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Vineyard Update – A Photo Journey

The first six months of 2015 in the vineyard – a photographic journey:

No rain this winter.

No rain this winter.


February's tangle of canes.

February’s tangle of ca

6-2015 7726-2015 197Pruning the canes.

Bud break. And so it begins...
Bud break. And so it begins…

Explosive growth.

Explosive growth.


Teeny, tiny grapes.

Teeny, tiny grapes.


Thinning.

Thinning.


Look at that pile. All this just to give the grapes some breathing room.

Look at that pile. All this just to give the grapes some breathing room.


That's more like it.

That’s more like it.

 

Beautiful, full crop this year.

Beautiful, full crop this year.  Aah, fruits of the land and nectar of the gods.

The fruit is continuing to develop. To see an actual crop of grapes emerge, fill out, and ripen on the vines is exciting.  Our friends, whom I make walk up and down the rows, every time they come over, may not agree, but they put up with my “want-to-be-a-farmer” quirks. (Thankfully.)  They do draw the line at viewing the bat house on the back of the barn beside the last row of Merlot.  Funny, they don’t seem to care a bit how great a fertilizer bat guano is. Redemption comes at the end of the tour with pulling a cork and sipping a glass of wine on the deck. Gotta love summer!

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Cook to Eat/ Crisis Management

Paleo Update Saturday, my father-in-law was released into hospice care to begin his end of life days. When these times of intensity happen in life, it throws us into a different dimension of activity outside our normal routine. “Regular” life stops for a bit to be replaced by weird schedules, by unusual demands and activities only needing to be done a few times throughout a whole lifetime. How many times does a non medical professional order a hospital bed, empty a catheter bag, etc.

I am learning a few key survival skills for times of intensity or crisis, especially if you are on a “true” Celiac diet, which is no grain whatsoever, ever:

1. Keep safe snacks on hand and packed in a “to go” bag that you can grab at a moment’s notice. You never know when you will get a chance to eat or find a restaurant or store where you can get safe food when jumping in the car to be by a loved one’s side. (I like bags of plain plantain chips, Trader Joe’s marcona almonds, and an apple as a bare minimum. If I have more time, I make a meal-salad in a mason jar, Paleo chocolate cookies, and a shaker jar with a scoop of Paleo friendly protein powder, and little snack baggies of each meal’s vitamin supplements.)

2. Do not skimp on good nutritious foods. Make yourself drink that veggie or protein drink, even if it is the last thing you want to do. Your body will keep you going in good form throughout the duration of intense stress because of it. (Do not cheat on the diet. It will only weaken your ability to handle the stress. The stress is making your body work overtime already.)

3. Get fully presentable (shower, wash hair, make-up, etc) every morning. You may have to go to a group gathering at a moment’s notice where you would be embarrassed in schlocky sweats and ratty T shirt.

4. Keep the gas tank of your car full at all times.

5. Bring enough water bottles to get through a 12 hour period. Hospitals and emergency agencies hide the water; I swear. Plus, even though you are doing essentially nothing–at least nothing physical—when sitting by a sick person’s bed, time disappears. Your thirst can rage. Your blood sugar can drop.

6. Try to get a good amount of sleep.

7. Try to keep up with your exercise routines. (I must admit; this is the one that I let slide most often. Sleep always seems to win over exercise.)

If you can keep on top of just these foundational things, it will help you manage the unusual time and activity demands in fairly good form, relatively speaking, until normal life can be resumed. This post is for all those attending last days of loved ones, attending births, or going through any of a myriad of life’s intense once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Below is the recipe to one of my favorite Paleo cookie recipes. This recipe by Carol Lovett is from her cookbook, The Grain-free Snacker. Check out her blog, Ditch the Wheat.


Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

2/3 cup coconut palm sugar

1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil

2 large eggs

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3 tablespoons sifted coconut flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup dark chocolate chips, (I use Enjoy Life big chunky chocolate bits, because there is no soy, no dairy, no grain. Plus, who doesn’t love a big chunk of chocolate in their cookies.)

Yields 14 cookies

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350* F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Using a mixing machine, mix together the sugar and coconut oil.

3. Slowly add one egg at a time to the mixture. Add the cocoa powder, coconut flour and vanilla, and mix until incorporated. Lastly, stir in chocolate chips.

4. Drop the cookies by spoonfuls onto the baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart.

5. Bake for 12 minutes.

6. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before moving them to a wire rack to cool.

Note: Check out her blog or cookbook to get the extra notes for the prep of these cookies. I just included the basic directions. She gives more detail in her official recipe.

My Directions: In all honesty, I melt the coconut oil in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave; throw the rest of the ingredients sans the chocolate chips in a big Tupperware bowl; then add the oil when melted; stir like crazy with a wooden spoon; add two handfuls of chocolate chips; stir; plop on the parchment paper and bake. They always turn out great (except the time I used an egg substitute for my grandson who is allergic to eggs. Flat as a pancake that time.)

As you can tell, I usually cook without recipes. When I use them, I rarely follow directions completely, which does not always make for great baking success, but these cookies turn out in spite of my cavalier ways. (The Naked Chef, Jaimie Oliver, epitomizes my style of cooking. Love when he says in his cookbooks or on his show…”pour in a couple of glugs” of the designated liquid, but I digress.)   Seriously, these cookies have become my Paleo comfort food during times of stress. I recommend always having a batch on hand. I know I do. They freeze well, too.

Hats off to Carol Lovett and this yummy recipe!

Jedi Wine Making – Chemistry can be fun?

OMG! Who knew?

Apparently … Lab tests on wine are fun. The test subject (wine aging in our barrels in the barn) matters. I have been a chemistry hater from way back, even changed my college major to avoid chem classes.

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But … When you know the tests you are about to learn can keep your wine on track, you will do just about anything to chase the dream of making that elusive, perfect, full-bodied, balanced glass of vino, especially if you’ve slaved all season tending the vines.

So … Ted of Medeiros Family Winery, my Yoda mentor, hosted this morning’s foray into his lab to determine how much free SO2 was suspended in each barrel’s wine. SO2 is the substance that can protect the wine from oxidation, basically keeping the “bitter” under control.

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During … There were test tubes hanging from a science-looking contraption, pipettes, rubber tubing, things bubbling, substances dripping one drop at a time into a wine-colored solution that suddenly turned green. Very cool!

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All the precise measuring and scary looking equipment my free spirit hated in high school, became a welcome, fun endeavor getting me ever so slightly closer to that sigh of delight I want to feel and to see on family and friends’ faces when they take a sip of our wine. Someday, hopefully. Currently, we have progressed from an out and out frown and searching look for a spittoon to a neutral look of wonder and a “hey, this is not bad.”

All in all … Not a bad way to spend the morning.

I’m Back!

After a nearly two year hiatus from blogging, I’ve decided to give it another go.

However, I am revamping the format just a bit based on the example of one of my favorite bloggers, The Drunken Cyclist, who divides his posts into different subject matter segments.

Mine will be loosely based on the three huge passions/interests in my life:

  1. Vineyard Update – tidbits of what the California Bay Area seasons mean when growing and managing a small home vineyard of Cabernet and Merlot grapes. Example, in 2013 we harvested one ton of grapes, but only half a ton this last October in 2014. The three year drought is taking its toll.
  2. Jedi Wine Making –experiences of my husband’s, friends’ and family’s, and mine learning to craft a decent wine in our little backyard barn (definitely a community endeavor)…with the guidance of Ted Medeiros, our local award-winning professional winemaker and Yoda mentor, who nicknamed me his Jedi student.
  3. Cook To Eat — continuing discoveries from my mind-blowing eating/cooking adventures and journey through Celiac Disease, (the disease where the body has damaged or is missing the genes to digest and process gluten.) After 17 years on the normal gluten free diet where grains like rice and quinoa are allowed, I had a massive relapse in symptoms and immune system damage in 2014. “Wait! What?” Thankfully, brand new research has proven that all grains and even legumes are dangerous for Celiac people. “Who knew? No more humus for me, sadly.” After a year of relearning to eat, cook, and travel safely on the new true gluten free diet, I am on the road to recovery, for the second time in my life, and eager to resume the blogging. “Whew! Glad the worst is behind me.”

I invite you to pick and choose to read and explore any or all topics. Hopefully, this new organization will make that easier for you and save you the time of slogging through things of no interest.

Welcome to Foodie meets Wine Maker meets Vineyard Manager.

Happy 2015!

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge Entry/ Subject-Fear

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Madman on the Loose, I Could Die Today

On a sunny bucolic vacation day, The Bam, bam bambambam of an automatic weapon splintered the birdsong and rustle of the breeze through the treetops.  “Wait! Were those real gunshots?  Was it someone target practicing? Should I be worried?” we sat on the deck in the sunshine, pondering.  “It is a bit countryish with huge lots in this little seaside enclave of vacation and retiree homes. People could target practice here, I guess. And yet…”

In the twenty years we had been coming to that cabin for a women’s retreat week, we had never heard anything like this.  After all, it is Cleone, a tiny community where the grocery store, post office, and gas pump are rolled into one, where the one restaurant (with consistently awesome Mexican food) opens whenever the owners feel inclined to cook or do business, where the community’s one claim to fame is MacKerricher State Park, a CA north coast refuge for sea otters, birds, tide pool creatures, plus a great place for whale watching on the spectacular headlands.  Cleone is a bedroom community of Mendocino and Fort Bragg.  We have always loved its reclusive air, a great place to get away, kick back, from the intensity of the Bay Area, where the population consists mostly of dog walkers, birders, cliffs-meet-the-sea nature-lovers.

“So what were those gunshots?”  Not hearing more, two of us decided to go for a walk out on the headlands.  However, when we got about 25 feet down the road, we saw two sheriffs with guns out, peering into the huge row of brambles and pine trees that separated our street from the one behind.  “Um, maybe we’ll head back to the cabin. That doesn’t look good.”

As soon as we got back and ushered our other friend off the back deck that faced the bramble patch, we heard Bam, bam, bambambam, again.  Next came the shouts, “Clear! Look to the north.”

“Oh s__t! We are directly north of the gunshot sounds!”  A  911 call to find out what was going on, had us sheltering in place with the knowledge that the sheriffs were trying to locate two suspects on the loose.  Just “knowing the suspects were in the brambles and could come out shooting at any time” was a surreal NCIS moment.

One of my friends said, “I know it is bad when they send up choppers to look for people, so we are probably okay, because none are in the air.”  Two seconds later, whomp, whomp whomps shook the windows of the cabin…for the next five hours, many times hovering directly over the cabin’s backyard. “Good times!”

We were at the point of fear where something inside the body changes.  Each of us tried to think strategically and find items in the room to protect ourselves, should we live through gunfire and actually encounter gunmen: cans of tuna to throw at the perps, fireplace poker to brandish in their direction, wine bottles to crack over their heads. Yes, we were gee-whizzes in a crisis!

A quick text from my husband admonished us to stay away from the windows.  Hard to do in a cabin filled with bay windows.  When the numbness of too much adrenaline set in,  one of my friends pulled out a deck a cards, said to sit down at the dinette table (in front of a bay window, of course)…she was going to teach us a really fun game.  I pulled out a bottle of wine from the previous day’s wine tasting in the Anderson Valley and three glasses, and said, “If I’m going down, I am going down happy.”  The other friend found the salty snacks, then the chocolate, and said, “Well, we need something to go with the wine.”  By the end of the five hours, three bottles of excellent wine had been drunk and every piece of junk food we could lay our hands on had been eaten. I can’t tell you the name of the card game we played at least 20 or 30 times, but it was fun in a crazy, I-am-going-to-enjoy-my-potential-last-moments haze.

True story.

Epilogue, there was only one gunman. During one of the volleys of gunfire, he killed a well respected sheriff in the community.  During another volley, the actual gunman was shot, but able to crawl away, into the brambles, where he died.  All of this took place one street over from our cabin. Part of me is still not “over” this senseless, horrifying event. The fact that two people were killed less than 250 yards from us is unfathomable.

On a brighter note- My recommendations when visiting the Mendocino Coast Area
Do stop and visit the wineries of the Anderson Valley.  Their terroir and weather is allowing them to produce some amazing Pinot Noirs.  This trip we discovered Drew Winery and their phenomenal 2010 Pinot. Hard to find now, because it sold out so quickly.
The Little River Inn is a great place to stay (just south of Mendocino) with vast panoramic ocean views and a good restaurant.
Try Wild Fish Restaurant near the Little River Inn for scrumptious fresh fish and a staff knowledgeable on adapting their menu for gluten intolerant Celiacs, like me.  Make reservations, because there are only eight tables.  Go just before sunset and catch the color splash over the ocean as the sun sets.

Phase 2 of a Gluten-free Life

This blog post is dedicated to all Celiac and gluten intolerants, who are successfully navigating through the normal gluten-free diet, blissfully unaware that there may be a Phase 2 to your intestinal saga.  (Just a little something to keep at the back of your mind, but will hopefully never need.)

–          After rolling along for 15 years, getting healthier on my gluten-free diet, exercising more, enjoying more stamina, getting fewer flues and colds, feeling like “I got this down,” my body morphed, yet again.   Two months ago, my intestines started the cramping of old, before I got diagnosed with Celiac disease.

–          After re checking all my foods, vitamins, cosmetic products to make sure the manufacturers had not changed their formulas, I started playing with food groups.  Maybe raw foods or dairy were bothering me.  I eliminated known allergy groups, one at a time; then tried adding each back.  No pattern developed.  The intestinal pain increased.

Coincidences

Randomly, in a new hair salon, I met a gal who was just four months into the Celiac diet.  She asked to go to lunch to tap my 15 year experience with the cooking, cosmetics, etc.  Off we went.  However, my knowledge about particular products seemed minimal to the vast knowledge of new research she had acquired about the disease.  Comfortable with my diet and continual improvement in health, I had stopped keeping up on the latest research.

–          Who knew that all grain, including the ones deemed safe, like rice, corn, buckwheat, did in fact have minimal bits of gluten?

–          Who knew that the chemical structure of legumes is so similar to the gluten molecule that many Celiac patients’ bodies cannot distinguish the difference and treat it as gluten?

–          Who knew that when the biopsies are done to determine gluten intolerance, most doctors and lab technicians only report a positive diagnosis for Celiac when the villi in the intestines are completely flat…basically destroyed and not functioning.  At that stage of the disease, a person is literally starving to death from malabsorption.  (I was at that stage 15 years ago, and systems in my body were shutting down.)

–          Who knew that any damage less than total failure of the villi in the intestines is given a clean bill of health, i.e. a false negative for Celiac.  (That would explain my daughter’s false negative diagnosis when tested; when, in fact, she does have the disease.)

The answer for now…the Paleo Diet.

I got the name of one of the premiere Celiac specialists in the nation from my new acquaintance, now friend.  I have an appointment for mid January to find out the particulars of my intestines’ gyrations.  (I will keep you posted on the outcomes of that.)  However, the increasing pain I have been experiencing caused me to jump into the Paleo Diet just to see if I could get some relief.

Emotional consequences

Needless to say, having nearly died from this disease once, opening the door of eliminating even more food in order to stay healthy triggered a bit of an emotional storm.  My husband wonders if by the time I am 80, I will be a breatharian.  He may not be too far off.   Pain drives action, so I opened the fridge, tossed, trashed, and cried my way through the purging of even more types of food.  Yep, I am down to fruit, veggies, and meat.  Even commercial mayonnaise has soy (a legume) in it.

Physical result

Six days into the Paleo diet and my intestinal pain is gone.  I still have too much flatulence, so just did a purge of my vitamin cabinet.  Most of my gluten-free vitamins had a base of rice flour, a now forbidden grain.  (Hope that organic produce has all the vitamins I need!)

Benefits

-I have lost two pounds.

-My clothes are fitting better.

-My skin is less dry.

-My energy is amazing.  My husband and I went for a 7 mile bike ride on Saturday, up a hill the cycle clubs call Cardiac Hill.  The very next day, we got back on the bikes and rode 8 miles on a fairly flat scenic trail.  I have never had the stamina to exercise that much back to back.  Granted, after the Cardiac Hill ride I could only raise my leg ¾ of the height I needed to get off my bike.  My husband had to come over and lift my leg the rest of the way.  (But hey, I could still walk, once I got my legs under me. And on mile 6 of yesterday’s ride, an in-line skater passed me.  Yes, I was going that slowly.)  Then, this morning, I was able to pop out of bed and do my regular morning workout.  My husband is now looking at me with a “who is this new you” look.  I love these new benefits of the Paleo diet.  (So far, I am not loving the new food restrictions, though.)

Challenges

We live in CA, in a small wine region, where almost everyone is a foodie of some sort.  I am struggling with how to make truly delicious, memorable, enjoyable food on this very limited repertoire.  Luckily, there are tons of cookbooks out there for the Paleo diet. I need to do a little research and to get my kitchen completely stocked and purged so my creative cooking can find its way down this new path.  I am usually up for a challenge, but I am a bit resistant at the moment.  Once I get all the transition “stuff” done, I know my normal enthusiasm will emerge.  Right now, I am vacillating between an “I can conquer this new diet” day and a “this is really hard and not fun” down day.

Support

My husband rocks!  The first thing he said when I told him about this twist in my journey with Celiac disease was, “I’ll go on the diet with you!”  Who is lucky enough to have a spouse like that?  When I dipped into doldrums during the weekend, he would think of a creative meal or snack that would actually have me looking forward to that next meal.  (The background here is that our weekends have always been the time to splurge on fun, gourmet meals that we cook together, pairing them with the right wine, gluten free for me, of course.)

Below is one of the recipes we came up with over our first weekend on the Paleo diet.

J & J’s Shrimp-Stuffed Mushroom Caps (a la Paleo)

(My husband came up with the idea of these Thai flavored shrimp-stuffed mushrooms.  I just filled in the bits to make the idea come to life.)  Try making this with one person gathering and prepping each ingredient, like shelling and cleaning the shrimp, and another person at the chopping block ready to mince everything in sight.

Some MUSTS, of course, are lovely background music, cool aprons, and two glasses of dry, well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc or Champagne to accompany the cooking process.  A fun cooking-date will ensue.

Ingredients:

24 medium white or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and de-stemmed

½ lb. USA wild caught, if possible, fresh large shrimp (less shells to remove with larger shrimp)  shelled, cleaned and finely minced

12 mushroom stems, cleaned and minced

¼ cup pancetta  (I used Trader Joe’s pre-cut brand)

1 shallot, minced

1 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 handful of fresh Italian parsley, minced or a small handful of dried parsley from your spice rack

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, de-stemmed

4 giant cloves garlic, minced or 8 regular sized garlic cloves (we do have to support our neighbor town, Gilroy—garlic capital of the world)

2 Tbsp. thick pasty part of the can of coconut milk

1-2 heaping tsp. Red Curry Paste (I used Thai Kitchen brand)

2 Tbsp. almond meal (instead of bread crumbs, a Paleo diet concession)

1-2 Tbsp. unsweetened coconut

¼ – ½ cup Sauvignon Blanc or other gluten-free white wine, like Riesling, Pinot Grigio, or even champagne

Salt and pepper

Instructions:

Heat oven to 450*.

Grease baking pan with coconut oil. Line pan with mushroom caps.  Pour a bit of whatever white gf wine you have opened over each cap to keep them from turning pink, while you prepare the stuffing.

Clean and mince all ingredients indicated from above.

Sauté shallots, ginger, mushroom stems, shrimp, and pancetta until shallots and mushroom caps are softened and pancetta and shrimp are cooked.  Throw in parsley, garlic, and thyme leaves and sauté another 30 seconds or so.  Do not over cook the garlic, or it will turn bitter.

Add the red curry paste and the coconut milk paste and stir until all is combined.  (Could add a few dribbles of white wine as well.)

Throw in enough of the almond meal and unsweetened coconut to thicken and hold mixture together. (These ingredients take the place of gf bread crumbs.)

Taste.  Salt and pepper to bring out flavors.  Add more curry paste for more heat, etc.

When the consistency and taste are the way you want it, take off the heat and stuff each mushroom cap with the mixture.  (We made them heaping full.)  Sprinkle a few more bits of coconut on top.  You can fill the pan with ¼- ½ inch white wine for added flavor.

Pop in the oven for 10-15 minutes, checking for doneness at 10 minutes.  I like cooking them at the higher temperature because the mushroom caps hold their shape better when serving and do not get mushy.

(This was a lot of cleaning and chopping, but who cares on a Friday night with a glass of wine in hand and with lovely camaraderie to accompany it!)

As always…Enjoy!

Tomatoes Talk

When the nights cool enough to thicken and to dark-spot the skins of the tomatoes, it is time to pull up the summer garden.

Nov 2013 021Today was the day the tomatoes spoke. With a bit of regret, I pulled out the withered remains of the most abundant, lush vegetable garden I have ever had.  This Fall has been so mild I  wondered if the garden might keep producing into December.  The middle of November is not bad for a long growing season, though. I’ll take it!

Right before dismantling the tomato cages, I remembered I had planted potatoes (a first time try) in between each string bean plant. (They are companion plants.)  The potato greenery died and blew away a few weeks ago.  Wondering if there might actually be potatoes in the dirt, I got on my knees and started digging. Random sized potatoes popped up.  Delighted with each find, I kept at it, finally ending up with enough for a whole baking pan of roasted potatoes…or Roasties, as my husband calls them.  Thrilling!

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Then it was on to the pomegranate tree.  Since my husband’s google search, we now know not to harvest the pomegranates until the skins break open into a gaping jaw.DSCN0270   By the way, did you know that pomegranates are one of nature’s highest nutrient foods?  “Eat and get healthy!”

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When I got to the  kale/parsley patch,  I just couldn’t  pull it up. Each has  made  a remarkable comeback  in the cooler weather of the last couple of months.  I will wait for the frost to flatten them.

Crazy…how much produce came from this last picking of the season! Bounty everywhere!

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As excited as I get by food coming from backyard dirt, not all was rosy when plopping the bowls of veggies on the counter top.  As I was making dinner last night (a delicious meal baked in a sugar-baby pumpkin), I noticed  three or four slow-moving, little black spots on the white cupboard doors.  Hands messy with pumpkin goop, I couldn’t kill them at that moment.  When my hands were finally clean, they were gone.  “Eww!” I decided not to think about where they had gone. You cannot be squeamish living this intimately with the land.

About the pumpkin goop, my niece gave me the most unusual, fun, Fall recipe using a small sugar -baby pumpkin, Nov 2013 030stuffed with a Gruyère/bread mixture. The worst part of the prep is cleaning out the pumpkin. However, since it bakes for two hours, it would be a great dish for do-ahead company meals. The dish reminded me of Swiss food, lots of cheese and bread.  I used the gluten-free Against the Grain Baguette

 (http://www.againstthegraingourmet.com)  for the bread.  I recommend toasting the bread before using, so it holds its structure during the baking.

Here is the link to the recipe:
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pumpkin-Stuffed-with-Everything-Good-361169

As I prepared the pumpkin dish, the gift for the day of garden labor was this beautiful sunset.

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Enjoy Fall, Everyone!