Connections

Cooking tips for new fruits is but a few letters and a "Send" away

Cooking tips for new fruits is but a few letters and a “Send” away

Finding new takes on old favorites like this PB&J thanks to @theculinistas on Instagram

Finding new takes on old favorites like this PB&J thanks to @theculinistas on Instagram

Yesterday, I heard from a Reader in NORWAY how Much she loves making recipes. Like my Beef Braised Short ribs in Red Wine and aromatic herbs!

Yesterday, I heard from a Reader in NORWAY how Much she loves making recipes. Like my Beef Braised Short ribs in Red Wine and aromatic herbs!

Sharing fantastic Food Interest Stories like Eating on the International Space Station on Splendid Table (NPR) with Commander Chris Hadfield

Sharing fantastic Food Interest Stories like Eating on the International Space Station on Splendid Table (NPR) with Commander Chris Hadfield

Several years back I was eating enchiladas and salsa verde with baby Anni in my favorite throw-down Mexican restaurant. A foursome in the booth behind me elevated their voices for a ridiculous amount of time complaining about Facebook and social media. “How it’s never going to last”… I was all-hands-on-deck with my infant but those sentiments and the strident “know it all” attitude with which they were audibly force-fed to the restaurant has stuck with me these years as I’ve come to learn and LOVE social media.

Social media is simply the modern version of networking. Like going to the library and the book store and University all at once.  Its connecting people of similar interests (mostly positive, some slutty) in a pleasantly displayed and easy to navigate way. Opening doors to interesting new ideas as well as news, fashions, foods, and advice. From my Victorian-era farmhouse in Sonoma, social media connects me with the modern world.  I may live a vintage-inspired life cooking, growing food, raising my kids without TV and with a lot of art… But I still want to connect to all the great recipes and food ideas out there. With just my smart phone, I custom tailor my news feed to include new dishes, seasonal garden news, positive parenting tips, notes to my Mom or from a friend, something about wine, scheduling play dates, and browsing cute dresses. All in 5-10 minutes. And then return to my Day as Mom, Artist, Cook, and Wife.

We enjoyed cocktails last night with some friends here on the Islands. They live “off the grid” electronically and I took some good hearted ribbing about my online life. Because I wouldn’t change a thing about “meeting” fellow foodies and people like me — people who want to continually discover new ideas, explore the beauty and foods in this gloriously diverse world.  THIS is how we connect. A way to better ourselves. And it’s Free and easy.

For example, just yesterday I learned (and shared) the following on Facebook and Instagram ( @Abisfarmhousekitchen )

1.) To shave Kaffir Limes into cilantro rice for a new side dish to fish. And skip the pulp.

2.) A new take on the old Classic of PB&J from @theculinistas

3.) That a wonderful reader is cooking from my recipes in Norway… She made my Red Wine Braised Short Ribs and wrote to thank me! I am beyond grateful. Recipe:  http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=588

4.) And that astronauts can’t just garnish their rehydrated meals with salt or pepper. Or chili flakes. That astronauts on the International Space Station have to drench spicing in olive oil and then aim and *precision quirt* onto the dish. Isn’t that fascinating? You can listen to Commander Hadfield talk with NPR’s Splendid Table here:  http://www.splendidtable.org/story/col-chris-hadfield-an-astronauts-guide-to-eating-in-space

This is a lumbering post I fear but the short version is that I strongly feel we should all be learning and striving to improve our minds and our plates each and every day. Social media is an excellent tool to that end. Enough said.

Back to being a Mom. Happy eating! And I hope, Happy Reading.

The Night Our Sheep Scared Away Coyotes

Welcome to the Farm!

Day 1: Welcome to the Farm! All 60 of you.

The Day After: Grazing happily behind the Electric Fence.

The Day After: Grazing happily behind the electric fence.

The Night Our Sheep Scared Away the Coyotes. All of them.

One cold morning in early Spring, Ed “the Sheep Guy” brought 60 sheep here to Annadel. 30 Lambs and 30 Mamas (approximately).  We gathered friends with wee Littles and toasted these babies and mommies with chilled bubbles as they lept from Ed’s trailer into our hibernating Merlot & Cabernet blocks.

Sheep are INCREDIBLE when you grow organic wine grapes. They eat weeds down to the teensiest nub, minimize any unwanted growths, aerate the soil with their sharp hooves, and fertilize literally everything (vines and later, legumes and mustards crop covers) with copious poop.  We move the sheep from area to area on the farm in a systematic rotation to grow our crops as cleanly as possible. Olives included. But for cold spring and summer months, we lend our overgrowth to Ed’s sheep (plus a small management fee). In return, we get one full beautifully butchered lamb for our freezer.

Insert a bit of Farm Humor: On this gorgeous Spring day, my acupuncturist and her family were here to welcome the baby lambs. Jennifer asked my husband what kind of Sheep these were. And Dean replied, “Meat.”  (He is so cheeky).  She paled rather considerably… But to her credit, she still talks to us.

That night, a storm moved in. Blowing cold spring rains into our part of Sonoma Valley. Any other chilly rainy night, I’d slip on my horrendously frumpy “mom” socks — hand knitted by a hippie in Cloverdale and SO warm — then snuggle under downy covers and Pendleton blankets with my hubby and likely our kids. Because they run in and sleep with us by 3am most nights… But on this night? I worried about our baby lambs. Were they warm enough? What if the one limping got a hoof infection? What if they ate too much of the vines? What if the mountain lion practically stepped over the fence and FEASTED? This being their first time here with us and all.

And then? All of that flew smack out the window. Because that loud coyote pack descended out of the rainy silence and systematically cat-called each other across the Valley and then into smaller and smaller… and smaller… And smaller… radius around the penned-in sheep.

I should mention that at this point, we had a rather fearless pack of coyotes hunting the property at night. Most nights. They’d cleaned out our chickens… even in the daylight hours!  Mostly because Annadel was abandoned and neglected for a good 15 years before us. The wilderness had moved in. And those assh*les were brazen! But now we have two rifles and an enormous farm dog. But I digress.

Back to that rainy night: When we heard those high-pitched eerie bitches cackle to each other and close ranks around our Merlot blocks out in the vineyard? We assumed the worst. And when the wails went higher?  The lambs kept crying. The coyote pitches answered more feverishly! The very, very Worst. Like the banshees themselves had swooped in from Emerald Isles to devour our innocent little lambs — well, before we did.

Such a horrific AWFUL night. We assumed the worst. No one slept.  Dean woke early with a heavy heart. Me, with him. Certain of carnage. And lumbered out into the early dawn to asses the damage. And what did he find?  Matted blood and swaths of fleshy fur… Stuck into the *exterior* wiring of the electrical fence. Those Brimstone dogs had scorched and scalded themselves by voltage trying to get at our Sheep.  And every single one of our gorgeous sheep? Happily alive, unscathed, and 100% accounted for. Practically skipping… If I didn’t know better.

And we have never seen another coyote since.

 

Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen is written by Me. Former NASA and LA City Hall wonk turned wine rat, artist, and cook after a midlife crisis at 30. Seven years later, add Mom to two, wife to one feisty Winemaker making Gold & Best in Class Wines, loving life, and growing food at Annadel Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley!

Dressing.

A New Era.

A New Era.

I pulled on my beloved, well-worn beach cover-up today and felt… Silly.  I looked…SILLY. Like my old beach combing shift was too… “Young” for me. I mean, I have been wearing it since my late 20s… But how on this random Sunday, did it no longer “fit?” My husband charitably said casually later, “well, you’re not a kid anymore.” Well DUH.  And thank God for that. When I was a “kid” I was too busy wearing professional crepe suits and heels from Barney’s, working my way up through layers of earnest California government and into the hideously lighted cubicles at NASA. When I embraced my mid-life crisis at 30– seven years ago– I threw out all suits, all panty hose, all badly fitting khakis from my days as an “adult”. Trading them for steel-toed Wolverines, a room-for-rent with friend Ben, and a Whitney Abbott painting of my Tomales Bay. (I love oysters.) Trekking into the world of wine, art and food as the carefree, unburdened hedonist I’d always yearned to be as an “adult.”  And now?  Seven years later, I am properly ensconced as that unbridled, no apologies hedonist of Taste. A properly cooking, painting, food writing, winemaking, bread baking, (and now) Mama to two and Wife to one feisty Italian Winemaker. So what the hell happened? I have lost all but 17 of the 80 + lbs of Baby Weight (thanks French Cheese and Butter). My cover-up fit me yesterday… Why not today? And it dawned on me:

Oh Shit. I am too OLD for this 20-something cuteness.

Dammit.

I looked around me at the beach today. All the flat little tummies of sun bathing beauties. I pulled on my hat a little snugger. I took stock. Strong legs? Check. Awesome rack? Check. Strong hands albeit always in need if a manicure? Yep. Great hair? Yep. Plump tummy? Slightly-loose thighs? Two c-section scars? Check. Check. Check. I made a mental note to go to the gym more and then realistically turned my thoughts towards what to make for Dinner.  Because… I am no longer that taut little unburdened Twinkie, I realized with warmth. I’m a Mom. And a Cook. A Painter. A Wife. Someone who loves vintage-inspired frocks now and Panama Hats. Bigger jewelry and strong lipsticks. Because dammit, I’m about to be 37.  I am HAPPY. And that’s a hell of a lot better than being Me at 27.

So I am leaving my little Twinkie beach cover-up here in Hawaii when we leave. Come to think of it… It might be the last thing I still wore from my 20s.

Moving on. Xo

 

Pursuing the Local Dish.

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Locally caught wild Ahi Tuna Sandwich at Local Dish in Hawi Town, Hawaii

Korean Chicken at CSC Cafe

Korean Chicken at CSC Cafe

I know this may come as kind of a shock, dear Foodies, but my husband and I like to eat. Like really love to eat. Try new recipes at home. Grow new kinds of vegetables. And when we can, select and savor new restaurants…and visit beloved old ones. But with two kids 4 yrs of age and under? We’ve not had much opportunity for the latter. Luckily my Mom popped over this week to play with us and help us eat out with the wee ones in tow.

When traveling, Dean and I scout for gatherings of local cars around off-the-path cafes, diners, and restaurants. Dean is SO good at it. Since so much of Yelp and restaurant reviews can be sadly purchased nowadays (just like wine reviews) Locals don’t lie. And where locals spend their money? That’s where I want to eat.  Not just because the food more likely tastes good but in our experiences prices are lower, our money goes straight into local pockets, and? As parents, eating as close to the source is a valuable lesson to keep teaching our Littles.

First up today? CSC Cafe down the road. You might miss it buried behind the middle school as you blaze down the road at a blistering 30 mph but the telling gaggle of dusty trucks caught our attention. We parked to the rather curious, but not unfriendly stares, from local men drinking coffee (or beer) in front of a large patio TV. An odd contrast considering the Cafe is painted a girly Pepto Pink.  Inside the bowed, creaking screen doors stood a lovely Mama named Jamie. She took our nutty order as you can order lunch even at 9 in the morning — which was good because I really wanted something Asian. Not eggs. Kids had me up too early and even though I should want eggs, my belly was growling LUNCH.  Jamie suggested the Korean Chicken. The Owner’s family recipe and a “locals favorite.” Sold. I only wish I’d ordered a full plate instead of a “mini”. Three wings was not enough.  I wanted SIX pieces of island bird perfectly fried, elegantly seasoned with sesame, hints of fresh ginger and muted garlic. Fried up decadently in what I am sure to be some kind of lard rendered from magical baby unicorns.

We didn’t intend to really eat a lunch later and thought we’d only browse galleries BUT after parking, our collective noses inhaled lovely aromas wafting from cafe Local Dish here in Hawi. More of an upscale cafe featuring local produce, salads, wild fish and meat and wine and beer, Local Dish is the brainchild of Matt VanderNoot, an accomplished restauranteur from the mainland who cut ties with his hectic yet acclaimed foodie life in Sun Valley and Bay Area for the glacial pace of bohemian, food-centric Hawi.  For the very same reasons which we vacation here every year. Only we didn’t know all of this yet. We only knew baby Coltrane erupted into a colloidal meltdown JUST as we sat down.  Thankfully, to all patrons, Dean took our little son home and let Anni, Mom and I stay to lunch in iced-tea peace. The nice, tall man who took our order was kind enough during the row and we chatted away to learn he was the owner. Open since August, tourists and locals have flocked to Local Dish to eat his sandwiches, salads, local guacamole, and banana breads. Brightly dressed and lovely, you’ll find Matt behind the cash register or serving. We feasted on Island Chicken Salad tucked into fresh Croissants, garden green salads, wild caught Ahi Tuna Sandwiches with tomato and sprouts, and a slice of Banana Bread with macadamia nuts. Lunch was SO great, we actually stayed on to order a glass of Grenache Blanc each (a luscious Rhône varietal) AND to try Matt’s Banh Mi signature sandwich: pulled pork (slow roasted 20 hours), jerk chicken, and island sauce. Yum yum yum.

Today was a GREAT day for food! Now to find room for dinner… It’s Date Night! Luckily my dress is rather roomy.

The Best Hot Dog. Ever.

Spicy Island Dog from Gill's Lanai on the Big Island

Spicy Island Dog from Gill’s Lanai on the Big Island

Just keep circling! They'll be open at some point! :)

Just keep circling! They’ll be open at some point! :)

Bringing the "A" Game: Gill, Alexis, and Natasha.

Bringing the “A” Game: Gill, Alexis, and Natasha.

I dream ALL year about Gill’s Spicy Island Dog. The most glorious of treats.  A Hot Dog so divine that you just know your ass is expanding with every bite. And what’s more? You don’t care. In fact, you’re coming back for seconds.

A cooked-to-perfection Louisiana Hot Link topped by tropical fruit relish, Lillikoi mustard, and chopped tangy onions. All snugly tucked into the freshest of fresh sweet Hawaiian bread rolls. I add more heat, mind you, with Hawaiian Hot Sauce from the Condiments Safe.

I shouldn’t be surprised Gill knows dogs. He hails from Ventura County in Southern California. A local now in North Kohala, “Gill’s Lanai” is a must-stop for foodies looking for this perfect Hot Dog or some epic fish tacos (Dean’s favorite) served up with made-to-order tortilla chips and salsa.  Amazingly enough, for a restaurant as highly rated, reviewed, and even hailed in the pages of Vogue magazine, Gill’s still feels like a sleepy surfer spot.

If you’re not headed to Hawaii any time soon you can friend Gill’s Lanai on Facebook or follow Gill on Instagram @raspujim. I’m doing both.

Something wonderful just happened!

One Giddy Cook!

One Giddy Cook!

Local made by artist Leighton Lam and sold by Elements@elementsjewelryandcrafts.com

Local made by artist Leighton Lam and sold by Elements@elementsjewelryandcrafts.com

Something wonderful just happened. Right now. Like 15 minutes ago. I’m on a one hour break from the kids — who after a great beach morning opted to turn into dervishes. So much so that Dean said “go to town! Go! Go shopping. Read something!”  Well! You didn’t have to tell this Mama twice. And off I went. First, to my favorite art and local jewelry shop called Elements where I found my annual necklace.

And second? To Bamboo for an iced tea (read “mommy code” for Mai Tai) and catch up on some back issues of Archaeology.

Behind me, this lovely couple was trying to figure out her new iPad camera so they could take a selfie. I volunteered to take the picture for them.  And a few minutes later, she taps me on the shoulder and says “Excuse me? Are you Abi?”  She reads my blog! In CANADA! I was stunned. I STILL am! I mean, I’ve been hearing good things from new corners of the globe about the recipes and meeting people at our Winery who know me/us already thanks to Social Media and the consuming love of Taste we foodies share. But I’ve yet to meet someone out of the blue who knew me by my recipes and writing. Especially since day-to-day you’ll find me on Facebook and Instagram. A blog post takes time and careful thought, recipe testing.

But here she was! My first “fan!” She was glad to meet me and I her.  In a hippie bar no less — far from our respective stoves. I hope she’s reading this and knows how glad I am for her. This Mama is one thrilled Cook today, let me tell you!

Boudoir Birds

"Boudoir Birds circa 1952" 16x20" oil

“Boudoir Birds circa 1952″ 16×20″ oil

As they are. Since 1952.

As they are. Since 1952.

I’m stuck in Southwest-SFO Hell. Trying to make it to Santa Barbara for my part in tonight’s fun Opening for the 100 Grand Show at Sullivan Goss Gallery. I am all set. Cute dress, new lipstick… If only we could take off! Trying to not go nuts. So instead, focusing on what to paint next for my Solo Show this coming June at Easton Gallery in Montecito… Thumbing through my iPhone archives brought some interesting thoughts to mind. Namely, what art seems to sell and what does not.

Now I work very, very hard on each piece. Working for weeks often before dawn. Trying to catch the light and the feeling of each scene and subject. And I am deeply thankful that after 20 years of earnest painting, my art supports itself. I try never to think of a new painting as “I hope this will sell.”  I think selfishly that dilutes whatever creative essence and creative flows within me as I surrender to canvas, brushwork, shading and colors. I seriously LOVE Color.  And Light. Beauty. Atmosphere. But occasionally I stumble upon a scene that I know will likely never sell.  And for the very life of me, I have to paint it anyway.  Feeling so moved by that moment, whatever moment “that” is, I know it will become a piece of my art.

Such a moment happened in October when I was lucky enough to meet Ralph Benson, Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust when he came in to my Art Trails Open Studios. He invited me to tour Glen Oaks, a previously unknown spot to me 100%  old California. In fact, the Civil War era home has remained largely untouched since 1952 when the last owner deeded the property to our beloved Land Trust.  I remain honored for that private step back into time. And I vowed to paint Glen Oaks in all of her glory — and have since.

But one facet of this old place, was the old woman’s bath and Boudoir. Still intact. Hairbrush still on her table. Bath salts on the tub ledge. That touched me deeply. Here, this woman is long dead yet her most intimate beauty ephemera remains in place. From 1952.  I had to paint her aging bath bottles with a piece of decorative Mexican sculpture caked in dust. Knowing full well the finished painting might never find a home. And that I bloody well don’t care. Such moments are rarely given and when given to an artist? We must act and act well.

 

Peasant Food & Red Wine Braised Short Ribs

CONFESSION.  I am cheating.  I am no longer faithful to recipes.  I alter, tweak, change, and these days, stuff in whatever vegetable that appears to be wilting in the confines of my vegetable drawers…much like how countless generations of people before me cooked.  And it dawned on me that this is a good subject for a short ode to Peasant Food.  Something beyond the quick recipes and foodie fun we’ve been having every day on Facebook and Instagram.

Original recipe clipped from the Chronicle (I believe).

Original recipe clipped from the Chronicle (I believe).

Rich in history and only recently rich in popularity (think 1960s forward), peasant dishes have achieved a “classical standing” first thanks to high-end restaurants and subsequently foodie leaders bringing these dishes back to our individual hearths.  Cooks, leaders, and writers like Julia Child, Chuck Williams, Ruth Reichl, Thomas Keller, Emeril, Lydia Bastianich, have popularized old-world dishes into contemporary favorites.  Dishes such as Cassoulet, Beef Bourguignon, Gumbo, Stir Frys, Minestrone, Pot Pies, hell, even the scrambles being served up creatively at Food Trucks across this great country.  These foods are a return to basics, to heart warming meals that I think subconsciously call to us from our culinary heritages regardless of ethnicity.  For these meals largely languished behind popular trends since mass marketing began to dominate our plates and our palates in the early 1900s.  Only committed foodies, cooks, and frankly, poorer communities kept these foods alive…often by necessity. And thank God they did.  This whole “food movement” and return to “eating clean” as we rabidly do here at Annadel, is really just a return to simpler times, a return to basics.  And peasant food — meals like the elementary “Stone Soup” cobbled together from bits of this and parts of that represent most of our culinary histories. And this red wine based recipe is part of that heritage and adapts well to whatever extra bits of this or that you have in your fridge.

When honing something for you food lovers, I keep a small notepad and pen close at hand for notes and thoughts.

When honing something for you food lovers, I keep a small notepad and pen close at hand for notes and thoughts.  *Note my temporary stove…

RED WINE BEEF SHORT RIBS

Ingredients:

  • 5-7 Bone In Beef Short Ribs (I leave them intact as the meat falls off the bone anyway).
  • 4-5 tblspn Olive Oil
  • 4 slices of bacon cut into 1-2″ slices
  • 2 yellow onions chopped
  • 3 full heads of garlic somewhat trimmed of skin/tips and cut into halves
  • 4-5 carrots cleaned and coarse chopped
  • 5-6 celery stalks cleaned and chopped (ends trimmed too)
  • Any other wilting green, herbaceous vegetable in the western Europe vein…. For this evening’s version I added one leek and 4 old-ish tomatoes from the garden chopped up.
  • 2 tblspns all-purpose flour (optional)
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3-5 cups dry red wine ***This is an EXCELLENT way to use up left over wine from even months past.
  • 2 handfuls Italian parsley
  • 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tblspn dried oregano
  • 1-2 tblspns fresh rosemary chopped (sticks removed)
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 3-4 cups low sodium beef broth
  • kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper

You will need a good sized oven-proof pot/lid or best, a Dutch Oven from Staub (my favorite) or Le Creuset.  Staub is sold at Sur La Table.

Preheat oven to 350’F.  DRY MEAT with a paper towel and salt/pepper each side.  Heat oil in the pot/dutch oven over medium+ heat and brown meat working in batches.  Transfer to a clean plate.

Browning the beef ribs.

Browning the beef ribs.

Add more oil if the well seems dry. Sautee bacon in the beef fat/oil until brown. Remove to beef plate.

Yay.

Yay.

ADD vegetables (not garlic) to the Bacon fat and sauté until the onion wilts.  Stir often!

Do your chopping prep work early.

Do your chopping prep work early.

Add in tomato paste and flour (if using).  BROWN the tomato paste stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.  Mixture will turn a deep red and then almost a “brick” color.  Stir in the wine and mix well.  Bring to a rapid simmer and reduce heat to medium-low.

Add the beef ribs and spoon the mixture up onto itself so its mixed up well and evenly distributed as a lovely jumble of goodness.  Pour in however much beef stock is needed to bring the liquid levels up to the top of the beef-vegetable mixture.  Bring back to a simmer and turn off heat.  Stir in the garlic and all herbs.

Mix in the bay leaves and garlic heads.  Plunge them into the mix evenly spaced. Cover and cook in the oven for 2.5 hours at 350’F.

Ready to go into the Oven ** Before I stirred in the herbs and garlic.

Ready to go into the Oven ** Before I stirred in the herbs and garlic.

Bring out.  Season with salt and cracked pepper.  Meat should be falling off the bone and your house smells AMAZING.  You could serve in shallow bowls over potatoes or with toasted country-style breads.  But we use a slotted spoon and transfer all the solids (meat, veggies, garlic heaven) to a pretty serving plate and garnish with more fresh chopped parsley.  Skipping the carbs.

Pair with a medium bodied dry red wine like our Annadel 2010 Meritage Estate Blend!

Note: I love more red wine than beef stock.

Why You Haven’t Heard from Me…

I am sorry for Radio silence from me here in this old kitchen.  Life has been so nuts and it’s odd that on the first day of Harvest 2014 (Merlot blocks came IN today!!) and on this very same day I pulled on my big girl panties and faced my fears: I got my Epidural on the very lower left side of my Spine, my L5 disc. And today of all nutty days…including puking all too close to a lovely (and totally cute Doctor) coming out from anesthesia that I feel compelled to write to you all lovely, lovely Foodie Friends.

First Harvest — Merlot SO divine, I wear it around my neck as pendant every single day, thanks to sculptress and artist friend MIchelle Hoting (Michellehoting.com )

Scultpress friend Michelle Hoting has created custom made pendents out of pure chunks of Silver for us here at Annadel from our Cabernet and Merlot leaves.  (Sold Out but visit here in October during Art Trails http://www.sonomacounty.com/sonoma-events/artrails-open-studios ) or at michellehoting.com

Scultpress friend Michelle Hoting has created custom made pendents out of pure chunks of Silver for us here at Annadel from our Cabernet and Merlot leaves. (Sold Out but visit her in October for Art Trails http://www.sonomacounty.com/sonoma-events/artrails-open-studios ) or at michellehoting.com

Anni and baby Trane helped IMMENSELY today “Bringing In The Fruit”.

Little People + Great Big Helpers at Harvest here at Annadel

Little People + Great Big Helpers at Harvest here at Annadel

Annadel Estate Merlot picked at day-break.

Annadel Estate Merlot picked at day-break.  Hand picked, hand sorted and headed for crush at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood where we custom make our wine!

Truth is, we’ve been too busy to write something even remotely worth reading.  Summer ended and Anni started Preschool at Moldovan Academy.  Dean is racing the Cannonball 2014 right NOW from Daytona to Tacoma, WA on his 1923 Harley with dear friends on Team Vino.  The Open Road is his very first love and beyond good for his Soul! Yes, I hear you: “a month without your husband with two kids under 4 and a winery to run…what?what? what? Are you NUTS?” The answer is YES, totally.  But trust me, the Cannonball is a gloriously rare adventure of the finest vintage bikes in the world.  If you can’t hand-weld a metal part over a traffic cone? You can’t be there. Besides, I’m fierce too.  In my Mom, yoga pants, paint brushes turned apron and kitchen spoon sort of way.

Dean is racing in the Cross Country Cannonball again this year! GO TEAM VINO! From Daytona to Tacoma for the most of September on his 1923  Harley and totally fun period garb made for him in North Beach, SF.

Dean racing in the Cross Country Cannonball again this year! GO TEAM VINO! From Daytona to Tacoma for the most of September on his 1923 Harley and totally fun period garb made for him in North Beach, SF.

Here I sit. ‘Holding down the Fort”– Making wine, running tours, weddings, and crazy kids.  Speaking of, Coltrane turned 1&1/2 officially yesterday! Both of our babes are great.  But since August, my back got worse and I scheduled today’s procedure.  Weathered the American Canyon earthquake aftershocks. Rehung the Art Gallery in the Barn including amazing art by Dennis Ziemienski (Ziemienski.com ).  We DID manage to take our first “kids free” vacation — first one in four years! Yay us! And I’ve been trying to keep up with our garden and cooking as much as my body allows…and discovering that every year that we unplug more. I become more free and open to Universe and all of her crazy colors like some giant pseudo-Hippie now.  I do promise to forever remember the under-wire and Chanel lipgloss though.  Have no fear.

I LOVE Table Linens.  Like LOVE.  Found this beautiful Indian pattern stitched from saris at the Alamdea Antique Market with dearest friend Sondra Bernstein of beloved Girl & the Fig.

I LOVE Table Linens. Like LOVE. Found this beautiful Indian pattern stitched from saris at the Alamdea Antique Market with dearest friend Sondra Bernstein of beloved Girl & the Fig.

RECIPES: Lots of Tomato Crack (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=99 ), Garden Green Pesto “Lasagna” (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=508 ), and Easy Pea Soup (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=434 ) around here.  Last night, I thawed some frozen pancetta and sauteed it with the aromatics (onion, shallot, garlic) in EVOO then crap white wine (perfect for cooking) for heart warming “umpf” to the pea and wilted kale lettuce soup. Paired it with our 2008 Estate Blend (the earthquake revealed we had a whole palate more!) as well as Spinach and Feta Cheese Puffs.  Hell, I needed some butter and carbs last night to face the big needle this morning. If you haven’t made these yet? Here’s the link. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/spinach-puffs

Pea/wilting Greens Soup made with chopped pancetta this time and served with those crazy amazing Spinach Puffs.

Pea/wilting Greens Soup made with chopped pancetta this time and served with those crazy amazing Spinach Puffs.

But those of you following Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook and on Instagram (@abisfarmhousekitchen) see me every day.  I hate to tell you, the domain here dumped 95% of my subscriber emails.  So if you’ve stopped receiving any recipes and essays from me ALL Summer? That is why.  I urge you to either save this Food Blog to your Bookmarks or better yet, Follow me on Facebook and Instagram? Then we won’t lose touch!  I’m the one with Kermit the Frog cracking up over Sandwiches…

Me on Instagram! Or follow Abi's Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook -- I'm doing lots of pictures and easier recipes than a full blog warrants.

Me on Instagram! Or follow Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook — I’m doing lots of pictures and easier recipes than a full blog warrants.

My Ode to Joy & Beauty

Cooking.  With Sparkle.

Cooking. With Sparkle.

“Sometimes the things that mean the most to us, are the hardest to write about,” said friend Vallerie last week as she helped me pry my kids from a soapy bathtub.  I’d been lamenting how to properly do justice to an exquisite ring I’ve recently acquired from Ashley Morgan Designs.  It’s a Figure 8 in pure gold with small, perfectly glimmering diamonds wrapped into a full circle.  It joined ranks with the most special gifts from my husband marking our love for each other and our children.  And I’ve been having trouble finding the right words.

Chopping cilantro with glimmers of beauty.

It’s a “lifetime piece” for me, delicate but strong.  Continuous in harmony yet each stone blazing.  A forever ring meant to subtly symbolize our two gorgeous children (Anni was born in August and Coltrane on March 8) and also for my dad Richard who built my Mom a white circle arbor out of wood (with help from my brother Casey) before he died from cancer in 2003.

My 8's helping me paint last week.

My 8’s helping me paint last week.

Mom's circle arbor in progress, Temecula, CA.

Mom’s circle arbor in progress, ca 2003.

I love this ring.  This piece of art… Make no mistake.  Jewelry is ART. Or with significant investment, it should be.  And like my art collection (all Living California artists) what I choose to wear and collect on my person is every single bit as meaningful as what I surround my family with on our walls.  What they (& I) visibly see and take in as Beauty each day is, I believe, as nutritious to all souls — regardless of age — as picking dinner from the garden most nights.

Roasted eggplant, heirloom tomato, and spinach/walnut pesto "Caprese" with Oliver's mozzarella.  Garden fresh!

Cooking with Sparkle! Roasted eggplant, heirloom tomato, and spinach/walnut pesto “Caprese” with Oliver’s mozzarella. Garden fresh!

Ashley is a gifted artist.  A young designer bucking the trend.  And a fellow Mom who by all accounts, is a down-to-earth-style-maven with a good head on her shoulders and an infectious laugh.  Based in San Francisco, she has opted to craft a line (all by hand, each piece individually) which speaks to the poetic and natural world around us…and I think to the female strength and beauty within each of us.  I am completely enamored with much of her design and think the world is about to revere her art as much as I do.

A necklace in process of creation...

A necklace in process of creation…

Once ordered, this little ring of mine took four weeks to complete.  But that’s her style.  One that you will surely see this coming Fall with Nieman Marcus (photo shoot shots below).  Ashley Morgan Designs is about to properly take flight and its been unique appreciating her work on the ground floor.

Ashley Morgan Designs shot for Nieman Marcus just this past week.  A Sneak Peak here:

Ashley Morgan Designs shot for Nieman Marcus just this past week. A Sneak Peak here:

Ashley’s art strikes me as catching the most ephemeral light in Life.  What we remember in our deepest minds eye… from reflections on water in our childhood, how green leaves blaze emerald overhead in a breezy tree canopy, or those stolen moments of romance.  Which is a nutty thing to say considering I fell in love with her work at a Funeral in Napa some years back.  A very sad, untimely funeral.  Another mournful guest was seated across from me at the reception — sad in face but her physical person was lit up with the internally elegant colors of our natural surroundings here in Northern California.  Not too flashy, not too bright. But lovely.  Lyrical. GLOWING.  And naturally perfect.  I asked (discreetly) who was the artist she was wearing and she said Ashley Morgan Designs.  I began following her work with great interest.

As perfect as a rose.  Tourmaline set in Gold.

As perfect as a rose. Tourmaline set in Gold.

A personal crush called Spring on a String.

A personal crush called Spring on a String.

I love the raw colors of this beautiful sapphire necklace.

I love the raw colors of this beautiful sapphire necklace.

<<<PAUSE>>>  It was here in this written-Ode to Ashley and her inspiring craftsmanship last week that something interesting happened.  I encountered a not-quite-surly but decidedly dubious guest here in our Barn.  “You mean to tell me,” he asked peering at me over spectacles (a total character) “that you celebrate wine and art…and carbs?” he said.  As he smugly sipped our wine.  In our Barn. From our glasses.  He paused waiting for a reply but I must have looked like I had crickets in my ears.  I must have blinked a few times too… but rather, my mind raced back to an old New Yorker essay I read long ago.  About the power of Beauty.  And the dismissal of Beauty in our country’s appreciation of pretty much everything… well, pretty.  Perhaps only in food and wine is Beauty and simple loveliness still upheld rightly.

So I went hunting and found this very essay today by Peter Schjeldahl in a dusty corner of my studio.  He talks about art theory but the values in the words hold true.  He writes, “Beauty harmonizes consciousness from top to bottom.  It is as organically vital as digestion.  Beauty is, or ought to be, no big deal, though the lack of it is.  Without regular events of beauty, we live estranged from existence, including our own.”

“Beauty makes the case for the sacredness of something — winning the case suddenly and irrationally.  It is always too late to argue with Beauty,” Schjeldahl continues.

TRUTH.  But did I have such eleoquence in my head when faced with this Grump? No.  Am I the person who comes up with an answer five days later at 4:00 in the morning? Yes.

And that is what I should have said? YES.  As simple as that.  YES, I celebrate wine.  YES, Art… AND (gasp!) CARBS (God forbid people actually enjoy eating a diverse diet).  YES, I am an artist.  YES, I am a cook.  YES, I am Mama raising her babes to embrace the revelry and joy found in the every day.  In the garden, on the radio, in the Barn.  To pause, even if momentarily, to appreciate that fleeting moment of prettiness tucked into our day-to-day tasks.  Having favorite art in your bathroom.  That hint of lace on your bra no one knows about as you shop for milk with a baby who just filled his pants.  Seeing that flash of lovely light on your hand when opening the car door or watering the garden or opening the Barn….is very… Happy.  And lovely.

Enjoy your best wines on Tuesday and wear your best pieces every day.  Beauty in even the simplest of moments.

Enjoy your best wines on Tuesday and wear your best pieces every day. Beauty in even the simplest of moments.

Because Beauty is vital.  Beauty is important.  That’s why I write this thank you note here to Ashley Morgan and her team because jewelry can be art.  Can be that token to elevate your mundane tasks in the every day by infusing your hand or your person with a moment of visual, visceral beauty.  Because you can’t argue with Beauty.

Time to go water the Garden…

In my Farmhouse Kitchen gardens, Annadel Estate Winery.

In my Farmhouse Kitchen gardens, Annadel Estate Winery.

 

Ashley Morgan Designs can be found at ashleymorgandesigns.com and in San Francisco, California at 415-205-6228 or at info@ashleymorgandesigns.com