Pulling Up Cooking

The Fires still rattle me. I haven’t written or painted since that first Monday night in October. We fled those 50-80 mph roaring winds. Pausing only in blackened intersections as we drove west, west, west.  Watching sprinting flames devour whole ridge tops and valley floors in our sweet corner of the wine world.

Dean came home next day to save our farm.  Hot-wiring the espresso machine and prepping Annadel with Farm Manager Chichio and neighbor “Big Swede.” Kids and I bunked with family and bounced around northern California for several weeks. So many of you wrote overwhelming notes of kindness, sympathy, and encouragement as our towns burned. Know it meant the world to us. Even now, I feel familiar tears of gratitude prick my eyelids as I write. So thankful the winds calmed so firefighters could save us when after nine days of fire? Winds returned, whipping flames black up but fighters doused them mere feet from our back property line.

Day 8 & 9: Thank You Fire Fighters! Especially Chief Shubin & Chief Bellach

Anni, Coltrane, and I returned home in a sort of suspension. We remain there in a “new normal.” Life continues beautifully on one hand: I’ve never been happier to cook and live in Sonoma County. Then sadness sharpens… Like when Ms. Jill talks of something to share with Coltrane’s Preschool class… only to stop short in tears; it’s gone. Or decorating the Christmas Tree when Lauren dropped by with his little man cub, Miles, who asked his Papa “when can we decorate?” Our first night home and as the sun set, I watched for twinkling street lights glow off in the Santa Rosa hills — but seeing dark swaths of nothing instead (that still gets me). Our first drive to school (and every one since) counting chimneys left on streets of melted homes (it’s now a game of “I Spy.”)

We are the red heart.

Some 46 real life friends, teachers, neighbors, and colleagues lost their homes. Each of them lovely, wonderful people. It’s heartbreaking, to say the least.  And yet we all survived. Our town and region now woven closer than ever.  Collectively thankful for the grace of God, tireless First Responders, and Lady Luck. Selfishly, I am grateful that Annadel stands. Even if just so we could feed and welcome evacuees and family from the Santa Barbara fires come December? Or comfort mudslide sadness and death in January? I don’t know. It’s still so much…

Fires rage down the mountains behind Annadel. Stopping mere feet from our back property line and inches from the neighbors. All were saved thanks to Fire Fighters!

I think of myself as a generally well-adjusted, strong woman. Much of our region is cleaning and rebuilding! Baby grass and new flowers bloom! So I didn’t expect to still half live in this foggy place some four months later. I mean, we didn’t even lose our Home! Most nightmares have stopped. Our community works to recalibrate. School is back. Kids are laughing. Hugs freely given to the littles who are still moving around until their homes repaired or rebuilt. I’m even starting a Girl Scouts Troop with two mamas!  (I’m so excited!) Cooking and happily learning all sorts of allergy free recipes. By all accounts, our routines hum back along.

Never have I cooked more happily than I have for friends and family. (PC: Sarah Deragon)

It dawned on me this morning, that I need now to be braver than I have been. To choose to exit my fog. Because my Studio door has been remained closed since the Fire. See, I got back to cooking, menu planning, Mommy-ing, Wife-ing, and Friend-ing… But somehow, I’ve been at a total loss on what to write. What to paint. What to post. My Gallerist friend, Ellen Easton told me last month, “don’t rush it.” So I didn’t.

Where I work… Back at it as of today: February 3, 2018.

Until this morning. I poured myself a giant sparkling water and forced that door open. I scrubbed my Studio. I layed out a new painting (ignoring that it sort of sucks still but I can fix that). Organized my food history shelves to make room for Girl Scouts materials. And write this anxious, sad, relief sh*t OUT of me.

I needed to remember that I believe deeply Happiness is Always a Choice.

It’s been a long four months. But my door is open again. And I bet this Spring will be beautiful. God willing.

Gratitude doesn’t even begin to cover how much we THANK YOU Fire Fighters, 1st Responders, and everyone who wrote to us!

 

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.