30 am until 5:00 pm the Red Chair was given an opportunity to see the Napa Valley and enjoy many great world-class wines that are available here.
At the end of the day the Red Chair returned to The Inn On First for an afternoon nap. Once up, the Red Chair spent some time perusing the Tea Bar selection of loose leaf teas, a perfect complement to the chocolate chunk cookies available in the dining room every day. Of course the Red Chair just couldn’t resist playing the baby grand piano in the living room, entertaining all who were staying in the house. It had been awhile so the Red Chair was grateful for the Adult Beginner Book at the piano to refresh finger memory.
For dinner the Red Chair walked back to the River Front, only a fifteen minute walk from the inn, to enjoy dinner at Morimoto Napa. Iron Chef Morimoto is the original US Iron Chef who helped to develop the series and today has a great restaurant in Napa. And LO! The Red Chair ran into the Big Chair of Napa! How exciting and fun to find a soul-spirit who shared the same interests. The Big Chair of Napa was hanging out with Napa Jack-O-Lantern, and it was a pleasure to meet this Holiday Spirit who is ready to delight children and adults alike.
“What a great day,” the Red Chair said. “I am tired, but am looking forward to another day to celebrate my stay in Napa. Tomorrow I will do more wine tasting with Jamie Cherry, the co-owner of The Inn On First, on a private 5-hour transportation package tour of smaller vineyards around the valley.”
I never knew about Flat Stanley, but soon came to discover that he had been around since 1964. Where travelers once held photos of Flat Stanley in unusual places, photographers now shoot photos of a humble red chair. Long considered simply a place to rest one’s buttocks, the lowly wooden chair has been elevated to celebrity status, and is being welcomed at inns and B&B throughout America. It’s all part of a consciousness raising experiment among innkeepers. After a short drive to to Davis/Fairfield, we found The Red Chair waiting for us, excited about the the next part of this trip in the historic Napa Valley, home to over 400 wineries and world class wines as well as Michelin-star-studded chefs with great cuisine.
Of course we needed to visit the Grape Crusher Statue that welcomes all guests to the Napa Valley . He stands at the entrance to the Napa Valley and is the enduring symbol of what makes this valley so famous.
This week the chair is making its way to The Inn On First, our beautiful 10-room Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn. Look for innkeepers Jim Gunther and Jamie Cherry shooting images of the Red Chair at local Napa locations.
Throughout 2012 and early 2013, the Red Chair developed a personality of its own being photographed by innkeepers in communities from one end of New England to the other. Starting in Cape Cod, the Red Chair journeyed throughout the six New England states on a nine month tour. Follow the Red Chair’s travels on www.RedChairTravels.com where inspiring photos of the Red Chair can be seen from beaches to bandstands. Throughout 2013 and 2014 photos and stories from the Red Chair’s journey to nearly twenty states will be added to the website as they are captured.
Look for tales of the Red Chair’s travels to The Inn On First on this blog over the next few days. “We are privileged to be able to participate in this nationwide adventure,” said Jamie Cherry, co-owner of The Inn On First. “We want to show off the best that the City of Napa has to offer in the way of food, wine, and lodging.”
A ten-minute walk from The Inn On First, just off the corner of First and Main Streets, is the restaurant called Torc. The menu is eclectic European ranging from snacks (house made cured olives, or the Iberico ham toasts, and deviled eggs), to small plates (salads, soups, light pastas), to large plate entrees (lamb, beef, chicken, fish). We were fortunate to join our friends Sara and Dan, with their 11-year old son, Charlie, so there were lots of bites to be enjoyed. As Sara is gluten-free they were readily able to work with her dietary issues. It is also clearly stated on the menu that they work with vegans, vegetarians, etc. Basically, “ask and we will accommodate as best we can”- That is service!
The highlights for me were the hamachi tartare with avocado, the delicious gazpacho soup perfectly chilled and flavored, the quail with mushrooms au jus, boar ravioli in a beautiful boar broth, and silky smooth halibut that was perfectly cooked with mushrooms and squash. Why, even Charlie’s plain pasta with grated parmesan was scrumptious in its simplicity.
Prices range from $5 snacks to $10 small plates on up to $18 – $40 entrees. Plenty of wine and beer by the glass and bottle. A lovely meal with a hip-urban environment that is worthy of Napa.
First and foremost we are doing very well. We want to say “thank you” to all our guests, family, and friends who reached out to us with emails, phone calls, and texts of concern, love, and support. It means very much to us and and reminds us of how much love there is in the world around us.
We, Jamie and Jim, were in Santa Cruz at the time of the earthquake for a niece’s wedding. A friend called at 4 am Sunday and said we needed to come home right immediately. All guests were accounted for and uninjured. We learned Calvin hid underneath a night stand. Maxwell jumped up on the bed, barking (naturally). Hugo stood up and watched the whole thing happen. No injuries, just scared little dogs needing some love and attention.
Our interim innkeeper, Cindy B., out-did herself keeping things calm and cool in the aftermath of our 6.0 earthquake. We lost a lot of “things” and any damage to the historic mansion is cosmetic (cracked plaster, paint chipped off). We called the staff and told them to take care of their families, and if they had time to join us later for clean-up. Cindy B. rallied the troops around us and we began the process.
We closed the inn for two days to clean up the mess. Lots of broken glass, lost dishes (a 100-year old hand painted china set- ugh!), two armoires that fell over and broke apart , and the picture window in the living room overlooking First Street.
However, as you can see in this next picture we had cleaned up by Sunday evening, and most things were back in order. We only lost six bottles of wine in the basement/cellar and although everything fell over or off its perch in the attic, very little was lost. All Christmas decorations managed to survive!
We were told to repair the cracked stucco on the chimney and the living room window won’t be repaired for awhile what with all the other businesses and homes in town in the same post-quake boat.
When you visit you are apt to see the plaster cracks in the living room and foyer even though we are structurally sound. Again, the damage is cosmetic. We are currently ordering new items for the rooms that need it, so please forgive the mismatch of lamps, etc., until we are able to restock our inventory. Apart from some of the visual clues around the house, you would be hard pressed to imagine we experienced an earthquake at all.
What about the aftershocks or tremors? We felt two this morning but thought it was the dogs jumping onto the bed. That was the extent of movement we experienced- very short, very small. As seasoned Californians we know these come and go and we find them more amusing as there is no damage to the house or belongings. Our guests from Georgia slept through the first one and she thought the second one was her husband shaking the bed to wake her up. They are with us for another night. Others, though, for their own reasons canceled and while we were sad to see them go we understand their comfort level is different in regard to this event and they didn’t want to visit Napa, or even California at this time.
As with all things Californian recovery comes quickly and the community moves toward full recovery. The Oxbow Market, our local Napa gathering spot with shops, stores, and restaurants, is already booming with activity. I walked around today purchasing produce, spices, and meat as I wanted to support local vendors in their loss of inventory over the weekend. It was nice to see so many other people doing the same. They reopened Main Street today and they are currently looking to reopen First Street this weekend. There are parts of outer Napa (away from downtown where we are located) where water is still an issue with broken water mains. The majority of downtown restaurants are open, some with “limited menus” until inventory is restocked, and wine tasting rooms are still open for business. The wineries are open after their own clean up, and the local grocery stores are looking to be reopened by Friday (the clean up there is pretty significant).
How can you help? Come visit. Taste wine. Go out to lunch and dinner. Support the local community. Let Napa know that we can and should carry on with the great gift of hospitality that is offered to all.
I usually blog about the restaurants (you’ll see more soon) or wineries (always more to share), but today I wanted to share something a bit more personal and compelling for me as Chef and Co-owner of The Inn On First, a luxury bed and breakfast inn in Napa.
Annually Jamie gives me one week to go away so that I can spend a lot of time in silence and reflection with my BFF from southern California (Linda, whose husband is also generous in letting her go for one week). We rent a cottage on a 25-acre retreat property, are self-sufficient for the day in terms of breakfast and lunch, and then gather at dinner to cook and share our thoughts about the day. Each day we independently choose our theme for the day: what’s on our minds or hearts that is calling for attention? It could be work, relationship, self, family, friends. It doesn’t matter. There is no formula. You spend the day however you choose (reading a book of reflection, walking at the beach, going for a hike, sitting in your room, sitting by the river, enjoying the views, swimming in the pool, drawing pictures) and trust your heart, mind, and body to lead you through the silence.
My overall theme this year was Joy. It always seems to elude me. I feel love and peace so often, so why not joy? I also know that sometimes I have to work at love: that some days love really is a decision even though I don’t “feel” it. That I have to work at peace: taking time to sit for five or ten minutes in quiet and solitude, a moment set aside for my heart to settle down for a bit. So, where is joy in all of this? And how do I go about working at it?
Over the week of reflection I realized that I have defined joy as effervescence, a giddiness or happiness that bubbles from within. How wrong I have been! I realized that joy is the simple action of appreciation, a moment when I am awed by nature, or touched by a friend’s concern, the deep abiding breath you take when you are simply awed by a view from the mountain top. I came to understand that it is an “ah” (or “aha”) moment when you are not necessarily effervescent but simply in appreciation for what you have before you. Thanks and gratitude. Not overflowing, but simply in appreciation and simplicity.
I returned home to The Inn On First from retreat and sat in the garden. I saw the hummingbird feeding from the salvia flowers in the yard, watched the fish swim excitedly in the pond just before I threw in their food, and enjoyed watching a couple sit at a table, conversing and sharing a glass of wine. I thought about all the ah-some moments I have had here at the inn over the past seven years and I took a deep sigh in gratitude. Of course, this is my joy. People, food, wine, nature, Napa. All of it put before me. Not in giddiness. Not effervescent. Simply grateful and appreciative for what was right in front of me.
The work of joy for me, then, is to take the time throughout my busy and not always joy-filled day to “look” for those ah-some moments: in the laughter of guests at the breakfast table, in the tenderness of a couple sitting quietly hand in hand in the yard, in the joviality of a couple playing chess over a glass of port, in the sound of a guest playing the piano in the living room, in my surprise at the guests who enjoy throwing the ball for my dogs as much as I do, in the delight of guests who share their appreciation with the morning’s selection for breakfast, in the clink of the glass cookie plate cover (meaning someone else has returned to the jar once more for some chocolate love) multiple times over the course of an evening. All of this brings joy to me.
So don’t be surprised if you find me glancing your way with a smile as you sit in the yard sipping wine, or see me sitting in the yard with a cup of coffee enjoying a moment of quiet gratitude as you return from your day of wine-tasting, or walking by your breakfast table with an appreciative nod as you eat my food with delight. It’s just me, working at joy, finding it in every ah-some moment put before me here at the inn, hoping that, maybe, you’ll find some too.
Just ten minutes from The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast in Napa, is a winery called Aonair. Well, actually, it is the tasting room built out of an old stable that overlooks acres of vineyards in the southern hills of Napa. We were introduced to Aonair by Grant Long, Sr., one of our favorite characters here in Napa Valley. I say character because he has plenty of it and it shows in his demeanor and expression, always making you feel that you are the most important person in the room. Long ago he made an investment into grapes and hillside wineries and eventually brought his son, Grant Long, Jr., into the business, and it is Grant, Jr. who is making wine, and Grant, Jr., who is usually doing the pouring for you.
When I say it is small, even the name “Aonair” gives it away, meaning “One Man” in Gaelic. Driving back through the estates hidden in the hills you enter the security gate, drive up the long driveway, park, walk to the tasting room and then turn and behold the view. Just perfect.
He only uses Napa mountain fruit for his reds, which means bright fruit flavors with robust character. We tried his Merlot (taste of raspberries with a light earthy tone), Cabernet Sauvignon (soft and subtle on the nose with blackberry and cherry notes, using whole berry fermentation), and Bordeaux Blend (big, bright fruit flavors). All were delicious.
He also had a White Wine Blend (Sauvignon Blanc Clone-Semillon-Muscat) which we enjoyed as well as a Grenache, with fruit harvested out of the Sierra foothills from one of the oldest vineyards in California. You can purchase a few bottles while you are there but to be guaranteed this wine for the future will require signing up for wine allocations (which we did, we liked it that much). Wines generally range from $35 to $85 per bottle.
Just a fifteen minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast inn in Napa, is Ceja Vineyards. This family knows how to put on a party and you don’t want to miss it if you’re going to be in town. Details below:
Cinco de Mayo at Ceja Vineyards
In honor of Cinco de Mayo, Ceja Vineyards hosts a festive afternoon filled with a live Mariachi band, Ballet Folklórico performances, authentic Mexican cuisine from Amelia’s kitchen, bocce ball, dancing and of course Ceja vino!
It’s from 2 to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 4 at Ceja Carneros Estate, 1016 Las Amigas Rd.
Cost is $80.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 255-3954.