Breakfast and brunch in Wine Country can be a leisurely, pleasure-filled affair, especially if you are getting pampered at one of its many bed-and-breakfast inns or indulging on one of the traditional spring-brunch holidays — Easter and Mother's Day.
The Craftsman Inn in Calistoga, owned by Gillian and Nick Kite of England, serves a wide-ranging buffet that meets the standards of the "full English breakfast" (a famous array of fried eggs and tomatoes, bacon and bread, sausages and beans) but gives it a healthy California twist.
"At the hot station, we will do something like the California Cowboy Breakfast, which is beans, onions, tomatoes and basil," Gillian said. "It's warm, and you can have a poached egg on top, and chicken sausage on the side."
Then there's a cold buffet, where guests find tempting dollops of homemade yogurt and granola, cold fruit and milk, and a baked good such as a maple oat scone.
"I love to bake," said Gillian, who has 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry. "That's my happy place."
Her seasonal breakfasts made her guests so happy that they demanded to take a bite home with them.
"I make my own granola... and people were asking to buy bags of it," Gillian said. "And I would get people asking for recipes all the time."
At the behest of her husband, she started to package her granola for sale and drew up a proposal for a cookbook on Wine Country breakfasts.
Through a mutual friend, Gillian connected with Gaye Allen of Cobb, in Lake County, a fellow Brit who publishes food-and-wine books through her own company, Meadowlark.
The two women hit it off, and with Nick's help, they produced "Inn Food: Seasonal Breakfasts in the Wine Country," a celebration of all kinds of seasonal morning food.
Allen, who worked closely with Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams to design many of their cookbooks, found a kindred spirit in Gillian.
"She has a very down-to-earth approach to cooking that reminded me a lot of Chuck," Allen said. "The sheer deight and passion for food was there."
But what clinched the deal was the jar of Indian tomato chutney that Gillian sent home with Allen.
"As soon as I tasted the chutney, I knew the book had to be made," Allen said. "I make this chutney when tomatoes are in season and give it to friends as Christmas presents every year."
Allen shot photos of every recipe in the book, from traditional pantry items like English Lemon Curd and Orange Marmalade to creative entrees like Breakfast Ravioli (raviolis filled with prosciutto, ricotta, Parmesan and a fresh egg) and Baked Cinnamon Apple Pancake (a mash-up of American pancakes and cinnamon rolls, with an Old-World twist.)
There are lots of recipes for baked goods, from muffins and quick breads to cakes, scones and the oatmeal cookies that greet guests at The Craftsman Inn.
"We serve these in our rooms with a decanter of sherry as a nightcap treat for our guests," Gillian said. "When my husband Nick checks people in, he always tells them where the cookie jar is because he knows they are addictive."
The book also includes a recipe for Breakfast Bars, a gluten-free treat the couple keeps in the freezer for guests with dietary issues.