Channel Island Harbor lodging and old Spanish night wine tasting in Santa Barbara, California

We started our road trip in the early afternoon to Oxnard, CA. It usually takes less than 2 hours to get to Oxnard from Orange County, but since it was a weekday afternoon, the LA traffic added an hour delay to our arrival time. We arrived at the Hampton Inn Channel Islands Harbor with time to check-in and get ready for the evening. It is a cute hotel right on the Channel Islands Harbor marina. Although we did not get a marina view room (the last one was given out 5 minutes before we arrived), it was spacious with a view of the pool. The 2-Queen Bed Non-Smoking room has two comfortable queen beds, 32” LCD TV, work desk, coffeemaker, and free WiFi. Our room also had a balcony to enjoy the seafront weather. Unfortunately, it was very humid during our stay so we were not able to use it.

  • Travel tip: Santa Barbara hotel rates can be daunting during the summer with rates as low as $250 per night, but most are closer to $500 per night. Hotels in Ventura, Oxnard, and Camarillo might be a better option if you are keeping to a budget. The drive to Santa Barbara can range from 35 to 60 minutes from Oxnard. You’ll have to decide what is more important to you: longer drive time and saving money versus accessibility and higher hotel rates.

Santa Barbara, CA is a beautiful city situated to the west of the Santa Ynez Mountains with coastlines on the Pacific Ocean. The climate is similar to the Mediterranean and is also known as the “American Riviera”.

Our first adventure in Santa Barbara was the California Wine Festival’s Old Spanish Nights Wine Tasting held at the historic Casa de la Guerra. As the gates opened, we were serenaded by Latin music performed live in the courtyard. Wine tasting and Spanish/Latin American food purveyors lined the perimeter of the courtyard with the perfect balance of wine and food. 

Cantwell’s Market served up Salmon with Mango Salsa. The salmon was perfectly cooked with succulent, tender fillet with the buttery flavor of the natural salmon fat. The mango salsa provided a little bit of acidity along with sweetness from the mango. Rating: 5/5

Lone Madrone, from Paso Robles, CA, served up a variety of wines.
  • 2010 Old Hat ($47.50) is dry-farmed and made from 71% Zinfandel and 29% Petite Sirah. Tasting notes: Smoky aroma; Smoky and black cherry experienced on the palate. Rating: 3/5
  • 2012 Sheep Camp ($45) is dry-farmed and made with 100% Zinfandel. Tasting notes: Complex with raspberry experienced on the front and bitter on the back. Rating: 3/5
  • 2014 Le Mezcia ($25) is made with 71% Grenache Blanc and 29% Albarino. Tasting notes: Citrus aroma; Crisp, tangy grapefruit experienced on the palate. Rating: 4/5 

Santa Barbara Tamales To Go served up a variety of tamales.
  • Chile and Cheese tamale ($3.50) is roasted poblano chiles blended with provolone, jack cheese, crushed tomatoes, and wrapped in masa. It tasted like a chile relleno inside a tamale and I love chile relleno. Rating: 4.5/5
  • Pork tamale ($3.25) is chunks of lean pork, diced bell pepper, corn, and cheddar cheese. The pork was seasoned really well and worked perfectly with the bell pepper, corn, and cheddar. Rating: 5/5

Joya Sangria, imported from Spain, served up their red and white sangrias.
  • Red Sangria ($12.95) is a blend of tempranillo, garnacha, and bobal grapes layered with the essence of Mediterranean fruits. It is surprisingly light for a red and refreshing on a hot summer night. Rating: 4/5
  • White Sangria is airén grapes layered with the essence of Mediterranean fruits. It is very light and crisp with summer fruit flavors – peach, plum, citrus. Rating: 4/5

Standing Sun, from Buellton, CA, served up their 2013 Syrah Rosé. Tasting notes: Beautiful rosé color; Fruity aroma; Nectarine and sour citrus experienced on the palate. Rating: 2.3/5

Coastal Specialty Products, from Ventura, CA, served up a variety of munchies like Truffle Potato Chips (my favorite), cheeses, olives, and pickles.

Casa Blanca Restaurant & Cantina, from Santa Barbara, CA, served up street tacos. The carne asada was marinated and grilled skirt steak topped with onions, salsa, and cilantro. The skirt steak was tender and juicy with grilled flavor. Rating: 5/5

Santa Barbara Brewing Co. served up some of their brews and BBQ Pulled Pork.
  • BBQ Pulled Pork is eight-hour braised pork served with tortilla chips. The pork was tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. They added just the right amount of barbeque sauce to add a smoky, sweet flavor without overpowering the pork. Rating: 5/5
  • VAT 629 IPA tasting notes: Strong hoppy aroma; Strong hoppy flavor yet very clean and does not linger on the palate. Rating: 4/5

Kerrygold served up a variety of cheeses & their famous butter.
  • Kerrygold Salted Butter is always a favorite when I see them at wine festivals. It’s always slathered on a good piece of bread and it is just addictive. It’s the creamiest butter you’ll ever have!
  • Dubliner Cheese is a robust aged cow’s milk cheese. It has a texture similar to cheddar, but a bit more granular. It’s nutty, sharp, and sweet. This is a great cheese to pair with wine.
  • Aged Cheddar is a pasteurized, grass-fed cow’s milk cheese that is aged for one year. It is rich and creamy. This would be perfect for a fondue blend, fancy mac n’ cheese sauce, or paired with wine.

Figueroa Mountain Brewery served up their Danish Red Lager. Tasting notes: Clean, crisp, and refreshing. Rating: 4.5/5

Our first night in Santa Barbara was complete. What a special way to introduce us to this beautiful city!

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Celebrate summer with grapes from Melissa’s Produce

The grape. A round, globe-shaped berry that grows in clusters on a vine. The colors vary like a painter’s palette from yellow green to pink to red to purple to almost dark blue. Grapes are one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. They were grown solely to produce wine. Today, grapes are still used for wine, but can be eaten right off of the vine, dried into raisins, or juiced.

Champagne Grapes are a variety called Zante Currant or Black Corinth (named for the Greek city where they were grown over 2,000 years ago). They were reintroduced in the early 1980s when mini-vegetables were becoming popular. The grapes are so cute and tiny, like champagne bubbles. The small clusters fit in the palm of your hand. They are great as a snack, as a decorative accent to the table by draping them on wine glass rims, or added to a cheese/charcuterie board. The grapes are very sweet with molasses undertones.

Green Muscato Grapes are a hybrid of sweet brixing table grapes and common green Thompson seedless grapes. The grapes have an amber green color and sweet juicy flavor with citrus undertones. They would pair well in a summertime fruit salad or you could use them just for plain snacking.

Red Muscato Grapes have a bright, rosy red color, firm texture, and are slightly sweeter than their green-skinned cousins. They would be a great addition to a fruit & cheese platter, tossed in a green salad, or just as a snack.

Black Muscato Grapes are grown in California with a deep purple, almost black color. The sugar content is the same as the other two varieties but the tannins in the skin push the sweetness forward on the palate. They would be great on a fruit & cheese platter, cooked into sauce or used in a braising liquid for beef and/or pork roast.

Enjoy these summertime grapes before the season passes you by.

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Review of The Blender Girl Smoothies by Tess Masters + recipe

Tess Masters, aka The Blender Girl, takes you on another whirling adventure in the world of smoothies. Yes, you probably know what a smoothie is, but The Blender Girl shows you how to make healthy smoothies that taste great and also stretch your imagination of what a smoothie really is. Did you know that smoothies can be savory as well as sweet? Tess equates smoothies to soup. A smoothie is basically a cold soup. Gazpacho is a cold soup, why not make it a smoothie?

100 recipes are labeled for different health goals or dietary preferences like:

  • Alkaline
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Detox
  • Gluten-free
  • High protein
  • Low-carb
  • Low-fat
  • Nut-free
  • Paleo
  • Unsweetened
  • Vegan
  • Weight loss
  • and more…

Melissa’s culinary team prepared the smoothies below with the utmost expertise and care.

Rosemary Melonade is for inflammation, detox, weight loss, and unsweetened. Melon provides hydration, vitamin C, and lycopenes (anti-inflammatory). Rosemary not only adds a nice flavor but provides antibacterial backup. The result is a refreshingly light smoothie with just the right amount of natural sweetness from the melon. Rating: 4/5

Green Mojito is for inflammation, immunity, weight loss, detox, and unsweetened. The pineapple provides bromelian to help suppress coughs and loosen mucus. Mint helps clear respiratory congestion, soothes sore throats, and alleviates nausea. Lime provides vitamin C for antibiotic power. Kale and pineapple provide anti-inflammatories for arthritis. Ginger provides an immunity boost and aids in digestion. The smoothie itself has wonderful aromatics from the pineapple, mint, and ginger. It is refreshing with pineapple undertones to provide the right amount of natural sweetness. Rating: 5/5

Pomegranate Slam It! (recipe below) is for inflammation, immunity, detox, alkaline, and unsweetened. Pomegranate helps to lower blood pressure, keep arteries supple, decrease inflammation in blood vessels, and manage cholesterol. It also contains phenolic antioxidants to help with oxidative stress. It has a balanced sweet and tart flavor. The combination of fruits and vegetables make the smoothie taste like biting into a fresh, sweet tomato. Rating: 5/5

Pomegranate Slam It!

Reprinted with permission from The Blender Girl Smoothies, by Tess Masters, copyright © 2014, 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Serves 2

  • 1½ cups (360ml) unsweetened pomegranate juice
  • 1 orange, peeled, seeded, and quartered
  • ¼ cup (35g) chopped red bell pepper
  • ⅛ cup (3g) loosely packed arugula
  • ½ small avocado, pitted and peeled
  • 1 cup (160g) frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup (125g) ice cubes

Optional boosters:

  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate powder
  • ½ cup (15g) loosely packed chard leaves
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

Throw all of the ingredients into your blender and blast on high for about 1 minute, until smooth and creamy.

Nutritional facts (per serving)
Calories 232 kcal | Fat 6 g | Saturated fat 0 g | Sodium 23 mg | Carbs 45 g | Fiber 6 g | Sugars 37 g Protein 2 g | Calcium 79 mg | Iron 0 mg

Spicy Gazpacho Grab is for inflammation, detox, weight loss, alkaline, and unsweetened. For men, the lutein (from avocados) combined with lycopene (from tomatoes) provide prostate-cancer prevention. This savory smoothie is surprisingly delicious! The savory soup flavor has the perfect balance of flavors. Rating: 5/5

Raspberry-Lemon Cheesecake is protein rich, contains nuts, and energizing. Pomegranates provide antioxidants. If you’re craving a guilty pleasure without feeling guilty afterwards, this is the smoothie for you. It is really creamy with the bright sweetness of raspberries. Rating: 5/5

Start your day off right with your perfect blend!

For more information:
The Blender Girl Smoothies by Tess Masters
Available on and

The Blender Girl Smooth App available for download on iTunes

On the search for an ingredient that you can’t find in the store, check out Melissa’s Produce’s website or call +1.800.588.0151.

Melissa’s Deluxe Pantry Box Recipe Series: Quinoa Cranberry Pudding Parfait

Melissa’s Deluxe Pantry Box in this post was provided by Melissa’s Produce but the opinions expressed here are my own.