Cauliflower Gnocchi with Creamy Roasted Vegetable Sauce and Italian Turkey Meatballs (Gluten-free, Low-Carb, Dairy-Free, Paleo-Friendly)

I grew up in a household where I was constantly exposed to so many different dishes and foods; I guess that’s what happens when your father has a passion for cooking and food. A classic choice was always some sort of Italian dish, so naturally this became my comfort food (well, that and mashed potatoes/French fries bc who doesn’t love those?) As most of you know, I recently went to New York (Brooklyn and Manhattan) where I allowed myself to eat a little less restricted while still trying to stay balanced. One thing I wanted the whole time I was there was pasta. Sadly, everywhere we went for dinner didn’t have pasta at all or did not serve gluten-free pasta. Even somewhere that said online that they did told me at their location they don’t! It isn’t always a choice to be gluten-free!!

IMG_8808So, naturally, the moment I got home my recipe creator mind went crazy trying to think of a delicious dish I could make to satisfy my craving. When I create recipes, I like to think of a dish and write down all my favorite flavors that match with that dish. For this recipe, I started with the sauce…because that is my favorite part! I wrote down a list of flavors that I wanted to taste, some extra veggies I could throw in to add more health benefits, and how I wanted to use the ingredients. Then, I moved on to what kind of pasta I wanted to match it with, and I needed to think of a protein to add so it would be a balanced meal. Thus, I created this beauty…okay the color is a little odd, but it comes from the mix of roasted veggies…yum!

I have heard about Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi all over the BeachBody Instagram world. They are gluten-free and made with a base of cauliflower (veggie pasta? Yes please!) One of the best parts about them is that they are frozen, so you don’t have to worry about them going bad before you have your next pasta craving. I was finally ready to try these babies after reading about them for about a month now. When I got to the store, I was pleasantly surprised that they were only $2.50 a bag! That’s such a great deal, especially if you are gluten-free like I am and you are used to buying products for way more than the typical prices.

IMG_8809Next came thinking about a protein. I remembered how much I liked the meatballs I made a couple of months ago, and I was excited when I discovered ground turkey in the fridge that needed to be used. However, this time I wanted to do something different from the pesto flavor, so I used two of my spices from RawSpiceBar. If you have never heard of this company, I highly recommend looking into their spices. It is a quarterly subscription that sends fresh, high quality spices to your door and gives suggestions on how to use them. I love receiving the spices because they always inspire me to create things that I normally wouldn’t! I’ve cooked a variety of middle eastern and asian foods I would have never tried without these spices. I am not sponsored by them (a girl can dream) but I have been featured on their Instagram/Twitter pages and recommend them on a serious level! PS: Who can spy a hungry puppy in the bottom of this picture??

Now that I’ve blabbed enough, I am ready to share this recipe! My mom said this was some of the best sauce she has even had and I was so proud. The sauce is creamy without any added cream, and it was purely veggies, some spices, and olive oil! Pretty amazing what vegetables can do on their own! Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Cauliflower Gnocchi with Creamy Roasted Vegetable Sauce and Italian Turkey Meatballs Recipe

This recipe yields about 3 servings of sauce and gnocchi, and 12-15 meatballs depending on their size.

Ingredients

Gnocchi:

  • Cauliflower Gnocchi from Trader Joe’s

Meatballs:

  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 package of RawSpiceBar New York Italian Seasoning (or your favorite Italian Seasoning)
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds (I used RawSpiceBar’s)

Sauce:

  • 6 tomatoes (I used Roma because that is what grows in my garden, but feel free to use beef or any other large tomato)
  • 1 whole sweet onion, sliced
  • 6-9 cloves of garlic (depending on preference)
  • 1 whole bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 3/4 cup fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 °F. Line two baking sheets with foil for easy clean up.
  2. For your meatballs, in a mixing bowl, add egg, garlic, almond flour, spices, and fennel seeds. Mix until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Add your lean ground turkey. Be sure to mix really well so all of the turkey is covered in flavors, egg, and flour!
  4. Using a tablespoon for measurement, take a scoop of turkey and using your hands, roll into a tight ball and place on your baking sheet. If this thought totally disgusts you, you can also use a cookie scoop so you aren’t touching the raw meat. When making your meatballs, remember to try to make them all a similar size so you can be sure they cook through all the way.
  5. Put baking sheet in the oven and allow your meatballs to cook for 20 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, flip your meatballs so they brown on both sides. Cook for 10 more minutes. When done, take them out of the oven so they are ready to plate later.
  7. While your meatballs cook, you can begin to prep your veggies for the sauce. Chop your onions, tomatoes, and bell pepper, then lay them all out on your second foil lined baking sheet and season with a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper. Your garlic can be placed in whole cloves on the sheet as well!
  8. Place your veggies in the oven with your meatballs. They will take less time to roast than the meatballs, so keep a close eye on them. Mine took about 25 minutes and came out perfectly!
  9. In a sauce pan, add 1/4 cup of olive oil and your fresh herbs. Let this begin to warm up on a low heat so the herbs infuse their flavor into the olive oil.
  10. When your veggies are ready, add them to the sauce pan and begin to break them down while mixing it all together.
  11. In a blender, pour your sauce and blend until smooth. A hand held blender works just as well. I personally use my NutriBullet and love it.
  12. Pour your sauce back in the pan, add sea salt, cracked pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir well and let simmer for 5 minutes.
  13. Cook your gnocchi according to the directions on the package.
  14. Pour gnocchi, sauce, and meatballs into a bowl and enjoy the heck out of it!
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365 Days Ago I Graduated College

One year ago today, I celebrated the biggest life accomplishment I have made. 365 days ago I earned my BA in Performing Arts: Dance and my certificate in Psychology from California State University Channel Islands. I earned this along with University and Program Honors. To this day, I am still overwhelmed by what these accomplishments all really mean.

Let me tell you a little bit of history about how I got to this place. Starting off with the fact I didn’t actually know if I wanted to go to college or not. I grew up thinking the only thing I was capable of ever pursuing was my theatre career, because I was afraid of being seen as smart due to the restrictions society made me believe I had. I was a cheerleader, I had a pretty face, and I was amazing on stage…I didn’t see or understand the need of being educated. However, my parents wanted more for my future. They didn’t go to college, so they wanted to help me have the opportunity no one in my family ever did. So, I applied to colleges as a way to get out of the town that felt too small and continue to build my acting career. Mind you, I didn’t get into my top college choices because of my poor grades. So, it was between CSU Channel Islands and University of the Pacific. I knew after stepping foot on CSUCI’s campus, that was going to be the place for me.

Located near LA and a small performing arts program meant I had many opportunities to shine. I soon became aware that performing arts wasn’t about shining, but about the power behind creating art and the good that you could do for the world. This is where I fell in love with dance, and this is where I would begin to learn that being a pretty face no longer made me feel good about myself, but that becoming educated in so many fields on so many issues made me feel empowered. I started taking harder classes, being told by professors that I have an intelligent mind that deserves to grow and flourish. This is how I discovered my love for psychology and developed my Capstone thesis and research.

I presented my Capstone theory, research, and actual findings on Dance/Movement Therapy that changed the way others thought about how artists can change the way the world views and treat mental health. I ended my college career with a 3.65 GPA and earned University Honors for my academic achievements. I also earned Program Honors for Performing Arts for both my academic and humanitarian accomplishments. I was never prouder of myself or more excited/terrified to be in the “real world.”

After graduation, I was still working for YMCA as I had been for the past 2 years. Through this job, I developed a passion for creating communities and helping families build strong bonds. I loved that going to work meant changing lives, and I decided that performing was no longer going to be the career path I followed. Instead, I came to the realization that this world needs to incorporate finding a balance between a healthy body and a healthy mind to help with communication, expression, and emotional behavior. I found that working with the youth of YMCA, I was able to practice these skills. I loved working for a company that allowed me to do what I loved while also grow as an individual and professional.

What I failed to mention before is that during my first year of college, the beginning of a 4 year long stalking and sexual harassment incident that changed my life forever. It began slowly, and as time went on, became worse and worse. Police and Title IX became involved, and things still continued to get worse. It is extremely hard to go to school when someone watches your every move and claims that you are their girlfriend in both a sexual physical and romantic way even though you’ve never had any romantic or even overly friendly contact with them. It is hard to focus in class when he is sitting outside waiting for you to come out. It is hard to even finish school when your stalker and harasser is ALLOWED to roam around campus and continue to violate agreements and faces no consequences. But that story is for another blog post; for another time when I am strong enough to have fully overcome what gave me ptsd. I mention this because it not only played a huge role in my academic career (one point I almost dropped out from feeling so unsafe, and my grades slipped noticeably in the middle of a semester) but it also was a part of what happened after graduation.

I was working my usual summer position at the Y, and although I had graduated, we were still working on the case I mentioned above. There was a lot that went into something like this, a lot of time, unanswered questions, interviews, and exhaustion. I began to not only just have anxiety, but showed signs of ptsd. I was afraid of being alone, scared of him finding out where I worked and lived, but most of all, I was afraid of the school and town that had become home because he was there too. I knew I had to get out, but I was working that summer. So, I began applying for jobs at other Y’s away from CSU Channel Islands in hopes that I could escape.

That’s when I was hired to be a full-time Residence Life Coordinator at a camp not far from my hometown. This would get me away from the pain and fear, and give me a newer beginning. This job, I thought at the time, would be THE JOB. You know, the one you get right out of college that seems like a dream because of have a fancier title, get benefits, and feel like an actual adult. I was only at this job for 3 months due to a long chain of unfortunate circumstances and realization that this was not what I wanted to be doing.

During those 3 long months, I did learn a lot about myself. I learned I was stronger than I believed, a really good person, and capable of pushing myself in ways I never imagined. I made some lifelong friends (s/o to Laura, Lizz, Gabi, and Thomas) who I still tell everything to. But I also learned that my anxiety and fears couldn’t just vanish by running away to live in an awful cabin in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I found out the closing statements of my case from college. They were not what we had hoped for, but I had won the case. However, this sent me spiraling in ways that I didn’t know I could. I began eating terribly once again, never wanting to move or even get out of bed, and I lost my passions because I didn’t know my purpose anymore. I honestly gave up for awhile. I was unemployed, feeling at loss, moved back in with my parents, and absolutely miserable.

Then, in December, I found my place in the dance studio world. I began helping run one of the studio locations and then started teaching. I had fallen in love with movement, dance, communities, and connections again. I started becoming happier with myself and my life. I started researching more and more about grad school and what I wanted to do with my future. Although I am still unsure about what I specifically want to do, I have a better idea now.

I am currently still at the dance studio, but I also signed a year long commitment to volunteer at a local hospital where I am working on bringing more communal aspects, as well as the arts, into patient long term care. I started this blog after having the idea for months and finally saying, “screw it, I want to write and share my life!” That lead me to finding online health/fitness coaching where I am able to help others with their goals while also being on my own journey. I have strong friendships and bonds, and knowledge that although my future is unknown, I am working hard to make it bright and beautiful. There is a lot I still need to discover about myself and heal, but that personal journey is incredible and truly humbling.

365 days have past since I made the biggest accomplishment of my life thus far. 365 days of emotions, changes, irrational and rational decisions, and finding myself after not being in school for the first time in my life. There is no guidebook to tell you exactly how that first year will be, but this is how my first year out of college went and I couldn’t be happier that I have amazing health, a wonderful job, and ambition for the future, even if it took a lot of hard times to get here now.

Future and current college graduates, let me leave you with this: you are going to have a hell of a first year. Your life is going to change, and it will be different from what you have now and probably what you think it will be. There is no shame in not knowing what the right path is. This is tryout time to try everything and anything out! This is your time to apply what you learned in school to the real world by taking on jobs with flexibility so you can travel, create a life for yourself, and discover what it is like to no longer be a student! This year is going to take you crazy places, but you will get through it all and find so many things out about yourself if you just hold what knowledge you gained tight!

I had a tough year, but I also had a year that allowed me to become a better friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better teacher, a better role model, and overall a better person. Yes, there were MANY downs and rock bottom points, but where I am now is worth every single one of those low points. Believe in the power of your education, believe in the power of your journey, and believe in yourself. Cheers and namaste to my one year anniversary since completing my under grad studies and becoming a CSU Channel Islands Alumni!

But you’re so happy and outgoing!…You don’t have anxiety.

IMG_3682
Photo by: Makena Volzing

If I had a dollar for every time someone said this to me, maybe I would have enough money to better educate others on mental illness. I am overall a happy and positive person, but that does not mean that I don’t have my own struggles with mental illness. I think sometimes we truly believe that those who help others and take the time to smile at strangers do not have struggles. I am often told that because I want to be in the mental health field, I should have full control over my own mental health. Yes, that is partially true, but I am only human and I can only do my absolute best. I have never been one to fully speak out about my anxiety, but at this time in my life, I know that by speaking out about it, I can help others. This is my story; I am in no way saying that this is the only way anxiety affects us, but this is how it affects me and my life. This is my anxiety; this is my mental illness.

As a young child, I showed various symptoms of anxiety. I was highly emotional, unable to control myself, I panicked in situations most children do not, and I had fears that were unexplainable. I can remember how upsetting it was to not understand why I felt the way I did. It was frustrating for my family, especially my parents, because I would become hysterical but none of us understood why. Eventually, my parents took me to both group and solo therapy sessions. I was about 9 years old when they finally said it was clearly anxiety. However, this did not mean that I was going to miraculously get better. It meant that the fight and the journey was only beginning.

I do not remember a ton of exact details. But I do remember in 6th grade my anxiety symptoms started becoming physical. I had this fear of going to school, and I would almost daily get a nauseated stomach ache, go to the office, and get picked up by my mom. I would then feel completely fine when I got home. I remember just being afraid of leaving my house, and this is also when I developed my number one fear: vomiting. I am terrified even now as an adult of anything having to do with throw up (yes, this is a challenge while working with kids.) I was afraid of getting carsick, I was afraid of throwing up at school, and I was afraid that anywhere I went, someone would vomit.

I eventually was told by my parents and the school that I could not be going home anymore. So I started seeing the school counselor…almost everyday. I would be fine one second, then go running to the office crying and demanding to see her right away. What was even scarier was not understanding why this was happening to me. I remember we tried to use a mediation tape that would help guide me through breathing exercises to calm me down. But I also remember just being such a wreck all the time and my parents being just as clueless about why this was happening as I was.

Things did start to get better, I started learning how to deal with my fears a little better and I had less hysterical moments. However, my anxiety shortly turned into me becoming easily manipulated by others because my head told me I needed as many friends as possible. No, I never did anything absolutely awful, but I did do a lot of things to other people that I regret. But it was because I allowed myself to befriend others that made me feel like I had an abundance of people around me so that I could feel supported. Sadly, I didn’t know that a majority of my “friends” were actually tearing down my self-esteem which in turn, allowed my anxiety to creep back up and be extremely present my senior year.

Then came college; a new city, new people, and a new chance. This triggered my anxiety for obvious reasons, but also for reasons that weren’t easily detected. I had a really tough time with roommates my freshman year and I would constantly feel like I was losing my mind. I had the same symptoms as I did in middle school: I wanted to go home. But I was an adult, I knew I had to learn to push through. But, as most of you know, pushing through is not healing; pushing through is not the solution to the overall problem. So, I again knew I needed extra help and saw the therapist on campus. I am so grateful to this day for her compassion and understanding when she asked me to just tell her what was going on and I immediately broke down sobbing. She confirmed that what I was feeling was valid and that we would find solutions together. So we did. She helped get me out of my completely toxic living situation as well as proactively checked in on me. As an adult, you think you can and should do it all on your own but without my therapist, I would have definitely dropped out of school. I finished Freshman year strong, and I felt better.

Then, things changed in my life again. Something else I do not often speak out about is the Title 9 case I went through during my college career. It is still very much a fresh, open wound and I cannot yet put into words the amount of destruction it had on myself as well as others in my life. This case made my mental status go from knowing how to get through the anxious moments to never not being anxious. This was because I was afraid of being on campus, which meant I was afraid of going to classes and going to my on campus job. But this time, it was different. This time, my anxiety was 110% caused by something that was very, very real. I was afraid of these things because I was afraid of a person. My anxiety continued to get worse and worse as this case continued to get worse. I would have panic attacks in the restroom, leave classes when triggering topics were brought up, and constantly call my parents when things were just too much. It was truly dangerous, and it continued to be a serious problem even after graduation. Although this case is now officially “resolved” on paper, it still deeply effects who I am and how I act in certain situations.

This past year, I was able to start to really control my anxiety again. I was able to return to happier mindset and breathe in the good while breathing out the bad. However, recently, I have been experiencing more and more panic attacks. In fact this past Sunday, I had one on an airplane. In case you’re wondering, no, I do not have a fear of flying. However, I do fear flying because I still fear vomit. I get carsick, and sometimes planes can cause me to get pretty motion sick. Not to mention, other people around me have thrown up on planes so it really makes me extremely nervous when it comes to my vomit fear. Sunday, my flight was 45 minutes of pure turbulence…and I mean extreme turbulence. I have never been so terrified on a plane and the fact that I could not escape made it even scarier. I was shaking, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and the entire plane was jumping up and down. What’s worse is that I cannot just avoid flying for a little bit, but I have to fly this upcoming Sunday from California to New York. So yes, I have some emotions to work through and things to figure out.

I am not sure the true reasons why I have been feeling this way, but I do know that ultimately I am in charge of what I should do. I know that psychologists and counselors can help me, but I also know that it is tough to admit you need to see someone when you are working on studying to become a therapist. I think that is the really tough part for me in this state and time; knowing that I have the tools to help others work through panic attacks, but not being able to use the tools on myself. But I know that I need to be gentle and kind to myself. I know that I need to do whatever I can to try to get in tune with my mind and get to the bottom of this. It isn’t easy, and it does not happen in a day, but I am willing to put in the same amount of work into my mind that I put into my body.

Somethings that help me work through my anxiety on a daily basis include:

  • Dancing it out. Dancing connects your body and mind, creating a state of equilibrium and allowing you to work through your emotions. It also raises endorphins, boosts your mood, and allows you to focus on movement and music rather than your anxiety. Just turn on some of your favorite songs and move how ever your body tells you! Trust me when I say to dance it out; I did my Capstone on Dance/Movement Therapy.
  • Essential oils. Lavender, lemon grass, and peppermint have become my best friends. I have a blend that I put on constantly, and I also put it in my diffuser to help release their powers in my room. Lavender reduces stress, lemon grass is a natural mood booster, and peppermint helps with the physical side of anxiety such as nausea and headaches.
  • Being open with my friends and family. Sure, they will not all understand, but when you explain to those who are close to you that you are having a tough time, they could surprise you and help you. If you aren’t comfortable with this, trying seeking help through your doctor or support groups. You do not have to go through anxiety alone, and that is such an important thing to remember.
  • Being honest with myself and giving myself time to heal. I used to bottle up my anxiety until it exploded into full blown panic attacks. I’ve noticed that the more I allow my emotions to release and give myself time to take deep breaths and focus, the better I am in the long run. Let yourself cry, let yourself scream, let yourself laugh. Allow your emotions to run their course. I do this often in the shower and in my bedroom while I am alone and letting myself be vulnerable. However, I am also know to release emotions and stress during yoga. No, I do not scream, but sometimes I cry a bit because I am letting my body fully release all toxins.
  • Relaxing. Make the time to relax. If you are like me and almost always on the go, you need to make a change to your life. You should schedule at least 30 minutes of your life to be just yours. It isn’t selfish, it is practicing self-care. Whether it be 15 minutes in the morning, and 15 at night, or all 30 minutes during a lunch break…unplug and do something for you! I like to practice yoga, paint, meditate, cook/bake, and pet my sweet puppy. If I am out and about I like to treat myself to lunch, fit a spot to lay in the sun, go on a walk, or even just go on a drive.

Now, I realize that these options are not going to get to the bottom of your anxiety, and I do not think that they replace seeking professional help. However, I do think that these are ways to help yourself learn more about you and your anxiety. I believe in therapy and counseling (I mean, it’s my future career) but I also believe in taking time to get in tune with yourself and the power that can have on your relationship with your body and mind.

If you have anxiety, please know that you are not alone. Yes, your mind is uniquely yours, but you do not have to go through this feeling lonely. If you need help, call a friend, family member, or the Panic Disorder Information Hotline: 1-800-64-PANIC (72642). Reaching out is the hardest step, but when you do, you are already making so much progress. Anxiety is something that you will always have inside of you, but you can get to a place of control. Always remember, your health (both mental and physical) is the most important thing. You cannot be you without your body or mind, so allow yourself to come first.

3 Nights, 3 Different Hotels

Vacation. The time to relax, to go on grand adventures, and to wash all your worries away. Traveling can be fun, or to some like myself a little stressful, but what really seems to make or break a trip is one detail. Where you are staying. How many times have you stayed at a hotel and left feeling like you needed a vacation from your vacation? Or that you couldn’t wait to sleep in your own bed again? Or maybe you left feeling like you never wanted to leave and could live in that simple hotel room? Trust me, I have felt a good mixture of both and I am sure my love for traveling will continue to bring me that mixture again and again.

Hotel stays are honestly an important part of my traveling experience because I am someone who travels alone so often. It is a home base even if it is only for one night, and it acts as somewhere stable during that time. I love when hotels allow me to relax, but also give me a space to get some work done on the go! I also take cleanliness into consideration. I am a bit of a germaphobe, so if I find hairs all over my sheets or a used condom on the dresser (yes, this has happened!)…I freak the heck out! Remember, you are paying for a room that should be cleaned at least up to health standards, so it is okay to politely say that something is wrong (especially if it is that extreme!) Another added benefit is when they have a complementary breakfast option so I can grab some fruit, eggs, or oatmeal before running to my next destination (also a really great way to save money!)

When I went on my most recent trip, a large graduate school exploration down the Southern Californian coast, I stayed at 3 very different hotels. I was lucky enough to stay in nicer hotels due to my work bonuses, but what I was most curious about was how they would truly differ based off of what they offer to their guests. Now, I am sure everyone’s experiences and preferences are different, because let’s face it, we are human. However, I made my own list and rating score based off of what is important to me, especially as a female traveling alone.

  1. Location: Where is this hotel in regards to my trip? Is it out-of-the-way or along the way? Are there restaurants nearby? Is it in a safe area?
  2. Parking: Is parking available? Is it free for guests? Is it safe?
  3. Customer Service: Are staff greeting me as well as answering any of my questions? Am I easily able to speak to a staff member if I need assistance?
  4. Room: How comfortable is this room? Is it clean? Is it private? Do I feel safe?
  5. Price: Was it worth the price? Where there added benefits?

I drove from my wonderful home in Los Gatos, CA to multiple stops in places like Santa Barbara, Woodland Hills, Fullerton, and back up to Ventura. I visited a few graduate school options, loved a handful of my dearest friends, and spent some much-needed time with myself. I stayed at 3 different hotels (and two nights with my girl Christina in her dorm) but what I found so interesting was how incredibly different each hotel experience was. I am excited to share with you my discoveries, reviews, and things that I learned while doing this road trip solo!

The Cliff House Inn – Ventura, CA.

IMG_6671I am not going to lie, this hotel was one I have had my eye on for a long time. I always drove past it when heading back up to my hometown from my college (CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo), but I never knew too much about it. After looking online, I saw that this hotel was within my budget for my trip, as well as in the area I would be looking at 2 schools, so I decided to go for it! I booked this room for Monday, April 2nd, and I could not wait to experience this beautiful place.

My trip started at 7am because I would be meeting with my first grad school at 1pm in Santa Barbara. It was a long drive, longer than usual, but still beautiful and how I always remember it. However, I was exhausted after my 2 hour meeting, so I could not wait to get to The Cliff House Inn. It is about 15 minutes south of Santa Barbara, which was fine with me. It’s a gorgeous drive next to the ocean so honestly it was calming and set the mood for the experience I was going to have.
I arrived at the hotel around 3:30pm and I easily found parking in front. It was right next to the entrance, and later I discovered I would be able to see my car from the window in my room, which was a huge plus. I was greeted when I walked into the lobby by a friendly woman and she helped me check-in. She told me how to get to my room and told me I could ask her anything if needed. This is always reassuring for me, because I often have questions about the area I am in, if their hotel accommodates dietary needs, and if I ever felt uncomfortable, I would want to be assured someone was there for me. I can confirm this statement: The staff at The Cliff House Inn are some of the best I have ever met. I never felt like I was less important than any guests and they truly accommodated all of my needs. If you want to stay in a hotel where staff truly treat you with kindness and respect, this is the place to go.

IMG_6677I entered my room and realized immediately how perfect this hotel was for me. A lot of my readers know that the beach is my favorite place in the world. I love the ocean, the sand, the sun, the sounds and smells…everything. I looked out my window and this, this was seriously my view?! I was in heaven! Apparently all their rooms overlook the ocean and yes, it is really this beautiful! Not to mention how cute the room was too. Not overly updated, but charming and clean. I looked around and noticed that all surfaces seemed wiped down, the bed smelled clean, and the shower had no questionable hairs or marks. I was excited and ready to spend a night in my paradise. I unpacked what I needed from my car, and got settled in.

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IMG_6734I decided to go on a walk, as I was told there was a nice beach nearby. This beach was stunning and I was completely alone as I walked along the shore. I had plans to leave and drive to a yoga studio, but instead I decided to do some yoga on the beach. Wow, what an absolutely wonderful experience this was. If you have never ventured outside of your yoga studio or backyard, I highly recommend it. I felt so incredibly at peace, and the sand added an extra balancing obstacle. I think it is really great when a hotel has places to explore nearby, and this beach hit the spot! I collected some gorgeous shells, and headed back to get ready for dinner.

IMG_6713I went back to my room and grabbed my notebook to write as I ate dinner. The restaurant is attached to The Cliff House Inn called The Shoals Restaurant and it was recommended to have a reservation, which I did not have. So, I went early and hoped for the best, especially because it was a Monday night. Luckily, the server said she could definitely seat me, and she actually sat me outside at her favorite table. The view was perfect. I watched the sunset as I indulged in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (Brander, 2016) and decided what to eat off the menu. I am sure that everything on the menu is delicious, but I wanted to keep it lighter and get my greens in (let’s face it friends, this isn’t a shock.) I ended up ordering the Organic Mixed Greens Salad, and this salad did not disappoint. I ate every single piece of it and it left me craving more, but IMG_6715
absolutely stuffed. The desserts sounded incredible (they even had a flourless cake aka Emilee friendly option) but I decided to stick to the salad and wine. The service was amazing and I was able to write some reflections about my grad school meeting and watch the sunset.

I slept wonderfully with the window open, and woke up to the sound of the waves crashing gently against the rocks. They had a great continental breakfast, and they even brought out gluten-free toast for me! I was so excited to spread some all natural peanut butter on that bread and eat it all up! Their fruit options were also great, and the coffee was strong and bold without being too bitter. It was a great start to my day before another long meeting. I would 110% recommend this hotel and restaurant. I had an amazing time and I hope that I can visit again sometime. If you need a getaway, consider booking a room at this hotel for around $190 a night. Again, I was blessed to have my work bonuses saved up, but this hotel is worth every dollar!

The Hilton Hotel – Woodland Hills, CA.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.52.08 PMAfter a long meeting, a quick trip down memory lane, and a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway then through Topanga Canyon, I made it to my next hotel. I have never stayed at The Hilton, but I know that this location in particular is renovated and very modern. I was curious to see the difference between this hotel and the one from the night before. The location was ideal as I would be seeing some friends from the area, and it was next to the mall where my friends and I were going to grab dinner. There were a lot of restaurants nearby to choose from which was nice.

When I pulled up, I first parked in the loading zone. I entered the building and began the check-in process. This is where I felt uncomfortable. The staff left me feeling very insecure and treated me like I did not belong. I was staying in a more expensive room (the 10th floor; $200/night), and I later found out there were a lot of perks to go along with that, but I was never told this information. I also asked a couple of questions and the staff member acted like it was completely ridiculous for me to be asking her anything. It was not busy, but even if it was, I should be allowed to ask about where to park, how much it costs, and what charges would appear on my card. But, I let that brush off my shoulders because I wanted to enjoy my time in such a nice hotel.

Parking was absolutely awful. Not only was I having to park in a parking garage (as a solo female traveler, this is definitely not ideal), but it was also a decent walk away from the nearest hotel entrance (and I had to pay $20/night). I took my bags inside but realized I left my phone in the car, so I went back downstairs to get it. This is where my fears became real. I was alone and trying to get back on the elevator in the parking garage to go back to the hotel. 5 men were exiting as I was entering and started cat calling me and asking me where I was staying. Great. I luckily was able to smile and ignore it while the elevator doors closed. I reminded myself not to go to the parking garage in the dark. I hate this about the world we live in as it adds extra stress to a female’s life, but I am glad that I am aware and recognize that I need to do what I can to stay safe.

I finally got to the room and had the chance to appreciate its beauty. It was huge! It was the corner room, but honestly felt like a suite. It included a kind size bed, a huge bathroom, a whole desk space perfect for work, and a seating area. I was in love with the chic art and sleek feel. It was very clean, and I liked that I felt luxurious and well taken care of. I would’ve stayed in that room for 2 weeks honestly. My friends ended up coming to check it out and they were just as in awe as I was. The only worry we talked about was the fact that it was a corner room and directly next to stairwell exit. Again, over thinking safety, but I would be an easy target if anyone wanted to kidnap me or something crazy like that. However, I didn’t think too much about that. I was too in love with this room!

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In the morning, I realized there was not a free breakfast option which is always tough. So, I ate one of the bars I brought with me and took my time getting ready for the day. I loved the shower and the fact that they had the hairdryer in the room (I’ve found a lot of hotels you actually have to ask for them which I didn’t know). I was able to enjoy my last hour before check-out by just lounging in my room and getting caught up on some blogging work. When it was time to leave, I went to get my car first because I didn’t want to carry my luggage all the way to my car. I parked in the same place in front of the hotel as I had before, and the valet drivers were actually quite rude. They didn’t bother to ask if I needed help, but instead helped the men and women dressed in business suits…I am just not about that kind of favoritism. Especially when I paid the same amount, if not more, for my room. I should receive the same service. Checking out was quick and not recognizably pleasant, but just felt like a routine. I did not mind it though, because I was ready to leave the service behind. Overall, the room was by far the best part of my experience. I would recommend this hotel if you do not mind a little colder of staff, or walking to and from the parking garage.

Amanzi Hotel – Ventura, CA.

IMG_6954After staying in Fullerton for 2 magical nights, driving back up the coast through Marina Del Ray, Venice, and Malibu (my favorite secret beaches are there), I was back in the beautiful Ventura for just one more night of fun with my friends. Amanzi Hotel is located conveniently in Downtown Ventura, and I had a simple time parking for free and even easier time checking in. The staff was kind and actually asked me if I had any questions. I love good customer service (and I get customer service because I have been working in the business for years). I felt reassured of my safety and I was able to go straight to my room with ease.

I walked into the room and it was pretty clean. There was a chair that looked a little funky, but overall the appearance was great. I had a small, yet effective view of the ocean from my window which is a nice touch. The beds and the bathroom looked great, so I was excited about that! I was so excited that I actually took a nap for an hour and woke up feeling so refreshed. I took a nice, long shower and even soaked in the bath for a couple of minutes. I then got dressed in some comfortable clothes and took a walk downtown to a classic beach taco joint, Snapper Jack’s. It was great to be able to enjoy something familiar and unique to Ventura County. If you have never been downtown, it is a great place to explore!

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I went back to my room and took my time getting ready to go out. My friends ended up coming over and pregamming before hitting up my favorite bar of all time. Tavern was my college bar, but I plan to always go, even when I’m 80. We had a great time and made some interesting memories (; It was great that my friends were able to come hangout with me without the hotel getting upset or telling me I couldn’t have guests come into my room. None of my friends stayed the night, which was nice because I was ready to sleep and not have to wake up until it was time to leave in the morning.

I woke up and headed straight to the continental breakfast. Not as great of a spread as The Cliff House Inn, but still delicious! It is hard to find breakfast foods that I can eat at something like this because there are always a lot of baked goods filled with gluten, and very few gluten-free options overall. I ended up grabbing some oatmeal and fruit. The check-out process was quick and easy. I was treated with respect and the staff seemed to genuinely care how my experience was. Even if he didn’t truly care, I appreciated him making me feel like he did. I loaded up my car, stopped by my favorite smoothie shop (Blender’s) and enjoyed a nice drive home! For $150/night, I would definitely recommend Amanzi Hotel to anyone looking for some Ventura flavor. The location, staff, and rooms are completely worth it!

Ratings

The Cliff House Inn:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 5/5
  3. Customer Service: 5/5
  4. Room: 5/5
  5. Price: 5/5

Total: 25/25 – I would HIGHLY recommend a night in this paradise! Or a week if you’re lucky (;

The Hilton Hotel:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 2/5
  3. Customer Service: 2/5
  4. Room: 5/5
  5. Price: 4/5

Total: 18/25 – This hotel room was luxurious, but the parking and customer service were NOT worth the price. I would recommend this for business trips, and groups, but not for solo females. I was surprised by this experience.

Amanzi Hotel:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 5/5
  3. Customer Service: 5/5
  4. Room: 4/5
  5. Price: 5/5

Total: 24/25 – The room had a gross chair, but that is my only complaint! I think otherwise it was nice and cheaper than the others. The location is perfection and I would stay there again anytime!

Banana Bread Muffins (All natural, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Paleo/Keto Friendly!)

IMG_7295Banana bread is one of my favorite treats. I have never been wild about bananas (in fact the texture really freaks me out), but I love the flavor! I love the depth of flavor they bring to a simple bread recipe, so it is no surprise that I often let bananas become overly ripe just so I can use them in banana bread. However, the banana bread I am most familiar with is filled with butter and flour and things that make my stomach hurt and body feel sluggish. So I made it a goal to create the same comfort that banana bread brings but with a healthy twist (surprise, surprise).

Now, I love these muffins, but it was one of those recipes that I was nervous for my family to try because they are not as fluffy or full of buttery goodness. Thankfully, these muffins made my parents question the “healthy” factor. They could not believe it was only sweetened with Pure Maple Syrup and that the buttery notes were replaced by coconut oil! They loved the denser texture and the fact you could really taste the bananas. I was obviously thrilled and we consumed all 16 within 2 days.

I honestly do not have as many words as I typically have to share with my other recipes because there are no secret benefits and I am honestly not trying to convince you to try anything too new. These are simply banana bread muffins and if you are looking for a little comfort food in your life, these will give you that comfort without giving into bread made with potentially harmful ingredients.

Banana Bread Muffins Recipe

This recipe yields anywhere from 12 to 16 muffins depending on how big you make them. Feel free to heat them up and add almond butter before consuming. Trust me, it is a great treat!

Ingredients

  • 3 bananas; the riper the better
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon baking power
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Optional: walnuts, coconut flakes, dark chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 °F.
  2. Peel and mash your bananas until smooth.
  3. Add eggs, maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla extract. Combine with a handheld or standing mixer.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix almond flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sea salt. Slowly pour mixture into the banana mix and stir until smooth. If desired, add optional ingredients such as walnuts, coconut flakes, or dark chocolate chips.
  5. Grease your muffin tins (or use cupcake wrappers) to make sure your muffins do not stick! Slowly scoop about 2 tablespoons of the mixture in each muffin tin. This should make 12 to 16 muffins.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes depending on your oven.
  7. Melt dark chocolate chips and drizzle on the muffins while cooling (if wanted!)
  8. Enjoy!

 

Miracle Noodles with Steamed Veggies and Almond Butter Sauce (Dairy-free, Gluten-free, Paleo/Keto Friendly, Grain-free, and Vegan!)

IMG_7258What the heck are you talking about? Miracle noodles? What could those be? Well, if you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend trying them. I have found them at most grocery stores, but I find them to have a good deal on them at Whole Foods (less than $2 per pack!) What are they exactly? Miracle noodles, also known as zero noodles, have zero calories, fat, and very few carbs. They easily replace regular noodles in any dish and trick your mind into thinking you are eating actual noodles!

Miracle noodles are made with 3 simple ingredients, none of them being harsh or crazy chemicals. If you read the package you will see the short list: water, konjac flour, and a calcium additive. Let’s break these ingredients down so you can understand what you put into your body, because although it might sound foreign, there are actually benefits.

Water: Well, I feel like I really don’t need to explain this one…

Konjac Flour: Konjac flour is made out of a fiber that comes from the Konjac plant. It can also be known as Amorphophallus, but can be called konjaku, elephant yam, devil’s tongue, snake palm, and voodoo lily. Do not be intimidated by these oddly descriptive names. It is honestly tasteless so whatever you mix it with, it will bind that flavor instead. A couple of health benefits that come from konjac flour are improvement in the digestive system, high fiber, and probiotics to help improve gut health. Think of it this way, higher fiber foods help keep us fuller longer, so it will also aid in weight loss!

Calcium Additive: This is a simple ingredient that is just old-fashioned picking lime. It is used to help the noodles keep their shape and stay completely natural. Do not let the word calcium fool you because it does not actually supplement calcium. Honestly, it does not harm or benefit you in any specific way!

Miracle Noodles are really simple to make, but you do need to thoroughly follow the directions. My mom instantly snuffed her nose up at these when I brought them home because she had tried them in the past but found them to be absolutely awful. I asked her how she made them, and she didn’t remember. I asked her if she followed the directions, she said, “Of course not!” So, my goal was to change her mind and create a dish that would fulfill a craving I constantly have…Asian Cuisine. I love Asian noodle dishes, but I am gluten-free, so between noodles (even rice noodles can mess with my tummy and they are higher in carbs than I prefer.) So, I like to play around with clean ingredients and create my own twist on dishes.

I am not sure what dish this is a twist on, but I know that it turned out delicious the first time I made it, and even better the second time. It’s spicy, nutty, savory, and full of flavors. I absolutely love spicy peanut sauces, so I made a spicy almond butter sauce for added benefits. I also added some of my favorite steamed veggies and crunchy peanuts on top for an added texture.

This recipe might seem impossible, because it is labeled as Dairy-free, Gluten-free, Paleo/Keto Friendly, Grain-free, and Vegan…how could something be all of those things and be delicious? Well, try it out for yourself and enjoy a very low calorie, high protein dish!

Miracle Noodles with Steamed Veggies and Almond Butter Sauce

This recipe yields one bowl that will fill you up for hours!

Ingredients

  • 1 package of Miracle Noodles; I used the angel hair
  • 1/2 cup carrots; I used baby carrots but use whatever you feel
  • 1/2 cup bell pepper; sliced
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 1/2 cup mix of green onions, white onions, cilantro, and minced garlic
  • Optional: crushed peanuts for topping

Sauce Ingredients

  • 2 big tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions

  1. When you open your noodle package, they will smell fishy and off putting, but I promise after cooking they will smell like nothing at all! Start by draining them in a colander and then rinsing for about 20 seconds in cool water. Really make sure to rinse and mix around the noodles.
  2. Next, boil about 2 cups of water in a small pot. Put the noodles in the boiling water for about 2-3 minutes.
  3. This is an important step that should not be missed: drain your noodles and put the noodles in a medium preheated pan (about 6 or 7). Dry your noodles out for 5-7 minutes to get the best result. Then place in a bowl and set aside. These instructions are all on the package, but I thought I would write them here so it’s all included!
  4. Next, steam your veggies. Do this whatever works best for you, I personally reused my small pot from earlier and just boiled some fresh water to pour my veggies in. I’m all about less dishes.
  5. In your pan from earlier, sauté and soften your mix of onions, cilantro, and garlic in olive or coconut oil. Mix these immediately with your noodles for maximum flavor!
  6. To make the sauce, simply stir all the ingredients together in a small dish. Mix half of the sauce with your noodles.
  7. Place your steamed veggies on top of your noodles. Pour the other half of your sauce on top of the veggies. Top with crushed peanuts.
  8. Enjoy every single bite!

Barrel Tasting in Sonoma, CA.

Introduction

About 2 months before I graduated college, I was told by multiple professors to get myself a job that allowed me to take time to travel and explore. They said, “Take what you learned and apply it to places around the globe.” Sadly, I have yet to go overseas and apply all the knowledge I gained in the course of 4 years, but I do travel. In fact, the week after I graduated I booked a last minute flight to Colorado for 5 days, and surprisingly it turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever experienced. I love going places and not having specific expectations. I need to do that more often.

I am blessed to have some strong female friends in my life. So, when my girl Alicia suggests we all come over and spend a weekend doing some pretty extreme wine tasting, how can I say no? A weekend with my girls, wine, and sleepovers? Count me in! So, Kara, Kaitlin and I agreed to drive up to Sonoma on Friday night and spend the rest of the weekend at Alicia’s house. We paid around $50 for a wristband that would get us into some of the top wineries in the county for the entire weekend. Not a bad deal considering it typically costs around $35 to wine taste at a single winery. We were also lucky because Alicia and her housemates graciously allowed us to stay the weekend for free. So, a cost break down of what was needed?

  • Tickets to the Barrel Tasting event (~$50)
  • Gas for traveling (carpooling works great too!)
  • Food (breakfast, bring your own snacks, and dinner)

Honestly, I probably spent under $200 the entire weekend. Yes, I did end up buying 3 bottles of wine at the wineries, but we also didn’t eat out during the day and instead brought ingredients to make sandwiches, and brought easy snacks. I highly recommend always bringing your own food. As someone who has a restricted diet, I try to bring as much of my own food as I can. Of course I generally splurge on dinner, but bringing my own gluten-free bread and snacks was a life saver considering most wineries do not have gluten-free nibbling options. Let’s face it, we were drinking wine all day, we needed to make sure we had something in our system to soak up the alcohol.

Friday (Day One)

Kaitlin picked me up from work around 6:15pm. We headed over to our favorite Greek restaurant, Opa!, to eat dinner before driving. This was a great choice because we ended up driving for about 2 and half hours before finally getting to Alicia’s house at 9:30pm. Kara drove on her own and was also there, so the fun began! We had a classic sleepover that night with a movie and some popcorn. We were all exhausted from work and school and life, so we fell asleep quickly.

Saturday (Day Two)

We woke up and instantly, and I mean instantly, all needed caffeine. We took a quick Starbucks run before getting ready. Let me tell you, we did a great job getting ready so quickly because we were all chatty and trying out new makeup. We also all tried on a variety of outfits and options that we had packed. We knew there would be many picture opportunities, so we wanted to feel as confident as we could!

After getting ready, it was time for some morning mimosas. If this doesn’t tell you how extreme our weekend was, I do not know what else will. We literally pregammed before going wine tasting for 5 hours. Anyways, I actually opened my first bottle of champagne ever! It was a plastic cork so it took me awhile, but when I got that baby off, it FLEW! This moment was pinnacle and I just had to share (;

More of Alicia’s friends and roommates joined us. We had a designated driver and after a couple mimosas (coffee for her), we were ready to go! We packed into the car and started the 20 minute drive to our first stop where we would be picking up our weekend wristbands and getting our wine tasting glass. We had food in the back ready for anytime we needed it, and we had some really great music blasting. The excitement was building!

Rued Winery

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This was literally my first taste of Sonoma County wine. We checked in which took little to no time at all, and then we began tasting. Now, I have never “barrel tasted” before. What this means is we were tasting wine that was not fully developed yet, aka the wine still in the barrel. We also tasted bottled wine, but this just added something special to the entire tasting experience. We were tasting something that most do not get the chance to. Rued had great views, some amazing chocolate treats being sold (and sampled), and some great wines.

Top wine: 2016 Petite Syrah

Geyser Peak Winery

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Say hello to an absolutely wonderful place to take pictures! Yes, the wine was good as well, and they were selling a variety of tempting knickknacks and jewelry, but the lighting at this time of day was just stunning. The way the clouds had a peek of blue and made the grass look incredibly green…we had a full on photo shoot! These women clearly make me so incredibly happy!

Top wine: 2016 Walking Tree, Cabernet Sauvignon

Mill Creek Winery

IMG_0134

Yes, this is really what Mill Creek Winery looks like, and yes, it is in California. I felt like we were in a small, European town, but sure enough we had only traveled a little bit up the road. This winery brings up an important point, that most wineries are family owned and have been passed down from generation to generation. They told us the history of the winery and gave us delicious wine! A really great combination if you ask me, especially because I love knowing history of places.

Top wine: 2016 Roller’s Song, Cabernet Sauvignon

Armida Winery

IMG_0024At this point of the game, I had consumed more wine within an hour and a half than I ever had before, and I was starting to really feel it. However, I could not believe the view! This was one of my top 5 favorite wineries due to the view, food for sale, and the wine variety! We tasted about 10 different wines here, and they were a variety of red and white which was a nice change. I was also surprised how many barrels they had to taste from as well. I think part of it is that they are a bigger winery, which generally means they have more wine. There was also a food stand where they were selling chips, popcorn, drinks, and Alicia’s choice…hot dogs! This was a great reminder that we were going to need some food soon. So, we took some IMG_5818pictures of the absolutely stunning food and headed back to the car where we instantly started munching on the goodies that we had brought. Again, I highly recommend bringing your own food so that when you get hungry, you can just have your own mini tailgate in the winery parking lot.

Top wines: 2017 Chardonnay; 2017 Zinfandel; 2017 Estate Field Blend

Matrix Winery

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This was definitely one of our longest stops. We all needed more food, so we decided this was where we were going to make and eat our sandwiches. So, tailgate round 2? Oh yes. After snacking, we went in for more wine. At this point, I knew I needed a bit of a break, so I only tasted 2 wines. They were however, very delicious! Afterwards, Kaitlin and I took a walk and explored the vineyards a bit. The temperature was cool but perfect for a refreshing walk with some water (; We all needed some time to breathe at this winery, so we took our time and enjoyed it for all it was.

Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir, 2017 Petite Syrah

Soda Rock Winery

We decided to drive to the opposite end of Heldsburg for the next few wineries. Soda IMG_5823 Rock is another one of my top 5. I absolutely loved how quirky and charming the winery itself was, not to mention how delicious their wine tasted! I wanted to buy a bottle, but it did not come out until 2019 (the downside of barrel tasting) and I don’t know where I will be for half of 2019. I will say that I also really enjoyed the winery workers. I enjoyed most of them at the previous wineries as well, but here, they made us feel like we were worth getting to know. Now, my favorite part is their rustic barn. It is so stunning and I think we were IMG_5842there at the most gorgeous time of day because the way the light when through the cracks and allowed us to take amazing pictures was just unbelievable. I could have spent hours just enjoying the inside of that barn.

Top wines: 2016 Twisted Rail, Cabernet Sauvignon; 2017 Runway, Malbec Reserve; 2017 Rockpile, Petite Syrah Grand Reserve; 2017 Los Amigos, Primitivo*

*This was the wine that will not be available until 2019…I am still heart broken about not coming home with a bottle.

Alexander Valley Vineyards

We were all really feeling that wine by the time we got to this winery. I was feeling it so IMG_5831much that I literally only took three sips of two wines before convincing myself to switch it up with some water. We were exhausted, but this winery was very comfortable and seemed to be family owned. They had a cute picnic area and even cuter gifts. The weird part about this winery were a couple of kids running around, but hey, they didn’t disturb us. Alicia and I found the door to the celler that was quirky and locked…but we still had a nice rest before the final winery stop.

Top wine: 2016 Alexander School, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Lancaster Estate

IMG_5833Last, but certainly not least, we visited the Lancaster Estate. Talk about gorgeous! We had to take some small, and a bit confusing, roads to get there, but it was so worth it in the end. The vineyards made Kara and I want to run through them, but the ground was uneven and we were IMG_5834full of wine so, that was not going to happen. It was the end of the day, so the way the sun was hitting the hills was beyond how a picture could justify it. We spent some time trying some wines, then decided to rest up a bit and drink some water. The workers were kind and took the time to talk to us about the wine even if we barely tasted it. This ended up being such a calming way to finish up our day of extreme wine tasting.

Top wine: 2016 Lancaster Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon

Nap and Dinner Time

We drove back to Alicia’s house and it was time to take some naps. We all tore off our nice clothes and instantly put on something comfortable, wiped off all our makeup, and knocked out for a good hour. When we woke up, the wine hangover was real (and I am totally keeping it real by saying so). We decided we needed some greasy food and good atmosphere to fuel our bodies before heading to bed. Alicia took us to a restaurant a few minutes down the road called The Jaded Toad. This restaurant was wonderfully casual, fully equipped with corn hole and good music, but sadly our service was all over the place. It took awhile for someone to greet us and then when we were seated our waiter was barely there. However, the burgers were amazing (even Kara’s mushroom!) and the fries were perfectly filling. Overall, it was a great and much needed meal. We headed back home, took showers, and went to sleep quickly.

Sunday (Day Three)

Waking up on Day Three was much harder than Day Two. Kara and Kaitlin did a Starbucks run and Alicia and I started to get ready. We all went way more casual and comfortable on Day Three because at that point we were all so tired and not fully ready for the day. However, that quickly changed with some espresso and then some mimosas (again, I am unsure what we were thinking, but it truly put us in the wine tasting mood).

Chalk Hill Winery

IMG_5857First stop was Chalk Hill Winery. This was in the Windsor area and wow, was it stunning. The sun was shining and we were all happy to be there with delicious wine and gorgeous views. I could not believe the sights! The staff at this winery were very chill and informative. I really enjoyed most of the wines I tasted, and would definitely go back on a nice sunny day and enjoy what this winery had to offer!

Top wines: 2016 Syrah; 2017 Sauvignon Gris

Roth Estate

Right across the street was Roth Estate Again, stunning views, beautiful weather, and IMG_7152even better wine! We had a blast exploring the different areas along with eating a delicious polenta cake of some sort (it was gluten-free and I almost cried about it). The staff were professional and did not short us on tasting. It felt like there was always more and more to taste, and to learn. We spoke to so many different employees and all of them seemed so happy and proud of the wine they were selling. That honestly makes a huge difference in the quality of the winery. Overall, this winery is one I’d love to come back to and taste even more of their wine.

Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

Merriam Vineyards

IMG_5893Merriam had some unique features. They actually had two very separate tasting rooms. This was also the first winery to have cheese and olive oil instead of just bread or bread sticks (again, another way to make my gluten-free body happy!) Their wine was absolutely delicious, but we ended up eating more cheese than wine, I am sure of it. The first tasting room had the actual barrel tasting and the second had wines that were available to buy that day. Of course, Kara and I noticed that they had their rosé on sale for only $10. We tried it and ended up actually liking it (which I was impressed by because I am super picky with rosé), so Kara bought a bottle…and I bought two…with no regrets.

Top wines: 2016 Malbec; 2016 Cabernet Franc; 2016 Bordeaux Blend; I bought their 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir and have no regrets.

Christopher Creek Winery

I absolutely loved this winery and every single wine that I tasted. We were given a tour IMG_5895
guide who was absolutely wonderful to us. He was casual, yet professional, and informative without making me feel weird about asking questions. By the time we got to Christopher Creek, we had enjoyed a lot of wine. But their wines tasted so different that it was enjoyable even if we were already buzzed. They had a Port that Kara actually ended up buying and it was phenomenal. I regret not buying any of their wine, but it was a bit out of my budget.

Top wines: Literally all of their 2017 Pinot Noir variations. I would seriously recommend any and all of their wines.

Vizlay Winery

IMG_7153Tucked away and overshadowed by Christopher Creek, Vizlay Winery opened their barn to us and it was again, some of the best wine I have ever tasted. They also had a variety of snacks (score!) so we ate a lot of different cheeses, and then got to tasting. While tasting, I said how much I truly enjoyed the Port at the previous winery. A woman tasting next to me said that their 2015 Zinfandel tastes just like a Port. Surely enough, it did. And just like that I was sold on the $28 bottle of delicious wine. I still have yet to enjoy it, but I am hoping soon an occasion will come up where I can share it’s beauty and relive the taste!

Top wines: 2016 Zinfandel; 2016 Petite Syrah; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; I bought their 2015 Zinfandel and again, I have no regrets.

Harvest Moon Winery

IMG_5901We drove a little further for this one, and honestly I am so glad we did. Not only did we pass a goat farm on the way there (my very favorite animal!) but, it was a nice change of scenery. Of course, you could still see the hills but what was fun about this area was that it was flatter and more ranch style. This winery in particular was a really great place for events. There was a gorgeous private pool area and they had a lot less barrels to taste, and a lot more of their premium wines. The tasting room was nice and had a lot to look at and a lot of room to stand. The employees took their time and made sure that we tasted everything while they explained their processes and how they go from grape to glass. Kara and I really enjoyed their bottle of dessert wine that was sweet yet savory and not too overwhelming like the Ports started to be. I was very close to buying that bottle, and honestly I am so sad that I didn’t! $32 just felt like too much at that time.

Top wines: 2017 Sangiovese; 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon; The delicious wine I wanted was the 2017 Estate Late Harvest Zinfandel!

Hook and Ladder Winery

IMG_5902Ah, the very last stop. The exhaustion was so real, and the weather was suddenly hotter. But I was ready to conquer this final destination. Sorry I didn’t capture a better picture, but I was so over it by this time! I actually didn’t end up tasting too many of their barrel options (they had so many!) but more of their bottled wines. I liked what I tried in the barrels so Kara and I went inside to explore their bottles and see if we liked any enough to make another purchase. Sure enough, I did! This wine part of their “vintage” collection and was smooth to sip but left me wanting more and more! I was hooked (see what I did there (; ) on their wine. But, none the less, I was also exhausted and ready to chug a gallon of water and eat some food. See, today we weren’t as great about eating, and I was really feeling it. But, it was a great ending to the day and a cute winery to end the weekend at!

Top wines: 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2016 Zinfandel; 2017 Chardonnay; I bought the 2013 Zinfandel for only $15 and I cannot wait to drink it again!

Resting and Driving Home

Like I said before, I was exhausted…okay and I was drunk…but what do you expect after drinking as much wine as we did!? I ended up staying behind with Kara and Alicia because Kaitlin was ready to drive back, but I was too overwhelmed to sit in a car for a long period of time. So, Kara graciously agreed to drive us later that night. We ended up getting Taco Bell, and before you judge me, that is one of my top 3 favorite fast food chains and I refuse to ever say otherwise. It was also just what I needed at the end of this long day. We went back, took some naps, and had some serious girl time. But then, it was time to go home…at 9 PM (oops!) But, we got home safely, and I completely crashed the instant I got home.

Final Thoughts

IMG_5838Sonoma is unique and has  a lot to offer but for a lot cheaper prices. If you are a vino and live anywhere that you could get to the Bay Area without spending too pretty of a penny, there is another Barrel Tasting event in May. I highly recommend looking it up and considering a girls trip, you will not regret it. Prepare to drink wine, prepare to bring your own food, and prepare a list of places that you want to go! I am so grateful for these wonderful women and the new friends I made this weekend. I had such a great getaway and I cannot continue to go through life with their support and love. Until next time, cheers!