A Toast to Good Fortunati in Napa & Sonoma Valley

In June 2013, we jetted off to Sonoma and Napa Valley, CA to celebrate the good health of all our family. In good humor after his open heart surgery, Dad reminded us frequently that "death did him part" from my Stepmom Janie.  So we were obligated to participate in a renewal of their vows to re-establish the validity of their marriage.  Luckily for us those vows were renewed in breathtaking Sonoma, CA. 

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Fortunati Vineyards. If you have visited Napa or Sonoma, you know well that that each vineyard, tasting room, and wine grower offers their own unique experience. No two are alike, except for the common thread that most typically welcome you in with warm, open arms and exceptional wine. 

On this particular afternoon, we had a ton of fun traipsing around TruchardTy Caton, and others, but this one was our favorite of the day!  Sure, we had been drinking wine most of the day, but it wasn't just that. Ellen (the owner) welcomed us into her home with open arms and hospitality that rivals that of many good Southerners. You could say we felt right at home.  Thank you, Ellen!! 

In addition to uncorking her best cabs, zins, rose, and viognier, Ellen treated us to plate after plate of amazing Napa cheeses and breads. We sat on her back porch in what felt like the center of the Napa Valley, with a view looking North that seemed to stretch on for miles. 

It was as if we were old friends invited over for an afternoon party. We were surrounded by fields of tall vines, in complete seclusion in the middle of the wide-open Valley air. It was complete serenity.

Even her dogs snuggled up to us and became fast friends.  In all honesty, I'm not really a dog person.  But these two quickly won my heart!


I think it is safe to say that we were able to breathe a sigh of relief that afternoon at Forunati. It all come to a head there. We laughed comfortably in full zeal without second guesses to what could happen next. Then and there, we found our peace eight months later, after our Dad's cardiac arrest and near death.

The odds were very much against us last October, but somehow Dad made it. Good fortunati smiled upon us, and we are deeply grateful for it. Here's a toast to you Dad! We love you very much! 

vegetarian philly cheese steak sandwiches


Julie was over again on Monday night, and as usual we were chatting (gossiping) and sipping gin & tonics (with lemon, not lime - thanks Uncle Roger!) as this has become our new ritual.  The kids sat happily on the sofa nearby, transfixed by the latest installment of WordGirl.  Their little bodies exhausted from playing at the splash park all day and boycotting their naps. 

Our CSA share from Small City Farm last week included a ton of delicious sweet peppers and onions, in addition to the most amazing tomatoes, okra, herbs, apples, and eggplant we've ever had.  So with the abundance of peppers and onions in my fridge, what better to make than vegetarian Philly cheese steak sandwiches?! 

While Julie and Josh got the kiddos in bed I caramelized the onions, which doesn't take but 15 minutes, and then finished up the rest.  This was such an easy dish to make - such a great go-to weeknight dish, and not nearly as fatty as the real deal version.  Definitely will be making this again soon!


Vegetarian Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches

  • 2 small yellow onions, sliced
  • about a cup of sliced sweet peppers (we used red, orange, and yellow)
  • 3 cloves of garlic minced  
  • Gardein brand meatless "beef" tips, one bag/package (really you could use any brand you like) 
  • 4 thick slices of provolone cheese
  • 4 sandwich rolls (we used rolls from Nova's bakery here in Charlotte, and they were AH-MAH-ZIng!)  
  • 1 1/2 TBS of vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 TBS soy sauce
  • butter and extra virgin olive oil for cooking the veggies and grilling the bread
  • crunchy, zesty greens for garnish - we used pea shoots, but watercress would be great too

Preheat the oven to broil on high.  Move the oven rack down to the lowest slot. 

In a medium saute pan caramelize the onions in about a teaspoon or two of olive oil.  This takes about 15 of cooking over medium high heat, frequently stirring so the onions don't burn.  When they become translucent and a light brown color you'll know they're about perfect.  Once the onions are slightly browned, add the minced garlic and the sliced peppers.  Cook for another 5 minutes or so.  Then add the package of "beef" tips, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce and cook 7 minutes (or as long as your package directions suggest).

On a cookie sheet greased with a little butter or olive oil spray, put 4 separate piles of the onion/pepper/beef tip mixture.  Top each pile with a slice of provolone cheese.  Place in the preheated oven for about 2 minutes, or until the cheese is nice and melted and bubbly-looking.   

On a greased up grill pan, place the sliced sandwich rolls or buns face down to warm them up and give them a slightly crispy edge.  This should only take a couple of minutes.  Then fill each bun with one of the sections of provolone topped Philly cheese steak goodness, topping each with greens.  Enjoy! 

sweet sisters

One of my oldest and dearest friends gave birth to her second baby girl about 6 weeks ago.  I got the chance to spend some time with them at beautiful Battery Park in downtown Charleston, SC.  While there taking in the gorgeous water views under the shade of the oaks and draping moss, I snapped a few pics of my friend and her precious daughters. 

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Fremont Diner Sonoma, California

After arriving safely and in one piece in Sonoma, California last month, my family and I stopped in at an adorable roadside diner called The Fremont Diner.  Between the rustic country decor, the farm fresh and delicious menu items, and the truly free-range chickens running under the tables on the back patio, it was the perfect place to stop in!  I would highly recommend it! 

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Have the bartender at the back bar pour you a Sonoma Springs IPA.  I know, I know - you're in wine country, but trust me on this one.  It is a super delicious craft beer.  They also - no surprise - have a pretty good wine selection.  Then take a seat on the back patio at one of the festive turquoise picnic tables.   

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It was the perfect first stop on our trip!  More on our Sonoma adventures soon...