fabulous fungi

Sunday, December 31, 2006

What I got him for Christmas: Spending yesterday on the Sonoma Coast, on a private mushroom foray led by the president of the Mycological Society of San Francisco. (Followed by a cookout featuring our spoils.)

I didn't grow up an outdoors girl. My parents hated dirt. I hardly ever played outside, much less tramped through the woods in search of mushrooms, both edible and otherwise. So yesterday was so much fun for me. Salt Point is absolutely gorgeous (imagine walking under pines and oaks while listening to the ocean crash beneath the cliffs behind you). And mushrooming is fantastic -- it's like going to an antique fair or a flea market or even Ross Dress for Less in search of a fabulous treasure, only the treasure is edible and there's an element of risk; if you misidentify it and eat the wrong one, you could have serious gastrointestinal problems or even poison your liver and die.

Luckily, we had no problem finding edibles. The woods were full of candycap mushrooms (see the photo above), which smell like maple syrup when you're cooking them and taste wonderful -- who would've thought mushrooms could be sweet? Candycaps can also be dried and used to make desserts, like candycap mushroom cookies and candycap mushroom ice cream.

We also found some yellowfoot mushrooms, which are a type of chanterelle that is only just now starting to appear in the woods. (So proud to say I was the first person to spot them -- and they are super-tiny and hard to see!) We only found enough for maybe one serving, but we cooked them up anyway. They were very mild, especially in comparison to the candycap.

And we found some boletes as well. These are pretty crazy-looking. If our guide hadn't been with us, I probably would've dismissed these as totally inedible and possibly even dangerous. Instead of gills under their caps, boletes have a sponge-like flesh. We found one that actually bruised blue when you touched the sponge. (Never seen anything like this in my life -- the colors were amazing.) Our guide told us boletes are one of the "unsung edibles" of the mushroom world. He sauteed one up for us with butter and sea salt, and it was pretty good -- a strange, slightly slimy, custardy texture, but still tasty.

Of course, we also found our share of inedible and even dangerous mushrooms, like red amanitas (the ones that look like Smurf houses), which are beautiful to look at but which contain toxins. We also came across false chanterelles (which are a distinct gold color and have real gills as compared to real chanterelles, which have false gills).

So much information for one day ... and still so much to learn! Mushroom-hunting is something we definitely want to do again.

wine and basketball

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Remember when basketball players were heroes and there were no scandalous court cases and egos were kept in check and you wore your Lakers 3-Peat shirt with pride? (Man, I loved Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.)

I'm not going to pretend I know a lot about basketball. I don't even watch it anymore. And I'm not exactly the biggest sports fan. But it does seem to me that things have changed, and the game is showier now, less "gentlemanly" -- kind of like the way many of today's wines are: big, brash, muscular, in-your-face.

So it's interesting that Larry Bird has a wine. Called Legends, the wine is a collaboration with Cosentino. And it has a basketball on the label. I picked up a bottle of the Legends 2004 Merlot at the last Merlot in May tasting. (It's like this unspoken rule that after a tasting is done, whoever is pouring can trade any leftover wine with another winery. Cosentino traded us for a bottle of our 03 Merlot, and I ended up taking home the Legends.)

I wasn't sure what to expect. Would this be a huge, alcoholic fruit bomb? Or something entirely different? Would the wine even be good, or are people just riding on Larry Bird's name for sales? I mean, what kind of wine does Larry Bird even like to drink?

We opened it last night with dinner. Immediately, I got lots of strawberry on the nose. In the mouth, the wine was fairly light-bodied, much lighter than I would expect from Merlot, which led me to believe that it was made to be more of an "elegant" type of wine rather than a huge red monster (alcohol was only 13.5 percent, which was nice). Unfortunately, I probably should've waited at least another year to drink the Legends, or used a decanter (both of mine need a serious cleaning) because it was very, very young and still very tight. (We haven't even released our 04 Merlot yet, so I'm surprised that this wine was already available last May.) Also, I wanted a longer finish than I got and a tad more complexity. Still, it was decent. And I had fun tasting it. And that's what really counts, right?


Monday, December 25, 2006

I figured out the truth about Santa Claus when my dad told me that Santa isn't the fat, bearded man in all the pictures. "No," my dad said. "He's really a skinny Filipino guy."

finally, I can spill it

Sunday, December 24, 2006

It is absolutely lovely when two of your best friends get engaged, when they are giddy and kissing and holding hands at the table. This is how they must have been when they first met, you think.

You knew it was coming for at least a week beforehand. You were told to keep it a secret. You thought maybe you would explode. But you didn't. And it happened. And you feel like, somehow, you were involved, you were an accomplice.

My co-worker thinks a Christmas proposal is silly. She says it's routine, everyone expects it.

But I disagree. Because of the lights. And this city. And the way we surround ourselves this time of year: Tonight, I will put on my red coat and sit at a table with my family. Maybe we will talk about this year, what we did and didn't do. Maybe we will make plans for what comes next. Or maybe we will just be, and savor.

food coma

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The past few days have been a feeding frenzy.

First, Terzo on Monday. Then Tuesday was Project Open Hand's Hand to Hand luncheon, which our winery sponsors every year and which featured dishes from the chefs of Greens, One Market, Americano and Ana Mandara, among others. (My favorite course was dessert. The pumpkin bread pudding from Loan Co of the San Francisco Marriott was unbelievable. I didn't want it to end.)

And if lunch wasn't decadent enough, Jessa and I went to 415 for our gifty-gifty exchange that night. (We had orginally planned on dinner at Osteria, but the restaurant is the size of a shoebox, and I was told -- rather coldly -- that the wait would be an hour since we didn't have reservations.) This was our first time at 415. The restaurant is pretty new, and it's sort of a weird idea -- Asian fusion in a primarily Jewish neighborhood. We ordered edamame, a spicy hamachi roll, something called the Red Dragon (which was extremely, extremely spicy -- like if you ate your lip-plumper and it made your entire mouth swell up), a side of snow peas and fondue for dessert (yes, fondue at an Asian restaurant -- I told you it was strange). And our server was awkward. Very awkward. He saw we were exchanging gifts, so his opening line to us was: "Can I offer you the gift of cocktails to start?" Oh, man. Honestly -- glad we checked it out, but not sure how long this place will be around.

Then there was yesterday. We had our marketing team off-site meeting at the Carneros Inn, which is amazing -- and if I ever have $400 to spare, I would love to spend the night in one of their cottages. Our team had lunch at Farm, the inn's brand-spanking new restaurant that has been getting rave reviews and is nothing short of spectacular (yes, even for lunch). The menu is seasonal and ingredients are locally sourced. I really wanted to order a full-on three-course meal, but I was afraid of looking like a complete pig in front of my co-workers, so I settled for two appetizers instead: the butternut squash soup with apples, chanterelle mushrooms and fried sage; and the tuna tartare with housemade Yukon Gold potato chips (which turned out to be the best chips I have ever eaten in my life). All of us also split a wood-oven pizza and a dessert.

For dinner last night, I was off to Frisson to meet some girls from college -- people I haven't seen or really even talked to (or thought about) in a very long time. The meal was sort of like the conversation: showy, but not terribly memorable. I don't like being reminded of why my past life is my past life. And I don't like servers who try to make you feel guilty for not ordering appetizers and a bottle of wine for the table.

Of course, the mass consumption isn't over yet. Tonight, we are meeting friends at my my favorite restaurant, which sadly, is closing after the New Year because the landlord has raised rent. They're looking for a new location; I want to suggest the vacant apartment across from ours, but somehow, I don't think that will work. Anyway, should be a good meal tonight. (Especially since we will also be celebrating some big, big news -- I'll spill all details tomorrow.)

And this weekend is huge, too. Family descends on Saturday. Food itinerary (yes, of course, there is a food itinerary) includes the best sushi in the Bay Area and what is arguably one of the top three restaurants in San Francisco. My mouth is watering just thinking about this.

Here's to elastic-waisted pants!


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Best way to celebrate a secular holiday and the satisfaction of obtaining your Level 1 graduation g-string: A glass of Albariño paired with sea bass (topped with a sun-dried tomato tapenade and served over garbanzo beans).

Jenn and I went to Terzo last night after class to exchange gifts. We were the last table -- scurried in just after 10 p.m. (and giggling, of course, when our server asked us where we had just come from). All the tables had been cleared off, and the staff was already settling in at the bar and opening bottles of bubbly and other goodies (I assumed it was an educational tasting because they had flights going -- I love that drinking is "educational"). We tried to put in our order as fast as we could so the kitchen could close up. (I waited tables for two years, and there's nothing worse than the party that comes in at the very end of the night and lingers until midnight and totally ignores the fact that no one else is in the restaurant.)

The food was good. The wine was crisp and dry and reminded me of apples. And our server felt bad about rushing us, so he kept refilling our glasses, "on the house." Cheers to that!

they're upon us

Monday, December 18, 2006

Full-blown: It's holiday time. Three parties this past weekend, including the work luncheon (mags of 2000 Stags Leap District Cab at every table -- yum) and the sweater soiree (where he glowed and won the prize for "#1 Sweater").

We have no time for anything. I haven't finished my shopping. There are friends in town this week. And family on the way. There are events and obligations and the exchanging of "little somethings." There is so much planning and scheduling. We've had to postpone our own Christmas until next week, when all of this is over. I'm worried that what I ordered online still won't have arrived by then.

It feels different, this year. Actually, I am exhausted. And I kind of wish it was done.

today I envy

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

... everyone who works from home or is on vacation or lives in a place where the clouds haven't burst. I envy those who have dry pant legs, dry shoes and dry socks, who don't smell like wet dogs. I envy those who have garages, who don't have to trek for blocks in rain and wind sans umbrella to get to their car because PG&E has put no-parking signs up in front of their apartment.

it only looks uncomfortable

Friday, December 08, 2006

The truth is, he loves it.

Kind of like me and stress. Today: My boss sends an e-mail at exactly 11:35 a.m., but I don't get it until 11:48 a.m. because I am tasting Merlot to confirm that this article is completely nuts and there's no way Napa River or even Franciscan makes better Merlot than we do. (I am correct. The Napa River is too light-bodied and "worked with," and the Franciscan is much too oaky and alcoholic. My conclusion: The Wines & Vines tasting panel must have all had serious sinus infections/bad colds/allergies when they tasted these wines.)

When I open my boss's e-mail, I realize I have to speak at the board of directors meeting next week. It's a last-minute request from one of the board members, who wants to hear all about our PR highlights for 2006, as well as my plan for 2007. I freak out for about two seconds. And then I start to work. I've been going back and forth all afternoon between Powerpoint (for visuals), Excel (for stats) and Word (for my handout) to create my presentation. I am tired now. I am sick of pie charts. I feel like I am going blind from staring at the computer (and yet I am still staring at the computer -- I am a masochist).

And yet there's something strangely exciting about seeing all the numbers and all the results and all the pitches I've done over the past year, all laid out in front of me. And it feels kind of good to be given the opportunity to talk about them. And to bring up the things I feel will be challenges for the next year.

And the truth is, I just really love deadlines.

of love and stuff

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jenn is planning her honeymoon. She keeps sending me links with photos of beautiful resorts in the Caribbean, and now I am distracted and want something far away and exotic.

But right now, I will have to settle for leftovers from last night's dinner, a fundraiser for TNDC at Maharani. This is a restaurant that pitches itself as one of the most romantic places in San Francisco. Clinging (too tightly) to this theme, the Web site actually has love poems written by the restaurant's owner, J. Kapur. Click on the "Poetry" link only if you want to make yourself cringe.

And the lovey-dovey theme doesn't stop there. Maharani also has something called the Fantasy Room, where each table is curtained off with beads and has a dimmer switch and a service button (no servers come unless you hit the button) for maximum privacy. One reviewer on Yelp said his girlfriend "surrendered her V card" after an evening in the Fantasy Room. Classy. There's nothing better than having your boyfriend announce the loss of your virginity to millions of people online.

We did not dine in the Fantasy Room. There were 11 of us, so we ate in the main room. I ordered the Vegan Dinner -- roasted papadums and a salad with mango dressing to start and dal and saag with rice and naan for my main course. Then I cheated and upgraded from the fresh fruit that normally comes with the meal to the Mango Melba Dream Cloud, which is mango ice cream (so much for the vegan thing), gulab jamun and shaved pistachios. (Freaking amazing -- the photo above doesn't do it justice.)

The food was good (leftovers, also good). But was it V card good? Eh. If I had to do it over again, this would seal the deal.

all aboard

Monday, December 04, 2006

I'm embarrassed to say this, but up until last Friday, I had never experienced the Napa Valley Wine Train. Yes, the Wine Train is an extremely touristy thing to do (it is exactly the kind of outing my parents would love), but I feel like it's something everyone does when they visit Napa.

Luckily, we were the featured winery in the Wine Train's Vista Dome Vintners Luncheon series last week, so I got to ride the train for work. (My co-worker, who had also never been on the Wine Train before, and I kept joking about losing our Wine Train virginity.)

The trip takes about three hours -- you leave the station in Napa, chug up the valley (parallel to Highway 29 -- I got to see Mustards' backside -- heehee), turn around in St. Helena and then head home. All the while, you're treated to a multi-course lunch, courtesy of redheaded chef Kelly Macdonald, who makes melt-in-your-mouth veal (see my photo above) and goes from table to table, chatting with guests, during the meal. And you're also drinking a lot of wine, which makes it even harder to navigate the already-rocking railcars. (I actually had to tell our server to stop refilling my glass.)

All in all, it was a fun experience. Although I do have to say the trip would've been cooler if the train actually stopped somewhere -- like at a winery. Or even just let people walk around St. Helena for a little bit.

But then again, maybe releasing a train full of tipsy tourists isn't exactly the best idea. (Yikes. Cringe.)

comfort food

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sometimes, when I come home, there is a fire in the fireplace. One night, there is pizza from our favorite pizza place; another night, he makes roasted carrots and beets, sauteed mushrooms and bok choy in a soy-ginger sauce, garlic mashed potatoes. We drink 2003 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir; it reminds me of ripe red cherries.

These days are better than good.

the biggest eater I know

Thursday, November 30, 2006

... turns 25 today. This is the turkey he and his girlfriend made for Thanksgiving. They were the only people at their dinner, which also included a berry mallow yam bake, cranberry sauce (with real cranberries!) and two pies.

And I believe they've already eaten all of the leftovers.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Took a few days off to have tofurky and stuffing in the Sierras and ride a bike around the Yosemite Valley floor. This was my first Thanksgiving away from home, with someone else's family and someone else's traditions. This time, there was no waiting in an empty house while everyone else goes to church. There was no need to prepare a gargantuan breakfast as explanation for the need to skip church -- who else would cook, right? And there was no sitting around the table and taking turns listing all of the things we are thankful for from the past year.

I missed the last part.

It has been a fast year. Already, the calendar is at the second-to-last page, and we are getting ready to turn it.


Monday, November 20, 2006

When I called, he was at the grocery store, buying toilet paper and detergent and all of the things to replace what he used over the past nine weeks. And he was looking for paper bags. Plenty of paper bags. To pack the magazines and newspapers and art supplies he's collected over those same weeks.

I am picturing it: Tomorrow, a sea of bags, the apartment covered in rough brown paper. The cats crawling and pouncing and climbing in and out. It is an obstacle course. It is cat heaven.

And it is time.

At last.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Yes, you can go out for dinner and drinks on a Saturday night in San Francisco and spend less than $40. And that even includes parking.

Case in point: Last night in the Mission. Brian and I had dinner at Puerto Alegre. (By some great miracle, we actually walked right in and didn't have to wait two hours on the sidewalk.) I ordered the super vegetarian burrito and flan; he got the two-enchilada combo, plus another enchilada à la carte (the food is just that good -- you have to order seconds). And we shared a pitcher of margaritas. The bill was $38 (I think -- my memory's a bit fuzzy -- blame the tequila), which we split. Fahabulous.

Then we met up with Jessica to continue the quest of checking out all the wine bars in the city. Our stop: Paréa. The first two pages of the wine list focus on Greek wines. This definitely isn't something you see every day. The last time I had Greek wine was in Sacramento two years ago -- the summer Olympics was going on, so fancy-shmancy gourmet grocer/wine shop David Berkley was doing a Greek wine tasting. Honestly, I wasn't impressed. I thought everything tasted like pine sap.

But since Greek wines are Paréa's specialty, I decided to give them another try. I ordered a white (and am kicking myself right now for not writing down the name and the grapes -- it was a blend of three Mediterranean varietals, none of which I'd ever heard of before). By-the-glass price: Only $5.50. (Seriously, you never see this anywhere in this town. I am so used to paying at least $8 for any kind of alcohol.) And the wine was good. No Pine Sol this time. Instead, it reminded me a lot of an unoaked Chardonnay.

All in all, a good night. And I still have $2 left in my wallet.

soiree for rosé

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Just got home from pouring at RAP's "Winter Pink!" event at Ruby Skye. Those folks are brave to organize a Rosé tasting at this time of year, especially since their summer "Pink Out!" Rosé event wasn't too long ago, and many of the same producers participated in both.

A noble effort on all accounts, and I hope it pays off: Rosé doesn't have to be just a summer drink. It's one of the most versatile food wines -- good with everything from seafood to veggie dishes to game to steak to pizza. And since the holidays are a time for eating, why not serve Rosé? (And let me add that it's a hell of a good deal -- usually under $20!)

This is what I'm trying to tell the media. Unfortunately, only a handful of press were at tonight's event. I e-mailed a number of contacts yesterday to find out if they would be attending, and the responses included "Sorry, I'm in Paris," "Sorry, I'm in Hong Kong" and "Sorry, I just got back from the Rhône and I must recover."

I need a vacation.

all of my dreams are coming true

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bok Choy Garden now delivers.

This is amazing. On par with a two-hour full body massage. Or getting out of work early. Or discovering that your cat knows how to fetch (which mine does because he is a genius -- he also talks).

I heard the good news when I dropped by Bok Choy Garden tonight. I was craving potstickers -- vegetarian potstickers, to be exact. And Bok Choy Garden is the place to go for vegetarian Chinese food. The choices are endless -- everything from sauteed soybeans with bean curd and seaweed to bamboo pith soup to taro "fish" with sweet-and-sour sauce. It's no-meat heaven. And I would probably live in their kitchen if I didn't spend so much time being too lazy to walk or drive over there.

But now that has changed, due to new ownership as of a month ago, and I can be as lazy as I want.

And that's not all: Dining in is different too. True, the recipes are the same (same cook and everything), but it's like there's a new energy in the place. The service now kicks some serious ass -- I dined alone and didn't feel awkward or patronized at all. The dishes came out in a timely manner -- no main courses overlapping appetizers, which used to happen all the time. And the new owner is chatty (in a good way), enthusiastic and extremely professional. He told me all about his plans -- the new delivery service, the Web site he hopes to construct, etc. I felt like I was getting five-star attention but in a teeny-tiny, hole-in-the-wall, super-casual restaurant. And that's my favorite kind of feeling.

And here's the best part: When you get your check, you also get a little dessert called a "crystal ball" (other diners at a table behind me kept calling it crystal meth, but funny-ha-ha, that's not what it was). The crystal ball is fabulous -- it's a chewy little ball of green tea curd in a rice-based gelatinous wrapper. And it comes served on a small plastic leaf (cute presentation that sort of reminded me of Japanese toys for some reason). The owner told me a hilarious story about how one customer asked him to save all the leaves because he wants to make a costume out of them. Oh, hell yes. It doesn't get much better than that!

Despite the changes, essentially Bok Choy Garden is still Bok Choy Garden. The display rack filled with pamphlets with titles such as "GOD: Supremely Lovable," "LONELINESS" (not good when you are dining alone and missing your winemaker boyfriend terribly), "Nuclear Power?" and "Marriage: Great Expectations" still hangs on the wall on the way to the bathroom.

I wonder if when I place my order for delivery, I can also request the "CONQUERING DEATH" pamphlet with my meal.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Two rooms, a bar, one server and nearly every table full. A wine list focused on biodynamic, organic, sustainable. Two girls: one all in black with a glass of Languedoc red, the other with curls and swirling a South African Cab.

"So what happens after? What's the plan?"

One day at a time.

on orchids

Sunday, November 12, 2006

He was here this weekend, visiting, and it felt like he had never left. We went for a long walk today -- breakfast at the counter at Joe's (only $4.50 for eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast) and then May Wah Market for green tea powder (for my next ice cream recipe) and then the magazine section at Green Apple Books.

When we came back to the apartment, he said: "So how are the orchids?" He has this way of touching plants, of lifting leaves, gently. He grew up farming. He knows.

So I am trying now to fix our orchids. I am supposed to be watering them and repotting them and re-staking them while he is gone. But they are on a shelf too high for me to reach without a stool, so I always forget to do what I should be doing.

And now our orchids are infested with mealybugs, probably largely due to underwatering, which makes a plant more susceptible to pests. These mealybugs don't look much different from the dreaded vine mealybug, which I wrote about in great length in my former life. The bugs are white and oblong-shaped with thin horizontal stripes. And they look sort of fuzzy, like they're covered in cotton. And they secrete a sweet, sticky juice that ants like to eat. Hence, mealybugs are often called ant cows. (I can't believe I know this stuff.)

I should have noticed the mealybugs earlier. I shouldn't have even let the plants get to this point. Instead, I just spent at least an hour -- possibly more -- attempting not to be completely sicked out, then researching what to do next and then cleaning each leaf and crevice with alcohol and a Q-tip.

I tell myself, At least, this is a distraction. At least, I am thinking about something else, something besides the day he'll be in town for good.

the most wonderful time of the year

Friday, November 10, 2006

Alert: A coworker just informed me the Starbucks holiday coffees are here. I avoid Starbucks like the plague any other time of the year (local places like Blue Bottle and Philz Coffee with the mint leaf on top are a bazillion times better), but I absolutely cannot resist the Starbucks eggnog latte. I've tried other eggnog lattes at independent coffee houses, but the truth is, nothing quite makes me as weak in the knees as the Starbucks version.

And it's not just the actual espresso-and-eggnog-in-a-red-cup concoction that gives me unparalleled pleasure: It's the fact that the eggnog latte signals Christmas. And I love Christmas. I love the lights and the terrible music and picking out a tree (we always go out of our way to pick the Charlie Brown one because even the skinniest, littlest tree needs a good home). I love ornaments and stockings and making a gift list (which I already created a few weeks ago -- and it's in Excel format because I'm just that excited). I love wrapping presents and baking cookies and surprising people.

Wow. I think I may have just squealed with delight.

a toast

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Here's to Mz. Nancy for providing hope.

To the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld.

To Brian and Jessa for sharing some pizza and Merlot and not complaining about sitting on the floor of a very messy apartment with a hostess in smelly gym clothes and a cat that insisted on sprawling across the pizza box.

To the Monday night workout.

To the drivers on 121 who actually drive the speed limit instead of crawling along at 10 miles below while a huge line of cars piles up behind them.

To Jancis Robinson for being the anti-Parker.

To the whole wheat British muffins I eat every morning for breakfast with butter and Parmesan cheese.

To rediscovering raunchy Nine Inch Nails songs.

And to the news that yes, at last, he is finally coming home.

apparently, this is me.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Enneagram Test


Friday, November 03, 2006

Just got back from pouring at Sparkle SF. It was a night of bubbles and diamonds and beautiful men in vintage YSL. Chocolates on silver platters. Fancy bite-size corndogs on bamboo skewers. A drag queen dressed as Babs. (I took a photo with her and it came out terribly -- she looks cross-eyed, while I look, well, like I have a really bad cold and am about to pass out. Big surprise there.)

Brian and I poured Australian wines: Clover Hill and Taltarni Brut Taché. Clover Hill was a huge hit with the crowd. I was chatting with one woman about the wine and Tasmania and cool-climate growing regions, and she took a sip and said, "Yes, this is very nice. It's like Veuve Clicquot."

I almost leapt across the table to hug her.

I am sick.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

And today was made for it: Sky is one solid shade of grey. Sidewalks are covered in rain. So cold that I'm buried under five blankets and one cat and I'm still chilly. Winter has come all at once.

my note for next time

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

So by now, we are all sick of hearing about the pumpkin ice cream I made for Halloween. (Yes, it was my first homemade ice cream. Yes, it went over fabulously.)

But I have just one last thing to say about that ice cream: I could've made it with butternut squash instead.

That's right -- according to Jeff Cox, my favorite media contact and a fantastic food and wine writer, I could've avoided the nasty canned pumpkin altogether.

I e-mailed Jeff earlier today because I was reading Bon Appétit and the recipe for "Perfect Pumpkin Pie" called for canned pumpkin. And there was even a photo of said can. I thought it was weird that a gourmet food magazine would ask you to buy canned ingredients, so I asked Jeff if using fresh pumpkin is ever an option or if people avoid it because it's a pain to obtain or something like that. And I told him about my pumpkin ice cream and how I sort of felt like I was cheating because I used canned pumpkin. (Can you say something is "from scratch" if you're using canned ingredients?)

Jeff responded to the canned pumpkin with complete horror: " ... that stuff is ug-LEE!"

And this is what he recommended as a substitution:

Go get a butternut squash and, using a cleaver or heavy knife, split it down the middle. Spoon out the seeds from the seed cavity. Place the halves, cut side up, in a 9x12 baking dish. Add an inch of water in the bottom. Place on a middle rack in the oven at 350 F. Cook for one hour or an hour and a quarter, or until a toothpick inserted in the flesh goes in easily and comes out clean. Allow to cool, then spoon the flesh into a measuring cup and use whatever amount the recipe calls for. Use this for pumpkin pies, pumpkin ice cream, whatever. Butternut squash -- like jack o' lantern pumpkins -- is a winter squash -- but a superbly flavored and fine-fleshed winter squash.

Wish I had known this earlier. I'm a huge fan of butternut squash. (And the Winemaker's family farms butternut squash. Which makes me think this is fate.)

this is halloween

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

And we used the pumpkin ice cream for an ice cream pie with an Oreo cookie crust. And we drank Schramsberg Crémant. And we watched "The Bad Seed." And it was a good night.

And now I am ready for bed.

got any ones?

Monday, October 30, 2006

So my job has it perks: good wine, good food, good people who also love good wine and good food. But it definitely has its shortcomings: long commute spent sitting in the car, long hours spent sitting at a desk, very little physical activity. And as a result, over the past year, I've developed what I call a wine baby (a.k.a. pooch, pot belly, spare tire, etc.).

A few months ago, I decided the wine baby must go. Hence, much time spent at the gym (I love my spinning class) and the Pilates studio (addicted to the reformer), plus a little running and some yoga, too.

And tonight, I added stripping to my regimen. That's right: I'm learning how to pole-dance. So far, I feel extremely self-conscious and very un-sexy, but it's fun, and I'm going to be sore tomorrow. And I think the wine baby is in some serious trouble.

Which is good since I immediately came home and finished making the pumpkin ice cream I started preparing yesterday. And I plan to indulge in said pumpkin ice cream at a Halloween party tomorrow night. This girl isn't holding back -- if I'm going to be working out this damn much, I'm going to need some calories to burn off, right?

not a utensil in sight

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Woke up this morning craving Ethiopian food, all because last night's dinner was just so damn good. A group of us (sans costume, by the way -- I still regret not wearing a wig at least) went to Club Waziema for gigantic helpings of Injera heaping with various "sauces" -- lentil, split-pea, mushroom, vegetable -- a lamb stew and a chicken dish, plus sides of collard greens and salad. And two pitchers of beer. Un-freaking-believable. And the bill was just $71 for five people.

Funny -- I can't tell you how many times I've driven by Club Waziema. I'd always wondered about it but never thought about stopping in. The place looks kind of silly from the outside -- neon signs advertising Ethiopian food and a nightclub at the same time. Seemed a strange mix to me.

But the truth is -- and man, I love surprises -- the place is an absolute gem. Walls covered in gorgeous vintage wallpaper -- yes, it's actually velvety to the touch! Romantic lighting. A past that boasts amazing live shows from Billie Holiday to Ike and Tina. Can't believe it's taken me two-and-a-half years to check this place out!

I was so freaking happy that I ate my whole meal with my hands and didn't flinch one bit.

Which means either (a) food conquers all or (b) the Prozac is working.

Maybe I should go with all of the above.

breaking the fast

Saturday, October 28, 2006

For two days, neither of us ate. Because food was too much of a reminder, and even watching the Food Network hurt.

Thankfully, all of that is over. Food is okay again. Remembering is okay. And making plans -- that's even better. I am learning new desserts (tomorrow, I will attempt homemade pumpkin ice cream). He is thinking about new cookbooks to add to our collection. And we have new flatware, so the fourth person at the table will no longer have to eat with the little fork and a teaspoon.

And I hunt for new places to dine, places I can tell him about and take him to when he comes back (which may happen in two weeks). Today for brunch, it was Bette's Oceanview Diner, where there is absolutely no view of the ocean at all. Here, a gigantic pie hangs from the ceiling and the Halloween decorations border on freakish kitsch. The scrambled eggs are prepared custard-style, the home fries are topped with sour cream (joy of joys) and there are cupcakes and eclairs on the dessert menu.

It is so nice to be able to eat again.

please come home

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Do you remember the day we allowed ourselves to be that couple, and we walked on the beach, holding hands? Do you remember the tiny sea creatures that washed up on the shore? They looked like tissue paper, pale lavender, and we picked them up and they were so light they could have blown away.

It was our first day in the city together, just us. We had iced chai from a tiny cafe near 17th Avenue. We went to a wine bar, and the glass of Pinotage we had there tasted like it could change the world. And you ordered your first creme brulee ever. And isn't it so true that cracking the top is the best part?

Today I went back to that beach. It was cold and overcast and only a handful of people were there. I think I was trying to look for you, to look for us.

dining alone

Sunday, October 22, 2006

isn't as awful as you may think. I do it often. At lunch, nearly every day during the week. At brunch, today. I sat at the counter, next to a gay couple who kept ordering Ramos Fizzes and talking about the furniture they were planning to buy. The man closest to me glanced often at the pain au chocolat. "I want that," he said but ordered eggs and bacon instead. His partner chose the polenta.

I had the quiche and some coffee. A peanut butter cup from the pastry case to finish the meal off. ("How was that?" the man next to me said. "Good," I said. "But not as sweet as Reese's, which makes sense.")

When you are alone, the bartender is nicer to you. The servers ask you how you are doing. When you are alone, there is no need to eat slowly or order only a salad. There is no need to look anyone in the eye.

Still, I admit it: Alone is a challenge. Especially when there are no books or magazines to read. And you can only balance your checkbook so often and type on your handheld so much.

It is hard when there is nothing to hide behind.

don't laugh

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I am cleaning my closet and folding my clothes and making piles. I am rearranging the furniture, setting up my iPod (yes, finally), sorting through junk mail. I am surveying the wine collection (I need more whites). Paying bills. Dusting.

And trying on my wig collection.

Yes, this is my Saturday night.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Don't let it get to you: The fatigue from smiling so much and trying to entertain strangers, as you attempt to bring a 12-hour work day to a close. It is okay; this is all part of it. And your feet don't hurt. And your throat isn't hoarse. And yes, they are listening to you. And yes, they enjoy it. They are swirling their glasses and taking second sips. Keep talking.

Don't dwell on the big, lumbering trucks that slow your commute -- a trip that already takes up a good portion of your week. Don't scream behind the wheel. Don't pound your fists. Don't tug on your hair.

Don't think about the absence at home. And the news that you will be alone for at least another month. Tell yourself: This is nothing. I have done this before. Because it's true; you have. And absence can be good.

Carry on. Don't let any of it affect what happens. Don't let it change the way you answer the phone. Or how you greet someone when you meet them for the first time. Don't become oversensitive, insecure, small. There is no need for that, and there never will be. Don't alter your course or forget what you enjoy doing; there are things you enjoy doing.

Remember them: Taking photos of fall leaves. Rubbing his belly. Crossing that bridge.

the experiment

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dear cats:

I thought you were supposed to bury your poo. I thought this was a Cat Thing: cat + litterbox + poo = bury. But no. Apparently burying your poo requires too much effort. Either that, or you somehow believe each poo you create is a unique work of art and must therefore be displayed for the entire world to see (and smell).

I have had enough. No more exposed poos. No more kitty litter crumbs sprayed all over the floor and embedded in the rugs (especially disgusting when I find them in my bed). No more loud digging noises that go on for 15 minutes straight in the middle of the night (funny how you do this and still completely fail to bury your poo).

This weekend, the toilet-training begins.

Be prepared, my furballs. Be prepared.

about paso robles

Sunday, October 15, 2006

1. Instead of asking you for a $5 tasting fee (or any tasting fee at all), you will be asked if you've gotten a chance to sample the fresh bread, cheeses and dips. You will be offered the Reserve-tier wines without asking for them. And you will listen to a woman with white hair tell you she got so "shit-faced" (that's a direct quote) while she was barrel-tasting with her husband that all she wanted was a hot dog, and she never usually eats hot dogs. And then she will pour you some late harvest wine. Go now.

2. That guy with the sunglasses and the tourist sweatshirt behind the bar? He's the winemaker. And coincidentally, he used to live in your neighborhood -- in fact, maybe only a few blocks away. You both like the same sushi restaurants.

3. You can find a tasting room that stays open until 7:30 p.m. And they have a peacock that will eat out of your friend's hand.

4. French onion soup and beautiful pastries.

5. There are grapes growing just outside his kitchen window and lizards that sit in the sun on his front porch.

potluck trivia

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The origin of the potluck is not the Native American custom of potlatch, where the host throws a huge ceremonial dinner and sometimes ends up giving most of his possessions away to his guests. The potluck actually has its roots in the Middle Ages. People wanted to make use of every last leftover scrap, so they would often throw everything together in a pot and keep it warm, so if anyone came over at the last minute, they had something to offer their guests.

As far as I know, no scraps were involved in last night's dinner. But I'm sure as hell looking forward to eating the leftovers from our meal -- especially the decadent chocolate peanut butter cupcake that Brian brought from the newly opened Bristol Farms in Union Square.

diable incarné

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Eric Asimov's recent article proves Michel Rolland is just as charming as he was portrayed on the big screen.

My absolute favorite part of the article is when Asimov asks Rolland about the movement toward big alcohol wines. Eric lists Clos Du Val (bless his heart for thinking of us!) and Corison (let me just tell you -- Cathy Corison makes amazing, amazing wines -- I had her 96 Cab recently, and it was unbelievable -- and only 12.8% alcohol!) as examples of two wineries that aren't following this trend. And Rolland pretty much responds by calling us both losers.

I kid you not:
We spoke about the rising level of alcohol in wines and the trend toward allowing grapes to ripen longer before they are harvested. The resulting wines are bigger and more opulent, with sweeter fruit, softer tannins and an absence of herbal flavors that were once commonplace in cabernet sauvignon-based wines. I mention Clos du Val and Corison, two Napa Valley producers whose wines adhere to a less upfront, more austere style, and Mr. Rolland is strikingly dismissive.
“Are they as successful in the marketplace? No,” he said, warming to the subject. “Wine is done for what? The public! Wine is a business. They want to make wine to sell wine. In the U.S. they are honest enough to tell you they want good ratings. They don’t want loser wines.”
I have been fuming over this quote since I first read it early yesterday morning. Rolland goes against absolutely everything wine is to me. The winemakers I admire don't go into the wine industry because "it's a business." In fact, it takes years to actually make a return on your wines -- if you plant vines, it will take 2-3 years before you get any fruit, and then when you actually use that fruit to make a wine, you'll have to wait an additional 2-3 years before you can release it. Seriously, anyone going into this business because they think it's an easy way to make money is nuts. Most everyone I respect in the industry -- those I've come to view as teachers -- is not in it for the money. They're in it because they genuinely love wine. Many left well-established (and yes, often more lucrative) careers -- tenured professorships at big-name universities even! -- to become cellar rats.

It's the corporate folks -- those who are impatient, who want huge results right away, who don't even really know how to make their own wines -- who hire Rolland. And so he travels all over the world, making the same kind of wine from a number of different regions and countries, thus destroying the idea of terroir. And then of course his BFF Robert Parker gives his wines 90+ scores and all those consumers who think wine is a status symbol or an investment and have no clue how to form their own opinions about what they like and don't like buy these wines. And of course, they don't even drink them. They just show their friends: "Look what I have that you can't afford. I am so cool."

And we get called losers because we stand by our own beliefs and offer people something different.

P.S. Lower-alcohol wines pair better with food. And they are more likely to age.


Monday, October 09, 2006

One ritual: counting the hot air balloons on my drive to work. This morning, there were 11.

But I could only capture two. The rest were specks on the horizon. Sort of like someone had thrown confetti in the air and it stayed there, floating.

two days of sun

Sunday, October 08, 2006

hello, I am an oinker.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Last night the fabulous Geisha came over for Sake House, Sauvignon Blanc and "Sex and the City" reruns. (The wine didn't exactly match with the sushi, but no big deal.)

Upon surveying my apartment -- the futon I've been sleeping on for the past week because I'm too lazy to put sheets on the bed, the huge piles of wine magazines littering the floor, the remote controls conveniently located within arm's reach, the entire wardrobe hung all over the dining room chairs and the smell of fresh cat poo in the air -- Geisha declared: "This is like a bachelor pad."

He then moved a huge pile of blankets and a teddy bear (not mine -- it belongs to the cats, I swear), so he could actually sit down. And he said: "So. You're going to clean up before tomorrow, right?"

Which is why I'm awake so damn early on a Saturday morning. My winemaker has the weekend off and is on his way home, and Geisha thinks I live in a pig sty. This is not a good combination.

And it's just not wise to ignore a geisha.

it rained

Thursday, October 05, 2006

And this morning the streets were wet and the sky was heavy and it really, truly felt like fall. I am imagining mugs of hot cocoa. And padding around in super-soft spa socks. And reading, all curled up, under layers and layers of blankets.

(By the way, the grapes are fine. We're 90 percent done picking, and what's left on the vines is Cab and Petite Verdot, which I'm told aren't susceptible to Botrytis. So no harm from the rain.)

could I be a workaholic?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Tonight I went to a fancy wine party at the de Young. I ate goat cheese and currant cones (amazing -- I could spend the rest of my life snacking on these); teeny-tiny crepe purses stuffed with warm short ribs; truffle pork pâté; and golden beets with crème fraîche. And I sampled the 04 Sea Smoke Gratis Chardonnay (winner of "Best New Winery"), the 05 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc ("Best Wines Under $20"), the 03 Paloma Merlot ("Best Wines Over $20" -- and big, big, big -- in a blind tasting, there's no way I would've ever guessed this was Merlot!) and the 02 Joseph Phelps Insignia ("Best Bordeaux-style Blend"). And I hung out with a lot of fellow PR folks. Saw the woman who recommended me for my job. And the woman who had my job before I did.

You know, I am really glad everything worked out. Not just because it was a nice party in a beautiful space with good food and good wine and a good DJ, but because I actually really like my job. And this is the first time I can say that about any job I've ever had.


Monday, October 02, 2006

I am a city girl. I am the one our production team laughs at because I think manual punchdowns and shoveling pomace are "fun" and "a good workout." On Saturday (I was at the winery all day for an event, which is why I have today off), they happily let me punchdown the grapes that will eventually become our 06 Reserve Pinot Noir. Everyone -- including our winemaker -- was very entertained. My arms are still a little bit sore.

We always want what we don't have. We city people will pay good money to pick grapes so we can feel like we are part of the harvest experience, like we understand winemaking. (See the photo above -- I took it on Saturday at our annual grape stomp for wine club members.)

I am trying to learn to want what is here. This perpetually messy apartment that doesn't have enough storage space. These bangs, which aren't quite long enough yet to tuck behind my ears. This piece of toast, which doesn't come with any jelly, much less a side of eggs or a glass of orange juice.

And this time. This in-between time while he is gone and working and absorbing and deciding. It is lonely, but he is excited when he talks about presses and yeast and sugar levels and tanks. His shoulders are strong. His nails are stained purple. And it is so good when he is happy.

This weekend was like the beginning, all over again. And I remember the beginning: The boy with the grey scarf standing just outside the kitchen. I was washing dishes. There was snow on the ground outside.

And I thought: Those eyes.


Friday, September 29, 2006

The winemaker is coming home for the weekend.

cooking makes me miss him

I admit it: I am pathetic. I have not turned on the stove since he left. I have not gone to the grocery store, except once and that was to buy paper towels and a frozen burrito. I subsist largely on tomatoes from the employee garden at work (sometimes with cottage cheese bought from the convenience store across the street).

My saving grace is delivery from Sake House. I've already ordered the Chef's Dinner Bento (with sushi, a California roll and gyoza) twice in the past five days. And I'm tempted to order it again tonight, while I spend my Friday evening doing laundry and watching really bad movies that I am too embarrassed to rent when he is around.

Sake House sushi is actually good, unlike the other delivery sushi I've tried in the past. (We used to order from this place that made both Chinese and Japanese food, and the Japanese portion of the menu was really bad. The sushi rice was all mushy and gross. And the California roll was just a big clumpy mess.)

to those drunken biznatches

Thursday, September 28, 2006

at Slide last night:

You are lucky I am not a violent person. Because after you hit my elbow, causing me to spill my Chardonnay in my face and all the way down the inside of my cowlneck sweater (yes, my bra was soaked), I wanted to destroy you. And all you said was, "Oh, sorry."

I would've loved to smack you and dig my nails into your eyeballs and dump an entire magnum of red wine (yes, red!) on you. But instead, this is what I wish for you:

May you be walking down the street, preferably in suede shoes or a suede jacket, and may some completely drunk person who just ate too much Mexican food throw up all over you. And may chunks get in your hair.

May the guy you have been eyeing all night at the party walk in on you in the bathroom and find you changing your tampon. And may he run away screaming.

May you break the heels on all your favorite shoes.

May you get dumped in public.

May you eat a spinach salad.

And you will not be alone in the hell I have in mind for you. There were so many drunken biznatches at last night's winetasting. You will have friends. You can all pose for the event photographer together in ridiculously short skirts. And then brazenly ask my friend Jenny's fiancé if you can sit in his lap -- while Jenny is right there next to him!

So awful. The one thing I really hate about wine is that it's a magnet for yuppie scum or wannabe yuppie scum. Good lord.

pay to play

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

This morning I was greeted by an e-mail inviting our founding winemaker to participate in a radio interview. Said interview would also include a listing on the station's Web site. Said interview would be broadcast nationally.

And said interview would cost $795. This is "a sponsorship package."

Are you kidding me? Since when is it okay to pay for media coverage? I am absolutely horrified. And this isn't the first time I've seen this. I can't even tell you how many magazines (by the way, regional "luxury" lifestyle publications are the worst when it comes to this) have tried to pull something like this: "Give us cases and cases for our event, and we'll mention you in the next issue!" And TV is guilty as well: "Pay us X amount, and we'll do a feature on your winery."

Honestly, if you need to pay people to talk about your wines, are your wines really even worth talking about? Probably not.

This worries me. If more and more media are using these "sponsorship packages," how much information out there is actually legit? Or is most everything we see, hear and read just one big ad? This is frightening beyond belief.

Thankfully, my winery has ethics. We don't "pay to play." And I'd like to believe our juice is good enough to stand on its own. (And that I'm a good enough PR person to win attention for us without having to fork over any cash.)

if you look closely

Monday, September 25, 2006

... you can see the sun rise.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

I owe you: You made me actually leave the house. And eat a homecooked meal. (Did you know I haven't cooked at all this past week? I haven't turned on the stove. I haven't bought any groceries. I have subsisted on tomatoes from the employee garden at work, cottage cheese and protein drinks. And "Grey's Anatomy" on DVD.) And you made me dance to silly reggae music in a dim bar with a drunk girl visiting from New York, a restaurant manager and your neighbor. Bless your heart.

when there is nothing left to burn

Friday, September 22, 2006

I have been watching the hills of Napa burn since I got here this morning. They say there is vineyard land in danger. And 50 homes. And the fire is moving, and it is so windy today. (The photo above is from the Napa Valley Register.)

We are fine. We are on the other side of Highway 29, far enough away. But I still worry.

I've felt this way many times before. There was the Parkhill fire in Santa Margarita, where 1,400 acres burned. It was a Sunday, and I was the only reporter in the newsroom, so they sent me. I was wearing flip-flops and a tank top and the photographer had to teach me about wind direction and the best way to drive in close to a fire without killing myself. At one point, the flames jumped the fireline, and CDF shoved me in one of their trucks.

I remember a woman trying to protect her house. Like me, her toes were exposed. She was carrying buckets of water and pouring them on her lawn. Hosing off her roof. I remember chasing after her. Wanting so badly to help. But not knowing what to do, or if I -- a stranger with a notebook -- would be allowed to do it.
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