Friday, October 31, 2008

Now I want a burrito bol

When I lived on the East Coast I went to Chipotle at least a few times a month. I could not get enough of burrito bols and crispy carnitas tacos. Here in the Bay Area, where chain restaurants are as hated as Republicans, there are significantly fewer around. So sadly, it has been months since I have consumed Chipotle's goods.

However, since seeing this article on Serious Eats today, my cravings for the cheesy, meaty, sour creamy goodness have renewed and reached new heights. And as a bonus - now it appears that I don't even have to feel guilty for embracing the chain that was once owned by McDonalds! Their commitment to local ingredients and sustainable farming make it a justifiable choice for even the snobbiest of foodies.

Mark my words - these words will be passing through my lips within the next week:

"Hi, there! Burrito bol for here. Black beans, carnitas, mild salsa, cheese and sour cream... Can I have some extra cheese, please? Thanks. Yes, guac. $1.50 is fine. And some chips and a soda. Thanks!"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My first rainy night in California

This may seem kinda weird, but it hasn't rained once in the four and a half months that I've been in California. The weather has been absolutely glorious, but those who have been here longer warn me that it won't last forever. This weekend, apparently, will be the breaking point.

All day it's been gloomy, chilly, and a bit depressing. Wind whips through the small canyon that my apartment overlooks, and I've been contemplating the heater. Luckily, the menu planned for the evening couldn't be more perfect.

The World's Best Boyfriend recently signed up for a fruit and vegetable delivery service here in the Bay Area called Planet Organics. As often as you deem (he does it bi-weekly), they deliver a stash of seasonal fruits and veggies, as well as fresh milk, cheese, and eggs to your doorstep while you are at work. In addition to being convenient, it's a great way to force yourself to try new foods that you might not pick up at the market
of your own volition. Two weeks ago, for instance, we learned all about rainbow chard. This week - persimmons.

So this morning I decided to confiscate the lovely little butternut squash that arrived earlier this week and use it to make Ina's Butternut Squash Risotto for dinner tonight. I made it a few weeks ago to great boyfriend acclaim, so a repeat performance was definitely in the cards. The sweetness of the squash against the saltiness of the pancetta and cheese is decadent and satisfying, and the creamy, filling starchiness of the risotto is absolutely the perfect antidote for the day.

Coincidentally (or was it?), today I was sampling out the perfect wine for the meal. One of the gems of my company's portfolio is the Poderi la Cappella Chianti Classico 2003. A tiny production made by a father-daughter duo, this winery uses the transcendent Luca d'Attoma as their consultant. His wines are always amazing (even in publicly challenging vintages), and this Chianti is no different. 90% sangiovese, 10% merlot, it absolutely oozes elegance. The balance between fruit and acidity is spot on, and it is the perfect weight to pair with the risotto.

What's for dessert on this glorious, autumnal evening, you ask? Thinly sliced persimmon chips sprinkled and cinnamon and baked until crisp.

And each other, of course.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Schwag and the French Kiss?

When I got an email last week from the World's Best Boyfriend with this in the subject line: FW: Celebrate with Jacques Pepin, I nearly fell out of my chair. Opening the email revealed an invitation from KQED, the local broadcasting station, advertising a reception and book signing celebrating Jacques Pepin's new book. My reply to the email was eloquent, for sure. It went a little something like, "OMG, OMG, I LOVE him!!! We HAVE to go!!"

So the WBB reserved us two places, arranged to take the afternoon off of work, and proceeded to make jokes for a week straight about whether or not I was going to try to make out with the legendary chef right in front of him. The week went on, me getting more and more excited, him wondering more and more if I was really going to end up sitting on Jacques' lap.

The day of the signing we arrived at the restaurant a little bit early and scoped the scene. Bea
utiful space, waiters passing wine (Robert Mondavi Solaire Cabernet and Chardonnay - eh...) and the sign in table was loaded with bright orange gift bags. It was like my dream come true. Wine, a famous chef, and schwag? Awesome.

We signed in, grabbed our gift bag ("One bag per couple is bullshit!" I hissed into WBB's ear. He agreed.), and we settled down at a big, round table and happily nibbled on the passed food and sipped the wine. Soon it was time to line up to get our books signed. We approached the table, camera in hand, and when it was my turn I went around the table to pose for a picture.

"I have to tell you," I began, "my boyfriend is afraid that I'm going to give you a big kiss!"

Jacques let out a soft chuckle and said in his rich, warm French accent, "Well, I'm not afraid of that!" just as WBB snapped the picture.

It was priceless. Then he signed my book.

To Karen - Happy Cooking! Jacques Pepin

Sigh. Oh well. I've never been crazy about the name Erin, anyway.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Great Roommate Search: 1

So a few weeks ago, my roommate up and left. So freaked out was she by her brief time in Northern California, that she literally threw what she could fit into her car and hightailed it back east, leaving me with an extra - fully furnished, mind you - bedroom that must suddenly be filled. And so begins my great roommate search of 2008. I have a feeling I'll encounter several interesting characters before it's all over. And tonight it's just begun.

Yesterday I answered an ad in the Craigslist "Housing Wanted" section that had been placed by a 64-year-old Yogi named Laurelyn who was looking for a month-to-month sublet in the Marin County area. There was something about the transitional stage that she has taken on at this point in her life that intrigued me, so I sent her a message with a brief description of my offerings. She answered back that the situation just might work, and we arranged an evening visit.

She got out of her two-door Rav-4 with a shock of orange-ish hair pulled back in a clip and carrying a sporty hiker-ish purse. She seemed friendly enough, not too hippy-ish, and had that slower rhythm to her speech that made you realize that she thought carefully about everything that she said, and everything that she heard. It was one of those paces that sometimes unnerve me, because I'm not exactly used to having someone look straight at me for that long.

She came inside and slowly looked around, drinking in the apartment as if she was really paying attention to her surroundings and feeling our the vibe of the whole place. I nervously told her a bit of my situation, and she shared a bit of hers as well. She owns a home north of here that is much too big for her, so she rents it out and lives partially off of that income. She had been renting a place of her own until recently moving to Boulder for a few months to help nurse a
terminally ill friend. Now that she is back she is listening to herself and figuring out where her life will take her next.

She is not weird. She is not lonely. She is not married. Again, I was fascinated by someone her age being in this kind of transition, and embracing rather than running from it. She seemed to like me well enough, but I'm not sure if she thinks that she will be the best fit here. Me, I'm on the fence. It might be neat to live with and learn from someone like this for a couple of months, or she might get old fast. Case in point -
when I mentioned that my boyfriend and I love to cook, she looked at me hard and asked if I was going to marry him, in that not-nosy way that only older people can pull off because they have lived long enough to get away with it. When I nervously stammered that I'd only been dating him for a little over a month and that it was too soon to tell she paused only for a second before looking me up and down and saying, "That doesn't matter. You know." My heart skipped and my stomach dropped and I quickly changed the subject, thinking to myself that this woman was either comfortingly or scarily wise.

I'm not sure if she will end up here or not, but one thing is for sure - I'm starting to get more and more excited about this whole interviewing roommates process. It is bound to be entertaining.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A few Napa offerings

This weekend welcomed my mother for her first visit to California in over twenty years. We dined in San Fran, walked across the Golden Gate, toured Sausalito, and spent two days in beautiful Napa Valley. Since it was mom's first time in Napa, we of course had to stop at a few wineries. Here's a recap of those we hit up for my industry discount.

Clos du Val
Quickly becoming on of my favorites here in the valley, Clos du Val is located at the southern tip of the famed Stags Leap District, right on the Silverado Trail. Brain child of the legendary Bernard Portet, the winery was formed in 1972. Their somewhat whimsical marketing and fun attitude are fabulously contrary to the serious wines they specialize in. In addition to their Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignons and Meritage blends, they also work with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Carneros. They are no stranger to great press, and the winery itself is beautiful. The coolest thing is the grapes planted right in front of the entrance - more for show than actual use, they demonstrate several of the different trellising techniques used by the team, and provide a great educational tool for the tours. At this point I've been so many times with visitors that I'm starting to make friends with some of the staff, which provides me with a total wine-geek thrill.

Mumm Napa
A solid domestic sparkling wine producer - not something to be taken for granted - Mumm is located in the Rutherford district of the Silverado Trail. Tastings are done in a sit-down style, so you grab a table on their beautiful patio, order a flight, and enjoy the view. Lucky for us, the weather was absolutely beautiful. It's hard not to enjoy the wine in a setting like that. Surprise of the day - one of our favorites was their 2006 Pinot Gris. Who knew that Mumm did such nice still wines, too?

Sterling Vineyards
I had only been to Sterling once before, on my inaugural trip to Napa over seven years ago. I remembered the famous gondola ride, but had no recollection of what a huge production the whole tasting was. Think, Busch Gardens, except you're allowed to carry a real glass around the park. After you get off of the ride, you are ushered on a self-guided tour of the winery which includes scenic overlooks of the crushing facility, bottling lines and barrel room, and is peppered with different tasting stations throughout. One of the stops is a sweeping patio that overlooks most of the northern part of the valley with plenty of tables to sit at and photo ops to snap. The industry insider in me would love to scoff this winery off as too big of a production - probably corporate and heartless - but the thing is, there is no denying that it is beautiful. It's also completely impressive and educational, especially for beginners. The wines are so-so, but for these purposes it's ok. I think this is a great place for Napa newcomers to stop, if for no other reason, to enjoy the views of this truly spectacular thirty-seven miles of earth.

So there you have it, folks! My newly-insider opinions of some of Napa's most famous offerings. For what it's worth...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Um... I need this.

It's a book about casseroles, from a girl who writes a blog about casseroles.

And on her page today she talks about making what looks to me like homemade Hamburger Helper. Swoon.

(No, seriously. Swoon. I love Hamburger Helper. What?)


"What did you have for lunch today, baby?"

"I just got a sandwich at the grocery store. Oh! But when she asked what kind of ham I wanted, smoked or Virginia, which do you think I chose?"

"I hope..."

"Virginia! No question."

"Yay! Was it yummy?"

"It was delicious. Just like you..." Kisses buried into my neck...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Arriving to my life

Yes, life here in California is good, but not without it's challenges. This week has been incredibly stressful for various living/work reasons. I won't bore with the details. It is all things that will pass, and will be fine, and will get better. But suffice it to say, this week has been a bit rough so far.

So there could not have been a better time for me to meet someone with the most famous last name in the wine industry. Today, having lunch with my boss at Oxbow Public Market in Napa, in strolled one of the Mondavi grandsons.

Since working for the legendary winery for almost fifteen years, my boss knew most of the family fairly well, and this particular boy (now man) was under her direct tutelage for a while. They hugged and joked, and I was introduced and shook hands with a member of the legendary family.

And this is why I moved here. Because I wanted to be in the epicenter for my career. I wanted to, on a casual Tuesday lunch, encounter wine royalty and chat like it was the most natural thing in the world. So even with all of the challenges, sometimes uncertainty, and scariness of doing a new thing in a very far away place, it's moments like these that completely reaffirm every decision that I've made.

It's like I'm in the process of arriving naturally to my life, and how it is supposed to be. And I like it.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Thursday evening

Him: "So you have to go to Rainbow Grocery store! It's absolutely amazing, and the greatest concentration of hippies you've ever seen."

Me: "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah! So I'm there today looking in the dairy aisle, and guess what they had?"


"Goat butter."

"Shut up!"

"I'm not joking! I nearly passed out from excitement. But I held back because I really didn't want some fat hippie lady giving me CPR."

"Yeah, I don't want some fat hippie lady making out with you either - even if it is to save your life. So did you get the butter?"

"Hell yeah! How about this for dinner - goat butter on challah bread, and a side of fried plantains? I got some of those too."

"Ok, but we have to also open up a bottle of wine. I can't watch this debate without a drink in my hand."


A few minutes later...

"Hey, where is the butter?"

"Um, it's in here with me. You'd better keep watch, or I'll eat it all. Did I tell you that when I was a little girl, bread a butter was all I ever wanted to eat? I would ask for it for dessert. My grandfather and my mother fought over how much I was allowed to have."

"Ok, that's the hottest thing I've ever heard."


"I think I might have put too much salt on the plantains."

"That's the hottest thing I've ever heard."

I could go on, but I won't continue to bore you with mundane foodie conversations...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Loving this

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Borrowing a bistro

One of the great things about dating someone is that you get to explore their neighborhood. It's sorta like borrowing their location. You figure out where to park, duck into the best corner markets, compare prices for doing laundry, and sip wine at corner bistros and say things like "How perfect that this place is right outside of your/our door!", without having to make the commitment to a lease and permanent work commute.

So last night when I was a bit early to meet the man at his place, I ducked into the quaint little French restaurant across the street that I had been eying ever since I started faux-living there. Rue Saint Jacques is dimly lit and cozy with a small dining room, yellow walls, and waiters who speak subtle French to one another. After ducking into the door I shyly approached the bar and asked the curly-haired, round gentleman who was taking up most of the counter space if I could squeeze in and have a glass of wine. I was warmly received, and poured a glass of Cabernet Franc.

I had only to flip through my paper for a few minutes before I was brought into the conversations happening around me, and a plate of crisp french fries with a fantastic saffron aioli was set down in front of me - compliments of the house. I nibbled, sipped and chatted happily until joined by the man, who wasted no time in obtaining his own glass of wine and a L’Assiette de Charcuterie, which was a complete steal for $12. Six or seven different kinds of meat (two chorizos alone) were presented, including two house-made pates. It was delicious, and we both nibbled on it as we talked politics, relationships, and San Francisco in general with the owner while he sipped on green-apple scented Calvados.

All in all, it was a lovely way to wind down a Wednesday evening. I suggest everyone find a neighborhood to borrow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Has anyone else noticed...

That Eric Asimov has been talking an awful lot about Italian wines lately?


Black Cat Vineyard

One of the great things about living in Northern California is the access that you are granted to the small production wines that rarely find their way into mainstream America's mouths. And the best thing about most of these wineries is that the people involved are so freakin' cool. Not long after I hit the wine scene in Napa, I was introduced to the owner of Black Cat Vineyard, a small winery based in Southern Napa. Aside from the fact that the wines are amazing, I was completely captivated by owner and winemaker, Tracey Reichow.

Tracey is somewhere in her 50's, I'm guessing, and totally beautiful in a laid-back way. She has blonde hair, blue eyes, and usually wears jeans and work sneaks. However, her style is the only thing about her that comes across as laid back. She seems the epitome of a Type-A personality - friendly, uber-intelligent, fast paced and a complete control freak about her products. She does everything for her wines - farms all of the grapes, runs a team of hand-harvesters, and takes care of all of the pressing down and racking (not an easy task, by the way).

Yeah, all of that is cool. But this was the kicker for me.
Intimidated by the thought of ordering wine for the table at a restaurant? Don't sweat it - she's come up with a simple matrix (oxymoron as far as I'm concerned, but perfectly natural for her) with how to figure out what varietal to order and how much to spend by quickly sizing up your dinner companions.

So impressed was I by all of this, I developed a state of crush/awe/envy that led me to agree to help her sell her wines in the Bay Area. So for the last two months I've been lucky enough to broker her 2005 Syrah and 2005 Cabernet/Syrah Cuvee blend.

The Syrah especially is smoky, juicy, and delicious. Tracey very specifically makes her wines to age, and each of them are candidates for decanting, and could easily go another ten years in the cellar as the aggressive fruit settles down and t
he subtleties become fully realized. With less than 200 cases of each produced, these wines are truly collector's items.

In short, for those of you who love discovering new, small production wineries, this is definitely one to check out. She ships to most states, info is all on the website. Tell her I sent you, and be sure to buy enough to age a few bottles - you won't regret it.

*Me, giggling excitedly as Tracey explains her vineyards to my friends.