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cold, rainy

... and gorgeous.

I took this photo yesterday after a run at Shollenberger -- finished four miles just as it started to drizzle.

the perks

So I was at the Wine Center today helping the executive chef rehearse the cooking demo he'll be doing on TV in a few weeks.

Cooking on TV is not easy. We'll have about five minutes to show viewers how to make a sweet potato gnocchi, while simultaneously discussing wine pairings, encouraging people to drop by the tasting room and fielding questions from the TV show's hosts. Not to mention worrying whether the burners will be hot enough so that the gnocchi actually becomes gnocchi, and not a big pile of orange mush.

I know rehearsing this stuff is part of my job, but I still feel really stupid when I have to role-play, which is what I had to do today. I had to pretend I was a TV show host, do cheesy introductions and try to come up with the most random questions I could so our chef would be prepared.

Luckily, he is a pro, and it only took us two tries and one mushy gnocchi dish to figure it all out. And practicing was fun, despite my poor acting skills.

And I got to go home with a goodie bag: The chef found out how much I love mushrooms, and he sent me home with some porcini, yellowfoot chanterelles, candy caps, wild oysters, hedgehogs and pig's ears.

I love people who love food.

dear santa

Forget what I was thinking about new running shoes or gift cards to Whole Foods or -- ahem -- the third Twilight book (I know, I know -- I'm embarrassed too).

This is what I want: A fresh black truffle covered in dark chocolate ganache.

four weeks later

I think I'm adjusting. No more meltdowns in spin class. No more parking in the wrong lot. No more failing to recognize my own desk.

Granted, there are still hiccups. I spent way too much time today trying to figure out how to turn in a mileage form. And I still need to double-check vintages on my sample requests because I don't know what the wineries' release schedules are. And I have yet to find a satisfying burrito.

But I did get a great hit in Sunday's SF Chronicle, which featured not just one, but two of my wineries. Hooray for holiday picnics!

burgers, beer, blue chalk

I was all set with a great photo from my new restaurant discovery, but somehow the picture got corrupted, so instead, here is a piece of chalk from Thanksgiving. Yes, that's right. I spent my Thanksgiving playing pool at Todd's grandmother's cabin near Bass Lake. And all was well until the septic system backed up. But that's another story.

And I'd rather talk about my exciting restaurant find than share the details about the lengths I went through to avoid going to the bathroom in an outhouse.

So: Mondo in Sonoma. Big, fat, juicy burgers. Lengthy beer list (Scrimshaw Pilsner! Racer 5! Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout! All on tap!). Killer onion rings. And exactly halfway between Laura and me, making it the perfect place to catch up on a Sunday night.

cat envy

While I ran around doing laundry, packing for tomorrow and trying to make sure my brother's birthday card got mailed out in time (he's weird about that sort of thing), someone else was buried in the sheets.


It's been one week. I've only gotten lost walking to my desk a few times. (The building is huge. All the cubicles are grey. My landmark is an heirloom tomato poster, which several other people also have posted at their desks, so this becomes very confusing.) I've already set up one radio interview. And I'm working on a TV segment. And there's also the launch of a new Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. And some ambitious holiday promotions.

And a lot of PR speak, which is somewhat new to me. (Probably because it was just me doing all of the PR at my old job, so there was no one else to PR-speak to.) Now, there is "reaching out" to contacts and "wrapping your arms around" ideas and finishing projects "by COB" (which means close of business -- I actually had to Google it). I'm sort of worried all of this is going to rub off on me, and I'll end up talking like a PR robot instead of a human being.

But things are good. Brainstorming with other people is good. Liking those people a whole lot is good. Tasting through my new portfolio is good. Massive amounts of Halloween candy in baskets all over the office is good. Having an awesome gym right across the street with classes that kick my ass and make me feel less guilty about said candy is really, really good.

What's missing: A decent burrito. (I'm sorry -- this place just does not cut it! Guacamole shouldn't be that shade of green!) Cellar guys to shoot the shit with. An in-house shipping guru who knows how to navigate direct shipping laws and also enjoys talking about beer festivals in Mendocino. Peanut brittle and poodles in the tasting room. A winemaker who likes to discuss obscure Japanese literature and vegetarian Indian recipes. People who understand that wine and Kettle Chips do belong together forever.

Basically, all of my old friends.

I hate to admit it, but apparently, I don't adjust as well to change as I would like to think I do. I spent the last week trying really hard not to mope around. I absolutely don't regret my decision -- I honestly believe it was the right career move -- but man, I miss my old co-workers like crazy.

It's so bad that I actually started crying in spin class at the new gym last Thursday because all I could think about was how I used to take spin class with Laura on my lunch break, and now she's not there, and now no one is there, and there's not even a good burrito nearby, and then I felt so lonely and really far away from everyone and everything, and the tears just wouldn't stop.

I am telling myself that maybe this happened because sometimes exercise can release certain emotions, and not because I am just one big, gigantic baby.

(Um, still trying to convince myself of this.)


Friday was my last day. There was a nice lunch with awesome Mexican food (one of the vineyard guys has a catering business on the side, and his food is so damn good -- I could eat bowl after bowl of his guacamole), cupcakes, doughnut holes and a buffet of Kettle chips. Obviously, my coworkers have figured out what makes me tick!

Then I tied up a few things, finished packing up my desk, said good-bye and left.

And I've been feeling weird ever since -- it's like I don't belong anywhere anymore, like I'm floating around without a purpose. I feel like I have to rethink my entire identity! Which makes me realize just how much I defined myself by my job. And that can't possibly be healthy, right?

Adding to the feelings of weirdness: On my last day, I had to return my Crackberry, so no more constant e-mails to Laura all day. And the hard drive on my personal laptop died, so no computer at home (I have to borrow Todd's, which is what I'm doing right now) and no work laptop to temporarily replace the personal laptop. And on top of that, I've been in the introductory sommelier course all weekend (eight hours a day, no joke), with no phone or Internet access. I spent the past two days feeling overwhelmed by life changes but not being able to talk about it!

But at least I passed my introductory sommelier exam. (And let me tell you -- I was totally freaking out about that.) And I think my tasting technique is now better, as a result. And I can tell you that in South Africa, grape varietals are called "cultivars." And the popular white wine in Veneto is Soave, which is made from Garganegra. And the first U.S. AVA was -- believe it or not -- Augusta, Mo. And the Puttonyos you see on the label of Tokaji? Puttonyos are the buckets of aszu, or paste from botrytized grapes, that are added to the wine. So 4 Puttonyos means four buckets, and so on. And the more Puttonyos, the sweeter the wine.

Nothing like a little random trivia to cheer yourself up.

Oh, and I start my new job tomorrow, too.

still working on it

The cleaning continues. And though it's not as physically taxing as this tank of Pinot was (I cleaned this thing out a few weeks ago -- it's my annual harvest tradition -- nothing like wearing a banana suit and entertaining the cellar guys with my lack of upper body strength), it's still rough.

I've accumulated an insane amount of magazines in my cubicle over the past three years. Because of my job, I have subscriptions to pretty much every food and wine publication out there. And while this is great and very helpful when it comes to pitching, the pile of magazines resembles a small mountain and is actually a health hazard because anyone who comes to my cubicle runs the risk of tripping over a Sunset or a Decanter or a Wine Business Monthly and sustaining a serious injury.

I've also collected a bazillion other random items. Need the Auction Napa Valley program from 2006? What about a gold medal from the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo wine competition? Or maybe a photo that Arthur Elgort took of the assistant tasting room manager's dog with model Anya Hindmarch?

I even have a boomerang with my name on it. And an origami set with instructions on how to fold paper into little Australian animals. And there are two unworn berets. And some fake grapes, both red and white. And a box full of branded spatulas. I have holiday cards from my favorite media contacts. A paper cutter. A regular stapler and an electric stapler. Seven boxes of paper clips, two boxes of plastic sheet protectors and one very large insulated wine bag.

I swear, I should have a garage sale.

cupcaking, cleaning

Spent yesterday with the apron on, baking up a batch of pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. They were absolutely delicious, even if I did cheat a little and used canned pumpkin. (Jeff once told me I could substitute with butternut squash and it would taste the same, but to be totally honest, even though I love butternut squash, it is a pain in the ass to slice open.) Anyway, the cupcakes were fantastic -- really moist and not overly sweet. And I topped them with candy corn, since Halloween is just around the corner.

I brought the cupcakes to work this morning. It's my last week at the old job, and I'm getting a little sentimental. If only I had the time to bake cupcakes for my coworkers every day this week just to show them how much I'll miss them! I swear, I almost cried at lunch today when Laura gave me a going-away present -- a bag full of chips and cookies (she knows!). And at Saturday's harvest party, I got huggy with the winemaker -- you know, the One Who Doesn't Hug. And I've been spending hours burning CDs of all the personal photos I've uploaded onto my work laptop over the past three years, and looking at all those pictures again makes me so nostalgic.

Oh, old apartment in San Francisco with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge! Oh, very first CDV holiday party, where Todd had the most amazing haircut he has ever had during the whole time I have known him! Oh, miss Mari as a tiny little kitten!

But just when I start to get carried away on a tidal wave of lovey-dovey emotion, I look at my cubicle. Seriously, I have been cleaning it since I put in my resignation about two weeks ago. And yet it is still a complete disaster area. Today while going through files, I found a total of three very disgusting dead bugs, and one of them was a spider that looked like it had an egg sac attached.

the break

A big part of why I have been so vague lately is because I was interviewing and didn't want the whole world to know. But since I spent yesterday and today telling people at work that I am leaving, I guess it's OK to blog about it now.

So: I am leaving to work for a much larger wine company that has 35 domestic brands, including an awesome, cool-climate Zin from Mendocino, a super high-end Napa Cab, the gorgeous property in the photo above, and yes, what may very well be the country's most popular Chardonnay. My last day is Halloween, and I start the new job immediately after. This is exciting -- a great next step for my career. I am happy.

And so sad!

I told our winemaker this morning, and halfway through what I was hoping would be a very brave speech, I started crying. And I couldn't stop. I sort of blubbered my way through why this is such a great opportunity that I can't pass up. And then I babbled something about how he is my favorite person at CDV and I'll miss him and hopefully we can still all hang out and go to dinner. And then -- yes, it gets even dorkier -- I announced that I hope the next PR person will make him famous because I really believe he should be famous and if he ever starts his own label, I want to do PR for it. And then he hugged me, which of course made me even more emotional because this is a man who never hugs. And then I went back to my little messy cubicle and sat there and cried some more.

I know I can't stay at CDV forever -- I don't want to, and I know it's not right for my career. But I learned so much there and I love so many of the people and I have such good memories.

I think I am going to need to carry a box of Kleenex around with me for the next few weeks.

play hard

What to say about this weekend ...

Friday night blended into Saturday morning because we were drinking Sauternes with lavender ice cream (one of the Absolute Best Pairings Ever) and suddenly it was almost 3 a.m.

Thirteen hours later, I found myself miraculously not fast asleep in a corner but instead having a blast at a winery event in the gorgeous Bennett Valley, where there were Jeep tours and Kobe beef steaks and media flying in on a helicopter. (Yes. Helicopter. How hot is that? Maybe I need to suggest this to my work.) And after that, there was beer, sake and sushi with Jonah, and we actually stayed out late enough that Todd was able to meet us after his shift.

And today: Atwater for Shara's bridal shower, where the showering involved chocolate martinis, engagement ring-shaped cookies (adorable!) and tons of food. (And of course, even though I had stuffed myself silly at the party, I still couldn't resist stopping for a big bag of Del Taco on the drive home.) Fueled by the Del Classic Chicken Burrito (yes, here we go with the chicken obsession again), I did some speedwork this evening and got my 5K time down to the fastest ever -- which really isn't that fast, but it still made me happy.

And now I am sitting in my pajamas, sipping some Emergen-C (you know, just in case) and watching old seasons of "Angel" on Netflix and waiting for Todd to come home.

And wondering why weekends have to be so damn short.


I really have to do something about this sleeping issue.

Or maybe I should call it a not-sleeping issue, since it involves staying up way too late in an attempt to wait for Todd to get home from his nightly punchdowns at his work.

I swear, the first time we've had dinner together in a very long time was last night, because he got the day off and the two of us were able to go to Pete and Sylvia's wedding dinner. (Congrats to them! They are fabulous!) We talked and talked and talked like we hadn't seen each other in ages. (Which is pretty much true.)

I miss him.

for the young'uns

So I am supposed to be working on a project about marketing wines to Millennials, all those young people who are 21 to 30. (Actually, the group is even younger than that, but I'm not really legally supposed to be marketing toward people who are under 21.) I've been thinking about this, and it's tricky. I mean, look at that age range. Someone who is 21 most likely has very different interests from someone who is 30. And very different incomes. And very different ideas of how that income should be spent.

But the marketing can be done. Case in point: Pink Party, an annual event put on by one of our Napa Valley neighbors to raise money for breast cancer research. Everyone wears pink (yes, boys too), spends all night drinking pink bubbly (brutal the next day, but fun when you're in the moment) and dances like mad.

Never have I seen so many young people at a wine event. Never. Hell, I didn't even know young people existed in Napa, but there they were in full force. And this was not a cheap ticket, either -- admission was $50 a pop! But those tickets sold out, and everyone had their dancing shoes on. And to be honest, the crowd was so young that I felt like I was an old fart, and I'm only 30. It was an exciting way to get people interested in wine.

Unfortunately, once they're interested, they may not be the best at actually holding their alcohol. (Note to self for marketing project: Always make sure Millennials drink enough water and eat enough food.)

My Pink Party revelry ended with me witnessing some poor girl barfing and collapsing next to the toilet in the winery's restroom, while her three friends tried their best to haul her out of the stall and hold a trash bag up to her face. And then when the music stopped and it was time to go home, security herded all of us partygoers down a walkway, where we found yet another poor girl peeing right next to the sidewalk -- right there in the pretty winery landscaping, just as absolutely everyone who was at the party was walking past. And then as we were trying to catch a cab to go home, some drunk guy accosted Laura and insisted he would drive us wherever we wanted to go, declaring: "I'll take you to Jack in the Box! I'll take you anywhere!" Awesome pick-up line, man. Truly awesome.

Perhaps I'll include the Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger in my marketing plan.

to sum it up

October is off to a busy start. There was Pink Party this past Thursday (and the brutal -- and I mean excruciatingly so -- hangover that followed), LoveFest yesterday and a media tasting for Shane's wines tonight (Todd used to work for him at KB, and I'm helping him out with a little PR -- 2007 is Shane's second vintage, so he's a yet-to-be-discovered talent, though if tonight's meeting is any indication of how things are going to go, I'd get on that mailing list fast because these wines are going to sell out like crazy).

Anyway, I will try to post some photos from Pink Party and LoveFest soon (hooray for being a drunken idiot in public!), but don't hold your breath -- we all know I haven't been the best blogger lately.

In the meantime, this is the quiche I made today. True, it may not be as exciting as pink boas, gold hot pants and men in assless chaps dancing on top of parade floats, but I can bet you a bazillion dollars that it tasted a whole lot better. In fact, it was pretty damn good -- the filling was sweet red and orange bell peppers, fresh basil and Monterey Jack cheese. And when I served it, I topped it with the gourmet lettuce mix that I got at the farmers' market, drizzled that with extra virgin olive oil (which I refuse to call EVOO, thank you very much), freshly ground pepper and a pinch of truffle salt (I really must write an entire blog entry about truffle salt -- to say I worship it is an understatement).

Best part: No hangover.

el pollo loco

Normally, I dislike chicken. Really, really, really dislike it. In fact, I typically compare food I find extremely bland to chicken.

But during the past week or so, I've been experiencing these intense cravings for meat. (So bizarre -- usually I lust after bean burritos or French fries or Indian food, never meat. Maybe it's all the running?) And I find myself fantasizing about salami and pulled pork and bratwurst and bacon and ...


I know, right? Maybe I am losing my mind. But last week I went out of my way to buy ground chicken (and did I mention ground meat usually sicks me out?) so I could make chicken and lettuce cups. And they were damn good! Which inspired me to go back to the butcher again yesterday for some organic chicken breast.

Which I dipped in buttermilk; rolled in flour, panko, Parmesan and thyme; and put in the oven.

It was a valiant attempt, but unfortunately, I put a little too much flour on, so the outer layer never actually browned the way it was supposed to. This resulted in my leaving the chicken in the oven for too long, and then I got frustrated and put the whole thing in the frying pan just to get the flour browned.

The result? Overcooked chicken. Which reminded me once more why I usually hate chicken and never eat it or attempt to make it.

Still, I guess trying is better than nothing. And it wasn't inedible. (I actually shared some of it with the cats, and they approved wholeheartedly.) And it looked sort of nice on the plate next to the fabulous tomato salad I put together with tomatoes from our employee garden at work. (Nothing quite as wonderful as vine-ripened tomatoes!)


Went for a run near Laura's house after work today. She lives in a little cottage that's tucked away in a vineyard. It's unbelievably quiet there -- no sound at all except the birds and lizards scurrying around. And the house -- or should I say mansion, since the place is huge -- next door is empty. I think it's a vacation rental or some rich person's playhouse. Whatever the case, it reminds me a little of Grey Gardens. It's so isolated and lonely. I love it.

Sometimes I fantasize about leaving it all and going somewhere that is silent, where it will be just us and the cats and maybe a room full of books and a garden full of round, ripe tomatoes.

never say never

Tonight I had an awesome meal made with two ingredients I normally dislike: Chicken and iceberg lettuce.

that time of year

Harvest started a few weeks ago. It's a weird year -- major frost this spring all over California, not much rain, then a heatwave at the end of August, followed by overcast days and fog. Which means a small crop that came in fast in the beginning, but has since slowed down with the cooler weather.

It also means he is working six days a week. And they've put him in charge of the night crew, so these are long, late days.

So I rent all the DVDs that he wouldn't want to watch. (Like the third season of "Grey's Anatomy," which really isn't all that great but I still watch it anyway.) And I take a very long time washing my face and use all the products I usually forget I even own. And I eat a lot of tomatoes and cottage cheese for dinner. And spend plenty of time at the gym or at happy hour with the girls.

sometimes it feels like this

I promise I will write more soon.


I fought with my mom. I had to take my car to the shop. I didn't have time to eat breakfast.

But my co-worker brought in homemade biscuits and gravy. And somehow, all was well.

going greek

I know, I know -- been missing in action. My excuses: Last week was our national sales meeting (remember the Tahoe scouting trip?), which was followed by a big toga party, which was followed by a morning of tending to a hungover friend, which was followed by lots of catching up at work to make up for all of the days spent out of the office.

I promise a real post soon. But in the meantime, here's a photo of us dressed as Pan and a wood nymph.


So we've lived here in Chickenland for more than a year now, and one tough thing about having left San Francisco is the fact that we don't see our city friends nearly enough. We used to hang out all the time -- all it took was a spontaneous phone call, and suddenly, we'd be meeting up for a drink or a sample sale or oeufs en meurette. But now planning is a little more complicated and involves multiple calendars, the calculation of driving times and budgeting for gas and bridge tolls.

After trying to schedule something over the past few months, we were finally able to meet for dinner last night. And what a dinner it was -- we went to Aziza, where we indulged in pre-dining cocktails (I got the Ginger -- gin, Frangelico and muddled ginger -- yum) and then ordered the five-course tasting menu:

First course: Soup. We chose between lentil, which is the regular menu offering, and corn with cream and crab, which was yesterday's special. I went with corn and was very, very happy.

Second course: Appetizers served family style. We shared the spreads (eggplant, piquillo-almond, yogurt-dill) with flatbread and the artichoke hearts with parsley, caper, parmigiano-reggiano. There was also a hot dish of cannellini beans with ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend), sheep's milk feta, za'atar (apparently, another spice blend).

Third course: Basteeya, a hot phyllo pie filled with saffron-braised chicken and almonds and dusted lightly with cinnamon and powdered sugar. It was delicious -- a great combination of savory and sweet. (Although for Jessa, it was a little too sweet!) Our server suggested the Hirsch 2006 Riesling from Austria to pair with the dish, and he was right.

Fourth course: Choice of entree. I went with the scallops with fava beans, lemon-saffron rice and pea shoots. I took photos (above). Does it look like it disappointed?

Fifth course: Choice of dessert. By this time, we were all about to explode, but Aziza's dessert list is so good that we forced our stomachs to expand just a little farther. I went with the hazelnut madeleines with goat cheese sorbet, cinnamon ice cream and peaches. Talk about perfect flavor combinations! I kept playing around with how I ate mine -- a little madeleine here, a little peach there, now try it with just a dot of goat cheese, now a spot of cinnamon, now all together -- and every bite was delicious.

But the best part was that the entire meal was just so leisurely. We got there at 7:45 and didn't leave until 11, so we had lots of time to catch up. And the restaurant wasn't loud, so we didn't have to yell across the table at one another. Loved it.

a matter of taste

A clip of Sunday's radio show is online now. (Just scroll down and click on "July 27.")

Is there anyone in the world who actually likes the sound of his or her own voice? I listen to this, and I feel like I sound like I'm 12.

I did get to eat some fabulous food during the broadcast, though. Check out these goodies that Bob Hurley of Hurley's Restaurant in Yountville made to pair with the new Reserve releases. My favorite was the venison (so much for eating mostly vegetarian) with berry sauce and a side of butternut squash flan, paired with the 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir.

we'll always have paris

So I'm not sure how many non-industry or non-winegeek folks out there know about the Judgment of Paris. This is the tasting that basically set the stage for the California wine industry and opened doors for wineries and winemakers all over the world. Up until the Judgment, which took place in 1976, everyone thought French wine was the only type of wine worth drinking. (The French especially thought this.) This tasting -- a blind tasting that pit French wines against Californian wines -- changed everything. The judges, who were all French, couldn't figure out which wines were which, and they ended up choosing the Californian wines as the winners. Of course, this caused a huge uproar.

An uproar that is still roaring, over and over again. With re-enactment after re-enactment.

And now that good ol' Hollywood has made a movie about the tasting, everyone wants to experience Paris all over again.

I flew down to L.A. yesterday to represent our winery (yes, we were one of the California wines poured back in 1976) at one of these re-enactments. While they didn't have wines from all of the original participants, the wines they did have were pretty significant. For whites (Chardonnay, essentially), they had the 2006 Chateau Montelena, 2006 Chalone Vineyards, 2005 Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet and 2005 Beaune Clos des Mouches. For reds, our 2004 Reserve was joined by the 2004 Stag's Leap Cellars SLV, 2004 Chateau Leoville Las Cases and 2005 Chateau Montrose.

The tasting was interesting because the vast majority of people in the group were consumers -- just average, normal people (or so they seemed). But they took the tasting really seriously. And it was extremely cool to sit down and evaluate wines together -- I always enjoy listening to everyone's different descriptors and preferences -- it's like taking a peek into someone's food history. It's amazing the varied scents and flavors that people have in their memories.

Anyway, California won again -- Montelena for the whites and Stag's Leap for the reds (both the original winners in 1976). And yes, these results could be because our wines are indeed superior to the French.

Or because we are a bunch of Californians with palates for California wine. (I tend to agree with the latter -- I personally find it hard to say one country's wines are better than another's -- so much about wine is subjective.)

Either way, it was a fun event. And I am exhausted because I woke up at 4:30 this morning to fly home. (Can someone please tell me how and why I'm still awake right now?)

alien kitty

But we love her so much anyway.

in print, on water, on air

Lots of media action at work lately, which is a good thing (except for the fact that I don't blog as often as a result). I've been sending samples out left and right -- Dr. Miller is tasting the Aussies this month, our new Reserve-tier wines are being released soon and a lot of writers seem to be traveling through Napa at this time of year.

We hosted Mr. Big Time a few weeks ago for an all-Cab tasting (pulled out the good stuff -- including the 1992 Stags Leap District Cab, which was fahab and could probably even age a bit more). And our famous wine writer was very gracious and humble and an absolute joy to be around, which made the tasting even nicer.

And last week I went out sailing with our founding winemaker (I know, rough job, right?) because The Men's Book is doing a piece on winemakers and their photographer wanted to shoot ours in an outdoor setting. So we sailed down from San Rafael to Tiburon, and the photog made the winemaker blow up his dinghy (not that dinghy, you dirty people), climb in and row back and forth with a glass of wine. Luckily, our winemaker is a good sport, and I think the photos are going to be great -- sort of like he is shipwrecked and only needs our wine to survive. Love it.

And yesterday we hosted a French wine writer who is working on a book about wines for the woman's palate. And this Sunday, a local radio show will broadcast live from the winery, tasting our new Reserves on the air, recommending food that will pair with the wines and promoting our upcoming toga party. (Yes -- toga.)

Busy times, busy times ...

I scream because of ice cream

Today I stopped by Three Twins for a post-lunch treat. (This is my weekly ritual with Laura -- we go to Oxbow Public Market, where we order salads from Taylor's and then indulge in a scoop of ice cream for dessert.)

I like Three Twins because they always have interesting flavors -- cardamom, or strawberry ice cream that's made with balsamic.

And today they had tobiko ice cream. Yes, that's right -- ice cream made with those teeny-tiny, bright orange fish eggs that usually adorn sushi rolls. I like sushi and trying new food combinations, and I love savory flavors that are made into desserty items, so I immediately asked for a taste.

And started raving: This was fabulous stuff! Imagine the richest, most voluptuous, decadent vanilla base, with just barely a hint of saltiness (those who know me know I think salty-sweet is the best thing ever) and a very slight little crunch. Loved it!

I was going on and on about just how good the ice cream was when this older couple walked up behind me. The woman heard me praising the ice cream and announced:

"You must really like it because you're Chinese."

Wow. Oh, wow. Oh, good fucking wow.

I thought I left this stuff behind when I moved to the Bay Area. But apparently, I was wrong, and some people need a little educating:

1. I am not Chinese. I am Filipino. Asia is not made up of one single, all-encompassing country. In addition to China and the Philippines, there is also Korea (north and south -- oh my!), Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Burma (I don't want to call it Myanmar), Laos -- the list goes on and on!

2. Tobiko is not typically used in Chinese cooking; as I stated several paragraphs ago, you usually see it at the sushi bar, and sushi is Japanese. (Surprise!) Therefore, even if I were Chinese, this still wouldn't mean I would automatically like tobiko ice cream or even know what the hell tobiko was.

3. In fact, while this may be hard to fathom, just because one is Asian, this doesn't automatically mean one enjoys any sort of Asian food at all. I personally don't like pancit, a Filipino noodle dish, even though it was served at every single family party I ever went to throughout my childhood. (I know, it's extremely odd that I don't like it, and I will probably now get hate mail from Filipinos. But my point is that you don't have to like something even if it is supposed to be part of your food heritage.)

4. Tobiko ice cream was not created exclusively for the Asian customer's palate. A quick look at Napa's 2006 census estimate shows that only 5.9% of Napans are of Asian descent. Talk about niche marketing! I am pretty sure that the owner of Three Twins (who is not Asian, by the way) did not have this very small audience in mind when he came up with this recipe.

5. And finally: Is Tobiko ice cream really that weird? I mean, there is gumball ice cream (which I never really understood how to eat because you aren't supposed to swallow gum, so you'd have to stop eating the ice cream to chew the gumballs and then spit them out and this whole process would take forever and your ice cream would melt), avocado ice cream, lavender ice cream, even garlic ice cream (those of you who've been to the Gilroy Garlic Festival or the Stinking Rose know this is really good stuff). Any of these flavors could be considered "weird" to somebody! Seriously, if someone likes the damn ice cream and wants to eat it, let them!

Anyway, what pissed me off further was that this woman wouldn't try the ice cream. I told her (after explaining that I wasn't Chinese) she really should, but she absolutely wouldn't even think of it. So not only was she ignorant about race and culture, she was totally closed-minded about food.

And for that, I have nothing but the deepest of pity.

easily amused

Yes, that's a curtain rod.

hot dog


I was a pretty strict vegetarian in high school. (My diet drove my mother crazy, which I suspect I enjoyed.)

And then I went to college.

And of all the different types of meats that exist out there in this world -- the filet mignon, the charcuterie, the slow-cooked pulled pork, the thick-sliced bacon (ah, bacon!) -- it was the hot dog that brought me back to the flesh-eating world.

In other words, mystery meat.

Thankfully, I've discovered the organic grass-fed beef hot dog, so I can now indulge with less guilt. And believe me, I was all about indulging this weekend. While I'm no Black Widow, I did put away three of these babies (topped with avocado and bacon) Friday night.

Happy Fourth of July!

who knew

... that getting in and out of clothes could be so physically exhausting?

you know you've got it good

... when you can compare the chef's tasting menu at Gary Danko to the one at Cyrus.

We went to Gary Danko tonight to celebrate his birthday. It took us a little while to settle into the experience -- the restaurant is between Ghirardelli Square and North Beach, so to get there, you have to drive through hordes of tourists who don't obey traffic lights. We were a little stressed out by the time we arrived, but after the amuse bouche of corn soup, the first course of oysters and caviar, and a glass of Grüner Veltliner, we were fine. (By the way, I feel very pretentious just typing the word "caviar.")

The verdict: Cyrus still wins (better attention to detail, mellower ambience, more creative/fun dishes, i.e. foie gras doughnut -- hello!), but Gary Danko is damn good -- really damn good. We had an amazing salmon medallion tonight. And the oysters with caviar were just as decadent as they sound. And we also tried bison for the first time. (I kept daring Todd to ask the server if the bison was from Golden Gate Park, but he didn't do it. And we ended up overhearing the server say the bison was from some farm in Wyoming anyway.)

And then there was the chocolate soufflé. Good lord. This soufflé shouldn't even be legal -- it was just so perfect -- so fluffy and airy and light and wonderful. (And the hole in the soufflé is not a flaw, by the way. That is merely where the server poured the crème anglaise and warm Belgian chocolate. Yes, you may drool now. I am.)

was it the caterer?

Did another tasting yesterday evening. I don't really know what the verdict is on this one. When we left the tasting, we were ecstatic. I mean, look at the menu:

Hors d'oeuvres
Ahi tartare on a sesame crisp
Slow-cooked duck and polenta
Fava bean bruschetta with young pecorino
(All amazing -- and all perfectly bite-size, which is important when it comes to hors d'oeuvres -- you don't want your guest to feel awkward trying to eat them)

Butter and romaine lettuce with grapes, green onions and toasted almonds, topped with a mustard-basil vinaigrette
(I died. I love salad. This was an amazing, amazing salad. I could literally eat this every day.)

Prime rib
Portobello mushroom napoleon
Sides of steamed asparagus with truffle oil and roasted potatoes
(Prime rib was fine -- on the rare side. More on that later. Portobello mushroom napoleon -- now that's what I call a vegetarian main! It was pretty, substantial and tasty. And the asparagus was so good -- truffle oil in moderation, which is nice.)

(Good, but we are actually going to cut the dessert from the menu since we will be serving our super-secret awesome dessert instead.)

We raved about the food all night long -- no joke, we were really impressed. And the service was excellent too -- seemed like a very professional company with lots of experience working at the site we've selected. (Which, I'm discovering from talking to various caterers, is not the easiest site for events.) We even found ourselves discussing linen colors (I know, I know -- never in my life did I think I would care) and napkin folds (yes, there are several options to choose from, believe it or not). And all was well.

Until about 6 this morning when Todd woke up and started barfing. I'm not sure what the cause was. Food poisoning? Stress? His stomach's strong desire to stay home from work today? All I know is we ate exactly the same thing last night, except for the amount of prime rib. I took one bite, while he ate his entire serving. And the meat was very rare.

So now the question is: Was this a fluke and/or totally unrelated to the caterer? Or is our whole wedding party going to end up barfing the morning after?

taste test

We've started tasting caterers' menus. We're interviewing four caterers (never hurts to be safe, right?), and we dropped by the first one yesterday. She was really, really nice -- lots of great ideas for floor plans and an awesome idea for an alternative to wedding cake (her idea is so awesome that I can't share it here because I want people to be surprised when they experience the awesomeness -- but a hint: This is something I have blogged about before).

As for her food, thumbs up for the starters -- the soup (a chunky tomato served in a mug) was delicious, and I loved her salad, too. The rest of the menu was braised short ribs (which were really tender and good), potatoes, mushroom ragu and chard -- all fine, except that if you were vegetarian, you wouldn't have much to choose from since the mushroom ragu was more like something you would top the short ribs or potatoes with instead of a dish you could enjoy all on its own. Also, the main courses didn't exactly say "spring wedding" -- seemed more like winter comfort food to me.

Still, overall, it was a good experience. Although I have to say I'm having a more and more difficult time keeping the whole thing from turning into The Madness. I can already feel myself getting completely sucked in. Just now, I realized that I've spent the past hour or so looking at save-the-date cards, which don't even need to go out until November.

Someone slap me, please.

two wheels, too much fun

I am going to buy a bike.

This is the conclusion I've arrived at after spending three days in Aspen for work (we sponsor the Aspen Music Festival, and opening night was Thursday). Two of those three days involved riding a bike absolutely everywhere -- to visit accounts, to eat brunch, to buy chips at the convenience store, to ride through different neighborhoods and ogle rich people's houses, to follow the river, etc. We rode through a cemetery, past some small waterfalls, over numerous bridges, up one gigantic hill (not fun when you're trying to get used to the altitude) and into town. We even saw a deer.

I am hooked.

on the road again

In Tahoe for work. Spent the day investigating "activities" for our national sales meeting, which will be held here in August. Discoveries included:

1. A rafting trip where you don't actually have to paddle and can just float down the river and drink beer.

2. A rafting trip where everyone is required to paddle and there are rapids at the end. (And if you're scared, you can get out of the raft right before the rapids and walk the rest of the way.)

3. A very nice sailboat that does a sunset cruise with wine, beer and snacks.

4. A swanky resort that offers fly-fishing lessons, bike rentals, ping-pong tables, karaoke parties, golf, spa treatments and pretty much anything else you can dream up.

5. A stable that doesn't have a web site. Or a credit card machine, either.

6. A gigantic plate full of "dynamite prawns" that were so freaking good I ate them all by myself, even after an old man came up to me and said, "Those are the best, but what a big serving! I couldn't finish them!"


Currently, the cats are being teased by a very fat bird that is hopping around just outside the sliding glass door.


Did you know there is bacon chocolate? Yes! Bacon chocolate! My friend got me a bar recently. Talk about perfect PMS food -- chocolatey, salty and fatty all rolled into one package.

And did you know there are bacon cupcakes? This may be my next baking adventure.

But even more obsessive: Bacon tattoos. Yes, that's right. I can't believe how many people get bacon tattoos! Seriously! There's this one and this one. And my all-time favorite bacon love tattoo (we had a copy of this on our refrigerator for awhile). And then there's the cuts of pork. And let's not forget the guy who tattooed an entire breakfast on his head. Nuts! But I love it -- so cool that bacon is this iconic thing that deserves to be permanently inked on your body.

As for me, if I were to get a food item tattooed on myself, I think I'd have to go with the French fry. Good old pommes frites.

say it ain't so

My favorite cupcake blogger has ended her blog! I am trying not to panic. This woman was the source of so many fabulous recipes, such as these cashew-carrot-cardamom cupcakes, which I made as a birthday treat to myself not too long ago. (Remember the excessive carrot grating?)

Her cupcakes were truly unique; they were pretty much what inspired me to try baking. I loved how she used a lot of ethnic ingredients, made absolutely everything from scratch (even the little decorative toppers) and took pictures of every step of the process. And her cupcakes always turned out so much better than a lot of the stuff I've tried from the fancy-pants cupcake bakeries that are the trend nowadays. Anyway, I am very sorry to see that she has stopped writing.

haute dog

Short post tonight, just to catch up. Here's a photo from last Thursday's tasting in L.A. (Culver City, to be exact). They had awesome, awesome food -- chicken liver pâté from Osteria Mozza, polenta and braised short ribs from Grace Restaurant, sushi from Katana, mini red velvet cupcakes from Hotcakes, etc. Someone was also serving frites and grilled-cheese-and-black-truffle sandwiches. Amazing!

But my favorite dish of the evening was the fabulous grass-fed beef hot dog from the oh-so-cheery Let's Be Frank cart. This was a damn good dog -- juicy, flavorful and somewhat guilt-free (grass-fed beef is way better than mystery meat from who knows what part of the animal).



So remember how my last work trip was supposed to be in March? Turns out I'm not done yet. I flew down to L.A. yesterday for Wine & Spirits magazine's Hot Picks tasting. (More on that later -- I have some funny photos -- who convinced me that a beret is cool?) And I'm supposed to fly to Aspen next month for the music festival, which we sponsor every year.

But I'm back home now. And it feels good. Especially since we just had a nice dinner. I made fish cakes with a mango and pasilla pepper sauce, Israeli couscous and butter lettuce salad. And paired it with the Forman Vineyard 2003 Napa Valley Chardonnay (a no malolactic Chard made with Chablis in mind).

Um, yum.

But even more fun: The history behind the bottle. Todd gave me this Chardonnay for our first Christmas together -- way back in 2004. He bought me this Chard (along with a Cab) because it was a white wine that would age well -- and he figured we'd be together long enough for us to drink it in the future.

And that's exactly what happened. Four years later, here we are: Dinner in our house with our cats. Extra servings of fish cakes. A really dorky discussion about the parallels between the UC Davis enology program and getting your M.F.A. in fiction (did I mention really dorky?).

And a gorgeous, gorgeous wine that couldn't be more perfect for the evening. Nose still full of crisp, crunchy apples with a touch of sweet toast. Flavors of tropical fruit and pineapple with just the barest hint of caramel on the finish. Nice acidity. And the absolute perfect pairing for tonight's dinner -- it was killer with the pasilla-mango sauce.

Ah, I love home.

perfectionism or stupidity

I just spent my Friday night grating a pound of carrots by hand to make cupcakes because the recipe called for "finely grated" carrots and my Cuisinart attachment is not fine enough.

I'm melting

It is 87 degrees in the house right now. Eighty-freaking-seven degrees. Indoors. And it's after 10 p.m.

I am sitting here with an ice pack stuffed into my shirt.

This is the ultimate rosé weather -- pink wine is the perfect refreshment. In fact, I poured at the annual SF rosé tasting Tuesday. The event is pretty interesting -- while there are some producers (like us) who show up year after year, many of the wines are ones I've never heard of or tried before.

Case in point: The Solms Wijn de Caab 2006 "Lekkerwijn" Rosé from South Africa. I've never had anything like it -- the blend was 42 percent Viognier, 39 percent Mourvèdre and 19 percent Grenache. The Viognier gave the wine such a fleshy mouthfeel -- not syrupy or sweet by any means, but definitely weightier -- kind of like what Semillon does in a dry white Bordeaux. I liked it. A lot. It made me want food.

And it left me wondering: How often is Viognier used in rosé? I feel like Mourvèdre and Grenache are pretty common, but I personally have never seen Viognier in a blend before.

Thoughts, anyone?

a good start

If being 30 means spending long, lazy weekends on the Mendocino Coast, soaking in your very own private hot tub every night after a fabulous dinner of exquisite short ribs or pizza with pear, pesto and prosciutto after spending all day admiring rhododendrons in bloom, hiking down steep paths to beaches of glass or touring microbreweries, then I love this age.

so lady-like

Mari's at it again -- leaving nothing to the imagination.

drinking, er, studying

So I signed up to take the introductory sommelier course in November.

And upon confirmation of my registration, I received a 21-page syllabus of everything I will have to know in order to pass this test. This ranges from vineyard practices (canopy management, how to pick, weather) to winemaking (malolactic fermentation, fermentation vessels, barrel regimen) to all of the major winemaking regions around the world (from France to Portugal to the U.S. to Australia and New Zealand). I also need to know beer, spirits and cigars.

I am sort of terrified.

But I am doing a lot of, shall we say, "studying." For example, I need to know all seven of the Chablis Grand Crus for this test. So tonight I drank the 2001 Grenouille from La Chablisienne cooperative, which is one of said seven. (Surprisingly, this bottle only cost me $29.99 from Garagiste. I consider this a steal for a wine of this caliber.) And I read about the wine and the Chablis region while sipping.

Some things I learned: Chablis is part of Burgundy. And Chablis wine is made with Chardonnay, although the oak regimen is different from American Chardonnay and even the typical French Burgundy -- not as much oak because the winemakers want to preserve the "integrity" of the Chardonnay. (With the Grenouille, I got only a hint of biscuit/slight cookie flavor -- probably because of just a touch of oak.) And the term "Chablis" (which you may recognize) was misused for many years -- people used it as a generic term for white wine, so as a result, some people think Chablis still means cheap, bad white wine. (I used to know someone who had a white cat named Chablis. Can't say if this cat was cheap or bad, though.) And Grand Cru Chablis can be aged for 15 years.

Which sort of made me feel guilty about opening my bottle at only seven years. But you have to drink it to learn it, right? (I'm serious -- this really is the best way to learn about wine.) And I really, really enjoyed this wine. I got white peach on the nose and just a breath of petrol (reminiscent of an older Riesling). In the mouth, there was a nice firm acidity (really perfect for a white wine made to age), what I thought was a bit of pineapple (not overwhelmingly so -- just a teeny note) and then that biscuit/cookie thing. Mouthfeel was medium-full, and the finish was very crisp and refreshing. Overall, very delicious.

And educational.

bird-watching, calorie-burning

Had the day off in exchange for working Saturday. Did some chores around the house and then went for a run at Shollenberger.

Which is a wetlands preserve. So at this time of year, there are birds, bugs and unfortunately, snakes. I actually saw one slither away from me on the path. I stopped in my tracks, literally threw my hands in the air and yelled, "Oh f@cker!"

Despite that, I had a nice two-mile run. And then I went to my car, got my camera and took some photos of a family of swans. The mom had three furry little grey babies next to her and was also sitting on a few more unhatched eggs. Really cool.

hooray for grown-up furniture

The best thing about finally setting up the kitchen, eating meals at home and living in a house that is actually large enough to have a dining table: Conversation.

It's amazing. Dinner is now an opportunity to catch up, to spend time with each other, to talk about abstract things (and concrete things too), to get totally carried away and lose track of time. I love it.

And I love the way we've been incorporating wine with every meal. Tonight we had meatballs and drank our last bottle of 2000 Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Reserva from the Estremadura region of Portugal.

This wine knocked my socks off. I absolutely loved it. (I also loved it two years ago when we shared it with friends at Tablespoon in San Francisco -- sadly, the restaurant has since closed.) A blend of 96 percent Syrah and 4 percent Viognier, the Monte d'Oiro Reserva is like a Côte-Rôtie, which is a Syrah-based wine from the Northern Rhone.

The Monte d'Oiro Reserva was just beautiful. A gorgeous, gorgeous Old World nose -- lots of black fruit, bramble, spice, earth and meat. And in the mouth -- power, power, power. And not the over-oaked, over-alcoholic New World power (this was only 13 percent alcohol!), but real structure and complexity. I admit that when I was opening the bottle, I was really afraid that this Syrah (from Portugal, which is better known for Port, not for dry reds) was going to be past its prime. But man, this thing could've cellared for even longer. There was so much muscle, the mouthfeel was so full, the flavors were so layered -- it was like we were experiencing something new with each sip. Really amazing. And another bonus: I paid only $21.87 for it (from Garagiste, my go-to).

Yet even greater was the fact that I could gush about this wine during dinner at a table. A real table -- not a coffee table. We could discuss this wine while sitting in real chairs. And there was no TV blaring in the background. Fabulous!

This experience? Pretty much 100 points in my book.

an explanation

One morning the rain stopped just long enough for us to go hiking. The plants were very green. There were mushrooms growing on the side of the trail. He kept taking pictures of me. He is being kind of weird, I thought. It was muddy. So muddy that he couldn't actually kneel and had to squat. I still said yes. The ring was so big that he put it on the middle finger of my right hand.

This was January. And it took me this long to blog about it because weddings have a tendency to completely overtake everything, and this is a blog about eating and drinking (and occasionally cats). Not about tulle and florists and seating arrangements. (Although I will probably be blogging quite a bit about wedding cupcakes vs. wedding pie in the future. Neither of us is a fan of the tiered cake.)


1. I have issues with weddings and almost feel like having one means I have become part of the matrix. Or something like that. I kind of feel guilty -- like maybe I have succumbed to societal pressures.

2. I'm bad at telling people. Really, really bad at it. After we got engaged, we went to a tasting, and every time I introduced Todd as "my fiancé," I would start sweating profusely to the point of needing a tissue. I have since stopped using that term.

3. I've been out of town a lot. And busy with work. And let's not forget moving.

4. I am afraid of bridal salons and strange women oohing and aahing over gigantic ballgowns. I like to bake cupcakes, not wear them.

5. I am also afraid of the color white. (I work in wine. Wearing white is like asking for something really awful to happen.)

But despite all of my weird wedding hang-ups, yes, I am very, very excited to marry Todd. When it comes down to it, there's definitely something about letting all of your friends and family know how much you love someone and how you can't imagine the world any other way.

under seige

We have swallows at the winery.

A whole lot of swallows.

And every year when they come back to nest, it's like a scene straight out of Hitchcock: Swarms of black wings. Literally, a cloud of birds. Chirping and cooing and making strange clicking noises in their throats. They fly back and forth, building little mud nests in the eaves outside the window at my desk.

And while I think it's interesting that they come back to the same place every year, the sheer number of birds kind of freaks me out.

Especially since they poo on absolutely anything and everything.

It makes me somewhat terrified to go outside. In fact, I've started wearing hooded sweaters (despite the warm weather) in an attempt to protect myself.

My car, unfortunately, has become a poo target. So if you see a grey Camry covered in bird shit, that would be me.

ultra-premium cat food is not enough

Apparently, I am doing something horrible as a cat parent.

Because Meep's latest favorite activity is opening the broiler and crawling inside.