FRIDA KAHLO: Art & Food

Welcome to “The Creative Palate: Artist Kitchens!”

Cooking and Art are two sides to the same coin. (In my book.) Taking raw ingredients to create something nourishing body or soul. Sometimes both. I’m not talking artsy culinary “perfect” but rather, what we as cooks (artists) choose to EAT and make for ourselves (families and friends) in the privacy of our own homes.

Cloaked from public eye, singular behaviors become just that: personal and private. Intimate. Being a food lover, and an artist, I began to wonder how some of my favorite artists and writers, leaders and visionaries approached their own kitchens and daily meals. Or did they even think of it? As I mulled this over making carbonara, I realized I did approach my cooking similarly to my easel: with an impressionistic vision in mind but open to seasonal influences and available ingredients/colors.  But how did the great creatives approach their FOOD? Did they cook for themselves? Or hire cooks? How did they choose to dine? Any rituals or routines? Did they eat in their socks and read the paper? Or have long meals filled with conversation? And did their favorite foods reflect style of Art? And recipes! Do any survive?

Nerding out completely, I started ordering out-of-print books on food history and reading up online. And it turns out, many artists did in fact have specific opinions about food, eating routines and favorite recipes. Like you’d imagine Julia Child whipped up fancy fare for guests but she did not.  Instead, serving guests bowls of cheddar flavored Goldfish crackers. (Isn’t that a hoot?) I kept going, reading about Georgia O’Keefe, Monet, Jane Austen among others. Amazon had quite the month with my credit card. And the first artist I want to tell you about is Frida Kahlo.

Frida Khalo captured later in her life before she died at age 47.

Frida Khalo captured later in her life.

Born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon on July 6, 1907, “Frida Kahlo” was a Mexican painter known particularly for self-portraits and surrealist, Feminist expression of the female experience, indigenous folk art, and nationalistic rhetoric.  Leading Surrealist Andre Breton beautifully described her work as a “ribbon around a bomb.” Painting herself came naturally as the horrific traffic accident she survived as a teenager  (after surviving Polio) in her native Mexico City left life long health effects that often isolated Frida from her family and community. Kahlo’s volatile marriage to the hugely famous Diego Rivera brought her to the international stage but her sheer talent, unusual beauty, and original painting kept her there. And in some ways, eclipsed those accolades of her husband. In droves.

Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace & Mockingbird (1940)

Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace & Mockingbird (1940)

When not traveling for mural commissions (Diego) and shows (both souses and later. Frida), Diego Rivera and Frida lived a colorfully domestic life — when happy — with very definite opinions about food and how they ate. Preferring traditional indigenous Mexican dishes eaten together as part of a kind of elevated artistic experience rooted in the “working class.”  When relished, Frida purposefully created “small still lifes” for Diego to visually enjoy during their noon meal (Comida). Her tablescapes celebrated native Mexican vibrancy, flavors, and culture with colorful pre-Colonial styled ceramics, linens, small flower arrangements, 10-12 plates of foods… Even inviting household pets to the table “for movement.”  Their parrot –who only said “No me pasa la cruda” (“I can’t get past this hangover”) — pecked at fruits while their little monkeys jumped between their shoulders.

I love these details. And I like to think of her as a happy spouse. From the beginning, eating “food of the people” was part of Diego’s daily creative process. And for Frida too.  During these times, Frida departed from her excruciating self-portraits to include still-lifes and vibrant domestic interiors drawn increasingly from Mexican folk art.  How fascinating that an artist so revered for her unflinching take on the female experience (plus ardent Communist and Feminist), loved sweetly enough to endeavor domestic beauty. And harmony.

So many images to choose from. Volatile a marriage, yes. But great love and collaboration as well.

So many images to choose from. Volatile a marriage, yes. But great love and collaboration as well.

Recipes kept to pre-Colonial, pre-Hispanic foods rooted in the deep culinary traditions of indigenous Mexico. Dishes like Zucchini blossom soup, cucumber salads, pork stews, and chicken Escabeche.  Diego’s favorite plate of all was Mole, a recipe Frida learned to make from Lupe, Diego’s second wife (and her predecessor) who lived upstairs in their first home as married couple. Actually, Lupe owned the building and lived on the top floor with her two daughters while Frida and Diego, lived ground floor. Despite the unconventional housing arrangement, Frida and Lupe grew to be good friends and Lupe taught Frida many recipes Diego preferred.  Frida later expanded her cooking repertoire when the couple moved to La Casa Azul and began cooking from her mother’s The New Mexican Cook (published first in 1888).  Ironically, the Rivera’s did not see a conflict between their domestic help and their politics, employing cooks who could authentically create indigenous dishes.

Often entertaining many guests at once, meal time gatherings at the Rivera’s were noted not just for good food, strident leftist discussions, music, and copious libation but also for eating in the manner of the “poor working class.”  Tortillas in lieu of forks and knives.  Food cooked in the old style over wood flame and no modern stove or equipment like a refrigerator. Should Diego be painting a mural and unable to make the noon meal, Frida took him his lunch in a turquoise pewter pail just as “campesino women” took lunch to their husbands in the fields. Frida’s pail for Diego likely included a protein, rice and beans and topped always with warm tortillas, fresh fruit, sweet breads, and flowers artistically arranged.

Biographer Hayden Herrera describes the couples’ typical eating day (during happy times): “breakfast would be leisurely with Frida or an assistant reading the newspaper to Diego, who did not want to tax his eyes. Afterward, Frida would either paint or go to the market and Diego would go off to work. If he’d been drawing in the marketplace — where he went often to observe the poor who were his most important subjects — he would come home for comida… bringing an ingredient for the cook to incorporate.”

Food and the rituals of Eating were important to the couple. Part of their marital rhythms.  Frida relished being the central woman in Diego’s life and they divided kitchen, household responsibilities according to traditional Mexican roles.  And for Frida, “domestic tasks took on the nature of an art project…Setting the table was a ritual.. [And] the food itself was treasured for it’s beauty as well as for it’s flavors. After her self portraits, most of Frida’s paintings her still-life works of flowers, food, and domestic interiors. Pivotal paintings still celebrated for her surreal depictions of Mexican national and indigenous pride and unflinching imagery of female experience and form.

Viva la Vida (1954)

Viva la Vida (1954)

Frida’s most personal kitchen was her last (and first kitchen) in her childhood home “La Casa Azul”. Frida continued to live (and eat) here throughout her life — with or without Diego. With or without her parents. Her sisters. Friends. She had no children. Despite their numerous attempts…miscarriages…abortions. Today, it is part of the Frida Khalo Museum and still decorated with her brightly colored yellow and cobalt blue tile, sugar skulls, fresh flowers, and her traditional ceramic cookware, much of which was no longer made even by 1940s.  Both the names of Frida and Diego decorate one wall and the recipe for Diego’s favorite Mole is enshrined outside on a museum plaque.

I had trouble finding recipes and kitchen notes about her cooking habits after she and Diego divorced.  Frida took great pride in feeding Diego, fussing over him and even bathing him.  I appreciate Frida embracing her inner Sapphos yet Wifely Warrior while navigating the early 20th century world to which she was born.  Reveling as Artist, Beauty, Wife, Survivor, Daughter / Sister, and Cook… All the while on deep pain medication of some kind. Always… Perhaps though, when Diego was gone, Frida turned to Art more fully as her emotional outlet (her marriage) gave way to sharing her creative wellspring between Diego and Easel. image-1-2-png

Eggs.

13935086_1246737735338882_8438539756714467478_nIt takes a lot to put me off my eggs.  Or to leave a Mimosa half finished. But today’s breakfast was just such an experience.  The next table over was occupied by a visiting foghorn for bigotry, racism, gender disdain (especially for “the very dangerous” FLOTUS Michelle Obama), and politically conservative extremes. Wave after wave of verbal diarrhea washed over not just myself and fellow patrons but also my children and our lovely server, Jasmine.

We are each entitled to our personal views.  But explaining to your guest (+ we unfortunate bystanders) how “south american immigrants” are the visigoths at the gate while a Latina American serves you Huevos Rancheros curdled my stomach.  Jasmine didn’t hear much of what you said but my daughter did.  And so did my son.  “Brown people” aren’t “duped into becoming democrats” and Trump does not “represent the savior of our great nation.”  Your eggs were prepared for you and served to you by the children of migrants, or immigrants themselves; hard working people each and every one.  Mexican, Italian, Venezuelan, Asian, and French… Many of which our sweet wine country cafe (Garden Court) was filled with a demographic makeup much like this country: DIVERSE.  And THRIVING.  All of us now covered in your verbal vomit.

I thought to say something.  But the Huevos irony was lost to you already.  That, and you wore black athletic socks with topsiders.

I would like to set something straight however. When you come to Wine Country, or dine out in general, bring a shred of common decency.  Even if you’re faking it.  Your servers, cooks, hotel maids, gas station attendants, waiters are known and appreciated not just to each other but also by the winery owners, restaurant owners, hotel owners, tour company owners, magazine owners, etc.  The ” owners” of which you esteem so highly and loudly plan to milk for political donations while here? News flash: We prize and appreciate good people, let alone our teams of staff. For something fascinating and good happens in regions governed predominantly by agriculture.  A good or bad year is shared by all and oft dictated by weather and consumer confidence. There’s a shared camaraderie amongst most of us.  We rise and sink together.  Much like this already great Nation of ours.

So don’t saunter in from your Florida rental car brimming with runny vitriol for the very people serving you eggs. Go back to the Wonder Bread Box from which you came.  And never order Huevos Rancheros from my colleagues and friend again.

Original art by friend Eric Bowman.

Original art by friend Eric Bowman.

Driving to Kansas

50 East

50 East

June 30, 2016

DRIVING TO KANSAS

We are camping our way from Sonoma, California to Beaumont, Kansas.  To the family homestead and cattle ranch my great-great-grandfather founded some 150+ years ago… It’s a humbling thing, driving towards such heritage, out across a wide expanse of the nation in a truck, with “Bumbelina” (our Airstream), through one of the more severe summer storm patterns experienced in recent history.  Lots of rain, gorgeous atmosphere, lighting, and thunder.  In short, wet desert asphalt steaming for hours at a time.  A scent I hope burns into the psyche of my children.  And one I remember deeply from my childhood self making this same journey every summer: that of driving to Kansas.

Dida (& often Mima) loaded us Palmer cousins up into the “Big Red” Suburban and hauled ass across the southwest.  Pasadena to Witchita took two days, not three.  Eating 0.99$ “Grand Slam” Denny’s breakfasts every stop, unless it was New Mexico. For there in that gorgeous of regions, the Hatch green chili grows and Dida freely imparted his love for that mildly spicy, earthy green pepper (and puffy/sweet sopapillas) before hitting the road again. Stopping rarely –but gratefully– for panoramic American views, pee breaks, and turquoise found in once remote outposts like Hubbel Trading. Mile after mile, windows cranked down — unless we were listening to Garrison Keeler — kids’ hair whipping in sandy sunshine. Warm winds filling that old Suburban with the smells of ever changing landscapes.  One gleeful night spent somewhere in a neon-lit Best Western with a chlorinated pool and clean, but scratchy sheets. Driving from the Los Angeles basin, through the wide open, burnt Deserts. Between rocky buttes and along mountain passes. Before sailing down into the flat, flinty grass plains of the midwest. To Kansas.

Salty, desert flats along Interstate 80.

Salty, desert flats along Interstate 80.

Mima and Dida passed “into the sunset” this past year at 99 and 100, respectively.  She thought she saw her mother days before.  His last words were “I’m going to see Peg now.” And died minutes later. Funny how the vast expanse of an Open Road unfurl recent and dormant memories.  My husband and I both love to travel. Sharing a deep, soulful appreciation for destinations unknown.  Embarking on this road trip with our kids, we had no set plans nor reservations… Just a due date when we were expected at the Ranch. Driving mile after mile, state after state… I thought often of my grandparents.  Wondered where they are now… Obviously together.  Such a life they lived some 75 years of marriage! True Loves building family, business, and artistic legacy…To give rise our delightfully smart, oft elegant, and slightly motley clan of Palmers.

July 4th: fireworks, cocktails, and a spread of leftovers served from the back of a flat-bed truck.

July 4th: fireworks, cocktails, and a spread of leftovers served from the back of a flat-bed truck.

Hot and Humid: the Palmer Girl Cousins (Hannah, me, Sarah, and Kate).

Hot and Humid: the Palmer Girl Cousins (Hannah, me, Sarah, and Kate).

Though this road to Kansas is beautiful, it sure is long.  I am grateful for the time to unpack my memories and share them with my husband, Dean, before we arrive.  I have a feeling, I may become a puddle at the end of this road… Driving in the front ranch gate.  To say final farewells to my grandmother and grandfather.  She who taught us what it meant to be truly Woman, Wife, and Mother much because He lived so strongly as Man, Leader, and Patriarch.  The Ranch is a place of lessons learned and grit. Dida wanted to be sure we city kids didn’t end up sissys.  But come 6 o’clock, it was time to fish, walk the creek, shoot, and play dominos.  As a Family.

Porch time.

End of the day: Porch time.

We left after too few days at the Ranch.  Loaded up Bumbelina and strapped in still-sleeping kids.  Hugged my Mom, brother, Uncles, Aunts, Pappa Will, and Ranch Manager Don Nelson & wife, Connie.  Two of the most trustworthy people I have ever met.  People whom my grandparents trusted implicitly.  And who are intertwined with the viability and continued heritage of our family cattle ranch.

I admit, I quietly cried for about an hour after driving up and out through green pastures.  Hearing our Beefmaster cows bellow “good morning!” Remembering so many summers of my youth astride a horse at sunrise. Trying to keep up with Amanda (Nelson) chasing down wayward calves and cattle with my family.  To “bring in the herd.” Learning to pull our own weight.  Dida sitting in the truck giving directions, working the calling horn and making notes with Don.  Presiding over a seemingly endless Flint Hills cattle ranch left to him and built by his Grandfather’s bootstraps when the West was still Wild. Mima back at the ranch house making lunch (tuna fish sandwiches) or riding right next to him. Always.

Driving home.

Driving home. Planning to return…

Little Hands

I sat at the DMV yesterday, reading my book.  Waiting.  An older man walked by holding a little boy’s hand.  They sat down one chair over. The child looked about the age of my son. He pulled himself up onto the plastic chair and his little boy fingers looked exactly like my son’s…sweet traces of baby fat and solid little hands holding onto whom I assume was his grandfather. The flash of child pride that he’d gotten himself up onto the chair himself.  “Like a Big Boy,” as my son says.  I discreetly looked at his faded clothes and very worn shoes, the oversized hat that his grandfather took off and put into his lap with kind words.  They both waited very quietly until their turn was called and walked away to their assigned window.  I didn’t see him again.

I came home to host a play date for four little children in the bright sunshine, on our green grass, while their mom and I sipped a little bit of very cold, very crisp white wine in the shade.  Watching a joyful summer afternoon in Sonoma unfold. And wondered where that little boy was now.  And what it would be like to have such little ears hear how unwanted and dirty you are by pretty much every TV or news report.  How a wall will be built to keep you away from family or a better life.  How your grandfather teaching you to not wear a hat inside is really a raping Visigoth in disguise.  And wonder deeply what has happened to us a Nation.  How far down the rabbit hole of ignorance and bigotry have we fallen that candidates like Trump have not just national viability for elected leadership but that many acquaintances we know personally are thrilled to vote for them.  What kind of future are we paving for that little boy? And my little boy? Two little people of the same age, with the same little chubby hands, learning their ways in this world but with two very different messages being taught. This is not the America I’ve known and loved.  And it makes me very, very sad.

Sunset

Sunset here at home.

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.