Archive for September, 2009

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To Wine Country, Jeeves

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

view-cole-valleyThe fog drifts in again and makes itself comfortable on the hill that is Buena Vista Park, opposite our picture window.  It’s this wet blanket of water droplets dampening streets, hiding views and flattening hair that makes me sigh and reminisce about wine country.   Ahh, Napa–  where the sun always shines and the palm trees wave and the wine flows. Unless you rent a convertible, in which case, it is sure to rain.

I’m convinced that the only reason it rained on our trip North recently is because we rented the Mini Cooper Convertible.  It’s cute and all, but kind of simple and definitely not as fun in the dark, cramped, ill-formed back seat with the top up.  Nonetheless, Marc and Marcia and I trooped from winery to winery despite the chill, even stopping for a surreptitiously-timed picnic lunch before the rain began.  As it turns out, a winery is perhaps the most perfect place for civilized picnic outdoors:  tables and chairs are usually positioned with a wide view of vineyard or valley or pond, staff are quick to offer knives or napkins or whatever else has been forgotten at home, and wine is conveniently sold chilled for enjoyment on the spot.  Bread and good cheese, some sun-warmed fresh figs bought at the farm stand along the road, a glass or two of unoaked Chardonnay.  It will be hard to beat that.

After having filled the wee trunk with as much wine as it could carry/we could purchase, we headed for The Fig Café in Glen Ellen.  As they accept no reservations, we took our place second in the queue forming outside the door for the first sitting at 5:30pm.  It smelled delicious as soon as we walked in– did someone toss garlic into pan as the doors were unlocked?



Fried calamari with lemon aioli, no corkage (!), fig and arugula salad with chèvre, pecans and pancetta, duck confit, saffron and white corn pasta, and a humble order of “fries” with tarragon aioli.  Now allow me, please, a moment to elaborate on the fries:  these were The Best Fries I Have Ever Eaten.  They were twice fried, to be sure, but that oil must have contained duck fat or pure lard or something that penetrated the fluffy potato interior and melted in one’s mouth.  Burning hot and very liberally salted, they crunched so preciously between the teeth that I found them more enjoyable eaten one by one by hand, rather than by the civilized forkful.


The three of us, after having eaten and wined all day, could barely muster the strength to get through three quarters of the honey-lavender crème brulée before crying uncle and staggering back out into the drizzle to our cramped little Mini.  The dinner and the wine and the fries more than made up for the rain.

Mixed Grill. Mixed Grill.

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Mixed grill. Mixed grill.  The phrase hummed in the air all afternoon at the trailer.


Marc and I invited ourselves out to Carl & Julianne’s Airstream in wine country for Labour Day Weekend with the plea to use the BBQ.   This BBQ- it was previously enjoyed and left for dead next to the giant “To Burn” pile in the trailer lot next door- Carl had rescued it, dragged it over to the Airstream.  It enjoys a second life now, one in which Marc and I have played a part every time we enjoy a weekend with C, J & M out of the city.


For several weeks before the long weekend, we perused the food mags and sites for barbecue ideas.  Burgers were featured everywhere, of course, all with some sort of label of “ultimate” or “perfect” or “gourmet”, but that didn’t seem special enough for one of these cherished occasions where we get to use actual flames to cook food.  Flames that burn from artisanal charcoal.  After narrowing down the list and debating about what would go best with cold beer and hot weather, we decided on the menu.

Homemade babaganoush with grilled pita bread

Mixed grill with cherry cola barbecue sauce

Grilled vegetables with goat cheese

Grilled nectarines with honeyed crème fraîche

And so, early on Saturday afternoon, the preparation and cooking began.  The coals were lit, the mesquite pellets sealed in tinfoil, the grill scrubbed clean.  There were to be hours of slow cooking ahead for the ribs and the eggplant, and hours spent lounging and beering in the shade as the smoky, meaty smells would waft towards the picnic table.



Then we started to get hungry.   The eggplant was the first to be lifted from the flames, only to be judged insufficiently cooked and thrown into the trailer’s oven for softening.  At best, the resulting babaganoush tasted intriguingly smoky.  At worst, it tasted a little… burnt.  But at 5:30, after having already sat still listening to and smelling the ribs sizzling for almost 2 hours, we weren’t going to waste any more effort on the stupid appetizer.


Then came the sausages (the homemade Antonelli’s sausages which never let us down), and the spice-rubbed, skin-on chicken thighs that blistered and crisped to perfection under the supervision of three adults who could not leave the meat alone, who could not go five minutes together without one of us “peeking”, even though we promised each other we’d leave it alone.  The barbecue sauce was applied, and reapplied; the veg hit the grill as the meat neared its end, the ribs rested before they got hit with more sticky, sweet, cherry-cola sauce.   Mixed grill.  Mixed grill.  Finally, we ate.  Even the pickiest eater among us could not help gnawing at the bones.


All of it was divine.  The ribs fell apart in our hands, every surface, every utensil on the table became sticky with sauce.  The sausages, coarse enough to be toothsome, were spicy little nuggets next to the juicy chicken, done just right.  The vegetables were tasty but hardly seem worth mentioning next to the all-consuming chewy, meaty, saucy, smoky, drippy, messy mixed grill.

Better Be Worth It

Friday, September 4th, 2009

So, home canning:  the activity has arguably lost its ubiquitousness in the new millennium.  The idea brings to mind root cellars, giant pots, wooden cratefuls of vegetables and an already bone-tired matron of a household taking a deep breath and tying her apron as she begins the forced march into canning season.  It’s so much work and it’s so hot already.  No wonder the old parable about the ant and the grasshopper;  if one didn’t do the canning, one’s family would not taste vegetable matter until spring, and that must’ve been the motivation for ploughing through all the sweaty work.


But nowadays, is home canning even a thing?  I have fleetingly toyed with canning in the past, producing a few jars of jam now and then when we’ve bought too many strawberries or picked too many saskatoons.  The simpliest of jam recipes always sound appealing – boil fruit and sugar until it is of jam consistency – but the next steps involving sterilizing and submerging in boiling water for “processing” leech the simplicity from the recipe.  Plus, we don’t have jar-lifting tongs or a canning rack, let alone a canning-sized pot.


However, with an unexpected surfeit of persian cukes and a variety of cute little peppers, we decided last week to enter into the arena of home canned vegetables.   Marc searched the internet for pickled pepper recipes and I went straight for the recently published family reunion cookbook, in which I knew I could find Judy’s recipe for “dills”.    The whole thing turned out to be an exercise in substitutions:  we couldn’t find pickling vinegar (which, for the record, has an acidity of 10% instead of the standard 5% of distilled white) and we also couldn’t find pickling salt, though someone somewhere on the internet suggested using kosher salt in its place.   Our jerry-rigged operation included a stock pot, one metal trivet with the rubber feet removed in order to stand in as a canning rack, a large and somewhat greasy monkey wrench as jar-lifter and a new set of pint-sized Mason jars.   There seemed to be alot of variance in processing time and methods for determining if the jars had truly sealed – listen for the pop, unscrew the ring and lift the jar by the lid to make sure it holds.   In the end, we compiled our own recipes from the parts of other recipes and instructions that seemed the easiest and/or made the most sense.   Lots of dill, lots of garlic, lots of salt.


The conduct of this experiment was rather uneventful and now, one week later, we have two jars of pickled peppers and five jars of pickles sealed and marinating in the pantry.   The results remain to be tasted.   If we have succeeded and they actually taste good, then we will make a point of insisting our friends try them and admitting, with false modesty, that indeed we did make these ourselves.   If we fail, we’ll chuck the lot and all too easily buy replacements.