oranges | whiskandmuddler.comAlong with ringing in the start of a New Year, where we shift away from the indulgences of the holidays and once again embrace healthier eating, January also brings a whole host of bright, juicy citrus fruit which are overflowing at farmers’ markets stands and produce bins. Many of you already know how much I adore lemons, Meyer Lemons to be exact, but what you may not know is that oranges come in a very close second. Since they’re available year-round, it’s sometimes forgotten that these bitter-sweet orbs are at their pinnacle of flavor for the next month or so. There are a few special varieties definitely worth searching for that are drip-down-your-hands delicious and only available right now. Once you start to explore these other varieties, you’ll be hooked. You may even find yourself thumbing through every cookbook on your shelf just itching for an excuse to cook or bake with oranges. I know I do!

Here’s what in season:
orangeswithtags |

navalorange | whiskandmuddler.comCalifornia Naval Oranges: Readily available any month of the year here in California, their peak season is January-March. They’re also the variety you’ll most likely consume out of the jug alongside your morning cereal. Their thick skin and high concentration of limonin (a bitter, white, crystalline substance found in citrus) makes these guys ideal for commercial juicing or just peeling and eating.

Cara Cara Orange: Hands down, my favorite orange. Also known as ‘Red caracara | whiskandmuddler.comNavel’ due to its glorious ruby pink flesh, these beauties are ridiculously juicy with a sweet orange flavor laced with notes of cherry and rose petals. Part of the common Naval Orange family, this hybrid variety was first discovered at the Hacienda Cara Cara in Valencia, Venezuela in 1976 and are in-season here in California from late November through late March.

bloodorange | whiskandmuddlercomBlood Oranges: Given the name because of their crimson blush on the outer rind and the sweet, blood-red flesh and juice inside. They’re not well-suited to commercial juicing (due to their low acidity levels) so just plan on peeling and eating, slicing for a citrus salad or use a hand reamer to juice them for cocktails. A hybrid originally cultivated in Sicily, the Moro variety is widely available in California and best enjoyed at the peak of its season December through early April.

Mandarin: Smaller and squattier than its offspring above, the Mandarin or mandarin | whiskandmuddler.comRobson is an original member of the citrus family and is thought to be the parent of the Common Orange. Scientists believe the Mandarin, the Citron, the Pomelo and the Papeda are the ancestors to all other citrus varieties. Mandarins are the only sweet fruit among the parental species, and their easy-to-peel skin makes them ideal for snacking or canning. Hey, I happen to love canned mandarins on cottage cheese!
tangelo | whiskandmuddler.comMinneola Tangelo: Although this looks like an orange, it’s actually a hybrid cross between a Pomelo (grapefruit) and a Tangerine. First cultivated in Minneola, Florida in 1931 (hence its name), this bell-shaped citrus fruit is higher on the tartness scale than oranges. The flesh is juicy, and the mild, sweet tangerine flavor makes this one a great base for citrus vinaigrettes, seafood marinades or cocktail mixes. Look for it from December-February with its peak season in January.
ornagescut |

Cooking with Citrus Oils
Citrus-infused olive oils are a great way to carry the lovely scent and flavor of orange through all of your marinades, salad dressings, steamed vegetables and more. They also can be used in baking too like in this yummy Orange, Semolina, and Olive Oil Cake. Look for the delicious Blood Orange and Clementine Olive Oil from Sonoma’s local olive mill, The Olive Press. They crush the organic fruit with the olives to completely infuse the essential oils from the citrus rinds into the cold pressed oil. They also have a wonderful Citrus Oil Sampler Pack featuring four of their organic citrus-infused oils if you want to experiment with lemon and lime flavors too. For more information on their oils, olive mill tours and retail store, visit*

*Not a sponsored post, just sharing some of my favorite finds as always. :>)

Pear, Camembert & Honey Tart ~ The Best of Marin French Cheese Company

Caution: This post contains multiple pictures of creamy, oozing, dripping and bubbling….cheese! If you’re a cheese lover like me, then this won’t be a deterrent, but rather an open invitation to ogle some of the best artisan- produced delicacies from the country’s longest continually-operating creamery: Marin French Cheese Company.
pear-camembert-honey tart baked |

Marin French Pear Tree 3 |

Marin French Pear Tree 4 |
Marin French Pears 1 |

A couple of weeks ago, I was out at the “Cheese Factory” as the locals call it, and gleaned (with permission of course!) some beautifully ripe Bartlett Pears that were going to rot away otherwise. These lovelies were fragrant and firm, yet ripe and full of sweet juice. Perfect for baking or cooking, or simply eating with a piece of cheese and a crusty baguette. Well, seeing as I was at one of the best creameries in the county, and due to the fact that I have a wee bit of a love affair with Marin French’s Petite Camembert, I figured why not combine these two flavors into a tart?  Because as you all know, I’m a sucker for a tart- like this one here or this one.

Marin French Property 1 |

And the other amazing ingredient that totally makes this combination sing is the raw honey used on the base of the tart. This golden sticky sweetness is absolutely delicious and actually comes from the beehives on the creamery’s property. It’s harvested, jarred and then sold at the creamery’s cheese shop for all to enjoy under the Bonnie Bee and Company label. Bonnie is Marin County’s local expert on all things bee-related and she manages the hives for Marin French Cheese.

Talk about a taste of terroir and showcasing the bounty of this diverse region. Three of the ingredients in this recipe are from the Marin French property, and the pasture-raised eggs from Coastal Hill Farm and the butter are from Petaluma.  You can’t eat more local than this folks.

So, onto tart-making and more cheese-y pictures (couldn’t resist!) to make your mouth water and hopefully inspire you to stop into Marin French on your next outing in West Marin. Experience the hospitality of this now-151-year-old creamery while sampling an array of delicious soft-ripened cow’s milk cheeses and see why they are truly a California original.
Marin French honey cheese pear tart 2 |

pear camembert honey tart ingredients

pear-camembert-honey tart with pears on cheese 2 |

pear-camembert-honey tart baked 2 |

pear-camembert-honey tart baked |

Pear, Camembert & Honey Tart
Yields one 9.5″ tart. Serves 6-8. |  Pear- Camembert- Honey Tart PDF

For Tart Crust (Pâte Brisée):
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of fine sea salt
1/3 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
4-6 tablespoons of cold water

Sift both flours, sugar and salt over a large bowl. Rub butter into flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add the egg,  then cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until you can combine all ingredients into a soft dough (you may not need all of the water).

Gently bring dough together to form a large disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes in the freezer.

For Filling:
4-6 pears, half peeled, the other half with skins on; sliced into 1/4″ slices
Zest of one lemon + 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 wheels (4 oz. ea.) Marin French Petite Camembert, sliced into thin pieces
1 jar (2 oz.) raw honey (I used local producer Bonnie Bee and Company)
Extra honey for drizzling over tart before baking

To Assemble:
Preheat oven to 375F. Roll out chilled dough and carefully fit into tart pan. Roll a rolling pin over the top of the pan to remove excess dough and achieve a clean, even edge. Dock dough, fill with parchment paper and pie weights and bake for 15-16 minutes until bottom crust is fully baked through.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. While still warm, spread honey across bottom of tart to allow it to melt and spread easily across the bottom. Set aside.

Peel half of the pears, leaving the other half with peels on. Slice into 1/4 inch slices and carefully toss with lemon juice and lemon zest; set aside.

Slice Camembert into thin wedges or slices and arrange over the honey-covered crust in a single layer. Then stand pear slices on top of cheese (versus laying them down or fanning out) alternating between a peeled slice and non-peeled slice to create the two-tone effect on the finished tart. Fill in the tart in a circular pattern. Drizzle 1-2 teaspoons of remaining honey over tart. Bake at 375F for 15-18 minutes or just until cheese melts and begins to bubble. Allow to cool slightly, slice and serve warm as a dessert with ice cream or at room temperature on a cheeseboard. Pairs beautifully with a Late Harvest Riesling, fruit-forward white Rhône blend, Unoaked Chardonnay or Wheat Beer. A hard sparkling pear or apple cider would be great too! Enjoy :>)

Note: this was not a sponsored post. I just happen to *love* this cheese! All ingredients were purchased by me (with the exception of rescuing the fallen pears) and all photographs, thoughts and opinions are my own.

Brews and Buffaloes

Micro Brew Safari WestIn a land where Pinot Noir, not Primates is the order of the day, most people who aren’t familiar with Sonoma County and its boundless offerings are stunned when I share that there’s more than grapes flourishing in our golden hills. Like giraffes, rhinos, buffalos, zebras, exotic birds and cheetahs. Yes, all of these animals are living- and thriving- in this region’s best-kept secret: Safari West. Tucked away in the rolling hills of Alexander Valley,  just 15 minutes east of Highway 101, lies a stunning private wildlife preserve. This 400-acre savannah is chocked-full with wild animals–900 to be exact– totaling 90 different African species of mammals and birds, all roaming freely throughout their natural habitat.
reticulated giraffes safari west |
giraff 2 safari west

I was recently given the opportunity to visit this incredible wildlife preserve with some of my friends to experience their Brews and Buffalo Private Safari. And oh man, what an adventure it was! Visiting Safari West was something I had always wanted to do, so needless to say, I was very excited to take this early evening tour… and test drive a new camera lens along the way. Oh, and the fact that this outing also included some of the West Coast’s top micro-brews, well, that guaranteed we were all in for a great time!

safari west park | whiskandmuddler.comFirst, some background on the park. It all started in the early 1970s, on one of the last remaining cattle ranches in Beverly Hills. Peter Lang, son of Otto Lang (Hollywood film director and producer) took inspiration from his father’s work with animals in his 60’s hit TV shows Flipper and Daktari, and began keeping wild animals on the family ranch. When the property sold in 1978, cattle ranches in Beverly Hills had become extinct. So Peter relocated the growing conservation center to some acreage outside Calistoga in Northern California. A few years later, the park expanded yet again to its present location on an old sheep ranch in Santa Rosa. When Peter met his now-wife Nancy, he knew a kindred spirit was found. She holds a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in Biology,  and is the former General Curator of the Avian Conservation Center at the San Francisco Zoological Gardens. Nancy realized the importance of the conservation work Peter was doing and encouraged him to share it with others. So in 1993, Safari West officially opened to the public with tours for children and schools. Today, this twosome has grown the animal care and breeding center into the nation’s largest of the six accredited private zoos by AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums).

micro brews 2 safari west |
Our line-up of micro-brews

If you crave a slug of cold beer on a hot day (and who doesn’t?) then this tour is for you. Our expert guide, Nate, drove us around in one of their restored 1950s military Dodge M37 Power Wagons in search of the animals. These machines are not speedy, but they’ll climb over any rocky terrain effortlessly. The easy-going pace of the 3 ½ hour safari allowed for plenty of stops along the way to snap some photos and to receive a briefing from Nate about each animal as we encountered it. Tip: Take advantage of the upper deck seating if you want to get up close and personal with a Reticulated Giraffe. Slobber alert! These gals are known to drool (a lot), so get ready for a very wet welcome! The park’s giraffes know the sight and sound of the vehicles, so they’re very comfortable with you riding right next to them. Giraffes are curious creatures by nature, and honestly, one of my favorite animals and undoubtedly the best camera-hounds on the trip. Look closely across the paddock as you may event spot the baby Masai Giraffe.

nate safari west |

You’d never know it, but Nate just came aboard the Safari West team in December 2015. In a former life, he sold insurance and was a wedding photographer. Now he’s hooked on exotic animals.  In just a short time, he’s become a walking encyclopedia on each species,  spending countless hours out on safari with the seasoned guides to offer visitors the most fun and educational experience possible. Nate’s also a self-proclaimed “hop head”, so go ahead and try to stump him with a question about the delicious local micro-brews he pours; it’s simply not possible. Our libation break happened about midway through the tour, perched atop a hill overlooking the valley and the long-horned Watusi Cattle bred on the property. We tasted six or seven beers from producers like Petaluma Hills Brewing Company, Napa Smith Brewery, Bear Republic Brewing Company, Third Street Ale Works, St. Florian’s Brewing, Heretic Brewing Company and feasted on a generous sampling of charcuterie, cheeses and crackers. We even received a souvenir “Brews and Buffalo” mini beer mug to take home!
watusi cattle safari west |
cheese and charcuterie platter safari west |

micro-brews 2 safari west |

As the tour name suggests, you’re going to come across buffaloes… and some pretty tough-looking Cape Buffalo at that. These 2,500-pound beasts are known to be one of the most dangerous mammals on the Serengeti. Not to worry, you’re safe with Nate, as he will steer you away from the herd even though they have become accustomed to visitors passing through their habitat. Cape Buffalo are the only mammals in the wild kingdom that will turn an entire herd around (and we’re talking thousands of buffalo here folks) to go back for just one felled animal. No buffalo is left behind. They have a highly acute sense of smell and memory too, so a lion that may have attempted to take down one of their own years previously, will be tracked for hundreds of miles and then killed by the herd. Amazing! Also in store for you:  Zebras, various Antelope such as Gemsbok, Greater Kudu, Wildebeest, Rhinos, Gazelle, and more. Over in the more tame surroundings of the Aviary, you’ll find the brightest Scarlet Ibis you ever did see, along with Blue Crowned Pigeon, Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, Mandarin Ducks and plenty more birds of all shapes, sizes and colors.

cape buffalo safari west |
cape buffalo

When visiting Safari West, be sure to leave plenty of time for the kiddos to walk around and see the Primates and Pink Flamingos too. Overnight guests can bunk down in traditional South African safari tents and fall asleep to the chirps of cockatoos and monkeys while surrounded by herds of African animals. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The Trading Post Gift Shop offers postcards and mementos of your spectacular journey and if you’re planning a full day at the park, consider the safari-style barbecue lunches and dinners available by reservation-complete with local Sonoma and Napa wines to sip on as well. AAA California rates Safari West as a “must-experience” venue (second only to Disney Land), and Sunset Magazine listed it as one of their top 300 destinations in the Western United States.

From the fun jeep ride and excellent beers and nosh, to the time spent with friends watching in awe as various animals crossed our path, this adventure completely lived up to its expectation…and more. I took heaps more pictures that I didn’t include; otherwise, you’d be reading an even longer post- ha!  Going on this urban safari will allow you to see some of the most spectacular wildlife on the planet, so haul all your camera gear with you, it will be totally worth it!

For all tour packages, pricing and FAQs about the park, visit or email
3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404 | Ph. (707) 579-2551

Disclaimer: this tour was generously provided at no cost as part of a freelance assignment. All photographs, thoughts and opinions are my own.

Date Crumble and Rhubarb Slice

Date and Rhubarb Crumble Slice | whiskandmuddler.comOn my recent trip to the desert, I neglected to come home with one very important thing: Dates! As in the wrinkly little fruits which are power-packed with heaps of vitamins, nutrients and fiber and are super low on the GI scale, making them an ideal sweet-treat that’s naturally healthy for you.  Dates, which come from the Date Palm, can be found here in the U.S. in the arid region of Coachella Valley, near Indio, California. They’re actually native to the Persian Gulf where they’ve been cultivated for at least 6,000 years, but they were first brought to Southern California’s desert back in the 1890s. The minimal rainfall in the winter and low humidity/high temperatures in the summer makes them an ideal crop for this environment.  If you’re ever near Palm Springs, Indio, or Thermal, do be sure to check out the various date growers and shops where you can sample all the varieties growing in the region such as Deglet Noor, Barhi, Zahidi and my personal favorite, the Medjool.
Date and Rhubarb Crumble Slice |

Date and Rhubarb Crumble Slice |

Date and Rhubarb Crumble Slice |

So, back to this sticky and delicious Date Crumble and Rhubarb Slice. Even though it’s a bit messy when you slice into it (hence “crumble” and “slice” (defined here)), I promise you, the rich shortbread-base layered with the slightly tart stewed rhubarb is an excellent partner for the subtle sweetness from the date and oat topping. This combination of fruits came about as I need to make some more of my Rhubarb Simple Syrup (a staple in my cocktail arsenal; recipe coming to the blog soon!) and after having strained off all the beautiful pink liquid for the syrup, I was left with a wonderfully thick rhubarb confit. I just simply couldn’t throw it out, and I always have dates in my fridge, so I decided to pair up these two flavors for an homage to the perfect desert-inspired dessert. Enjoy!

Date Crumble and Rhubarb Slice
Yields one 14″x 4.5″ tart/ approx 8-10 slices | Date Crumble and Rhubarb Slice PDF

Rhubarb Confit | yields 1 1/2 cups
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
20-25 stalks of rhubarb (fresh or frozen) chopped, approx 2- 2 1/2 cups (liquid measure)

Combine sugar and water in a medium pot and bring to a gentle boil. Add in rhubarb pieces and simmer until they are fully-cooked and it becomes a thick puree, approximately 15-20 minutes.  Press confit through a fine strainer three times to ensure all liquid is removed. *Save liquid for use in drinks and cocktails. Set mixture aside to cool.

Shortbread Base
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour pan; set aside. Sift flour and salt into a bowl of a food processor. Add in sugar and butter. Pulse just until a loose dough forms. Press into pan until it reaches half way up the sides. Depending on the size of pan you use, there may be some dough left over. Bake at 350F for 25-35 minutes or until top is light golden brown and based is fully baked through. Set aside to cool.

Date Crumble Topping
1 cup quick rolled oats
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
12 large dates, pitted and finely chopped, approx. 1 cup (dry measure)

Combine oats, flour, sugar, and salt into a large bowl. Mix in the butter with your fingers until there are no large pieces remaining. Add in dates and mix to combine. Crumble will look like large granola clusters.

To assemble:
Preheat oven to 350F. Spread cooled Rhubarb Confit over the cooled Shortbread Base, leaving a 1/4 inch border around all sides. Top with Date Crumble to cover the entire pan. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes, checking at 30 minutes to ensure it is not over-browning. Cool for at least 20 minutes. To serve, use a serrated knife to cut into 2-inch slices. Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Date and Rhubarb Crumble Slice |

Date and Rhubarb Crumble Slice |

where to buy: patterned bowl used for rhubarb and dates | Tart pan | Medjool Dates. Not sponsored, just things I like and use :>)