Moms looking to unwind should try Sonoma
By Jennifer Mifflin and Suzanne Witt For Sun-Times Media
Beneficial bath: Sonoma County's Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary boasts the only cedar enzyme bath in North America. The bath consists of finely ground cedar, rice bran and plant enzymes from Japan, heating the body and adapting the obdy's natural metabolic process. | Supplied photo
Moms selflessly and resolutely devote themselves to their families, careers and households. Usually they are the epicenter of family life. Whether a mom works outside or exclusively in the home, the one thing typically missing from her to-do list is “taking time for herself.”
According to Erin Kelly, assessment and referral therapist for Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, in today’s fast-paced world moms are under more pressure than ever to keep up with all the hectic demands life dictates. Moms who continuously put everyone’s demands before their own can descent into a rut that leaves them mentally and physically exhausted — even emotionally depleted and underappreciated.
Kelly says a mom’s getaway weekend can be the perfect antidote for burnout and provide the great women who work tirelessly rearing the future an opportunity for rejuvenation and self-discovery.
Being busy moms ourselves with children who span 20 months to 10 years, we can identify. And although we love our kiddos and make them a daily priority, we both needed to steal some time to step away from the routine and off the merry-go-round for just a few days.
Moms learn new tricks
Sonoma wine country seemed like the perfect venue for two neurotic harried moms like us. So with the grapevines beckoning, we left our loving husbands in charge of our kids and hopped aboard a plane to California. After a seamless flight into San Francisco we drove an hour-and-a-half to wine country. The journey was lovely: mountains, greenery and rolling hills with cows, horses and sheep grazing in the distance made us feel like we were in the English countryside. Soon we started to see miles and miles of pristine beautiful vineyards. For two wine enthusiasts, it was like reaching Mecca.
Our first stop was MacArthur Place — a historic country inn and spa — located in downtown Sonoma. The quaint peaceful relaxation haven has just 64 rooms on seven acres of aromatic flower gardens and manicured foliage alcoves. It’s walking or biking distance to downtown Sonoma’s charming eateries, provincial wineries, eclectic shopping, historical landmarks and picturesque nature paths.
Upon check-in we were greeted by Doug McKesson, owner of Goodtime Touring Company, for a guided bike tour of Sonoma Plaza. McKesson, a former mayor of Sonoma, seemed to know everyone and everything about the town, especially its rich Native American and Mexican history and Captain Salvador Vallejo, one of Sonoma’s most influential leaders. We took a couple of breaks to taste the varietals at Ravenswood Winery and explore old-fashioned cheese-making methods at The Sonoma Cheese Factory. After two hours with McKesson, we had a pretty firm grasp of the area, and considered him a new friend. McKesson was so gracious he even lent us the bikes to use for the evening.
Soon after our tour we biked over to Ramekins Culinary School and Inn to take an Everything’s Better with Bacon class. The hands-on, three-hour class was led by Chef Annie Simmons in a fully outfitted professional kitchen. The class was split into four different stations and each group was tasked with preparing a provided recipe. Under Simmons’ tutelage, we learned how to cure bacon and incorporate it into delicious creations such as a pancetta spinach salad with crispy potatoes; caramelized onion and bacon tart; five-spice braised pork belly and maple caramel corn with candied bacon and pecans. At the end of the class, we gathered in the school’s dining room to sample our hard work. We met wonderful people from myriad backgrounds with one common theme: a love of cooking and eating. With our new culinary skills and enlightened palates, we were excited to demonstrate our expanded repertoire to our families.
“It’s great for moms to rekindle some of those interests that they put on hold to focus more attention on raising their families. Enrichment and honoring oneself makes a woman a happier person. A happy mom is a better mom. It is important moms don’t lose themselves in the process of taking care of everyone else,” Kelly said.
Bidding stress adieu
Relaxation and a mini-makeover were also on the agenda. We were able to partake in two very different spa treatments. The Garden Spa at MacArthur Place was ground zero for our respective Rose Garden and Lavender Dreams signature treatments: Rose Garden was a 90-minute body scrub with rose essence followed by a reflexology massage. Lavender Dreams entailed being covered and “baked” in body clay followed by a therapeutic massage. We felt like noodles after our treatments and our skin was like silk. Each Garden Spa treatment is based on the fruits, flowers and herbs grown on the grounds of the inn. It’s a “farm to massage table” approach that boasts single note essential oils, rather than a blend, so you experience the pureness and uniqueness of a particular essential oil.
After the spa, we moved on to hair. Finding time to cut and color our coiffures sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of work deadlines, kids’ homework, laundry and a plethora of other tasks. So we decided to pep up our ‘dos with a visit to Unique Hair Salon, located just two blocks from Sonoma Square. Monique Javier, owner, is a young entrepreneur who provides clients with a full range of services from cuts and styles to nails and makeup. Stylist Jerica Tercero also was on-hand to assist with our transformations. The salon uses coconut-based dye that nourishes, conditions and lasts. Gray be gone, color be vibrant and style be updated — now we were ready for anything.
Looking good and feeling even better, we decided to take advantage of one final treatment: a visit to Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, located in the small town of Freestone, Sonoma County’s first historic district. Our mission was to experience the Osmosis Signature Treatment — a Cedar Enzyme Bath and Wrap — the only spa in North America to offer this option with reported health benefits.
After donning swimsuits and robes, we enjoyed a delightfully soothing cup of organic herbal tea in the Japanese Tea Garden, while our spa attendant Jennifer walked us through the process of the bath. Essentially, wooden tubs are filled with a combination of finely ground cedar, rice bran and plant enzymes from Japan and heated naturally through fermentation, creating warmth similar to the body’s authentic metabolic process. Space was made for two, we affixed hairnets and climbed in while Jennifer covered us from neck to toe in the mixture. It was comfortable, tranquil and cozy for the first 10 minutes or so and then the heat set in. We soon realized why just 20 minutes were allotted for the bath as the sweat started to stream off our brows. Jennifer kept us hydrated with sips of water and cold towels around our heads. Just when we thought we couldn’t bear the heat another second, it was time for the next phase.
Any residual shavings were first brushed and then showered off and we made our way to the resting room where we were tucked under warm blankets and given headphones to listen to special music that further promotes relaxation and balances brain wave activity. End result: Our skin looked and felt radiant, our spirits were calm and serene.
Farm to table
Sonoma doesn’t just yield heavenly grapes for wine: Local farms and elaborate chefs’ gardens are utilized by numerous eateries and restaurants. Peter Lowell’s in Sebastopol, in the heart of West Sonoma County, is considered one of the area’s best organic restaurants. The establishment supports only those farmers who utilize sustaining farming practices. And during the summer months more than 60 percent of their produce comes from their own fully dedicated, certified organic farm, just two miles from the restaurant.
It just seemed fitting to follow up our bath experience with a lunchtime visit to the restaurant, a mere 10 minutes away, and we were enthused by the quality and extensiveness of their offerings. Aesthetically, it’s cozy and casual and our waiter was more than willing to help two Midwestern gals navigate the menu. Items are healthy, filling and delicious.
We were enjoying ourselves immensely and experiencing so many new things that we had moments of guilt about leaving our families, especially our children. Kelly says moms are very inclined to encounter mixed feelings when having fun away from the family. “It’s common for women to feel selfish when they take time for themselves. But a getaway once or twice a year is nothing to feel bad about. It also provides dads or other caregivers an opportunity to bond with their children. It’s healthy for children to have nurturing relationships other than mom. That’s a good thing,” Kelly conceded.
Vines on the horizon
The last two nights of our trip we stayed at Kenwood Inn and Spa with two goals in mind: indulge in a gourmet dinner to remember and visit more wineries. Kenwood is nestled in the vineyards of Sonoma County and offers 29 rooms and suites with breathtaking views, stunning Tuscan décor and luxurious amenities. Even though it’s more of a romantic niche, we were able to truly appreciate its rustic design, artistic touches and superb staff.
Executive chef Steven Snook is the Restaurant at Kenwood Inn and Spa’s newest gastronomy inspiration and an amiable and knowledgeable food expert. For six years he honed his craft in London and New York working for Michelin Star-rated chef Gordon Ramsay. Each month Snook creates a “Chef’s Tasting” menu that incorporates local flavors grown both regionally and in his personal chef’s garden that is a prix fixe, wine-paired dinner. April’s theme was Ode to Asparagus.
It was hard to decide which of the four courses was tastier: chilled white asparagus soup, lobster, shaved asparagus salad and fresh mint; char-grilled green asparagus, soft fried wise acre farms egg, red wine smoked bacon, morels and Sausalito watercress; rosemary sorbetto; Ravioli of 24-hour braised lamb shoulder, green and white asparagus, English peas, fava beans, black truffle, braising jus; and frozen apple parfait, apple carpaccio with fresh mint. The wine complemented the flavors beautifully. We sat back, thoroughly enjoyed our gourmet experience and felt as though we had enriched our tastebuds.
Just a sip
Sonoma County is home to more than 300 wineries and has a varietal for almost everyone. We stopped in at Ram’s Gate Winery — an imbibing and culinary destination in one. Located at the entrance to Sonoma Valley, the grounds boast breathtaking scenery and provide a perfect backdrop for any casual visitor or private event. Ram’s Gate combines agrarian charm with contemporary furnishings, with cozy yet stylish nooks to enhance any wine flight or food pairing. Our visit to Ram’s Gate was educational as well as an epicurean joy. We were able to spend one-on-one time with assistant winemaker, Jesse Fox who offered a hands-on tour of the winery and acclimated us to the process of winemaking and craftsmanship. Fox has an extensive background as both a chef and winemaker and graciously answered all of our questions and explained how certain flavors are derived. We felt we were in the midst of a real poet the way Fox spoke of the elixir. We were even allowed to sample several varietals paired perfectly: baked oysters and chardonnay, pan seared halibut with pinot noir and carneros lamb albondigas (smothered in plate-licking good mole sauce) with syrah.
Gone but not forgotten
All good things must end. That’s what we told ourselves crossing the Golden Gate Bridge while driving back to San Francisco International Airport. In the blink of an eye our journey was over. Our agenda was as robust as it was enriching and soon we would be back in the throes of daily routines.
Renewed and excited to share our adventure with our families, our focus shifted back to being practical and task-oriented. Although we had a respite from the daily grind, it would feel good to get back on a schedule.
Kelly encourages moms to partake in the occasional getaway and make a practice of cultivating interests and carving out time for themselves.
“Moms forget that one day their children will be grown and out of the house. Women who put everything on hold not related to the children tend to have a harder time transitioning to being an empty nester. But a mom who can successfully balance parenting with partaking in her own interests is a more well-rounded person who will end up enjoying her children just as much when they are adults,” Kelly noted.
On the plane home, we were excited to see our kids. We imagined one day bringing our daughters back to Sonoma with us when they become busy moms in need of a break. And we will be able to show them the way.
For more information about the Sonoma area, check out: Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau at sonomavalley.com or Sonoma County Tourism Bureau at sonomacounty.com.