Last month family members gathered from across the state to celebrate my mother’s 80thbirthday. We decided early on to rent a vacation homein Sonoma/Napa Wine Country. But what to do on her special day with a group of people aged 20 through 80 with interests as diverse as skydiving and crocheting? We landed on the idea of a cooking class.

The epicurean adventure turned out to be ideal— a way to be together while focused on a collaborative activity. Not only was it a way to bring out only the best of our family dynamics, cooking classes, I’ve discovered, are a lot of fun.

Even if cooking isn’t necessarily your thing, eating delicious food likely is. And when you discover your culinary creativity, the finished meal you prepare tastes even better! Whether you’re a seasoned chef or novice, cooking classes expand your skills, show you how to tame kitchen tools, and let you practice techniques you can take home with you. Having a chef as your guide gives you the confidence to trust the dishes you make will turn out great. 

Wine Country cooking classes aren’t just for family reunions. They make a great date night. Creative collaboration brings people closer — whether it’s with your partner, a group of friends, or your work team. Then, of course, there’s the wine. Classes usually include sipping wines while you prepare recipes and enjoy the food.

Wine Country is foodie paradise, so why not add a cooking class to your vacation experience? You get to try new foods and have fun, and you don’t have to do the dishes! Here are a few local cooking schools we like.

Healdsburg cooking classes

Right off the plaza in downtown Healdsburg is the home base for Relish Culinary Center. Relaxed and friendly classes are led by well-respected chefs that include local restaurateurs, winemakers, cookbook authors, caterers, wine experts, and other food-industry professionals. The wide variety of culinary backgrounds makes for diverse and stimulating classes. 

Relish offers demonstration and hands-on classes, as well as excursions to wineries, farms, and food venues throughout Sonoma Wine Country. Hands-on classes provide you the opportunity to try new recipes and techniques under the guidance of a chef. Typically, classes run about three hours, and are recommended for ages 12 and older.

Most classes conclude with a full meal of menu items prepared. Guests leave with copies of all recipes and new techniques and ideas. And if you prefer, they can plan a private event designed to your party’s tastes and interests.

Napa cooking classes

For an intimate culinary experience, check out Cooking with Julie. Certified Culinary Professional (CCP) Julie Logue-Riordan has been teaching for more than 25 years and opened her school in Napa in 2005. 

Her hands-on cooking classes feature seasonal menus with ingredients from local farms. You’ll learn culinary techniques to cook delicious meals with confidence. From pasta to pastry, classes are interactive fun.

In addition to the regular class schedule, she offers private day or evening demonstration dinners or hands-on classes for small groups of up to eight people. You can even arrange for Julie to come to your location for a private lesson.

Classes include a three-course meal paired with wine, in addition to nibbles and wine to enjoy during class. You’ll leave with a recipe booklet and an apron. Classes sell out, so plan ahead.

Malcolm de Sieyes is the owner and main chef at Silverado Cooking School, just a mile from the center of Napa. An interesting lineup of classes cover cooking techniques — for example, braising, roasting, and grilling — and a range of cuisine styles, like French and Italian. You learn to prepare delicious, seasonal meals and how to use handy culinary tools.

The class menus pull from produce grown at the school’s own two-acre farm, Stone Tree Farm. Almost all the produce is started in their greenhouse from locally source, non-GMO heirloom seeds.

In class you prepare dishes that everyone sits down and shares together at the table. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

The school also will custom-tailor a private cooking experience — half-day to a full weekend — and wine tasting flight to complement your menu.

You don’t have to let the calendar tell you when it’s time to express your feelings to the one you love. Valentine’s Day is a fine time to do something special, don’t get me wrong, but so is every other day of the year. Gestures that say “I love you,” when unexpected, may be even more meaningful. And you don’t have to spend a boatload of money. The value is in sharing a romantic experience. Here are a few ideas for keeping the romance alive.

 

Romantic idea #1 — better than a pedi

The practice of foot bathing is rooted in ancient customs of hospitality, where hosts would often wash away the grime of travel from the feet of their guests. Now, when’s the last time you gave your partner a gift like that? If you’ve been missing out on this delicious experience, don’t wait any longer. Fill a large bowl or tub with warm water scented with herbs or oil. Use your whole hand to stoke the foot. No poking! Feet are extra sensitive so it’s essential that you move slowly and gently to avoid the risk of tickling. Gently squeeze the heel and then press your thumbs into the soles with an upward movement from heel to toes. Squeeze each toe individually, massaging the cuticle.

So where’s the romance? For a foot bath to be enjoyable, you have to build your partner’s trust. We can be prickly about our feet. Make a snug and comfortable place for your partner to sit. Plump their favorite chair with pillows and, depending on the time of year, set it up in the living room by the fireplace or outside in the garden. Bring them a glass of wine or cup of tea to sip while they relax and let you pamper them. The actual bath doesn’t take long, perhaps 15 minutes total. Once the water begins to cool, set it aside and towel dry the feet, patting rather than rubbing. If you want to give a little extra, use moisturizing lotion to massage their ankles and calves. Foot bathing, once you both give yourself to it, is a surprisingly intimate — and romantic — experience.

Romantic idea #2 — takeout with a twist

No question about it. Preparing a 3-course dinner for your partner is a generous expression of love. But the reality is that shopping and cooking all day can leave you feeling spent. When one person is tired from a day on their feet in the kitchen, it can get it the way of enjoying the moment. For an easier meal, why not take in Thai? If cooking isn’t your forte, or you want to be on the same tempo energetically, save the home cooked meal for another time. Try Asian takeout from one of these Sonoma County restaurants:

Goji Kitchen— Santa Rosa, Vietnamese

Thai Orchid Cuisine— Healdsburg

8 Dragons— Healdsburg, Chinese

Calistoga Thai Kitchen— Calistoga

Bangkok 9— Sonoma

So where’s the romance? Its’ all in the presentation. Transfer the prepared dishes into your own bowls and plates, set the table with cloth napkins, and add a small bouquet of flowers. Turn the lights down low and bring out the candles. The focus isn’t the food; it’s all about sharing beautiful moment. Oh, and don’t forget the best part. Serve a chilled champagne and make a special toast. Champagne with Asian takeout is the perfect complement, and it raises the romance meter a lot.

Romantic idea #3 — tiny bubbles

Even if your partner is a regular bath taker, there’s something about having a bath drawn for you that brings out the romance. Fill the tub to the rim with as-hot-as you-can-take-it water and use double the bubble bath. You may add a few drops of scented oil. Have a jar of body scrub, a back scrubber or loofah sponge, and a fresh washcloth at hand. Put on some soft music and light candles. Be sure the bathroom is warm. And this is super important: clean the bathroom first. Nothing will harsh a mellow faster than a ring around the faucet or drips on the floor.

So where’s the romance? Pamper your partner. Give them a shoulder massage with lightly scented bath oil or wash their hair for them. Having your hair washed for you — in the tub — feels like a decadent indulgence. And here’s an idea: before you fuss over your partner, let them relax for a few minutes in the warm water. Give them a few quiet minutes to unwind from the day. Then, afterward, have a couple plump, fresh bath towels for drying off.

 

If you want to go beyond, next time plan a vacation with The Wine Stay. We can help you arrange for some over-the-top romantic experiences. Express your love with a massage for two or enjoy personalized yoga instruction, a wine and food pairing, or a dinner prepared by a 5-star chef — all in the privacy of your vacation home. We’ve got plenty of romantic experiences to share with you. And here are our top picks for a romantic dinner in Healdsburg and some of the best restaurants in Sonoma County.

If you’re feeling the need for some “away” time, there’s no better escape than to gather two or three of your BFFs and head to Sonoma Wine Country. Leave everyday responsibilities behind. Spend a couple days feeding your soul.

Make this a weekend of things you love giving your time to — deepening friendships, making memories, connecting — and of course, eating, drinking, and shopping too! Go ahead and get your hair and mani/pedi done before your girlfriends’ weekend. This way you can compare nail color, and then move on to sharing in-the-moment experiences with your besties.

To make it easy for you, we’ve created a play-by-play itinerary of what to do, where to go, and tips for keeping it close.

Girlfriends’ Weekend in Healdsburg 

Thursday Night

So you’re rolling into town Thursday evening. Start with a designer cocktail and a savory something from the bistro menu at Gallery Bar in Studio Barndiva. Enjoy a sense of belonging inside this just-right ambience where you can catch up on headlines from your friends’ “Quarterly Report.”

Next, head to your HB Experience vacation home to fully decompress. Exhale, and welcome the good life. Say your gratitude “prayers.” Take time to let your besties know how much you value their friendship.

Friday Morning

Before you come into town for the weekend, ask the HB Experience staff to stock your fridge in advance. Let them know what you want to have on hand. Be sure to request fresh bread from Healdsburg’s Costeaux Bakery for breakfast.

Friday Afternoon

This is your day to indulge in Wine Country good living! Catch up with your friends and create indelible memories, but leave the planning to us. You can arrange in advance to have HB Experience Concierge Services take care of your itinerary. Enjoy a personalized wine tour and tasting created by our expert sommelier. After meeting you at your door, the driver/wine expert will guide your wine tasting adventure!

Friday Evening

After sipping your way through the rolling hills of Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, it feels good to relax in the comfort of your vacation home. So tonight, come home to dinner prepared by a private chef. Our Concierge makes all the arrangements for a meal that fits your tastes. Sharing this ultimate farm-to-table experience with your friends makes it even better.

Saturday Morning

Start off early, while the day’s still cool and quiet. The Flying Goat opens at 7:00 — it’s okay, though, you can shoot for 8:00. But you won’t want to wait too long for the best coffee in town. There are two Goats, just a couple doors apart from each other (that’s how good the coffee is), but go to the original at 324 Center St. Be sure to get a scone too!

Grab your Provençal shopping basket and reusable bags for fresh produce and next head to the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market. Stroll through the stalls for fresh and local food delicacies for tonight’s dinner chez vous. (Check out our blog on putting together a charcuterie board!) Taste your way through the market, sharing bites and nibbles with friends.

Saturday Afternoon

If you need a little extra to keep you going, stop in at The Shed on West North St, just off the plaza for kombucha on tap. (How cool is that!) Check out the gourmet kitchen and garden shop, and maybe buy yourself — or your girlfriend — a little gift.

Next, head back to your HB Experience vacation rental. Take time to chill, refresh, and regroup. It’s time for yoga with your besties — right in your home! Let HB Experience schedule your private yoga class. Take an hour to just “be” where you are.

Saturday Evening

Now it’s time to give it up to good times. Open a couple bottles, arrange a platter of yummy treats, and take it outside. Watch time slow down as the evening folds into night. Friends living life in the moment, sharing stories and laughs under the clear, starlit sky.

Sunday Afternoon

Allow the day to develop slowly. Savor coffee and leftover crostini while you lounge outdoors, easing gently into the afternoon. When you’re ready to get moving, put on your walking shoes and enjoy the fresh air. Check out our tips for walking around Healdsburg Wine Country.

But what would a girl’s weekend be without a little shopping? Walk along Healdsburg Ave between Mill and Piper streets, and circle the Plaza. Don’t miss One World Fair Trade for cool, global wares. Stop in at Fideaux, an over-the-top shop for pet accessories. And, of course, there are lots of clothing boutiques. No big-name stores here. Take home local, artisanal, handmade items that will remind you of your special girlfriends’ weekend.

Before you head back home, reflect on your favorite moments of this fun-filled weekend together. Make a commitment to do it again soon!

Luxury home rentals

Luxury vacation rentals experiences. We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. Enjoy from wine tasting tours to a personally tailored guided hike. Contact us for more information!