Entries in ‘Food’ Journal

Review: Napa Cooking School

Friday February 20, 2015 at 6:06 AM | 0 Comments

When my husband and I married, nearly 30 years ago, our videographer asked a close friend of ours to share a word of advice to the new bride and groom. “Don’t cook together,” she said with a laugh. She knew both of us too well.

Silverado Cooking School, produce

Fresh fruit and vegetables play a key role in cooking classes. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


Today, neither my husband or I are comfortable in the kitchen. I prefer to make reservations rather than follow a recipe and my husband will always opt for the backyard barbeque over the stove. Yet, after a morning spent in Napa at Silverado Cooking School, my culinary skills moved up a notch.

Chef Malcolm de Sieyes learned to cook at the tender age of five. As a dual citizen of France and the United States, de Sieyes blended the best of both places. “California is the closest place you can get that is similar to Europe,” notes de Sieyes.

Malcolm de Sieyes, Liam Mayclem

Chef Malcolm de Sieyes with Liam Mayclem. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown


“Good food doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive,” said de Sieyes. “I want people to feel comfortable in the kitchen. We’re not like a restaurant. We’re a commercially licensed kitchen, but I wanted this to be a very friendly place. I tried to create a space that was warm and inviting.”



His hands-on cooking classes are geared to the home cook with a typical class lasting four hours, resulting in a four-course meal. From Fortune 500 companies looking for a team-building activity to girlfriend getaways, or wedding party bonding, Silverado Cooking School is a unique way to spend time in the Napa Valley other than wine tasting. That’s not to say that wine (or beer) is not served throughout the class. Chef Malcolm and his crew aim to please and teach students a lesson, or two.

chicken soup, Silverado Cooking School

Winter wilted greens, potato and chicken soup. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Sample class menu

Our lunch menu consisted of winter wilted greens, potato and chicken soup, Santa Maria tri tip, salt-roasted carrots and turnips, sauteed wild mushrooms with creamy polenta and warm Meyer lemon pudding cake with blood orange sorbet for dessert. Our group of eight students divided into teams to prepare each course. I volunteered to chop the root vegetables and add them to a bed of salt. Not only did this dish make for a pretty presentation, it was very friendly to those watching their caloric intake.
Spectacular proteins paired with fresh produce is the goal for Chef Malcolm de Sieyes. The majority of the produce comes from his two acre farm, augmented with produce from Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa.

Classes range from 1-12 people with $1,500. renting the kitchen and crew. For groups of 12-24 people the cost is $95. per person.

Silverado Cooking School

Lunch is served at Silverado Cooking School. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Insider Tip
As a newbie cook, I am sorely lacking in knife skills. Some of you might be familiar with “the claw.” Keep a half open fist when you hold an item to be diced or sliced. This hand position will protect your fingers from getting cut on the hand that is opposite a very sharp knife.

Have you ever taken a cooking class? What are your insider tips to share when it comes to the kitchen?

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and Silverado Cooking School on Facebook.

Silverado Cooking School

Cooking in wine country. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

If You Go:
Silverado Cooking School (707) 927-3591
1552 Silverado Trail
Napa, California 94559

Article written by, photos and video courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Silverado Cooking School while researching this article. All opinions are my own.

Olive Oil Tasting in Suisun Valley

Friday February 13, 2015 at 6:06 AM | 4 Comments

Ann Sievers wears many hats. While her former life had her feet firmly planted in the health care industry taking care of patients, she now plants her hands and feet in the olive groves, citrus trees and vegetable gardens that she oversees in Suisun Valley.

When asked her official title at Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company, Sievers replied with a smile, “I consider myself a grower, miller, weeder, chef and fork lift driver.” “She loves driving the fork lift,” added husband Mark.

Ann Fiorello Sievers, Mark Sievers, Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company

Il Fiorello Owners Ann and Mark Sievers. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown



The couple have been making olive oil for 10-11 years in Fairfield, California. They bought the property and planted 2,000 olive trees eight years ago. Growing 13 different olive varieties, the trees range from Italian, Greek, French and Spanish. Ten Mission olive trees grace the front entrance of Il Firoello in a nod to California’s adaptation of the olive, developed by Spanish Missions along the El Camino Real during the late 1700’s.

Not one to stray far from her Italian heritage, Ann Fiorello Sievers named the olive oil company Il Fiorello, translating to little flower in Italian, named after the tiny white blossoms on an olive tree.

Il Fiorello

Light fixtures made from olive baskets. Photo © 2015 Jane Reid

Beyond bread and salad

Living in Northern California, I’ve gone wine tasting on numerous occasions, but olive oil tasting was new for me. It turns out that I had a lot to learn about this liquid gold.

“We give people suggestions on how to use olive oil beyond bread and salad,” says Ann. “I want people to make sure they are buying certified extra virgin olive oil in California.”


Il Fiorello tasting room

Olive oil & balsamic vinegar tasting. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

How to taste olive oil
Unlike swirl, sniff and spit, olive oil watch words are color, mouth feel and taste.
Warm a small tumbler of extra virgin olive oil (evoo) with the heat from your hand, cover the container with your hand and then release the aroma – smell the beautiful aroma.
Swirl and spray the evoo in your mouth.
Taste the flavor – assess the oil.
The aroma, bitterness and pungency should be balanced. Il Fiorello includes harvest and mill dates on their bottles. Depending on the variety, most olive oils are at their peak when they are young. The family-owned company also makes balsamic vinegars – in this case, the more aged the vinegar, the better.
The company offers oil tasting flights (for a fee) and full tasting flights of olive oils, balsamic vinegars and wines (for a fee) in the visitor center. Additionally, Il Firoello Olive Oil Company offers cooking classes. I attended the pasta making class with Executive Chef Marvin Martin and left with a full tummy and inspiring recipes that even the non-cook (that’s me) can re-create. Check the website for details.
wheel, Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company

Grinding wheel from Italy. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

Insider Tip
Olive oil is a fruit juice; the fresher the better. This product is meant to be enjoyed when it is young and fresh. Store your olive oil in a dark bottle in a cool pantry, away from sunlight. Remember, heat and sunlight are the enemies of olive oil.

Have you gone olive oil tasting in Suisun Valley or anywhere else? Do you prefer a blended olive oil or single varietal?

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and Il Fiorello @ilfiorello.

Il Fiorello, olive trees

Olive trees in Suisun Valley, California. Photo © 2015 Jane Reid

If You Go:
Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company (707) 864-1529
2625 Mankas Corner Road
Fairfield, California 94534
Article written by, photos and video courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. Il Fiorello sign and bottom photo courtesy Jane Reid. Disclosure: I was a guest of Il Fiorello’s cooking class. All opinions are my own.

Los Osos: Things To Do

Wednesday November 19, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 0 Comments

Are you visiting Los Osos or the Baywood Park area of town for the first time? Below is a list of “Insider Tips” for things to see and do in this California coastal community.

squash blossoms, Farmers' Market, Los Osos, California

Los Osos Farmers’ Market. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

When I have a visitor from out of town, the first place they want to see is Montaña de Oro State Park, but I also take them to check out Spooner’s Cove, and a short hike down the bluff trail to Corallina Cove for a more local, authentic experience. Baywood, a small community tucked in Los Osos on the most southern inlet of Morro Bay is also worth a look.

Spooner’s Cove got its name, not from kissing, but from a long time ranching family named Spooner. It is where the Park headquarters is located, in the old ranch house. A relatively little known, and fairly new trail is the Point Buchon Trail, stunning views along the coast.

There are a number of great trails in the park, especially for mountain bikers and equestrians.

When I want to escape from everyone and be surrounded in nature, my favorite thing to do is to kayak
out to sandspit – private tours are available via Central Coast Outdoors.

If this is a romantic trip, I recommend walking to the bench at the end of the trail in the Elfin Forest for kissing with a view or Sweet Springs Nature Reserve.

ducks, Sweet Springs Nature Reserve, Los Osos, California

Birdwatching at Sweet Springs Nature Reserve. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown


Are you traveling with a dog or two? The best place to walk the dog is Cuesta Inlet. This is private property, but the owner has been very generous and allows people to walk their dogs there. Plus he allows people to keep their kayaks and sailboats there too as long as they are licensed and have contact info on them. But please pick up after your dog. That means bring your own bags and carry them out with you. There are no trash cans.

Museums are wonderful, but if you are traveling with kids, you’ll want to visit the skate park. It’s located in the middle of town and is excellent, the beach at Pasadena Street is good, too. The Los Osos Library has a number of kids’ programs, events and reading programs, perfect for entertaining kids while traveling.

Noi's Thai, Los Osos, California

Noi’s Thai Takeout. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

Food in and around Los Osos

Los Osos has an eclectic dining scene; favorites include La Palapa in Baywood and La Casita on 9th Street (best salsa this side of the border) for Mexican food, Noi’s for Thai and Celia’s for lunch, or the Clubhouse Grill at Sea Pines Golf Resort for sandwiches and salads with live music on the weekends during the summer.

The best place to go for coffee & a breakfast treat, hands down, is Back Bay Café in Baywood. The cafe sits right on the bay and breakfast is included with your stay at Back Bay Inn or Baywood Inn. Sweet!

Looking for cheap food in Los Osos? Sylvester’s Burgers has famously good HUGE and drippy (with great sauce) hamburgers.

Hungry for late night dining? Don’t get your hopes up, Los Osos Baywood is a rural destination offering outdoor adventure and relaxation. It really doesn’t offer much of a late night dining scene. Most restaurants close by 9 p.m. There are a few that stay open later in Morro Bay on the weekends.

Thinking about an expensive, high-end meal, head to Morro Bay for plenty of dining options. It’s about a 10 minute drive from LOBP (Los Osos Baywood Park). For some of the freshest seafood on the central coast and a fantastic dining experience head to the Galley, Windows on the Water, Harada’s Japanese restaurant and Bayside Café in Morro Bay.

Lace Lichen, Elfin Forest, Los Osos, California

Lace Lichen hangs from the trees in Elfin Forest. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

Los Osos outward bound

Are you getting a clearer picture of this central coast area? Outdoor adventures like hiking, exploring nature, biking, kayaking, sailing and paddle boarding, layered with California sunsets, is what this place is about. At high tide, adventure seekers can paddle through the mudflats and channels of the Morro Bay Estuary Natural Preserve and its 800-acre wetland. It’s a refreshing dose of natural beauty.

To capture this beauty, get your picture taken in Baywood Park, Elfin Forest, Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, Montaña de Oro or on the Sandspit. The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Black Hill or Valencia Peak in Montaña de Oro. You can also drive to the top of Cabrillo Estates, hike to the top of Valencia Peak (in Montaña de Oro – a hearty hike) or Elfin Forest, or kayak or hike out to the top of the sandspit or back to the little known “Sharks Inlet” and the farthest westerly spot on Morro Bay, and the hill on top of the Natural History Museum in Morro Bay.

Looking for a little exercise? Walk along the bluff trail in Montaña de Oro right along the ocean or any of the countless miles of awesome trails. After a day of adventure, Sea Pines is the best place to go for a spa treatment.

If you are a museum lover you’ll need to head over to Morro Bay. The Natural History Museum (the only museum in Morro Bay) is actually pretty good for kids, offering interactive kiosks.

Pacific Ocean, Montaña de Oro State Park, Los Osos, California

Montaña de Oro State Park. Photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

Looking for exciting night life? You’ll need to head to San Luis Obispo for things to do. LOBP is lower key after dark. There are a few bars that offer music and pool and are open late night: Sweet Springs Tavern and the Merry Maker. Again, Morro Bay or San Luis Obispo provide more expansive night life opportunities.

Sometime, come back and check out the Pozo Saloon. Pozo is south east of Santa Margarita. It’s over 100 years old and hasn’t changed much in all that time. GREAT family style BBQ where you sit family style. You never know who you’ll be sitting next to. Could be a group of retired physicians or the Hell’s Angels.

If you need more things to see and do in Los Osos, New Times and Bay News will keep you posted on what’s happening in the area. KCBX Public Radio has an extensive calendar of events.

Morro Rock, Morro Bay, Los Osos, California

Morro Rock photo © 2014 Nancy D. Brown

You can tell a lot about Los Osos from visiting and watching Baywood Junefest, Octoberfest, Boatzart & Bayfest. Sea Pines offers a summer concert series. In the fall look for migrating Monarch butterflies at Monarch Grove or come for the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, held over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. More than 250 species of land, sea, and shore birds, both migratory and resident and dozens of endangered species thrive here in the winter. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars!

Insider Tip: I’ll bet you didn’t know that you could kayak out to the sandspit & enjoy miles of secluded, beautiful beaches. Just outside of Los Osos, you can visit Morro Bay or the charming beach town of Cayucos.

What are your favorite things to do on California’s Central Coast? For additional insider tips follow Northern California Travel Writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter.
Article, photos and YouTube video by Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Los Osos Baywood Park.