Category Archives: The Inn On First

Was on Silent Retreat in Montecito…so what?

Garden Pond 2015I 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.

Garden2015I 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.

 

What to do for Cinco (okay, Cuatro) de Mayo? Visit a winery of course!

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 jennifer@cejavineyards.com or call 255-3954.

Torc: restaurants come and go…I hope this one stays.

A ten-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging property in Napa, is the restaurant called Torc.  It opened a few months ago and I wanted to give it awhile before tempting fate with such an eclectic menu.  We shared the evening with our friends, Don and Kathy, so that meant more bites to enjoy.

Beginning with the artichoke soup with mint and lemon, I was in love with the velvety finish.  The portions are not large (we had read about this beforehand) and yet when I saw what was put in front of me I appreciated that they seemed just perfect for dining on multiple courses.  The Kampachi Crudo was incredible, a white fish with a citrus sauce and avocado, as was the Roasted Beets with Burrata and a Sherry-Maple glaze.  Growing up on canned beets I thought I would never try them again.  Since trying roasted fresh beets my heart has been changed, and Torc delivered it with gusto.

We also tried the Deviled Eggs, and the Pakora, as well as the Jamon Iberica, all great small starter appetizers for the meal.  Jamie had read about the Coconut Rice and the flavor on that dish was subtle and fun to eat.  We also enjoyed the Pork with the Cheddar Grits and a Buccatini Pasta with a Lamb Bolognese.  We enjoyed all of it.  Prices for apps and sides run $5 to $15, and the entrees are from $14 to $29.

Torc is willing to accommodate changes to dishes to present Vegans, Vegetarians, and Gluten-Free guests.  That is something not every restaurant in Napa offers.  The menu changes seasonally so I am looking forward to some really great meals in the future.

Fly Fishing Guide and Lessons now available!

The Inn On First, your luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, is proud to be the first to offer Fly Fishing Lessons to our guests.  This is a unique experience that can enhance your stay here in the Napa Valley.

You begin your day at 7 a.m. in the parking lot of the inn where you will meet your guide, Richard Loft, who will offer you an early morning continental breakfast.

Fly FishingYou will sign all the necessary paperwork, he will hand you a map, and you will follow him for 45 minutes up into the hills beyond the Napa Valley.  When you arrive he will suit you up in your waders and boots, and explain the basics of fly fishing.  After a few lessons of casting and reeling, the real fun begins!  Wading out into the river you begin the process of catch and release.  Plan on a minimum of two to three hours in the water.  Snacks and water available as you fish.   When you are finished you can sit down to enjoy your sandwich lunch soaking up the beauty of Napa County Wilderness.  Generally you can plan on returning to the inn no later than 1 p.m. which still leaves time for wine tasting in the afternoon.  (Disclaimer: As with all fishing excursions, expect to have fun but catching of fish is not guaranteed).   $525/couple, or $325 for one person.  (50% deposit required, and there is a 72-hour cancel policy)

Fishing in the State of California requires a license which can be procured from the California website: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/ols/, or you can make a visit to Sweeney’s in Napa (1537 Imola Ave West., Phone: 707 255-5544, Store Hours: Mon-Fri 9:00 – 6:00, Sat 8:00 – 6:00 Sun 9:00 – 5:00).

Learn how to make Corndog Omelets at home!

The Inn On First, your favorite romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, was happy to be a part of DoNapa.com’s efforts to showcase culinary talent in the City of Napa.   As part of their chef’s series they asked to film Chef Jim Gunther prepare one of his 120 breakfast creations, the Corndog Omelet.

Don’t forget, to access local downtown Napa news and events, visit DoNapa.com.

It’s a dog’s life….here at The Inn On First!

I never understood why people grieved so deeply for their pets until I had to let go of one this week.  Here at The Inn On First we have had the privilege of sharing our 3 furry friends, Oscar de la Renta, Hugo Boss, and Calvin Klein, with all of our guests.  Oscar, the oldest, came into our lives when he was six years old.  A “champion” we were told, but once we got him home he didn’t know any commands: sit, down, come.  He would just stare at you.  So we called the breeder and asked her about his champion status.  “Oh,” she said, “he is a champion for his looks, not for obedience.”  Great, a pretty boy.

Eight years later he did come to understand “sit” but only if a treat was in hand, and generally would answer to “come” when breakfast or dinner was ready, and he never really took to “down” no matter how many treats were in hand.  A pretty boy he remained.

To all of our guests who visited here: if you ever held one of our dogs in your lap like a baby, on his back, belly up, and rubbed his tummy- that was Oscar.  If you stopped rubbing he gave you that piteous stare, until the hand moved over the belly once more.  He favored ladies over gentlemen, and often would just curl up on a female guest’s lap and rest his head on her breast.  Even to the point where he was unwilling to come back with us into the house.  We’d practically have to pry him off her lap.  If you were lucky, before he left your lap, he’d give you kisses to thank you for the attention.  We called him Munchkin, Oscaruni, Lover Boy, and in the last year Little Old Man.

He had Cushing’s Disease, a form of cancer, that worked on his liver and his brain, slowing things down for him daily.  The vet had told us: “No more than two days of not eating.  That’s when you call me.”  When Jamie went to an East Coast wedding last week and Oscar stopped eating during that week, I begged him to wait until Tuesday, when Jamie would return.  Sure enough, he went back to eating until Monday.  On Tuesday Jamie returned home and by Wednesday he was gone.  Can’t thank him enough for holding on a few extra days for Jamie’s return.  Can’t say enough how much we will miss him.

Thank you, to all of you, who ever made him feel welcome, comfortable, taking the time to say hello to him, and caring for him this past year through his aging process.  Thanks, too, for all the love, support, and compassion given to us via messages and hugs here at the inn.

Oscar leaves behind his nephew, Calvin, who has many of his pretty boy looks (black/white), but none of that pretty boy charm.  Oh, you all know Calvin, our seven year old, the one who wants to announce to the world that there are people in the yard.  Yes, the one we tell you to ignore and keep walking as he will immediately stop talking.  And don’t forget Hugo, who turned ten today, who loves to chase the tennis ball, and knows if you’ve been here before when he makes this low sounding funny begging sound in his effort to see you and reconnect with you once more.  He is distinctive in his single color (black) and his friendly demeanor.  Our Welcoming Ambassador for all guests, both new and old alike.  Even amid our sadness at Oscar’s loss, we are happy knowing that it is still a dog’s life here at The Inn On First where you can enjoy the company of our little family of furry friends.

120 breakfast recipes to choose from

I know.  We’ve read about it for years: breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day.  So here at The Inn On First, a luxury Napa bed and breakfast inn, we take it seriously.  Today we have over 120 recipes that we utilize over the course of one year.  We keep track of when you visit, what you eat for breakfast, and ensure you don’t get served the same dish again.  It is our way of keeping you excited for what is about to be presented to you each morning, no matter how often you visit us.

Corndog Omelet-103   Birds Nest-113

It is also a way for Chef Jim Gunther not to get bored or complacent. His goal is to develop a minimum of 250 recipes before he retires.  He’s hoping for another ten years to work at it and thinks he can achieve that goal.  For Jim, it is a very Zen-like experience- you eat, you enjoy, you let it go. Something new is coming your way the next time.  ”Knowing you get to eat this breakfast but once helps the guest to savor what is present to them today,” Jim stated.  ”And in case you didn’t really enjoy that particular breakfast,” he added playfully, “you’ll never see it again.”

Sushi Om-170 Hot Dog Omelet-154 Cheese Consomme-135-1

 

 

So what are some of the more recent creations that have come out of The Inn On First’s kitchen?  Cheese Consomme with Roasted Potatoes and Poached Egg, Corndog omelets, Argentinian Arepas with Eggs in Chipotle Cream Sauce, Macaroni and Cheese, and S’mores French Toast are a few of the items you can expect to enjoy this year.  The key to the inn’s success?  Everything is made from scratch: from macaroni noodles, to the graham cracker bread Jim created for French Toast.  Using fresh, organic, and locally grown ingredients, the focus is on cooking seasonally and creating recipes that have “comfort food” in mind.


Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant: still producing Grade A innovation and flavor.

Only a ten minute walk from Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant; what we call a “small plates restaurant”, meaning you order to share.  Where else can you be tempted by the daily taco of the day (filet mignon with pomegranate glaze, or shrimp pad thai, or pulled pork with a chipotle sauce, or lamb with pickled slaw- every bite delicious!) that changes all the time according to the chef’s inventiveness and seasonal ingredients.

I’m a fan of their pork steam buns, the short ribs, and their filet mignon with red rice cake.  Yet by the time you get there these may be gone and replaced with some other yummy dish for you to choose.  The fried olives are still a favorite of mine, and the truffled popcorn is downright addictive.  You swear you will stop eating it, and yet your hands keep reaching.  Jamie loved the brussell sprouts flatbread (you know I’m a hater so I don’t touch the stuff!), and the soft housemade burrata with olive oil drizzle and toast points is always fun.

This restaurant is fun, exciting, and always busy, so reservations are a must.  With so many wines by the glass, too, it makes it really interesting to try new wines with these dishes.  We’ve even had guests return two nights in a row just so they could try out other dishes and different wines.  Stephanie and Scott, Owners, Hostess and Chef, make this must-eat stop in Napa.  Oh, and seriously, if they ever take the Twix Bar off the dessert menu I might consider picketing the establishment.


Brix Restaurants: when you want a lovely garden to sit in for lunch

Only a fifteen minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Brix Restaurant.  As my friend Donna Kaz was in town from NYC I wanted her to experience the beauty that the Brix Gardens enjoys while dining on incredible food.

Asparagus Salad Brix Butter Lettuce Salad Brix Brix Garden View

 

 

 

 

As it was a bit later in the afternoon when we arrived (2 pm) we were practically alone on the patio for lunch.  With spring blossoms everywhere in sight, as well as bud break beginning to show on the vines all around, the place could not have been more welcoming.  We ordered the cold beet soup with a vegan base and a beautiful floral design of creme fraiche on top.  It was a perfect accompaniment to a warm spring day.  I ordered the asparagus salad, with a variety of white and green asparagus, and a light lemony dressing with petite brioche croutons.  So far the meal was perfect.

Donna enjoyed the house salad with butter lettuce, english peas, and a garlic-yogurt dressing, although we were both sorely tempted by the tempura fried green beans and the steak tartare.  The dungeness crab salad was tempting, but we tried to keep it light.  We decided to split the lamb sandwich on housemade focaccia bread with the most lovely crisp french fries (okay, so maybe we tried to keep it partially light!).  The bacon pizza looked delicious as we saw it delivered near us, as did the lamb bolognese.

Prices range from $8 to $18, for soups, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and main entrees.  If you are here during the busier summer months I would suggest making a reservation and tell them you want to sit on the garden patio.  If you ate my breakfast  that morning you probably won’t be hungry again until 2 pm, which is a great time to sit and enjoy an afternoon break from wine tasting.


Crane Family Vineyards: small, special, and unique winery to visit

IMG_1778Only 5 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the Crane Family Vineyards Estate.  Sitting on a small hillside, overlooking parts of the city of Napa and the surrounding hillsides, you appreciate that this is a great place to live.  In the back of this small property is a barn that serves as the winery, where the Cranes have been producing wine for over 20 years.  These are the gems we long to find and so appreciate when they come our way.

Tom CraneTom Chiarella, son of the founders of the winery (Crane is his mother’s maiden name), is now running the operation and after a tour of the property invites you to sit on the front porch and to taste their wines.  An affable fellow who makes you feel comfortable and welcome immediately, he recreates for you a bit of the history of the land, its owners (his parents), and his years in Napa Valley.  Over the course of conversation he pours you a glass of their estate Merlot, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Alison’s Cuvee (the winemaker’s play yard of wine with her Cabernet blend that changes every year), and the family Port.  These are unpretentious wines presented by an unpretentious host, and it makes for a unique Napa Valley winery experience.  They make few cases and don’t have many appointments to offer, but for the wine enthusiast looking to purchase wine Tom is always willing to share a part of his day with you.  Prices range from $35 for the Port, and $50 to $80 for their other wines.

By the time your visit is over you will forget that you are so close to the city of Napa.  You will be enthralled with the views, the ambience, the friendliness, and the wines.  You will understand why we love Napa and its residents.  Definitely a gem not to be missed.

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