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We heard Healdsburg calling us. That's the charming Sonoma County small town stocked full with wineries, luxurious accommodations and destination bars and restaurants. The town bureau invited us up there for an overnight stay.
Lunch the first day was a cooking demo and interactive experience at cooking school Relish Culinary Adventures with Relish founder Donna del Ray. The fare included crostini with glazed beets, chevre & herbs; a spring green salad; roast chicken with herb pistou; faro with kale, mushrooms and cheese; honey-roasted carrots with fennel pollen; and almond cake with strawberry-rhubarb sauce for dessert.
Del Ray made a point of ensuring that we all washed our hands, not just before food prep, but during it, anytime we touched our hair or face, a good reminder. As sous chefs, we learned how to sauté mushrooms so they don't become gloppy, how to chop snap peas on the diagonal, and the secret of "airplane chicken."
Winemaker Chris Pittenger of Gros Ventre Cellars joined us, sharing samples of his creations, including a Gros Ventre Rose that was a blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir and Valdiguie, an old-world grape grafted onto new-world vines, quite yummy.
That evening, one of our dinner companions asked us, "You're glowing! Did you have a treatment?"
"Well, no, but we did have a massage," we admitted, and the dinner table erupted in knowing laughter. "It was excellent, and our standards are very high." The "Signature Massage" from Tony, a polite yet firm young masseur at the Spa Hotel Healdsburg, was superb. Out There enjoyed a Jacuzzi beforehand. Afterwards, we went to happy hour at Spoonbar in the nearby H2Hotel and sampled good Sonoma Pinot Noir. The big, open windows; the fountain of water cascading down a sculpture of espresso spoons; the mellow vibe: this is a favorite place of ours.
Our dinner destination Barndiva sprawls across two vintage buildings and gardens, and the décor includes sliding drawers and walls full of English illustrated cigarette cards, a typology we barely knew existed that makes for first-rate collectible art. It was a convivial meal of good food, wine and company, a true Healdsburg evening.
We stayed overnight at the Grape Leaf Inn, a quiet B&B where all the rooms are named after wine varietals. We were given the room called Sangiovese, a fiery red Italian grape that blends well. Accommodations included a firm bed, gas-jet fireplace, and hearty breakfast the next day.
We took a "Gentle Yoga" class at Yoga on Center in the morning, led by teacher Katina Knapp, who was patient and kind with our clumsiness. Then we capped off the jaunt to Healdsburg with a tasting at Wilson Winery in Dry Creek Valley, all estate-grown reds like Zins and Syrah. The vino and a lunch of sandwiches from Oakville Grocery on the patio overlooking the vineyards put us in a mellow mood for the drive back to the city and the press deadline awaiting us.
Info: www.relishculinary.com www.grosventrecellars.com www.hotelhealdsburg.com www.h2hotel.com www.barndiva.com www.grapeleafinn.com www.yogaoncenter.com www.wilsonwinery.com www.oakvillegrocery.com.