Down To The Desert

Sunshine and palm trees- what could be better! A few weeks ago, I made a bit of an impromptu trip down to Palm Springs. It had been raining here in Sonoma County for days and days….and days, so I decided to shake the wet weather, get out of dodge and find some sun pronto! I grabbed my good friend Miss LJ, loaded up the car and off we went! Continue reading

The Big Island: A Week In Kona

Aloha! Wait, can I still say that after being back for nearly a week?
palm trees | hilton waikoloa |
Sure, why not? Because my mind and spirit still feel like they’re relaxing on a soft, sandy beach somewhere on the beautiful island of Hawai’i- The Big Island–and specifically in Kona. These palm trees are my new screen saver.  They remind me to breathe….and let the breezes of life pass through me.

This post is not only a visual travel log of my recent trip, but also a way of introducing a new feature of the site: a dedicated Travel page. Here you’ll find links to posts focused on travel destinations, whether near or far, cold or sunny, beaches or backpacks…..but always guaranteed somewhere worth exploring. These posts will be a bit longer than usual as they’re mainly photos.  Scroll and escape with me to parts unknown. Never fear, I’ll always tie-in food and drinks somehow.  Whether it be meals I’ve enjoyed, interesting culinary finds, or simple strolls through a local farmer’s market, like in this post. Maybe I’ll include a quick cocktail recipe too?  My eats & drinks bag is always packed and ready…. so, off we go!

sitting buddha | hilton waikoloa |

sitting buddha | hilton waikoloa

real dolphin | hilton waikoloa |

real dolphin | hilton waikoloa

dolphin statue | hilton waikoloa |

not real dolphin | hilton waikoloa

behind a waterfall | hilton waikoloa |

behind a waterfall | hilton waikoloa

hilton waikoloa | Big Island |

hilton waikoloa | big island

Spending a week in Hawai’i is always a special trip, but this visit in particular was even more memorable as we celebrated my parents 50th wedding anniversary. Yes, 50 years, can you believe it? What an accomplishment. Congrats Mom and Dad! Something we can all aspire to. We had family from WA State, Oregon, Tennessee, California and England join us in Kona to mark this momentous occasion. Lots of sun, surf, snorkeling and fancy drinks with little umbrellas!

DSC_0053-1papayas | big island |

papayas | big island


bananas | big island |

Had such a fun time at the Kona Farmer’s Market. It’s open Wed- Sunday 7am- 4pm and is in the center of Kona- you can’t miss it. They offer local artisan crafts, jewelry & apparel, flowers, ukuleles (in case you forgot to pack yours) and of course, lots of tasty tropical fruits and veggies. A foodie’s paradise! Got some great shots; even a Day Gecko!
mango | kona farmer's market |

guava | kona farmer's market |

guava | kona farmer’s market


lychee | kona farmer's market |

lychee | kona farmer’s market

rainbow papayas | kona farmer's market |

rainbow papayas | kona farmer’s market


green mango | kona farmer's market |

green mango – I think? | kona farmer’s market

"apple bananas" which the locals call "cooking bananas" | kona farmer's market |

“apple bananas” on top shelf which the locals call “cooking bananas” | kona farmer’s market

rambutan | kona farmer's market |

rambutan | kona farmer’s market

dragon fruit | kona farmer's market |

dragon fruit | kona farmer’s market

dragon fruit | kona farmer's market |
tropical fruit at kona farmer's market | big island |

gecho and melons

anthurium | kona farmer's market |

anthurium | kona farmer’s market


tropical protea | kona farmer's market |

tropical protea

I have no idea what this is, but it’s gorgeous!

On the day we visited the Volcano, we stopped at Ailani Orchards on the way back to Kona. Got to try fresh….and I mean *fresh* macadamia nuts…. right out of the shell. The farm is owned by Barney & Elizabeth Frazier who were so nice to us. Barney cracked opened several macadamia nuts with his nifty nutcracker. He explained how macadamias are grown and processed. They don’t bake theirs like most farms do. Instead, they slowly dehydrate their nuts over a 4-5 day period at low temps, thereby retaining the creaminess and the nut’s inherent oils. Amazing. The BEST macs you’ve ever eaten. We also tried their coffee… good! Oh, and up the road a ways….we saw these guys.

alilani Orchard | big island |

macadamia nuts |
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Exploring the Kilauea Volcano and the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was so neat. This was as close as we could get, due to the toxic gases that were emitting from the caldera. But still, what a sight to behold. I hear it’s even better viewing at night….next trip! And look at the gorgeous flowers & ferns we found at the overlook spot. That day we also did a quick detour over to Punalu’u Beach or Black Sands Beach. Boy, was that sand hot!
kilauea volcanoDSC_0066-1 kilauea vocano | big island |
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click to enlarge to find out what plaque above means ;>)

We had lots of other adventures including visiting a rare honey producer in Kumuela (near Waimea) and a vanilla bean farm in Paauilo. Those stories coming in future posts. But back in Kona: fishing, surf-watching, dolphins, beer, more drinks, and gorgeous sunsets. Mahalo for reading!
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sunset 7.10.15-1

DSC_0073-1-2first night sunset






#picturebygrace. kona sunset first night. no filters.

p.s. this is not a sponsored post–just me giving a special shout-out and big mahalo to Gerrit and the folks at for their awesome website and personal recommendations to me for this trip. Their site is so comprehensive and made planning our activities so easy. Can’t recommend them enough!

“Have Fun Storming The Castle”

For all of you 80’s movie buffs, you know exactly what scene that line is from and how wonderful the now iconic movie is.Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

It’s one of my all-time favorites. I even own this one—and nope, not afraid to admit it either. Bet this is secretly one of your favorites too. Great, so we’re in good company then. Watching it once or twice a year still makes me giggle, laugh out loud, tear-up, and well, what can I say…. it’s just a plain old good time getting reacquainted with each of the characters we’ve come to love so much. I never seem to tire of the infamous quotes & one-liners this movie created. Not sure which movie I’m referring to? Keep reading. But if you get stuck–spoiler alert–movie title at bottom of post.

Well, last week I got my Buttercup on and had a blast storming this castle over in Napa Valley. Okay, “storming” may be a wee bit of an exaggeration perhaps. There were no Cliffs of Insanity to scale, no Pit Of Despair to escape from— just a gorgeous drive on a spring day through the back roads of Sonoma County, over Calistoga Summit dropping down into the northern end of Napa Valley.  All the vineyards throughout the valley are in full-leaf right now, making it the perfect day for a special VIP / behind-the-scenes access to one of wine country’s most well-known landmarks– Castello di Amorosa Winery in Calistoga. Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

Moat at Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

Castello di Amarosa, Napa Valley
I lucked out on this exclusive, private tour through a chance meeting with Patrick (formerly of Castello, now with its sister winery V. Sattui), at a recent wine industry event. Patrick had been with “The Castle” (as the locals refer to it) since it opened in 2007 and he graciously invited my dear friend, Miss LJ, and I up for a visit. Since both of us are in the wine biz and have only heard tell of this amazing place–we were very excited to finally see the winery in person. Patrick knows every square inch of this place inside and out. He shared with us all the mind-boggling details of how a piece of Italy was reproduced, stone by stone, here in California wine country. It was 14 years in the making and no matter what other winery folks tell you– it’s definitely well-worth a visit. Do yourself some favors though and 1) get there early to beat the crowds (opens at 9:30am daily), 2) book the tour and the tasting ($35/pp) otherwise you’ll miss out on most of the castle if you only do the self-guided tour and 3) wear comfortable shoes. It’s a real castle people. And it’s huge! There are heaps of stone stairs, narrow cobblestone walkways, sloping pathways into four levels of dark cellars….you get the idea. So much fun! Oh, and bring your camera too. The views of the valley from the turrets are stunning.
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa ValleyDSC_0084-2
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Where to begin- there is so much to share. I’ll give you the highlights and then you’ll just have to hop on a plane to experience the rest of this majestic place for yourself. The Castello was built to period with a combination of 13-14th and 16th century castle architecture. There’s not one specific castle in Italy it was modeled after,  rather a collection of Tuscan villas, castles and alike that owner Dario Sattui found inspiration from. There are eight levels (four above-ground, four underground) with 107 rooms. In total, 121,000 square feet of medieval artistry. He has recreated every detail with incredible accuracy and (needless to say), expense. All the iron work for the doors, walls, hinges, light fixtures was hand-forged by Italian artisans. The mural in the Great Hall is a replica from a fresco in Siena; hand-painted by artists he flew in from Umbria. The centuries-old salvaged cobblestones near the draw bridge (yep, told you it was a real castle) were shipped over in hundreds of containers from Italy. The upper courtyard (the bailey) has beautiful natural Carrara marble walls and bar-tops. The rectangular gaps (crenels) in the walls were engineered to the exact angle a guardsmen of the day would have needed to deftly launch his deadly arrow through to kill an enemy, yet protect himself from return fire.
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
We walked through a myriad of wine cellars, the Armory, the Torture Chamber, Member-Only tasting room, fermentation and barrel aging rooms. In all—four levels down from the main courtyard, about 70-80 feet beneath the earth. We even got to meet Lancelot (the cat). His sister Guinevere was off sunning herself on one of the outer walls. The entire property is in keeping with a real working-castle of the day with their stable of animals– chickens running in & out of vineyard rows, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks and geese in the moat, and a stately peacock near the entrance to greet you.

Private Tasting Cellar- Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
After a 1.5-hour journey underground, we finished up in the large main tasting area for a sip or two (or three!) of their signature releases. Patrick offered his suggestions from their expansive collection of wines- ranging from sweet whites and reds to dry, aromatic white blends to several well-made reds and a few tasty dessert wines. There is a wine here for the novice drinker up to the expert. My favorites were:
2014 Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer, Mendocino County– amazing spice and rose petal on the nose. Dry, mineral-laced and bright stone fruit on the palate. Vinified in an Alsacian-style. A nice drop. $25.00

2014 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Bianco, Sonoma County-you don’t see too much of this varietal produced around here. Light, crisp, tropical fruit but not heavy-handed. Would be ideal for a brunch or just for sipping on a lazy summer day. $26.00

2011 Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese, Napa Valley– all the bright acidity you’d expect from a Sangiovese. Loaded with cherries, dark berries, mocha, bit of earthiness too. Perfect with an antipasti plate. $29.00
Family Tasting Area- Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley
Patrick & Miss LJ at Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

Many thanks to Patrick for the expert tour and his wealth of knowledge. We now have a deep appreciation for the talents and hard work contributed by the hundreds of skilled artisans that constructed this jaw-dropping and unique winery. In admiration of their work, all we could say was “inconceivable!”.

What’s your favorite line from the movie? ;>)

To visit:
Castello di Amorosa
4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515 |  (707) 967-6272
Several tour, tasting, food pairing options available. Tour & tasting information
Open daily 9:30am-6:00pm March-Oct | 9:30am-5:00pm Nov-Feb

-Movie title= The Princess Bride (1987)
-Header Tag Line= scene with Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) and his wife Valerie (Carol Kane) wishing Westley good luck as he embarks on a journey to save Buttercup from Prince Humperdink.
-Plan to spend at least 2 – 2.5 hours here. You will need every minute of that if you are doing the tour & tasting, plus you’ll want time to wander the grounds.
-Scenes from Adam Sandler’s movie Bedtime Stories (2008) were filmed here. Their production crew scouted 19 sites world-wide before discovering Castello.