It’s hard to imagine a Napa Valley that was not a destination, merely someplace you passed through on your way to somewhere else.
Strange to think that one would be mocked by locals who thought that opening a country inn (aka B&B) was a harebrained idea — because who would actually stay in the Napa Valley just for fun?
If you lived in the valley in the early 1970s you may remember all the buzz about that crazy man, Ned Smith, and his freethinking wife, Marge.
A few forward-thinking old guard Napans thought Ned was onto something and became investors in the Wine Country Inn, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in the fall of 2015.
In celebration, Ned and Marge’s son, innkeeper Jim Smith, decided to share the stories of Napa Valley then and now in “40 Years an Innkeeper.”
Dotted throughout the book are recipes created by the Smith family and the staff that go back 40 years.
Filled with personal anecdotes, trials, tribulations, remembrances of locals we’ve lost, life lessons, naughty admissions and just enough poetic license, this is a fun and fast read.
For longtime residents, it may bring back memories of cruising the strip between the A&W in St. Helena and Morrison’s Funeral Home just to be cool. In 1975, there were only three decent restaurants in St. Helena. Does anybody remember “Vern’s Copper Kitchen”? Every town needs a good greasy spoon.
For newcomers to the valley, you’ll learn that back in the day there were a couple of motels in Napa and the El Bonita in St. Helena, room rates were about $33 per night, and there was not a gourmet market to be found.
Having enjoyed the privilege, pleasure, pratfalls, pandemonium and phantasmagorical party of being Jim’s general manager for six-plus years, I could tell a few stories myself. As Jim prepared to write his tales of the inn, we met for a raucous lunch where I reminded him of tales he’d forgotten or had never heard. I couldn’t believe he didn’t remember the belly dancer on the lawn.
Jim’s recognition of “Guests Who Became Family” is touching. The time I spent as part of their Wine Country Inn family made it possible for me to create my own B&B when I was owner of the historic Ink House in St. Helena. From Jim, Ned and Marge, I learned how to strive to be the best innkeeper I could.
There is a golden thread that connects me to Jim and the Inn, and not just because he asked me to stand next to him as his “best woman” when he married Lorinda. I continue to send my favorite clients to the inn and show up every once in a while to give an olive oil tasting party, cater a special dinner or organize an enchanting elopement.
“40 Years an Innkeeper” is available at Wine Country Inn on Lodi Lane or on Amazon.com.
Jim’s Two Day Tacos
2½ pounds beef chuck
3 bottles amber or dark beer
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon fat
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
6 bell peppers (any color), coarsely chopped
3 Anaheim chilies, diced
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. cumin
1 can stewed tomatoes or a few big dollops of tomato paste
Flour for thickening if needed
In large stock pot, brown meat well in hot oil on all sides. Remove meat and brown onions well in the same oil. Add peppers when the onions begin to brown.
Add garlic during last few minutes of cooking. Add beer and deglaze the pot. Return the meat to the pot. Add remaining ingredients. Stew meat at a simmer uncovered for 2 hours or until tender.
Remove pot from heat and when cooled slightly remove the meat. Allow meat to rest and allow pot ingredients to cool so that the fat rises to the top. Skim off as much fat as possible. Shred meat with the grain, removing any chunks of fat or gristle. Return shredded meat to the pot and over medium heat reduce until the broth reduces completely. You should have the shredded meat thickly covered by the reduction ingredients.
Serve in taco shells prepared to your liking.
Diane’s Death by Cheese
1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups whole milk
16 oz. (2 cups) cottage cheese
8 oz. cream cheese
4 Tbsp. butter
2 lbs. Jack cheese
The night before, cut the cream cheese and jack cheese into small cubes, wrap tightly and refrigerate.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In the morning, beat eggs in a large bowl. Add flour, baking powder, salt and milk. Use whip to be sure all dry ingredients are absorbed. Beat in cottage cheese. It will still have small solid curds. Stir in cubed cheese. Make sure the cream cheese doesn’t stick together.
Pour into large coated baking dish. Dot evenly with butter. Bake for about 50 minutes, until “puffed” and golden on top. Allow to cool 20 minutes and cut into 15 equal squares.