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.

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!

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.

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.