Morning Echoes.

imageCOLD Weather, it seems, cloaks so much of our Country in wet, icy mists, snow, and plump downpours. Here in Sonoma, windy rains woke me early.  Streaming water down windows somehow still aglow by an almost-full moon.  Our vineyards (in barren-winter garb) presenting rippled puddles of blue rain water. And little else. While rose fields — soon to be replanted as Pinot Noir — looked on silently.

On this Farm, sometimes the loudest, most unconscious thoughts happen when there is no noise at all.  Waking your soul, and heart, but not your mind. When you only got up intending to pee.

The Mind? Takes Coffee.

I crept downstairs avoiding that creaky step.  Lit my tea pot. Pet our happily fat Lab. Flipped on my pretty lights over the sink and started another load of laundry. (We have little children.) Three scoops of coffee went into the French Press…I lit the fireplace. And chose my grandmother’s mug…

It’s now Noon. Much has happened since easing into this morning’s caffeine ritual.  Breakfast, more laundry, marketing, wrangling wee hellions into proper clothes… But here I sit once more. Slightly ignoring my children.  Sipping hot tea. In the same kitchen chair, out of the same mug, with rains still streaming.  Thinking of family, kitchens, and morning rituals past.  Of my Mima sipping Folgers Crystals instant coffee.  Dad Richard brewing drip.  Mom preferring tea at the time.  My father’s parents cooking thick ham. Dad reheating coffee brewed day before to pair with fresh baked pastry…  All with eggs on the horizon.

And all gone now.  “Into the Sunset” as we explain to the kids…

How tender and most intimate these early kitchen rituals.  How they linger. Surprising we the Living even from the lull of raindrops and starkly rich vineyards… An agrarian Life that only Mom got to see.  That only Mom got to become a “LaLa” and make new memories for my children here in this most bucolic of Wine Country.  For now, Anni with her eggs and Coltrane with his toast.image

… And I’m sure in time, Coffee.

 

Wine: Think Outside the Box.

imageI’ve been invited to be an Editor for the FeedFeed — an interwoven website linking cooks cooking away in our kitchens with recipes from around the globe. I am thrilled. It’s a regular site I use when cooking (like Epicurious). And a one-stop place of inspiration. I’ll be introducing and editing posts with my ‘straight talk’ about wine, pairings, cooking with wine… Reader friends, you already know how candid I am about Wine.  How I think of Wine as people, as body types.  Loathing pretensions enshrouding this most democratic of beverages.  That whores have been drinking wine for as long as Queens.  If not longer.

Minestrone on the stove, I sit down to write for the FeedFeed today and wonder if more readers want that shiny verbage used by so many wine labels and sommeliers.  That people are more comfortable with scores and snobbery. That my honesty may be too unfamiliar. Cheap or pricey, Wine represents soil, weather patterns, sweat, and beer.  I feel our callouses and see our face lines knowing a bottle of wine represents YEARS of work.  A full year to grow.  Months to ferment.  24-36 months to barrel-age and even more to bottle age.  Many thousands of dollars just to bottle… And yet, here I am tasked with suggesting wine varietals with gorgeous foods cooked in a single night most ways across this globe of ours. I find this challenge fun and exciting.  But I also feel that it is important to urge us all to reclaim our glasses from the snobbery and falsehoods perpetuated by my industry (just like we’ve done our plates). Shaming that lie that all wine is good for you.  It is NOT.  All wine is NOT created equal (read and how to check.) And as I go about my editing for this very worthy website, I urge us all to drink good wine ($20 USD  and above) and learn about what is in our stemware like we’ve learned to be consciencous about what is in our food and on our plates. To buy local, support farmers, and eat organically whenever possible.

Without formal training in enology, I can only offer my truths and what I’ve learned through my Wolverine boots-clad cellar work, owning a winery, growing grapes, and listening to people much, much smarter than me.  And yet, my former life in politics was all about people. Influencing me even now to still think of Wine in terms of people and body imagery. How our perfect, rare Cabernet Franc is a “curvy ballerina” spinning with breasts and muscular legs in her burgundy hued tutu.  How 100% Cabernet anywhere reminds me of an industrial train conductor — all scrawny brawn and long distance squinting. Buttery Chardonnay brings Julia Child to mind, every single time — all 6’3 of her enjoying that first, life-changing, big butter bite of Sole Muenier.  A crisp Sauvignon Blanc being your athletic, globe trotting best friend — all sunshine and freckles, friendly everywhere. Pinot Noir, the “lipstick” of the group — lush and sensuous. And Zinfandel?  (Red, never white) boasts all the sexy spicing of an erotic belly-dancer.

Proactive, conscientous drinking is a good thing. Taking time and focus before enjoyment. My visions may make sense only to me. And I likely won’t use them often when writing.  But I urge you all to reclaim wine and your individual understanding of wine to make it your own.  If you want to buy anything, I 100% endorse buying Dr. Ann Noble”s WINE AROMA WHEEL.  She has codified every flavor and aroma in all wines into one laminated disc. Teaching your brain and tongue to speak English to each other. (Buy a few and take as house-warming gifts or start a Wine Group to learn new varietals each meeting (taste 5-8 wines each time).  I keep mine tucked away next to my measuring cups and cheese grater for easy access.  Also, Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course is top-notch.

Writing tonight, I wish I had a list of you what you thought for guidance. How do you drink Wine? Pair it? What would like to know? Please tell me. I’d love to know.

Cheers!

Wine Follows Food

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Farmers Market bounty

In the New Year, many of us Foodies make dietary resolutions to lose weight. Some will fail. But today, thanks to non-fad programs, many succeed. Changing lives by branching out to eat cleaner, greener, and leaner. Beginning to exercise and cook at home, bodies (& lives) will change for the better. (I, too, plan to lose the last 11 pounds of baby weight before my baby turns three without giving up my greatest loves: Butter and Wine.)

Those who do succeed, and remain successful in choosing healthy living, may experience a shift in what you like to drink. I’m no dietician but here in Wine Country, I’ve been watching Wine Lists change as Menus shift to keep up with the latest diet trends. From Atkins and Paleo now to Vegan and Gluten Free. And as people (including myself) remain clean eaters — choosing leaner and greener plates — my suspicion is that our taste buds (& palates) are regenerating (every 5-7 weeks) to delight in cleaner, lighter flavors. And in turn, ordering and buying wines that better pair with the lighter foods we eat.

Wine follows Food.  As a nerdy Eater and Winemaker, I’ve found this gradual but consistent shift fascinating! Watching what wines the big and little wineries now produce to keep pace with dietary fads (for lack of a better word). Think about it–  All those buttery Chardonnays and big, giant Cabs that were so 90s went really well with the all-pervasive Cesar salads, shrimp cocktails, creamed chicken or peppercorn steak menu items. Then it was the French fusion/ salmon era of the 2000s with the explosion of Pinot and Sauvignon Blancs on the wine scene. Today, don’t you see more kale, legumes, Asian influences, duck, salads, salmon (still), and seafoods? Pairing up beautifully with nationally relative newcomers like Rosés, Pinot Grigios, Syrahs, and red blends. The leaner the fare, the lighter the body of wines (in my theory at least). Because Wine follows food.

Fish Bake of salmon, shrimp, tomatoes, garlic, pinch red pepper flakes, halved tomatoes, and asparagus. All rubbed down with EVOO and salt and roasted at high heat thanks to Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes.

Fish Bake of salmon, shrimp, tomatoes, garlic, pinch red pepper flakes, halved tomatoes, lemon chunks, and asparagus. All rubbed down with EVOO and salt and roasted at high heat thanks to Jamie Oliver. And a giant Cab would overwhelm such delicate flavors in the fish. Choosing a crisp (non grassy) Sauv Blanc or a Rosé would be much better.

This brings us full circle to talk about Pairings. I hear a lot of talk about “how to pair wine with food.” And it really can be a science. But being a busy mom who has dirt under her nails from the garden and vineyard much of the year? I don’t have time to focus on what’s “perfect.” To me, the “perfect pairing” is what tastes good to you. It drives me NUTS when restaurants or top-down articles creep in with that snooty tone of “I know better than you”. When confronted with poncyness repeat after me: Whores have been drinking wine far longer than Queens. (According to the archaeological record at least.)

That said, a basic rule of thumb is this: Start with Color — The deeper the colors, the heavier the flavors will be. And vice versa. Lighter colors like the gold in a white fish or squash pasta go nicely with a sun-kiss hued wine like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. Sharper flavors like grassy wines (Australian and warmer climate Sauv Blancs go nicely with Asian flavors. For the Reds in tomato dishes or pink meats? Branch into lighter colored reds like Pinots, dry Rosés, and Merlot based blends. Red meats and deep red vegetables? Try your Cabernets, blends and Zinfandels. Eggs go fabulously with light, crisp wines. While the greens of vegetables and salads are up to you. Keep in mind, I am no professional sommelier who could explain the complexities of pairings much better but this is how I explain it in “plain speak” to guests and to newcomers to this beautiful world of wine.

This gorgeous Burrata and garden tomato plate by friend Anne Ziemienski would go beautifully with any crisp, dry White or Rosé wine. And a lighter red like Merlot or Pinot too. Wine choices are so versatile -- there is no one right answer.

This gorgeous Burrata and garden tomato plate by friend Anne Ziemienski would go beautifully with any crisp, dry White or Rosé wine. And a lighter red like Merlot or Pinot too. Wine choices are so versatile — There is no one right answer.

Happy eating! And drinking. Cheers!

my Jelly Jar Trick: Not All Wine is Created Equal.

OKAY.  I admit it.  For years back in Los Angeles, I mostly sipped sh*t wine. Thinking it was good wine. And good for me. At $5-12 per bottle, inexpensive wine fit my wallet but still made me feel like I was “healthy.” A glass or two of red wine a day is supposed to be good for you, right?

…Right?

Wrong. Not all wine is created equal. And labels can be of little help. So what works? For we non-sommelier wine-drinkers out there? My Jelly Jar Test.

We make wine how we cook: from scratch, clean, healthy, and delicious.

We make wine how we cook: from scratch, clean, healthy, and delicious. Clearing tanks here with Winemaker extraordinaire Cecilia Valdivia at Deerfield Ranch Winery where we Custom Crush.

When I moved north to Sonoma in 2007, jumping from NASA to learn winemaking as  “Cellar Rat” for a Winemaster, I learned how toxic and fattening my cheap wines were. If you’re drinking wine that is $15 or less per bottle like I was — especially a red — I don’t care how delicious it “tastes,” I’ll wager you are drinking a synthetic concoction of chemical aromas, sugars, food dye, (maybe) some grape concentrate all wrapped up in arsenic and ammonia based sludge before being doused with high levels of sulfites to protect said concoction during it’s unknown lifespan after leaving the winery.

SONOMA means "Valley of the Moon" in Pama.

SONOMA means “Valley of the Moon” in Poma and is home to many boutique winemakers like us hand crafting quality wines you may not find in your home state, but which you can buy direct through Wine Clubs.

For if you think about every bottle of wine in every household, restaurant, bar, and store in every city in every State of this great Nation, you can see that wine has largely become a “fast food” commodity. For Cheap wine is designed to be “cheap.”  From Day One. Before those grapes are picked by combine and extended with additives in tanks stories tall. Now, giant labels, engorged Wineries, and big-box teams are not staffed by bad people. Far from it. Just working for very large corporations more mindful of the bottom line. Selling you something tasty, cheap, seems like a win-win for most people. But if you want to know what’s in your glass? Try my test at home.

My Jelly Jar Trick: Truth Shall Set You Free!

My Jelly Jar Trick: Truth Shall Set You Free!

Directions: Open a bottle. Pour yourself a glass and then another into a Jelly Jar or juice glass. A Mason Jar is my choice. Nothing fancy, you want to encourage wine contact with as much surface air as possible.  Cover the Jar with a paper napkin or paper towel — something so the liquid breathes.  Go enjoy your night. And come back tomorrow –12 or 24 hours later. Or more. AND TASTE IT.

What do you taste? What do you see? or Smell? Does it taste like the lushness of grapes (or some % thereof) you enjoyed last night? If so, then you’ve been enjoying Real Wine or a somewhat decently Vitis Vinifera based beverage.  For wines made from actual grapes?  Taste like the vineyards from which they are sourced. Grapes taste like Grapes. From vine to tank, from barrel to bottle, in your Glass, cool from the wine fridge or warmed to ambient temperatures — it doesn’t matter.  Wines grown conscientiously, made by hand, in volumes meant for regional consumption, minimal destinations like bistros and wine bars or direct to consumer (via Wine Clubs) will likely pass the Jelly Jar Test.

Real Wine takes Leg-Work. And Sweat Equity. Farm Manager Chicho bringing in the Grapes this past Fall.

Real Wine takes Leg-Work. And Sweat Equity. Farm Manager Chicho bringing in the Grapes this past Fall.

But what if you taste something bitter? Smell nothing like the drink you enjoyed last night? What if you see the food coloring begin to separate below a meniscus? “LIke the bottle has been open too long?” What you’ve discovered at this chronological point is Acid. Red or white tinted acid remains from the “wine’s” prolonged exposure to oxygen.  Barring any winemaking malfunctions, bad timing on barrel lifespans, corkage (TCA contamination), residual dish soap (or toothpaste), or heat/cold spoilage… What we’ve got there in your jar is a multi-billion dollar industry product sold as “Healthy” to the millions of good people cooking, eating, and sipping sincerely across America.  A tasty, inexpensive product fabricated for domestic consumption with “food grade” chemicals simulating mouth feel, “finish,” oak dust to fake barrel aging, etc… Down to using steel drums of sub-clone concentrate of Pinot 667 or Cabernet clone 37 for example. The cheaper the bottle? The more chemicals, food dyes, arsenic and amonia based sludge you’re consuming. Nightly. (Think McDonald’s pink slime burger additives. Seriously. And don’t even get me started on wines like Yellow Tail.) Because just like when fast food meals cool and taste disgusting? The same thing is happening in your stemware. Cheap wine warms /oxygenates to reveal it’s true self.

Grown Well. Our Estate Grown Merlot. Vintage 2015.

Grown Well. Our Estate Grown Merlot. Vintage 2015.

Let’s Talk Turkey: PRICE

In my experience bottles costing more than $22-25 for a white and $28-30 for a red have higher chances of being cleaner and longer-lasting. Over the years, I’ve done this little test on wines from $5-$100 per bottle. Keeping track of which made my neck itch (oak dust added to fake “oaky” flavors), get that 2am Sinus Headache (synthetic/chemical additives), or just plain feel gross and “fat faced” (added sugars and food dyes.) But I’ve been surprised — a lovely $19 red made by a huge producer and sold in Hawaii or that $75 bottle of famous Chardonnay that gives me a migraine each time, regardless of vintage. My rule of thumb is if you figure a wine — regardless of price — can be found in at least 30 states (or even five) in large amounts in most restaurants? YEP, these wines will likely fail your Jelly Jar Test.

Price is still a decent initial indicator of quality. Simply because Real wine is more expensive because it costs that much to make.

Counting Barrels.

Counting Barrels.

When your wine is grown nicely (like ours) made by hand (like ours), aged in barrels for years (like ours), and at least 80% grapes (let alone our 100% grape based wines), the price tag goes up. Because it costs us that much more to produce real, old-school wines. For example, if Chardonnay costs $3950 to purchase one tonne (equaling two barrels and approx 50 cases of wine) — that bottle of Chardonnay needs to start at $39.50 to recover just creation costs. But you’ll have a tasty, HEALTHY Wine with all of the praised body benefits attributed. A drink that lasts for days, even a week. Will not make you fat, give you headaches, wrinkle early, or junk up your body.  In fact, I cook often from leftover bottles opened months with very delicious, non-stale results.

Girl Scouts Honor.

Hand-Made efforts extends even to Cleaning Bins. Dear Friend Ben of Idle Cellars before he was the famous Winemaker Ben Larks.

Hand-Made effort extends even to Cleaning Bins. Dear Friend Ben of Idle Cellars before he was the famous Winemaker Ben Larks.

What You Can Do To Drink Well: Join WINE CLUBS. Buy Direct. Pay less for well made wines shipped straight to your door than you would for crap wines sold in bulk to your states’ distributor. I am also more than happy to connect you with solid wine families and small wineries producing wines in very similar, clean ways to us. (With zero kick backs. Just happy to spread the love!) Besides, buying direct? Is also cheaper for you and helps sustain solidly producing wine folk here in Sonoma.

Our Annadel Estate Winery wines are hand-picked, usually-family style, each and every time!

A Family Affair: Our Annadel Estate Winery wines are hand-picked, family style, each and every time.

What’s Next: There has been some successful movement against fake wines and their producers recently. For the FDA does not require anything but the Surgeon’s General Warning on wine bottle, not the inclusion of additives, sugars, chemicals, and high levels of arsenic. Misleading the American Public to think all wine is created equal. Several Class Action lawsuits are bubbling up, working to inform the American consumer and force bulk, cheap wine labels to list what ingredients are in their crap wines.  The most successful Class Action Lawsuit from TaintedWine.com against big, popular labels such as Sutter Home, “Two Buck Chuck” Charles Shaw, Cupcake, Beringer, and Franzia for unsafe arsenic levels. Or google “arsenic wines” in the WS Journal, NY Times, Washington Post, LA Times, USA Today, BBC, etc. to read more.

Be careful with what your drink, dear readers. As you are careful what you eat.  When curious, please use my Jelly Jar Test. Works every time. I promise. And cheers! Proactive, conscientious drinking is a good thing.

Taking Up the Mantle of Our Mothers

Dawn of a New Chapter. For this old Winery Farm. And for our Family.

Dawn of a New Chapter. For this old Winery Farm. And for our Family.

This Holiday season was a first in many ways… The first Annual Holiday Tea Party. The first passing of family china to me. Complete with my grandmother’s jade dinner ring. The first antique “new” heirloom meant for Anni to inherit — a 19th century Samovar Tea Urn. The first Christmas without my Grandmother.

We haven't held a Tea in 14 years. This first year, my Mom "LaLa " helmed the Tea Urn for the Party.

We haven’t held a Tea in 14 years. This first year, my Mom “LaLa ” helmed the Tea Urn for the Party.  Urn found by Gryphon Estate Silver

“Taking Up the Mantle of our Mothers.”  That passing of torch from one generation to the next.  The gradual shift of mother to elder. Mother to grandmother. Daughter to Mom.  Five years old to Tea Hostess.  Deployed brother a planet away from his newborn and newlywed. Another on the way. Grandmother passing into the Sunset. Grandfather following a season and a half later. Living now in Memory only.

We are the three living generations now taking up the mantle of family traditions. For the “LaLa Branch” of the Palmer clan (buttermilk waffles, Global Travel, the perfect martini, collections in fine Art).  Blending in Dean’s Italian heritage (Sunday dinners, robust family gatherings — usually with an entire animal on a spit somewhere in the yard, Winemaking).  Seasoned with Richard’s Salmon dip and avocados.  Dad’s baked beans and margaritas.  All rooted in love and in family.  Raising two little people to embrace and cherish these traditions, these foods and our wines from past loved ones forward.

Passing Things Forward.

Passing Things Forward.

Reflecting back over the Holidays and in this changing of years, I realize I’ve neglected my root purpose in starting my blog and media presence… albeit what presence one can have as a winemaking mom cooking and painting away in some old farmhouse.  It is all too easy to lose focus in our collective daily fun and shared inspirations, especially on Instagram. To not find time to record the reasons behind my table’s foods and glasses of Wines.  Important perhaps only to me or the family, but important nonetheless.  For raising a family and building a winery (construction starts early 2016!) here in Sonoma is no small task.  Ripe  with fun vignettes and reasons that layer up and up into new traditions.  Things my kids might want to know one day.  Stories I don’t want to forget.

IMG_5760What’s Coming: A Cookbook (of sorts)

  • FOOD — our Family Recipes
  • This gathering and “putting pen to paper” while bringing this old Farm into restored brilliance.
  • My learning to cook once preggers.
  • Our healthy, clean approach to making Wine… The kind that doesn’t give you “fat-face,” headaches, or cancer.
  • Raising of children to grow not just food but also grapes for wine.  And to remember as much of it as possible.

Because Time stands still for no one.  One day? I too will die. Heading up into moonlit stars.  Leaving behind children with memories, recipes, paintings, and wine.  (God willing.) Because what remains behind with living generations should be Love, Traditions, and FOOD.

Pledging to write recipes and memories for our children.

Pledging to write recipes and memories for our children.

This Cookbook will be a history of Recipes from our family plus dishes we’ve adopted and made “ours.”  Complete with Wine. And why they mean so much.  This is the crux of my to-be “Cookbook.”  A collection of plates and glasses I started a few years ago — with a handful of killer recipes coming soon — even though no one but Anni may want it!  Or my mother, for that matter.  But an endeavor I am nonetheless picking back up to properly write and finish this time, and share with you here. CHEERS.

 

NOTES OF THANKS:

** Big Thanks to Asha from Food Fashion Party for helping to push me into this next chapter.

** “Taking Up the Mantle of Our Mothers” phrase written so beautifully by Sarah McGaugh at Bird in the Hand

Yelp Sucks: 2015 Lamest Wine Country Reviews

imageSonoma and Napa Valleys LOVE and thrive on the Tourists flooding our wine regions each year. Bringing their laughter, joy, and that “aah” feeling experienced on vacation.  However, there can be a small percentage every year who do NOT love us back. Who have packed their insecurities into their carry-ons, only to vomit them all over good, hardworking men and women at whose establishments they have come to frequent. Wineries and Restaurants receiving the Brunt. On Yelp.

Ruth Reichle in Garlic & Sapphires (a fabulous read) explains to honestly review a restaurant, one must go more than a handful of times to truly gauge quality. Yelp claims a more “democratic” process to their reviews. And while I have posted a few 1 Star reviews myself when 100% warranted, I usually post 4 and 5 Stars only. Because who am I to negatively judge a place with a 1,2 or 3 Star review? And who are You? After only visiting a place only once.

Now each Summer, we — the business owners in America’s most famous Wine Country and #1 wedding destination — occasionally hear, read, and laugh over the most ludicrous Yelp reviews of ourselves and our Peers. It’s become a source of dark merriment. Because unless you pay Yelp’s extortionist rates (upwards of $365 per month) to “adjust their algorithms” to show Positive Reviews first? 70-80% of your good reviews get buried beneath Negatives. Simply put, small businesses get screwed by Yelp. And there is nothing we can do about it. Except laugh — which I am sharing with you here.

My favorites so far this Summer are as follows:

1.) The guest who blamed a Farm for being “too outdoors” and ruining her Manolos (1 Star)

2.) The patron who slammed a Cafe because it was “filled with too many locals” (1 Star)

3.) A hired officiant who got caught speeding…and then caught drinking. Here. And deemed Annadel “inhospitable to guests.” (1 Star)

4.) The Bride who slammed a venue for not allowing her unlicensed bartender to pour. (1 Star)

5.) The guy who couldn’t order a vodka martini at a Bistro serving only wine & beer (1 Star)

6.) The couple that booked out a B&B for a weekend “for a family trip” and then sprang a full wedding (complete with rentals, catering, the works) on the Inn’s owners come Saturday. They were then charged the standard site fee and expressed outrage. (1 Star to the Inn)

7.) The breakfast diner’s customer who complained the town was “too small.” (2 Stars)

8.) And the girl who blamed a venue for..wait for it!.. The weather. It rained. (1 Star)

Now how to use Yelp correctly as a viewer? Scroll to the bottom of each listing. Look for the thin, light-gray rectangle titled “NOT RECOMMENDED REVIEWS.” Hit that.  You’ll find the truly “democratic” reviews there. All of them. In chronological order.

Cherry Liqueur: Make Now. Love Later.

Basano del Grappa

Basano del Grappa

My husband’s family hails from Bassano del Grappa and neighboring town of Borso in northern Italy. Just outside of Venice in the lower Alps. The Family is still there. It’s just my Dean, his brother Tom and our families in America now. The rest of the extended clan are still cooking beautiful dishes in their ancestral homes, working as Butchers, and making a little wine and grappa in a collective town effort. They keep their low-alcohol, fragrant red wine in a 5 gallon car-boy in a special cupboard beneath the kitchen sink and pour small amounts to enjoy with dinner in beautifully aged, slightly chipped glassware.

Dean’s Nonna (Lucia), mother (Olga), and grandfather (Adolfo) emigrated to America in the aftermath of World War I. They settled first in Queens and then soon to a small town in the desert called Las Vegas, Nevada. Dean’s father (Enzo) spoke mostly Italian and was a great bartender known for his Vodka Martinis. Lucia was a seamstress, flawless cook by all accounts, and Matriarch. The boys parked cars and played football on scholarship. Their family is one of hard work, immigration, sending home what money they could to family still in Borso and Basano, and, of course, Cooking. Dean’s grandfather, Adolfo, was the one who enjoyed the ritual of one shot of Grappa with his espresso every afternoon and as Dean remembers, would make Grappa in their Queens apartment bathtub. Grappa and wine are deep parts of my husband’s blood.

When I first met Dean at the Farmer’s Market some seven years ago, he was in cahoots with some other “Degos” to make Grappa from the dregs of our wine making processes here in Sonoma.  First, they used rehydrated “Pumice” (the dried skins and seeds left over from pressing out every last bit of wine).  Next batch? He and Mike Muscardini used “Must” — the still sopping wet skins and seeds left from barrelling-down our Zinfandel from tank to barrel.  This resulted in a smoother, more lyrical softness to the otherwise harsh mouthfeel in Grappa (I think at least).  All produced (slightly illegally) in a hand-hammered copper still for home consumption. Now, we have just released our first commercially produced Grappa called “Adolfo” ($40) made from the “Must” of our Estate Grown Merlot, the vines right outside my kitchen window.

And it is this Grappa that Dean prefers me to use when making our “Cherry Moonshine” each Summer…  But I cannot purely use Grappa.  No matter how much he loves it. No matter their family history with Grappa.  Because a small glass of Cherry Liqueur in the coming cold Winter nights is my FAVORITE evening splurge.

And because… well… Grappa. Makes. Me. A. Bitch.

CHERRY MOONSHINE: 

First off, this is NOT my recipe. Rather this is Kevin West‘s take on an old classic. His book on canning and jamming the growing season is a Bible of sorts and 100% belongs on your shelf: Saving the Season.

Second, after two years of tweaking — and debate — Dean and I have reached an understanding on what our ingredient equations should be.  BUT we still differ in which liquer to use… I think Bourbon or Vodka and Dean adamantly prefers our Grappa. Nose hair bleeding levels of Grappa, in my modest opinion. So pick your your own style and make this definitely delicious, no-fail recipe. Minimum effort with big flavors. Provided your ingredients are top notch.

Ready to store.

Ready to store.

We compromised this year.  I made five batches (so far) of three large jars each with Vodka, Whiskey, Amaretto, and yes, our Adolfo Grappa for Dean.  Three whole jars just for him.  Some we will drink this Winter and Fall.  Some we will continue to age another year.  I leave it up to you how long you wish to age your Cherry ‘shine. 4, 6, 10 months or longer but I think at least 4-6 months for maximum flavor melding.

Such deliciousness come this Winter.

Such deliciousness come this Winter.

Ingredients:

  • Mason Jars and lids (larger size for home use and make two or three for house-warming gifts during your holidays)
  • Dark Cherries (eyeball your jars and buy accordingly. But at least a pound.)
  • 1-2 bottle high quality 80 proof liquors like Maker’s Mark, Kettle One Vodka, Gentleman’s Jack, or Amaretto.

Directions:

Scald Mason jars and lids in hot water 5 mins.

De-stem cherries and sort, removing any moldy or damaged cherries.

Remove jars and lids from water safely (I use rubber-tipped tongs). Fill jars with cherries. You can snugly pack cherries (Kevin West’s version) or fill jar more loosely (like we do). We’ve found that everyone just loves the flavored liquor with a cherry or two in their glass. So I pack the jars more loosely with a good 1 inch of pure liquor on top.

Fill jars with your choice of alcohol. Place lids on snugly and store 4-6-10+ months in a cool, dark place. I put my Cherry ‘Shine up with my recently made jams that need time to settle.

First cold rainy night this coming Fall? You’ll be so happy you made this!

CHEERS!

I leave the Cherries up with my setting Jams. You want to store in a cool, dark place.

It Doesn’t All Have to be Thomas Keller.

“It doesn’t all have to be Thomas Keller, Abi” Wilson said.  I was arranging broccolini “just so” before snapping a quick shot.  Maybe another.  And THEN serving the hungry legion of family gathered ’round the table.  Seeing me for exactly what I was… BEING LAME. Well, in all fairness…what I still AM.  Which is an oft LAME, Food Nerd.

Here my loved ones are waiting for the vegetable side I had prepared at Mom’s house. To go with their entree that Wilson was holding aloft… “en platter” … if that is such a word.  And here I was selfishly zeroing in the focus of my iPhone camera to catch something “just so.” Mouth agape like some bullfrog.

“It doesn’t all have to be Thomas Kellar, Abi.” J*sus, he was SO right.  I hear those words in my head from time to time still.

Now, months later, today — we have just returned from camping in Bodega Bay.  Smelling like campfires and sweat. On the cool-yet-golden sandy beaches most loved here in Northern California.  Hints of dirt and S’mores still under my nails.  And I am flipping through pictures taken on our happy overnight at Chanslor Ranch… I find about 15 shots of me lining up dinner-prep “just so.” The light had to be perfect.  The steaks marinating happily.  Corn steaming in their husks on the grill.  Bumbelina in foggy sunlight.  And then? The setting Sun broke through and caught my glass of Big Pink Rose “just so!!!!!!” SNAP.  That 15th shot was “IT.” Food Nerd JOY!

Catching the shot...before laughing to myself. And sipping more of our Big Pink Rose of Cab!

Catching the shot…before laughing to myself. And sipping more of our Big Pink Rose of Cab! Jacobsen Salt, by the way? Is most perfect on steaks.

I had caught that fleeting glimpse of visceral beauty that only we Food Dorks who take pictures of food understand.  That snippet of OH MY GOD THIS WILL ALL TASTE SO DELICIOUS.  But still comes through as “hey idiot, bring me the steaks and tongs? The grill is ready!” Or as “stop ARRANGING the Broccoli! We’re starving here!” #broccolini

You have to laugh at yourself.  I mean, I do.  With that sentence running itself through my brain.  At the same time, I’m not really anybody global… It’s just me, cooking in my old Farmhouse.  Here in the darkened vineyards that blanket Sonoma Valley by night and glow verdant green by day.

Hard to believe our old Farmhouse here at Annadel Estate Winery was neglected for so long. A great place to

Hard to believe our old Farmhouse here at Annadel Estate Winery was neglected for so long. A great place to Cook.

But people who use their photos and “food styling” as a source of income or self esteem feel very strongly the opposite.  Food styling is the epitome of their gastronomical passions. How they voice their food art in color… Still, sometimes the dark recesses of my brain think these must be the same people who handmake foam on a weekly basis…. Or would that be whip?  And I (perhaps naively) differentiate them from say, the earnest bloggers (and foodie photo-takers) such as Asha (Food Fashion Party) or Dennis (Eat Delicious) or Naomi (Farm to Table Feasts) — people I think I’d could comfortably share at least a bottle of great Annadel wine and talk of family and s’mores and oh, I don’t know, growing tomatoes maybe.  People I’ve never met in person ever.  But somehow, through film—digital versions thereof — find that shared joy in our daily plates and our sincere passions for shared pursuits. They, and others like them — professional photogs or not — are the people I love to follow and read about.  Love to “cook with” by making their version of a dish.  After all, there is no new story or new food-dish — aside from say, foam, which I loathe and refuse to make ever — in this great big world of ours.

Because somehow, their photos and words written capture FLAVOR. Earnest efforts at FLAVOR.  A “Joie de Vivre” in their own meals.  Nothing haughty or pretentious.  Just happy.  And Delicious.  A pursuit well followed.

S'Mores. An old classic from my childhood tweaked only by swapping in Scharffen Berger 70% dark chocolate for Hersheys.

S’Mores. An old classic from my childhood tweaked only by swapping in Scharffen Berger 70% dark chocolate for Hersheys.

Not to be catty, but I am SO over the glossy shots of the perfect kumquat.  Aren’t you? That superbly styled white bowl on charcoal table.  It’s always a charcoal table.  Filled impeccably with gleaming cherries or kale.  I mean, really? Who’s kitchen looks like that?  Not mine. Does yours?  Maybe after I move six Leggos, a small pile of mail, and my husband’s cowboy hat, and suck in my two c-sections to seem slim-ish in my Apron. But Why?   Aren’t you tired of the overly perfect pictures that go with those yummy recipes? We don’t shop for perfect fruits and vegetables… We shop for Organic foods.  Healthy.  With dimples, and wrinkles, bits of bruising.  Prizing those divots! So why prize food photos showing only the “perfect Thomas Keller effect,” if you will, when really kitchen-cooking is about talking to your kid about homework and sharing a glass of wine with your spouse. About how dinner smells.  How it will TASTE.  On some nice Serving Ware. (Don’t judge, I went to Finishing School…Twice.)

Nothing against the French Laundry and the banner standards they set waaaayyyy up there, but “it doesn’t all have to be Thomas Keller.”  And I, for one, am glad It’s not.

It doesn't all have to be perfect. XO

It doesn’t all have to be perfect. XO

PS — thanks to my Mom for watching my kids while I write this…and start dinner.

#beautymatters

Beauty is everywhere: Wildflowers in the Parking Lot at North Salmon Creek Beach last weekend.

Beauty is everywhere: Wildflowers in the Parking Lot at North Salmon Creek Beach last weekend.

Beauty Matters. It’s a favorite thought these days with Spring riotously awake.  I’ve been happily saying these words on posts and to friends lately because that’s what happens: Seeing something lovely makes you feel Happy. It just does. You can’t argue with Beauty. You’d never win. Beauty is visceral. Intrinsic. Adding wonderful Value to our Lives. I get this from my Mom and grandparents. A Philosophy I hope to give to my children. How “Living Beautifully” is NOT what you’re born with, but what you do with yourself. And I don’t mean some tiny dress size. Beauty is so much more delicious than that. Taking effort, like cooking.

I keep a lipstick or two in the pantry...!

I keep a lipstick or two in the pantry…!

Going to serve beans last night for dinner, I reached for one bowl but chose another. I realized I was picking serving ware like I do my shoes or lipstick to work with my outfit. Matching the Food to the Bowl.

Yummy cheese and fruits from nearby Petaluma look so pretty on a platter from the Pasadena Flea Market purchased at least 10 years ago with my grandmother.

Yummy cheese and fruits from nearby Petaluma look so pretty on a platter from the Pasadena Flea Market purchased at least 10 years ago with my grandmother.  San Marzano Apron by Hedley & Bennett.

Like jewelry, the colors and shape of the platter or bowl enhances the prettiness of the meal I just spent time cooking. I guess I’ve been unconsciously collecting colorful serving ware for some time. “Curating” an assortment of beautiful servers — new and vintage, budget conscious and splurge.

Gorgeous little bowls and salad plates from Cost Plus World Market will double as serving ware. $24 for all four!

Gorgeous little bowls and salad plates purchased individually from Cost Plus World Market (Corsica Collection)will double for me as serving ware. $24 for all four!

Like Art. And Wine. You love what you love. Everyone’s tastes are different. I love happy things. A guest to my home once sniffed “your home has so much COLOR.” Uh…Yeah.

The best cookie jar ever. Vintage find at an Antique Fair. I love color!

The best cookie jar ever. Vintage find at an Antique Fair. I love color!

It started with Art. Slowly buying original Art. Shopping local. Developing my tastes as I matured. I mostly collect living California artists. Some now dear friends. Like Dennis Ziemienski and Robert Townsend.  Meredith Abbott and her daughter Whitney Abbott.  Michelle Hoting or Ashley Morgan Designs. It’s not like I’m some zillionaire either. I often pay on “Lay Away” — there is no shame in that.  Collecting Art takes time to save and also time to wait until you experience that “lightning bolt” of Beauty. Joy! Curating one, maybe two, beautiful pieces each year that mean something special.  Adding color to our walls or my person with feelings of joy.

Beauty does not have to be expensive. A peak at my bedside table: a $50 Pier One table, Pottery Barn bed,linens bought on sale and two worthy splurges: "Apricots" by Meredith Abbott and a $150 lamp from the last Pacific Asa Museum Festival of the Autumn Moon

Living beautifully does not have to be expensive. A peak at my bedside table: a $110 Pier One table, Pottery Barn bed linens (bought on sale) and two worthy splurges: “Apricots” by Meredith Abbott and a $150 lamp from the last Pacific Asa Museum Festival of the Autumn Moon

All 1960s: Costume broach from Sweet and Spark and Mexican blouse. Standing in front of a Robert Townsend painting of old ladies visiting the Grand Canyon circa 1960s.

All 1960s: Costume broach from Sweet and Spark and Mexican blouse. Standing in front of friend Robert Townsend painting of old ladies visiting the Grand Canyon in 1960s.

Now as a Cook, I just love finding beautiful serving ware. Bringing the same feelings of Beauty from our Walls to our Table. Even if I may be the only one who notices some nights with two toddlers! Just like picked wild flowers, prettiness on the table makes me so HAPPY.

Twinkle lights glow over our 1930s kitchen sink + clean kitchen = Happiness.

Twinkle lights glow over our 1930s kitchen sink + clean kitchen = Happiness.

My new favorite is a 1976 Majolica Bowl from the original WILLIAM SONOMA. Makes even the most old school side dishes — Bush’s Baked Beans? — looked too elegant. And worth the splurge last month.

Beautiful vintage Lettuce Bowl from 1976 found at the William Sonoma Sonoma Store -- the very first one is here in town!

Beautiful vintage Lettuce Bowl from 1976 found at the William Sonoma Sonoma Store — the very first one is here in town!

Did you know our Sonoma store is the ONLY WILLIAM SONOMA in the Country now to sell vintage piece? Some are from founder Chuck William’s personal collection and others are cherry picked by a Buyer traveling for the chain. Isn’t that fantastic? Definitely worth the visit next time you’re in Sonoma.

This may be a First World topic. But I like to think the idea of Beauty — and that it matters — transcends culture and money.  To wild flowers and enjoying a sunset. Or the smile of a little kid. How lucky are we to live and love where Beauty can mean pretty platters? Fine Wine? Fresh vegetables? And Art.  Finding out and more importantly, trusting what you love.  And Cultivating it as much as you can.  For me, it is Food, Wine, and Art.  What is it for you?

Happy eating! And Beautiful Living.

The Perfect Waffle and The Importance of Butter

The Importance of Butter and Buttermilk: Secret 2

The Importance Buttermilk: Secret 1

For weeks, I wondered what to say at Mima’s funeral. I truly thought about just reciting her Buttermilk Waffles recipe. But flying down on Friday, the stewardess gave me a free glass of white wine. Anni played a new Dinosaur game. And inspiration struck:

“The morning after Mima died, I was surprised how much harder her death hit me. I thought I’d feel more relieved. And then Hannah (my cousin) wrote a note to we girls that she wished she had a waffle maker and all of us together. I loved that. I think it speaks to the legacy of our incredible grandmother that thousands of miles apart, four granddaughters — now women — yearned to be together. And I’m betting we all flashed back to the sun-lit kitchen at Linda Ridge (their home) on Sunday morning. Because no matter how epic, talented, beautiful and strong our Mima was… She and Dida helmed one hell of a family. I think we Palmers are so collectively dynamic — each in our own ways — because of the strong, loving examples set for us by Mima and Dida.”

“I couldn’t decide what to say today. There was too much good stuff. Dancing the Charleston in our socks. Sailing to Catalina. Driving to the Ranch in Kansas. Collecting rocks. Learning to curtsy with books on our heads — I can still do this. Museums. Water aerobics. More Museums. Playing dress-up. Collecting ART. Sitting on her Dressing Room floor watching her get glamorous for a Night Out with Dida. Seeing her smile now on my little girl’s face.”

“But it all boils down to waffles on Sunday mornings. With a bunch of us gaggled around kitchen table in our pajamas. Breathing in the sleepy scent of syrup and Folgers Crystals. And love. Always lots and lots of love.”

We four Granddaughters of Mima

Mima’s four Granddaughters.

I wore a mid-century inspired dress in Jade green for Mima and my pearls. All of us girl cousins were wearing some semblance of this combination. Sara and I wore pearls. Hannah and Kate wore Jade necklaces. Mima loved to “look good.” She believed everyone could be beautiful. “It’s not what you’re born with but what you do with it.” And that each woman had her own style to find and cultivate.

Knowing when to Splurge: the Importance of Butter. Secret 1

Knowing when to Splurge: the Importance of Butter. Secret 3

But making Mima’s Waffles is more about Butter than a nipped waistline. Knowing when to splurge. The Joy cooked into family food. And buttermilk. Lots of Buttermilk. I think those flavors are part of our collective family DNA now.

As many Palmers as possible gathered to celebrate Dida's 100th Birthday on Sunday

As many Palmers as possible gathered to celebrate Dida’s 100th Birthday on Sunday.

 

BUTTERMILK WAFFLES RECIPE: Well…I was going to give you her exact recipe that we make most Sunday mornings but reconsidered. I think some family secrets should remain kept. But I will tell you this, no matter how you make your waffles — from scratch or with a mix (we love Bisquick) — Swapping in Buttermilk for regular milk is vital. This is Secret 1. Mix in one and a half to two times the called for amount. So the waffles are thinner, less doughy. Because waffles really are just a vehicle for butter and syrup.  Secret 2: Always give the first waffle to the dog. It takes you and your machine one test-run for subsequent waffles perfection.  Secret 3: Melt 1 stick of butter to every cup to cup and a half of pure maple syrup on your stove top, being careful not to boil too much or reduce.  When you waffle is ready, PING! Go whole-hog and enjoy.

I think families who share at least a handful of beloved dishes — and pass down their recipes to kids and grandkids — strengthen their inter-generational fabric with memories of deliciousness. Waffles is this dish for us. My grandmother may have gone to Army Cooking School in World War II and been a plain cook all her life but I like to think she intuitively knew the French secret that everything tastes better with Butter.  Especially on Sunday mornings.

Off to take Anni Swimming on this last day of our Family Reunion. And maybe some Water Aerobics. For old times sake.

Three Generations missing our Fourth.

Three Generations missing our Fourth.

Happy Memories! And Eating.