Friday, May 28, 2010

TGIFF Musical Selection

I'm pretty sure this is going to be a crowd pleaser.  My favorite part of the video is during the beach scene when the dude walks down the beach in his business suit, then strips down to a speedo. And I love all the stripes, jean-like briefs, and knee pads. Happy Three-Day-Weekend-Friday!!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Garden Status Update

Before I get to my garden status update, can I just say: "McCain, Chambliss & Roberts: WTF?"  These guys complained to Agriculture Secretary about how the USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative supports small farmers and producers instead of the big guys.  Um, really?  Is bitching about farmer's markets and regional food systems really how you should be spending your time? When our kids are fat and growing fatter (despite the First Lady's best efforts)? Please.  OK, thats all I got.

Anyway, check it ooooout:

Compared with this:

Yezzirrrr, thats ma garden.  And I got the hubs to take on a little project for me to add a little pizzaz to the carport fence.  Check it:
Cute, right?

Some herbs.

Some succulents.

And some succulent leaves that I cut and am hoping to propogate.

I'm pretty pumped.  The end.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rhubarb Season = Cobbla' Time!

Rhubarb has been making appearances at the farmer's markets, so I picked some up on Saturday.  It was fun to surprise my friends with a bubblin', fresh-out-of-the-oven Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbla'.  Delish!

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbla' (from Moosewood cookbook)

2 lbs fresh rhubarb (1-inch chunks)
3-4 c sliced strawberries
1/3-1/2 c white sugar
1 1/4 c rolled oats
1 c flour
1/4 c brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
a dash of allspice and nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine the rhubarb and strawberries in a 9-inch square pan (I used a round dish - whatevs).  Sprinkle with white sugar. Mix together the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.  Distribute over the top of the fruit and pat firmly into place.  Bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is crisp and bubbly.  Eat the cobbla'!

*None of my home grown strawberries were used in the baking of this cobbla'.  Since I yielded roughly 4 strawberries this growing season, I had to resort to store bought berries.
* If you're wondering "why does she insist on using the term 'cobbla'' instead of 'cobbler'?", don't. Just don't.

Friday, May 21, 2010

TGIFF Musical Selection

The hats.  Its all about the hats. And the song is always a banger on the dancefloor - just classic.  (BTW for my sister: Hats!! Sorry there's not an official video).  Happy Friday!

Camp Lo - Luchini (AKA This Is It) from Dundy on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whatchu Drank: White Sangria

For me, sangria has become a staple for any BBQ we host.  It's a refreshing, fruity complement to anything hot off the grill, and there are so many ways to mix it up.  This white sangria recipe was a hit this past weekend (adapted from

2/3 cup sugar + 2/3 cup water
2 mangoes, peeled + chopped
4 peaches, chopped
2 bottles of viognier or a similar white wine
1-1/4 cup grand marnier (more or less to your taste)
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Bring sugar and water to a simmer, til sugar dissolves, and let cool.  Combine the sugar syrup with all remaining ingredients and chill for awhile to let the flavors mingle. Serve over ice! I'd say this is good for 6-8 thirsty people.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another Day, Another Bitchin Salad.

With all this talk about bagged lettuce and E.Coli contamination, I am all the more grateful that my home-grown greens are bountiful.  And to think people are paying $4/bag of greens only to get food poisoning.  That's a damn shame.  

I got home from work today, picked some greens, washed them, and threw together a tangy Miso-Mirin Dressing. 

Miso-Mirin Dressing

1/4 c. mirin (sweetened sake, 8% alcohol - didn't I say I specialize in cooking w/booze?)
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. brown rice vinegar
1/4 c. sweet white miso
1/2 c. water

Oh, and I'd sprinkle some Gomasio (sea salt + sesame seeds) on top - yum. Pair it with a nice Chenin Blanc and you're good to go. 

It's a simple recipe, which is great, because it'll be one I can easily file away in my memory and throw together whenever. Plus it makes 1.5 cups, so I can refrigerate the remaining dressing and use for the next week!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

TGIFF Musical Selection

Ooooh how I love this song.  It's my go-to if I need to smooth out a wrinkly day.  And the video is kind of awesome. Slum Village. HAPPY FRIDAY!

PS: I wanted to feature a Little Brother video, since they're rolling through DC (Black Cat) on their Farewell tour. But they didn't have a video for my favorite track. So here's a link to the song and non-video:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wine Trip 2010: Lessons Learned

1) Old World v New World Wines: I'm new to the wine world, but I've seen the "old world" and "new world" descriptors being used - to describe processes of winemaking and also on wine lists to categorize wines.  And of course - "old world" referring to traditional European methods v "new world" referring to more modern American methods.  So basically "old school" v "new school".  From our trip, this is what I gathered...

Old School: Vines are dry farmed – not irrigated (they withstand the dry California weather as they did in the old country) and also not trellised. Instead, each vine stands alone and the vines grow up and out, without the support of a trellis.  According to Vince, you may not get as many grapes, but the grapes will have a more complex aroma/flavor.  Growers don't use fertilizer or mess with the grapes in any way, so the wines are usually not as sweet and are more complementary with food.  They also have a lower alcohol content.
Tofanelli vines are not trellised.

New School: Grapevines are irrigated and trellised to get more grapes and, hence, bigger profits.  In order to get the bigger, more fruit forward flavor that has become popular, winemakers may use tactics to adjust the grapes flavors and tweak the sugar content. Due to more fermented sugars, they tend to be sweeter and higher in alcohol content (up to 16%). And with a bigger, more fruit forward flavor, the wines taste better in the tasting room but can compete with foods rather than complement them.  
Trellised vines

2) “Situational Drinking” – Pairing alcoholic beverages according to the experience. Ex) a smokey red wine for the campfire gathering, tequila at a Cinco de Mayo party, etc.  Originator: the wine pourer (uncertain of official title) at St. Supery tasting room.

3) Realization: Wine Dogs experience a higher quality of life than most humans.
Lucky dogs.

4) Based on some informal polling of locals: There’s no place like home - if “home” is Calistoga, CA.  Almost every server, bartender, bar patron, etc, we asked verified the fact that there simply is no other place they’d rather live than Calistoga.  For wine, food, natural hot springs, breathtaking scenery, proximity to ocean/mountains, weather, quality of life – Calistoga’s got it on lock-down.  If you’re looking for a laid back wine country experience with lots of local flavor, Calistoga is really where it’s at.  By comparison, we spent a short amount of time in Yountville.  And while its home to some seriously amazing restaurants, Yountville had a very suburban, ritzy feel.  However, if you’re looking to show off your Benz and tempt fate by wearing white pants, this would be the place to do it!

4) “Brambly” – adjective used to describe a wine that is complex and gnarly.  The visual of sticking your head inside a blackberry bush would be apt. Originator: for us, it was Vince Tofanelli.

5) While tasting wines at a granite countertop in an attractive tasting room is fun, nothing compares to standing on the freshly tilled soil of the vineyard that produced the wine you are tasting (as you are tasting it) while the man who tilled that soil, picked those grapes, and crafted that wine shares with you his family’s history and his passion for what he does.  Nothing compares.

6) Wine Country Coma:  A state of consciousness (or lack thereof) that begins with your first wine tasting at 10am and seeps in deeper with each decadent meal and each 3 oz pour of wine until you are thoroughly soaked to the core, like a liquor-soaked ladyfinger in a tiramisu dessert.  Words aren’t easily formed, let alone coherent and grammatically-correct sentences.  No.  All you can do is let your head hit the pillow and hope that tomorrow morning’s coffee brings intelligibility. 

Thanks, Calistoga! It's been real.

Wine Trip 2010: The Itinerary, Day 3

9:00am  One reason why Calistoga Inn will remain on my go-to list for affordable, comfortable lodging in Calistoga: their complimentary continental breakfast.  From 8 to 10am, they put out fresh OJ, coffee, water, apples, pears, bananas, homemade granola (delicious), english muffins (with toaster, peanut butter and blackberry jam), and coffee cake.  

9:30am Coffee at Calistoga Roastery. Clem and I checked out the Farmer's Market where there was an abundance of gorgeous produce (yes, gorgeous) and local crafts.  We bought a container of strawberries for later.  
And an antique car show was going on in Calistoga, so Daniel made it his goal to leave No Car Left Behind with his photography- which, much like the legislation I'm referencing, was a silly distraction from the real work that has to be done (for us, that work was wine consumption). 

10:30am Tofanelli Vineyard tour with Vince. A bottle of wine in a DC wine bar inspired me to contact him for a tour of his small family vineyard.  I didn't know what to expect really, but that visit was hands-down my favorite part of the trip (like whoah).  First of all, Vince is a really laid back guy whose passion for his work shows.  He's the grandson of an Italian immigrant who scraped pennies to purchase some acres of land to grow grapes and sell them to winemakers.  They managed to survive the Prohibition which killed many Napa vineyards. Vince grew up working the land of the family vineyard, left to get an education, returned when his grandfather fell ill, & decided to stay on to continue cultivating his family’s land.  While many vineyards have changed their methods to increase profits, Vince uses the same tried and true methods his grandparents used - dry farming (which is also organic) - to grow the grapes.  Decades later, he decides that he can make a wine that’s just as good as the wine that other winemakers are crafting with his grapes, so he starts bottling and distributing his own wine.  

I can't describe how incredible it was to walk around this vineyard, sipping wine that was handcrafted by the man we're talking to.  It shed some light on what the wine industry looks like from the perspective of someone who is nearly singlehandedly working the land, growing the grapes, & crafting the wines.  Further, his passion for maintaining the integrity of the fruit, by following "old world" methods (despite the fact that he could bring in more money with newer methods), was really inspiring and remarkable.  On top of all that, his wine was reeeeaaaally good - so good that we called for a tour, and even better with this whole experience.  Just the smell of his Charbono makes me want to  jump in my wine glass and swim around it in.  Srsly.

12:00pm From there, we met up with Dan & Christine at the Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon 07 Release Party.  On our honeymoon in October, Daniel & I had a great experience at Alpha Omega and became members of their wine club.  So when we decided we wanted to do a follow up trip, we wanted to build it around one of the Alpha Omega events to which we, as members, were invited.  So this was the release party for their 2007 Cab, and they also served up appetizers and tastings of several other wines.

The crew (Sam photo)

Napa Valley Wine Train passes through.

It was great to kick back, enjoy the great weather and beautiful scenery with the crew.  BTW, upon entering, someone asked us which band we are with - which is indicative of the fact that most other folks at this winery (and others) were much older (and whiter).  We were definitely the young people at most of the places we visited.

1:30pm Bouchon Bakery.  After all the delicious food I've described thus far, I'm kind of at a loss for more creative descriptions.  We had mushroom paninis, a pistachio macaron, iced coffee, and some of Christine/Dan's pastries.  All of it was mouth watering.  Like, I might throw down with someone if they took too big of a bite of my pistachio macaron. Without hesitation. And our farmer's market strawberries were so juicy and luscious.  What can I say?  This trip was one self-indulgent thing after another. 

4:00pm  Mumm Napa was our next self-indulgent visit.  Tastings of their refreshing bubblies on a patio with a view.  This was a slightly different tasting - they seat you, and you order one of their tasting flights from a friendly server. The system worked well. We ordered a bottle of Sparkling Pinot Noir for the road.

7:30pm  The final act of ridiculous self-indulgence came that evening: dinner at Ad Hoc, another Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Bouchon) establishment.  This restaurant offers a daily menu of one four-course meal, based on seasonal and local ingredients.  You get what you get and you don't get mad (unless you don't eat meat or pork, in which case they have alternatives).
It was at this restaurant where a seriously intense food/wine coma set in. As in, we could not form sentences (ex: the bread. give me it.).  The food was, of course, delicious.  Service was unpretentious and friendly.  We were without words and overstuffed.

We made it back to our respective hotels, and I, for one, slept like a baby. We woke up the next morning sad because we had to leave paradise. We dropped Clem and Sam in SF (lucky!!!!) and caught a flight home (went to the right airport too).  I'm still coming to terms with the fact that we are back in DC, the land of the blackberry, and not California, the land of self-indulgence.  But who can really live there with all the extraordinary scenery, weather, wine and food? I mean, really??

Apparently, lots of people can. I polled them. They grow up there and they don't leave because its that awesome.  I want to hate those people, but I can't. I want to be them. The end. 

Upcoming: Lessons Learned post.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wine Trip 2010: The Itinerary, Day 2

Photo: Sam Vasfi

9:00am  We met for breakfast and coffee at Calisoga Roastery, a great local coffee shop with big communal tables where locals camp out to read the Calistoga newspaper.  They put a lot of love into the food they prepare - breakfast sandwiches, waffles, etc. Good coffee too.

10:00am  We headed to nearby Graeser Winery  where owner/winemaker Dick Graeser served us up our first tasting of the trip.  To say that he is a character would be an understatement.  While we tasted his Semillon, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Franc, and dessert wine (with his spicy chocolate - yum), he talked to us about how the world would be better if we all were nicer to each other, which local restaurants he's had bad experiences with, how he and his friend like to finish each other's sentences with completely ridiculous ideas, and politics.  Not a mention of wine.  But he directed us to hike up the hill of his vineyard for great views.  And that we did, followed by his Great Danes Jill and Jolie.   

11:30am  From there, we drove south on 29 to Oakville Grocery to pick up some ingredients for our picnic lunch later.  This local version of Dean & Deluca was small with most of its space crammed with local products - jams, cheese, sauces, dips, bread, pastries - and all leftover space was packed with people.  Crowded, but great place to pick up lunch!

12:30pm  The visit to Yountville winery St. Supery was arranged by Marvin's wine rep.  Upon arrival, we happened upon this sign:

We were like "Whoah, this really is VIP!" They waived our tasting fee, which was great, but we didn't get a guided tour of the winery.  Oh well.  The wines were good - I liked their Semillon-Chardonnay blend and their Moscato was really refreshing - not syrupy like some tend to be.  And at the counter, the group of girls next to us were all from DC - kind of funny.  It was entertaining watching the wine person (pourer? expert?) flirt with them.  And then he schooled us on "situational drinking" and we proceeded to make some "The Situation" jokes.


2:00pm  Sequoia Grove to picnic, with a bottle of white. Delightful.

4:00pm  Prager Ports. Simply put, this was a man cave. A bunch of dudes standing around, drinking port and pouring port tastings for some other folks who were standing around.  There was no counter separating us and no formality - other than paying for the tasting. We were all in this low-light room with US and international dollar bills covering the walls and dust accumulating on the windowsills.  The ports were fantastic - caramel-y, nutty, buttery, delicious, and the dudes were exactly what you'd imagine California port-making dudes to be like. Plus you get to keep your tasting glass! Highly recommended.

7:30pm Drinks at sundown at Auberge du Soleil. It came highly recommended by Clem's friend, and it would've been really awesome had we been there while the sun was still above the horizon.  But we just missed it.  However, it was still a gorgeous view, and we enjoyed complimentary valet for our Hyundai, alongside the Benzes and the Escalades. Seriously ritzy place, that Auberge du Soleil. 

9:00pm  Lowkey pizza dinner at Bosko’s Trattoria. After a day and a half of luxurious meals, we wanted to tone it down for dinner. Bosko's was kind of forgettable, but perhaps thats a result of all the wine. Decent pizza, ginormous tiramisu (not sure if that was a good thing). But friendly service and had the lowkey vibe (and price) we were looking for.

10:30pm It's a small miracle that we made it anywhere after Bosko's after a long, wine-filled, food-filled day.  But we wanted to experience the Calistoga nightlife (tongue rather firmly in cheek), so we headed to me and Daniel's hotel - Calistoga Inn, Restaurant & Brewery for hip hop night. And our glimpse into the Calistoga nightlife scene was rewarding.  It was a strange scene.  I sent the following text to my sister/friend: "Deb and Beth are at our bar in Calistoga except they're in their 40s.  Big tall highlighted bangs and bedazzled jeans.  Trying to get back what they once had, on the dancefloor." 

Calistoga Inn has a microbrewery and we enjoyed their beers. We closed the place down. And we loved every minute of it. I think there's video evidence, but I don't have it. End of Day 2. 

Wine Trip 2010: The Itinerary, Day 1

5:30am  Clementine’s dad picks us up for our door-to-airport service, and we arrive on time for 7:05am Virgin America flight from DCA.  But we didn’t see Virgin America on the signs for terminals. Huh. That's odd.  I then check our boarding pass: “Um, guys…”  And before I say anything further, Clem: “No. You’re joking.” And I reply, “Yeah…its Dulles.” F WORD. Dulles = 29.6 miles away. 33 minutes, or 50 minutes in traffic.

Without skipping a beat, Clem’s dad guns the engine, distracting us with stories about concerts he’s seen and others that he’s missed. “The gas light just came on,” he said, “But I’m sure we’ll make it!” Nervous laughter. Um. Wow. All we can do is sit silently.  We arrive at Dulles at 6:30ish.  Sam/Clem check in. There was running. There was a nail-biting bottleneck moment at the Security line. There was more running.  And we made it.  With 2 minutes till the gate closed.  I am so thankful Clem’s dad was our driver.  Thanks Patrick!!

11:15am  At SFO, we picked up our brand new Hyundai Sonata rental and hit the road.  We arrived in Calistoga, an hour and a half later, very hungry.  We chose Kitana Sushi for its outdoor seating – the weather, oh the weather.  Sunny, clear skies, temperatures in the mid-70’s.  We were definitely in California.

Photos: Sam Vasfi

3:00pm  Clementine and I arrived at Indian Springs Calistoga for our Volcanic Ash Mud Bath.  To briefly describe the sequence of events that followed:
1) Mud baths – 15 min.  After disrobing (of course), you lay down upon the black, bubbling mud.  I thought I would sink into it like a bath, but it was so thick that you don’t sink down at all.  You just close your eyes as a stranger glops mud all over to cover you entirely.  It's warm, so you're sweating beneath the hot mud, which is weird. 

2) You then shower to rinse the mud off.  Did I feel like the mud extracted any toxins from my body? I don't know. Is it strange to have mud in every crevice? Absolutely.

3) Mineral bath – 15 min. You are ushered into your own personal hot-spring fed mineral bath where you sip on refreshing cucumber-lemon water & try to avoid the fact that you are taking a bath and you are not alone.  

4) Eucalyptus Steam Room is next - for as long as you can take it. It’s hot. I can't even remember if you're also naked in there.  I guess I'm trying to forget.  

5) Nap Time – 15 min.  In your soft robe, you lay down on a bench, and an attendant wraps you in a blanket and puts cucumbers over your eyes and a damp wash cloth across your eyes/forehead.   This is where the true relaxation happens, for you are robed and alone.

I think the experience was well worth the $85. It was definitely new and different, and overall I would say it was quite relaxing.  Plus the attendants were really professional (though Clem and I heard one of them scold another mud bather for not following her directions for getting into the tub), and we got to use the awesome Olympic sized hot-spring fed pool for about a half hour.  If you want more pool time, schedule your appointment for earlier in the day. 
7:30pm  Dinner at JoLe in Calistoga.  This is a really lovely farm-to-table sort of restaurant.  We each did the 4 course tasting menu and split a bottle of white wine.  Highly recommended – great service and wonderfully prepared food.  It was a luxurious cap to a day that was started off panic-stricken and ended thoroughly relaxing.
Forgot to take the photo before digging in. Couldn't help it. 
Roasted artichokes, carrots, fresh peas, and pistou. 
Seared scallops over corn grits w/blackberries, fava beans and a berry sauce.

And then we stumbled to our hotels and went to bed. End of Day 1.