Sunday, February 7, 2016

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

CHARDONNAY WITH BATHING KITTENS

It started with a shrieking for 2 nights straight from the neighbors stray cat infested backyard. By 2am on the second night my housemate Taylor couldn't take it anymore and found the tiny abandoned child fallen inside a pile of rubble.  That was 6 weeks ago.

Now there's not just one kitten, but 5. So who wants a kitten?

Being around Althea's 4 brothers and sisters we have come to understand why she might have been abandoned. She is the only one who doesn't seem to get the concept of the litter box and she still won't eat dry food. For example, the other morning I woke up to poopy kitty foot prints on the wall. Now everyday after work Taylor cleans up Althea's mess. She always poops and pees in front of her litter box, never inside, and damn kitty poop smells. This is why I give him wine (definitely not because it means I'm no longer drinking alone).

One night this week called for a Chardonnay I bought from Pine Ridge Vineyards here in Napa. I needed a wine that didn't need food, a wine that went down smooth, a wine that would help us forget what we were about to do; bathe 5 flea infested feral kittens.

I firmly believe wine (in moderation) makes everything better. Not only were the fleas and plethora of scratches all over our hands and forearms almost entertaining, but our friends seemed much keener to help us out with Chardonnay in hand.




Taylor and his new children

Saturday, August 1, 2015

WELCOME BACK BELLA LUCE

Our Sonoma summer is back, but we have yet to give up beef stew and red wine. Our trick? Simply eat it after the coastal fog kicks back in after 6pm. 

We've had some changes: new jobs, new people, new talents,  and new locations. I moved to Napa, the little sister is in the city (San Francisco) spicing up the corporate life for the summer, and my family signed up with Helpx.net, meaning we have new visitors every month. We have people all over the world coming to help us out at Bella Luce (our 4-acre "farm"). It was a blast showing a French girl and a couple from England what a real American firework show looks like over the 4th of July. I worry that they will be forever disappointed back home after experiencing this years Sonoma fireworks. You sit below the fireworks, and stain your clothes with ash. 

Not only has the stream of new faces increased, but our network of friends and family has flourished. There is never a quiet faceless day at Bella Luce. Our little spot of heaven in Sonoma is the most beautiful community I have ever experienced. 

My beautiful cousin and her girlfriend have expanded our community through the boundless bungalow. They are renovating an airstream and redefining Bay Area housing standards. 

The stew below has been a staple in my father's cooking for the last 20 years. My dad swears by it stating, "Everybody always enjoys it. There's no stock or anything, you just cook it in wine. There's just a sense of wonder in the thing. It was the first recipe I made with it [the family crock pot], and nothing rang the bell like that one. Throw it all in the crock pot, cover it, and forget about it. What's interesting about it is that you are making a dinner meat dish at 9 in the morning. I always thought that was kind of odd. Everybody loves it." 


Dad's Red Wine Beef Stew
Serving: 10-12 servings
Time: 1 hour prep, 8 hours in slow cooker

  • 1 boneless beef sirloin steak, 3-lbs cut into 1/2-inch pieces (pre-cut stew meat fine)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 20 mini carrots, approximate
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 small new red potatoes, quartered
  • 8 to 10 mushrooms, sliced
  • 20 to 24 fresh pearl onions 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 3 cups of a deep rich red wine (we usually end up using a Napa Cabernet)


Coat beef with flour, shaking off excess. Set aside.

Add a small amount of olive oil to a large skillet. Cook bacon over medium heat until partially cooked. Add beef and cook until browned. Remove both the meat and bacon.

Layer potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, garlic, marjoram, bay leaf, salt, thyme, pepper, bacon and beef mixture and wine in slow cooker. We always use our large slow cooker, as one trial in the medium sized stained some countertops. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until beef is tender. Discard bay leaf before serving.

Remember, just because there is 3 cups of heavy red wine in this stew that doesn't mean you shouldn't add more in your glass.

Gluten Free

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

WALNUT TREES AND WILD MUSTARD



It is easy to forget what we see everyday. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

OUR LAST HARVEST: PICKLED PEPPERS



After a couple dry years, our California winter finally returned. It has been raining for weeks. We almost forgot what a normal California winter looked like, wet socks and green hills.  The vines are loosing their color, but the meadows between them are lime green. There are toads croaking everywhere.

Even though winter has returned, it's still mild and the normal rules of winter aren't taken into consideration. As I drive back and forth between San Francisco and Sonoma, I count the baby sheep and cows.  I broke into the barn to dig out my winter coat consisting of a sweater and a rain jacket, and rain boots. Unfortunately the rain boots have a rip along the side of the foot that even the strongest duck tape won't fix. It is time for the return of wet socks warming by the fire.




Almost everything had already been removed from the garden, but our peppers never seemed to end. I gave two bags full to the Winemaker at Deerfield Ranch Winery, Robert Rex, for his Sicilian Grandmother's traditional meat and peppers recipe.  By the time everybody and their mothers were tired of peppers we still had enough peppers to fill a five hour pickling event, including 40 jars.

PICKLING RATIO

  • 4 cups vinegar (preferably apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 TBS salt
Combine the ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Stir to ensure all the ingredients dissolve. 


PEPPERS AND OTHER VEGETABLES

Fill our jars two-thirds full of fresh washed vegetables and other flavoring components. I recommend slicing the vegetables so the pickling process works better. Definitely slice your peppers. 
  • peppers
  • onions
  • garlic
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • bell peppers
  • peppercorns
  • herbs
Pour the hot brine into the vegetable filled jars. Seal the jars through your canning method of choice. Wait at least three weeks for the pickling process to complete. Store jars between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Learn more about canning here. I boiled the jars after they were full, and then let them cool on the counter until all their tops popped indicating a fresh sealed jar. This method also runs the risk of glass jars breaking under the stress of the high heat. 





SCIENCE AND SAFETY

Remember to always sterilize your equipment before using. After the jars have been filled, they need to be sealed, just like making jam in the summer time. There are different acceptable methods of canning.

Pickling works by creating a high acid environment that selects for the growth of the bacteria lactobacilli, which ferment the sugar in veggies producing lactic acid. Not very many microbes can live in high acid environments, so the vinegar is not only selecting for lactobacilli which 'pickle' the veggies, but also deselects for potentially harmful alternative bacteria. The idea in pickling is to create an environment made specifically for lactobacilli, so this good bacteria can out compete all other potentially harmful bacteria.

The addition of salt is used for the same selection principle. At certain salt concentrations lactobacilli grow faster than other organisms. Too little salt allows for the quick growth of other organisms, but too much salt will also kill the good lactobacilli bacteria. Thus, it is important to not alter the suggested ratio of salt and vinegar.

If your jars are not properly sealed and the contents are exposed to oxygen, spoilage it almost always certain. Also the temperature at which you store your fermenting jars will affect your pickled products. Try and keep the contents between 70 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SONOMA COUNTY MUSHROOM MADNESS




SOMA, Sonoma County Mushroom Association, holds mushroom forays with mycologist who can identity all the mushrooms found. Last time we went mushroom hunting at Salt Point State Park at the Sonoma coast.  We were on the look out for Porcini's, but ended up finding candy caps, shaggy manes, and hedgehogs as well. I was thrilled to find candy cap mushrooms in the wild for the first time. Candy caps smell like maple syrup, which intensifies as the mushrooms are dried. This time, I want to dry my candy cap mushrooms, crush them, and then add them to my holiday hot chocolate. 














SAUTÉED MUSHROOMS

I brought home the shaggy manes for dinner. My go to method for cooking mushrooms is to sauté them with butter, shallots, and garlic.  I generally add the ingredients by feel and taste. The shaggy manes were paired with wild rice and kale sautéed in garlic and olive oil. 

  • 4 shaggy mane mushrooms (or substitute another mushroom)
  • 1 small shallot 
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic
  • 2-4 tablespoons of butter, more as needed

Chop up the shallots and garlic. Heat a cast iron skillet. Once hot, melt one tablespoon of butter, and add the shallots and garlic. Mix over medium heat until the shallots are translucent, and the garlic soft. Melt another tablespoon of butter before adding the mushrooms. Heat over medium heat, mixing occasionally so the ingredients do not become overly crispy. Continue to add butter to the skillet as needed to keep the skillet greased. sauté the mushrooms until they are soft and pliable. The shaggy manes will open up and become slightly translucent when done. 




WARNING: Wild mushrooms are an amazing resource, but when foraged incorrectly can be lethal. Do not forage without the supervision of a mycologist. 




The next forage with SOMA is December 20th. After a forage there is a potluck supplied by the members, full of decadent homemade food often full of mushrooms.  SOMA provides information on mushrooms regarding identification, cooking, dyes and paper, growing, foraging, and health. Membership is around twenty dollars. 




Thursday, November 27, 2014

EAT YOUR HEART OUT

Wild rice and foraged mushroom stuffing, cranberry chutney, bbq turkey, spiced sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, brussels sprouts with bacon and onions, squash soup, carrot and potato gratin, beans, garlic and brie mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, cumin roasted carrots, kale and brussels sprout salad, baked brie, pomegranate seeds with mint, toasted almonds, an Amador County Barbera, Deerfield Ranch 2005 Meritage Blend, Spiced cupcakes, tres leches cake, apple crumble, flan with homemade dulce de leche, and chocolate cubes. We served twenty people, and a day later, I am already out of left overs. 

Over the past 5 years, I have gone from the potato peeling girl to the one organizing the menu, sending out invitations, and making sure the Turkey makes an appearance by 4pm. I love the creativity Thanksgiving inspires in menu planning and recipe development. Every year I choose one to two new recipes to add to the table, however the kale and brussels sprouts salad always makes a return appearance. My favorite new recipe was homemade dulce de leche simmered down from whole milk with vanilla beans. However, I will share this recipe later in the holiday season, as I have a couple ideas to spice it up with. I have half a mind to mass produce the stuff and send it out as holiday gifts. So if you want some extra holiday dulce de leche, just keep pestering me until I finally whip it up again.


Despite the vast array of recipes scattered across our table, it’s the people leaning against the white linen table cloth that add the real spice to Thanksgiving. Each year our community expands, and someone new is introduced into the family. This year we experienced the return of Emily Ward and her mother. My sister and I lived next to Emily for a good part of our childhood, but she wasn’t called Emily back then. No, we called her the Altoid for that one stray front tooth that grew in a little too early. Our little Altoid, the third Barton sister, is all grown up now, attending University, and just returned from New Zealand, but one thing hasn’t changed a bit; Emily still knows how to bring the party. 

After we gorged ourselves, understanding the real meaning of gluttony, Emily turned up the music, and the living room was roaring with song and dance. We had people getting low, the Macarena, a couple people who could actually dance, and a three year old being tossed from person to person. Every face glowed. In this moment, on the dance floor, we were all connected, and love flowed evenly between us, true holiday magic. 



 HOLIDAY BAKED BRIE

Servings: 10 people
Time: 20-25 minutes

  • 1 cup kahlua coffee liquor
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans
  • 1 round of Brie
  • Water crackers
  • Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Bake the round of Brie in a glass pie pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. 

In a small pot, combine the brown sugar and kahlua. On medium heat, stir until all the brown sugar is dissolved. Then on low heat, reduce the liqueur while stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. After the sauce has thickened, add the nuts, stir. 

Pour the sauce and nuts on top of the baked brie. The sauce will drip down around the sides. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. Line the edge of the pie pan, around the Brie, with water crackers. 



 The evolution of my involvement with Thanksgiving has mirrored my switch from the biotech industry to the wine industry, and marked the beginning of my food blogging. One of the first recipes I blogged was this kale and brussels sprout salad, which I originally obtained from Saveur magazine in 2011. The copy of the recipe below is now my family’s version. This recipe has been passed around, with each new person adding a small twist. It is our favorite hearty holiday salad, and satisfies almost all dietary requirements. Gluten-free, and easily vegan, if the cheese is removed.

KALE AND BRUSSELS SPROUT SALAD

Servings: 12 people
Time: 30 minutes

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 2 large bunches of Tuscan Kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total)
  • 12 oz.  brussels sprouts, finely grated 
  • 1/3 cup almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds. 

For the dressing, combine lemon juice, mustard, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir and set aside. Finely grate or chop all of the ingredients for the dressing to homogenize flavor. 

Thinly slice the kale, but leave the stems behind. Grate the brussels sprouts. Toss the kale and brussels sprouts together, in a large bowl. 

Chop, and toast the almonds on medium heat until browned, but not burnt. Mix in the dressing, cheese, and almonds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. 


WINE

Two wines stood out the most to me, an Amador County Barbera, and Deerfield’s 2005 Meritage.

The Amador County Barbera was a wonderful surprise. Unfortunately, I do not remember the winery from which it originated, but I will update this information once it is rediscovered.  True to a Barbera it was a lighter red wine. However, it lacked a lot of the red fruit characteristics I am used to in Sonoma Valley Barberas. This Barbera was all earth. It reminded me of an Oregon Pinot Noir, without the extra smoke on the nose. I have never tasted so much earth in such a light wine. It paired wonderfully with the heavy Thanksgiving food, and has given me a reason to take a trip to Amador County. 

2005 Meritage, Napa Valley, Trio Vineyard by Deerfield Ranch Winery is a red blend. The winemaker, Robert Rex, has an amazing blending ability, and this wine demonstrates that. The blend contains 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, and 2% Malbec.  The Cabernet Franc and Malbec are evident in the middle of the wine with a burst of red fruit. The earthiness of a Napa Cabernet is present at the back of the palate. This 400 case wine was barrel aged for 40 months in 80% French and 20% American oak. 

I chose this Deerfield wine, because the complexity of its palate holds up well to the vast array of hearty foods on the kitchen table, and because of the pop of red fruit in the middle of the palate. When drinking a heavier red with a rich meal I tend to pick wines with red fruit characteristics.  




Saturday, November 1, 2014

FOR THE LITTLE ONE


 Now that the Napa Valley 2014 harvest if finally over, I have returned to the land of the living. During harvest, my little sister left for University of California, Santa Barbara. To celebrate her achievements and her role in our lives, I made my family's traditional celebratory eggs benedict. We picked up a bottle of Sparkling from Gloria Ferrer down the street, to effectively send her off with mimosas on her last morning in Sonoma.


EGGS BENEDICT NOTES

My traditional eggs benny switches Canadian bacon out for smoked salmon topped with fresh heirloom tomato, basil, spinach, and arugula.


TO TESS

Our life together has fallen off the tracks multiple times, but you are and will always be the one person I can show my complete self to. Who else will rough it in Bolivia with me, understand my obsession with dachshunds, or become overwhelmingly excited about mushroom hunting?

You have a strong sense of self, never compromising who you are. Never stop doing your own thing; your world is yours alone. I am so proud of you. Don’t forget to come visit me from time to time. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

EARTHQUAKE LIGHTS


EARTHQUAKE LIGHTS

It is 3:20 AM in Sonoma, California, the dogs are barking, and the house is lit up as if there were blue and white strobe lights in every corner. From the window you can see flashes of light jetting across the ground, like spazzed out snakes with blue disco balls for head lamps. Someone has misplaced the house.  We are now sitting on top a bundle of clouds, experiencing severe sheet lightning. 

My closet doors slammed against the wall, over and over again. My five foot mirror, carelessly leaning against the wall, rocked back and forth, and my dresser slid across the room. I notice the walls. The right is higher than the left. No. The left if higher than the right. The house is at 45 degree angles and the pool is throwing water at the house. I am still sitting in my bed wide-eyed, surfing this roaring wave through my bedroom. 

The lights continued to flash, switching between blue and white. Everything around me was  grinding, clinking, and clacking, as if the house was being shaken inside a box. I could see my reflection in the mirror as it crashed to the floor, hitting the edge of my bed. The silence and darkness that followed was the scariest part of it all. Did San Francisco still exist?

As a Californian, I am no stranger to the earth shaking, but the lights were more War of the Worlds than an earthquake. I continually told myself the lights were caused by the fallen power lines that did not exist outside my window, ignoring reality. 

Almost a week after the earthquake, our neighbor sent us an article talking about ground lightning sometimes seen at rift lines during earthquakes. I was excited to regain my sanity, but slightly disappointed that my earthquake UFO theories would have to come to an end. 

Apparently on flat, dry ground the grinding of the earth can cause electricity to surge across the ground. The lights are thought to originate where rifts in the ground are tearing apart. Luminescence in the sky during an earthquake is common, but seeing the source was something else. In 1906 similar lights across the ground were recorded in the San Francisco Bay Area two days before the big quake. The ground lightening I witnessed also occurred before the shaking, although only seconds before. 


 PAIRING

Wine: Homewood Winery Cabernet Franc 2009
Food: Cherry Balsamic Barbecue Sauce, Beet Salad Pizza

The day before the earthquake I took my Aunt, Michelle, wine tasting in Sonoma, California. The wine that stood out to us the most was Homewood Winery’s Cabernet Franc. Since my father introduced me me to their wines over a year ago, I have become a huge fan of Homewood Winery, often taking visitors to their tasting room. It is a one man operation, and the owner can be seen actually making the wine all by himself, during harvest. The amount of work and dedication he puts into his wine is overwhelmingly impressive. Although, as a cellar rat myself, a one man operated cellar seems like a disaster in the making, but he always puts together amazing wines. He makes very drinkable wines, specifically made for food pairings. 

When Michelle and I tasted the Cabernet Franc, my first thought was a cherry balsamic reduction. Thus, I turned this inspiration into a last minute barbecue sauce (the recipe may still have a few quirks). Inspiration from the garden had me grilling a four pound beet, until the outside was nicely caramelized pairing well with the sweetness of this red wine. 

I had originally planned a rather large barbecue to celebrate my last few weekends before harvest started, but the earthquake had most of my friends cleaning up broken glass, praying for power, and intact foundations.  Despite the intensity of the earthquake, my house did not experience any significant damage, so we continued on with our Sunday. My good friends Chris and Brianna, whom I traveled to Argentina with, were able to come for dinner. 


CHERRY BALSAMIC BBQ SAUCE

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh cherries, diced
  • 1 tsp rosemary, fresh

Add 2 tbs of olive oil to a small pot. Once hot, add diced cherries. After coating the cherries in olive oil, immediately add the balsamic. Add the rosemary. Simmer on low heat until the 1 cup of balsamic has been reduced to 1/2 a cup. 

  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup ketchup

In a separate medium sauce pan, mix together the ketchup, mustard, red pepper flakes, and brown sugar. Heat on medium heat. Once hot, add the reduced cherry balsamic sauce. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasional for a couple minutes until the two sauces are homogenous. 

Coat chosen meat in the sauce before cooking. I coated small cubes of flank stank that were cooked on the barbecue via skewers. 


BEET SALAD PIZZAS

This creation had to happen after my sister discovered a four pound beet in the garden. I knew I had to create something that showed off the giant diameter. There was no way I was reducing this master piece by chopping it into pieces. The end result was a beet and arugula salad in the form of a pizza. When life gives you giant beets...

  • 1 giant 4 pound beet
  • chopped walnuts 
  • arugula 
  • goat cheese
  • salt and pepper

This recipe was another very last minute improvisation, thus I don’t have exact quantities for the ingredients. 

Cut the beet to create large circles that preserve the center of the beet. Coat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill the beet until the sugars on each side have caramelized, become slightly browned, and the beet is soft to the touch. Dry the beet with a paper towel so that it does not become soggy. Sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts and crumbled goat cheese. On the very top add arugula. I love all of these ingredients, so I tried to fit as much of each on to each beet. It was a bit of a mess, but utterly delicious. Top with salt and cracked pepper, to taste.