French Onion Soup Sandwiches

fence

As this weekend approached I decided I needed to relax and rejuvenate after a hectic February. No chores. No responsibilities. Just reading. I had 50 pages of Claire Messud’s “The Woman Upstairs,” a brilliant portrayal of longing, loving and betrayal to finish and Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” still waiting for me.
But what’s that saying, “People make plans and God laughs” or in my case, Mother Nature.

Instead of lighting a fire and curling up in front of it with a book, we spent yesterday cleaning up the mess after a rain and wind storm hit Napa Valley and sent our side fence crashing to the ground at 3am Friday morning.

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To help ease the pain (and after pulling some weird muscle that spans from front to back I have literal pain), I’m going to treat us to French Onion Soup Sandwiches.

I love French Onion Soup, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I mostly love it for the cheesey toast floating on top. So I decided to get rid of the liquid and focus on the cheesey toast. The result: a sandwich so decadent it would be a crime not to eat it while watching the Academy Awards tonight.

I only wish I had a photo, but for all its deliciousness it isn’t much prettier than our poor fence.

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French Onion Soup Sandwiches

Enjoy with Sequoia Grove Syrah

Serves 4

1 tablespoon bacon drippings, duck fat or olive oil
2 large yellow onions, quartered and sliced thin
1/2 cup dry Sherry or white wine
1/4 cup demi-glace or concentrated beef stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 thick slices sourdough bread
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
4 ounces fontina cheese, grated

Heat the bacon drippings in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 20 minutes without stirring until the onions are dark brown and dry. Stir and cook 10 more minutes until the onions are uniformly browned. Add the wine, increase the heat to high and cook about 5 minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Add the demi-glace and cook about 5 minutes until thick and syrupy. Stir in the salt and pepper. Remove from the heat; cover to keep warm.

Heat the broiler. Put the sourdough bread on a baking sheet and toast under the broiler until golden brown on one side only.

Remove from the heat, flip the bread over and spread the 4 tablespoons of butter evenly over the untoasted side of the bread. Sprinkle even amounts of the parmesan over the butter. Press into the bread.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the bread, a few slices at a time butter-side down in the skillet and cook about 3 minutes until browned. Return to the baking sheet, butter-side down. When all of the bread has been grilled, divide the fontina evenly over the slices and return to the broiler. Cook until the cheese is melted and begins to brown. Remove from the oven. Divide the onion mix into four portions and place on four of the bread slices. Top each with a second slice of bread and serve.

Napa Valley’s City Literary Guide

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The life of a writer isn’t always glamorous.

I moved to Napa Valley the summer I sold my first cookbook proposal. Because I didn’t have a real job, I couldn’t afford my San Francisco apartment’s rent so I moved into my sister’s garage, which was quickly dubbed the GAroom, because it was not quite a bedroom, not quite a garage.

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The GAroom was an 80-year-old wooden shack with a door that slid around the wall on heavy steel rails and had holes where the windows had once been.  There was a long built-in workbench along one wall and in the middle of the room was a platform on stilts that sat about 10 inches off the dirt floor. There was no insulation. The walls were made of 6-inch planks that I tried to paint white, but the paint just soaked into the wood. In the winter, the dirt floor flooded and the wind shredded the plastic I used to cover the window holes. This was the year that the Unabomber was caught and I loved to joke he had nothing on me when it came to living spaces.

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With a lot of elbow grease and imagination, I worked with its bones to make it as cozy possible and a space that was my own. Maybe because of that I didn’t mind living there or maybe because it also seemed a little romantic to start my writing life in a garage.

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I kept my head down and worked hard during the year that I lived there. It may not have been the writer’s life I had imagined: days spent roaming between bookstores to find inspiration, coffee shops to observe life and a special corner of the world carved out to record them. But at least I was writing.

When my first book, Smoothies was released, I had moved into the house and came home one day to a message on my answering machine from Po Bronson, the author of a number one bestseller on the New York Times. He was inviting me to join a writers’ group.

I turned to my boyfriend and said, “I’ve made it. Po Bronson wants me in his writing group.”

Later he called again, only it wasn’t “Po Bronson” it was “Paul Franson,” a Napa writer like me just beginning his Napa Valley career. I should have used my royalties to buy a better answering machine.

For such a small, quirky book, Smoothies did really well and paved the way for lots of other cookbooks and projects that continued to fuel my love of writing.

That love for writing has always been entwined with my love of reading and my love of bookstores. This week, all three of those loves merged into one totally fabulous place: City Literary Guides.

I discovered City Literary Guides when my friend, Heidi included it in a favorites list on her blog, 101cookbooks. City Literary Guides is a project of Nicole Gulotta, who has enlisted book lovers in various towns and cities to create a literary map of their town. For writers, readers and eaters too, City Literary Guides are the perfect travel guides (or a post-travel check list for how many book stores you’ve visited).

After about two minutes of looking at the clever and well-designed guides, I wrote to Nicole and asked to create a guide for Napa Valley. It was fun to put together and I was thrilled when it launched on Tuesday. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Making a Resolution that Will Stick

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Making a Resolution that Will Stick

Five tips for sustainable New Year’s plans

 

One January long ago, I phoned someone I worked with who I didn’t know very well. Before diving into work, I made small talk by asking her if she’d made any resolutions.

She answered, “Yes, the usual: eat less, exercise more, and also practice sex alone on a regular basis.”

I didn’t know how to respond but thought well at least the last part seemed achievable. A few months later when I phoned her again and she told me she was running out the door for her saxophone lesson I nearly laughed out loud.

I love resolutions. The idea of a clean slate and all that potential to make new habits and break old ones is just so irresistible. But beyond the planning part, resolutions are a challenge.

Last year, in an effort to make a resolution I thought was foolproof I resolved to eat a donut every week.

There’s a backstory. Every Monday, our director of winegrowing brings a few dozen donuts into the office for everyone. Every week I’d fight the temptation to eat one of the donuts. Usually I’d give in and have at least a piece of a donut and then I’d privately berate myself for giving in.

Instead I decided to stop rowing against the tide and resolved to eat a donut every week. Could there be a better or easier resolution?

There were a few Mondays I wasn’t in the office and didn’t otherwise go get a donut on my own and there were one or two Mondays when the donuts weren’t delivered. There were also some Mondays—a few but not many—that I didn’t eat one because I didn’t want one or simply forgot.

As it turned, like most resolutions it too was broken and in most cases not by any fault of mine, making an argument that it is nearly impossible to sustain a resolution.

Last donut of 2013

Last donut of 2013

But there are a few things I learned:

1. Be realistic. First focus on one, or two max, resolutions. Write them down. If they are daily, make them short and make sure they can be practiced where ever you are.

2. Make it achievable. If every year you vow to lose 20 pounds (who doesn’t?) and each year you gain five more, consider resolving to give up the food you love best for one day a week. It’s a small step, but keeping to it will help you reach your ultimate goal.

3. Make it measurable. Rather than a blanket resolution like being more healthy, resolve to walk three days a week for 30 minutes each day or eat a piece of fruit each weekday morning. Again, it’s small steps that lead to reaching bigger goals.

4. Control your own destination. Don’t make any resolutions that rely on any factors outside of your control that can affect the outcome.

5. Make it fun. The more you want to do whatever it is the more likely you’ll sustain it.

Of course, I’m not the only one who has tips for making and keeping resolutions. Here are other tips that might help you in your quest to eat less, exercise more and practice saxophone regularly.

From the New York Times: How to Keep Your Resolutions

From the habit guru Charles Duhigg: How to Design a Resolution that Sticks

And from Food52: New Year’s Resolutions Made Easy

What Do You Believe?

Counting our blessings.

Counting our blessings.

I believe:
Early mornings are sacred…
Reading a good book is the best way to spend an afternoon…
The harder I work the luckier I am…
Walking without any electronics frees you up to see what would otherwise be missed…
The more you give the more you get…
And that the ordinary is what can make a day extraordinary.

Two years ago when 50 was a year away, I began to think about what grand gesture would make it feel significant. Somehow that year went by without that remarkable event.

But something happened when I ushered in 50. I felt luckier than ever. Because I started to pay attention to the small stuff. And not just pay attention but really take a moment to appreciate it.

In other words, I stopped to smell the proverbial roses. And it made me feel so lucky.

I tried to impress that appreciation for what we have and how much we have of it upon Josh.

How lucky are we? I’d ask when we sat down to dinner.

Lucky indeed. We have our health. We have a home that shelters us. Food that keeps us fed. A job that keeps gas in our cars and our bills paid. And a sense of humor for those days when we feel less lucky.

I knew it was paying off when Josh brought this home from school.

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And this season as I say goodbye to 50, I feel luckier than ever to have a happy, healthy child that still believes.

He believes so much so that bags with gifts in them can sit out in the open without him peeking in. And, he believes that Santa or his helpers fill our advent calendar.

Every year, I search for little treasures to fill the pockets. This year I decided those treasures would come from us.

Jack, Josh and I each completed the sentence, “I feel lucky because BLANK” on eight slips of paper. Then we folded them and Josh put them in the pockets.

Every morning Josh pulls out a note and reads it to us. Then we put it on the fridge.

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To keep his believing going, I’ve scattered a couple of trinkets in the pockets.

Because believing is the luckiest thing of all.

The Pitch

Reading Variety at the Regency Wilshire following our pitch.

Reading Variety at the Regency Wilshire following our pitch.

How do you define a perfect moment?

It’s fleeting—or at the very most relatively brief. It’s unexpected. And it’s overwhelmingly clear in the present—not just recognized in hindsight.

When I finished pitching Syrah Syrah at the Napa Valley Film Festival I was relieved and just wanted off the stage, certain that the pitch would elicit some tough criticism.

The amazingly positive response and the “win”—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Nancy and me to go to L.A. and pitch our story to the execs at The Weinstein Company—propelled me into a state of a perfect moment.

I flew out to New York the next day and sitting on that plane I knew it was a moment to be savored. I smiled. I savored. I smiled. I savored.

I knew it wouldn’t last. I knew that rare perfect moments are time suspended between hard work and more hard work…time before fantasy gives way to reality…time when the potential for anything and everything is huge.

Mine slowly faded and was gone completely by the time I arrived in Los Angeles the day before Nancy and I were to present our pitch in longer form.

It was a totally new experience for us and while it was thrilling it was challenging. We struggled with how to create our pitch, which was a first for both of us. And we approached it as collaborators do: with different styles and different emotional investments.

On top of our already heightened emotions over the pitch, we were staying at the hotel where President Obama was also spending the night. The sheer number of police, secret service and dogs (pictured below as they headed into the tower to sniff for bombs) was as surreal as Nancy and I in LA to pitch our novel as a movie.

We spent the next 10 hours working on our pitch. By 10pm neither of us could keep our eyes open—neither of us had slept more than four or six hours a night since the pitch in Napa. Our pitch wasn’t ready but it would have to wait.

Until 4am.

I woke up and as if by a miracle it came to me. I started to get up to grab my computer and write it down before I forgot. Before my foot hit the floor Nancy bolted up.

“I got it,” I said.

We turned on the lights and started working.

Five hours later, we were ready to go—in dresses, make up on and jangled nerves masked by an eerie calm.

We passed Zach Galifianakis at the valet. The sun was shining. And we were on our way to the Weinstein Company, still pinching ourselves.

I had no idea what to expect. I was still in shock that we were there—something I could not have even dreamed up in my wildest imagination.

Nancy and I had always seen our book as a movie, but I had always imagined an agent of some sort pitching it for us.

Instead we entered the Weinstein Company offices, which were decorated for Hanukkah. On the counter was a bedazzled bottle of Moet & Chandon. A sign! I thought.

The president of distribution greeted us and we went into a conference room with a view of LA I’ve always loved—the north side of Wilshire Boulevard with its red roofs and greenery.

The vice president of production met us in there and without any pause Nancy introduced our pitch and I gave it, flubbing a few times.

Afterwards, the president of production arrived and the five of us chatted like friends just catching up. They all could not have been nicer and the experience could not have been more positive.

When it was over, they said they’d have an answer for us on Monday. Great, we said. Thanks.

Then we went outside, looked at each other and said, An answer? About what?!

Yes, we should have asked. But in that perfect moment it was enough just to be there.

When and what was your last perfect moment?

The dogs getting in to the elevators.

The dogs getting in to the elevators.

 

 

Hello Hollywood

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When was the last time you followed your heart and just went for IT? Whatever IT might be.

A serial risk-taker, I’ve done it a lot.

Most recently, I went for it when I submitted a teaser pitch for a movie based on Syrah, Syrah the novel Nancy and I will release next summer.

And guess what? It was accepted. So I pitched the story in two minutes to a panel. Even more amazing, my pitch was one of two to “win.” You can watch it here.

Tomorrow I leave for LA to pitch it to the Weinstein Company.

This was the kick in the pants I needed to follow my heart and go for IT in a big way. And IT for me is writing fiction and stop trying to be food blogger.

On this page, you’ll start to find more stories about writing and reading. Of course I won’t stop cooking so occasionally I’ll post a recipe here or you’ll be able to find my recipes on Food52.

See you at the bookstore or–the good lord willing–at the MOVIES!

 

Sunset Punch

Sunset punch

Sunset punch

Move over mimosa! This punch is so much better–sweet, tangy, refreshing…and just a little bit of boozy.

1 TBSP agave syrup
2 cups orange juice
1 (750ml) bottle Chandon Rosé
1 lime sliced thin
Ice

Pour the syrup into the bottom of a decorative pitcher. Add the orange juice and then slowly add the Rose, a little at a time to avoid it bubbling over. Add ice and sliced limes. Serve.

Serves 4 – 6