With festive string lights overhead, holiday trees everywhere, a sleek fire pit blazing away, and even a seemingly light dusting of snow falling, one of my best friends and I recently spent a relaxing winter getaway — without actually really trekking anywhere beyond Silicon Valley.
That’s because the second annual winter pop-up at the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto is so incredibly transportive that you will feel like you’re on holiday, fresh off the slopes at Whistler or Banff in British Columbia.
The Après Village is set up on the terrace of Quattro, the hotel’s signature restaurant. It’s open from now through Feb. 26, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Mondays through Thursdays, it’s available for private bookings.
The spot is truly a sight to behold, as I found when I was invited in as a guest last week.
The Après Village is fashioned into its own separate space, complete with a Sweet Shoppe at one end that’s modeled after a European Christmas market stall, where you can purchase Pastry Chef Guillermo Soto’s truffles, macarons, signature chocolate bars, and freshly made doughnuts.
The one and only time I rafted down the American River was truly memorable.
It wasn’t just the camaraderie of friends laughing and paddling together in three rafts down the relatively calm part of the river.
It was also the wild blackberry bushes our guide had us maneuver our way to near the shore as we waited for the other rafts to catch up to us.
Truth be told, we were all secretly wishing those other folks would just take their sweet time, because we were as content as can be, reaching over the side of our raft to pluck berries that we devoured voraciously.
Nowadays, I get my blackberries from the farmers market or grocery store. Maybe it’s not as adventurous. But it is convenient, especially as blackberries are abundant even through early fall.
In fact, I eagerly picked some up recently specifically to highlight in “Blackberry & White Chocolate Muffins.”
A myriad of honeys certainly abound on supermarket shelves. But Clif Family Solar Grown Honey Spreads definitely stand out. Not only do they pack a wallop of flavor, but they are made with honey specifically harvested from bee hives located on or around pollinator-friendly solar farms.
It’s a concerted effort to encourage both clean energy and biodiversity. After all, flowering meadows planted under solar farms not only create cooler microclimates that improve energy efficiency, but foster thriving beneficial insect populations.
Talk about a sweet win-win.
I had a chance to try samples of three different Solar Grown Honey Spreads ($10 for a 5.5-ounce jar), each smooth, creamy, and thick enough to slather on most anything with a knife.
For added oomph, they are blended with spices sourced from Burlap & Barrel, a public benefit corporation that partners with small farmers to improve their livelihoods.
She is the self-proclaimed “queen of easy-peasy baking.”
And Brooklyn-based recipe developer Jessie Sheehan’s latest cookbook certainly adds another jewel to that crown.
“Snackable Bakes” (Countryman Press), of which I received a review copy, is the type of cookbook that makes baking a treat on a whim not only doable but deliciously satisfying.
The book includes 100 no-nonsense recipes that are simple to follow, require limited equipment, and easy to put together. There’s no stressing over baking “Strawberry Sheet Cake,” “Luscious Lemon Possets,” “S’more Icebox Cake” or “Espresso Ganache Swirl No-Churn Ice Cream.”
I tried my hand at “Strawberry-n-Cream Bar Cookies,” a blondie-like bar cookie that’s flavored with freeze-dried strawberries and white chocolate chips.
Just for fun, I also added some dried rose petals to the dough because strawberries and rose go together nearly as well as peanut butter and chocolate, with the rose accentuating the lovely floral quality of ripe berries.