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Tag Archives: wine country lifestyle

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.

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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!

A July Day in the Life of a GF Wine Maker

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As I mentioned in my last post, I will be doing a bit of back-tracking through the year, trying to catch up with what life was like during the growing season in the vineyard and as a fledgling wine maker.  Below is July’s post…

As I gather a tomato and cucumber for a Greek salad from the kitchen veggie garden, I don’t know where the time went.  How did it get to be three o’clock?

-Didn’t I just put on farm clothes, grab the pruning shears and drop bunches of grapes to allow the remaining clusters to deepen their flavor?

-Didn’t I just spend a couple of “minutes” with Ted Medeiros, my mentor, trying to absorb his assessment…making mental notes of his laundry list of chores to keep last Fall’s vintage, now aging, on tract and hopefully, tasty?

-Didn’t I spend a mere half hour making the adjustments to the wine and topping off the barrels, which meant shifting one of the three gallon containers into two one gallons and three screw top wine bottles (all of which had to be cleaned and sanitized first?)

I guess a few more hours passed than I thought!  Moments of “I absolutely can’t believe how much hard work this grape growing and wine making process is” warred with “I can’t believe how lucky I am to have the opportunity to learn these skills from an industry pro.”

It dawns on me that my body is screaming for some quality food.  Around the corner I go, into the vegetable garden to rummage any ripe produce I can get.  Thus, the Greek salad fixings for a very late lunch.

My Greek Salad Recipe
1 garden ripe tomato, fresh from your garden is best, of course
1 two-inch section of cucumber, again…garden fresh if possible
A bit of red onion, thinly sliced
6-8 GF kalamata olives (I have good luck with Trader Joe’s brand olives for being truly gluten-free)
A few chunks of Feta cheese blog pictures 049if you have not tried Pastures of Eden feta, do anything to get your hands on it.  My husband is not usually a fan of feta, but loves this one.  He will even eat it plain as an hors d’oeuvre spread on crackers or French bread.  I have never served this particular brand to any guest who has not loved it! I get it at my local Trader Joe’s.)

Dressing:
Huge dollop of Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 a lime or lemon
Two pinches of salt
Couple of turns of fresh ground pepper

Directions:
Chop everything not in the dressing into bite size pieces.  Mix dressing in a small bowl.  Pour over chopped ingredients.  Gently mix, just to coat all the chunky bits.

Enjoy the rich blending of these garden fresh ingredients that shriek…it is summer!

The good news!!!  I have zero gluten reaction to our back yard wine aged in completely wheat free oak barrels, which come from Hungary. I can be tipsy with no stomach cramps, no brain fog, no sick exhaustion.  After two years of abstinence from all wine aged in oak, I can at least drink this.  The trick is learning how to make something I would want to drink.  Hmmm.

Surviving The Crush

I am sitting among the turning leaves between a row of Cabernet and Merlot grapevines, thankful all the 2013 wine has been safely janeiphone pictures 055picked, fermented, pressed, and tucked away in gluten-free Vadai , Hungarian oak barrels .  I had no concept of the intense fun and camaraderie, of the immense quantity of hard work, and of the huge expense this “little” hobby would bring to my life and my husband’s life.

Although I have posted virtually nothing for months, because the vineyard chores hoarded all my free hours this summer, I did bang out a few words along the way to try to capture some of the stages of vineyard management and wine making.  If you don’t mind a bit of back-tracking, I will post some of them over the next few weeks dating the month of the activity.  

A bit of background

Seven years ago, we planted tiny pencil-thin grapevine sticks in our backyard with the hope of beautifying a bare patch of dirt.  85 bare root Cabernet and Merlot sticks filled ¼ acre…two rows of Merlot and four rows of Cab.  From the first day we moved here, my husband longed to look down rows of grapevines when sitting on the deck.  And…make an attempt at wine making one day.

How hard could it be?”

Other people made homemade wine out of a few grapevines on their property.  If you have read any of my previous posts, you already know that question can be dangerous for us.  I guess we epitomize Einstein’s definition of insanity, because it is still our fall back question.   Conversely, that question has caused us to stretch and grow in ways we never thought possible, and for which we are now immensely grateful.

So…on a chilly April morning seven years ago, 30 friends and family members sliced a box cutter through the packing tape of an overnight-ed box.  Bright multicolored sweatshirts dotted the rows my husband had marked. In a couple of hours, non-farm raised people from suburbia planted a vineyard.  What a sense of accomplishment we felt when it was done,  while munching on grilled meats, polenta, and sipping wine from the deck.  Some Italian friends even made homemade ricotta for the best cannoli anyone had ever eaten.   We all marveled,  “That wasn’t so hard, and this after-party is fun!”

Every vine “took” in the ensuing summer. “Yee Ha!  We are on our way!”  Summers two and three, my husband carefully trained the vines to grow on the trellis system.  We watched the vines get big enough to consider harvesting the grapes for a little wine making. 

Year four, we got out the trusty wine manual, called From Vines to Wine, that our neighbor who had been making wine for a few years told us was all we would need to get started.   “Could one book be all we would need? Really?”  That attempt went into the compost pile.  However, we did have the best smelling yard on the street.

Year five, I got a bit of advice from the local wine makers at Mann Vineyard, Sycamore Creek Vineyard, and any other local vineyard, whose wine maker would spend a bit of tasting room time answering my questions.  That batch got bottled, labeled, and given to friends.  Yet…most of it went down our friends’ drains or in Sangria or spaghetti sauce. 

Year six just got bottled.  My husband and I opened our first bottle after we thought bottle shock would be over and gave it a swirl and taste.  “Hmm!  I am actually not going run to the sink and chuck it.”  We took another sip; then ended up drinking the whole bottle one Sunday night two weeks ago.  “Yeah!  It is drinkable.  Not the best Merlot we’ve ever had, but passable.  We are actually making some progress!” We have not yet tried the Cab that was just bottled, because it will still be in bottle shock.  (I will keep you posted when we brave a taste.)

janeiphone pictures 059That brings us to this year.  Year seven.  About April of this year, I was lucky enough to be able to start mentoring with Ted Medeiros, a Double Gold Medal winner in the San Francisco Wine Competition.  You need to know that this is HUGE.  The San Francisco Wine Competition is the biggest US competition and the biggest world wide…outside of France.  

Since April, Ted has helped me learn how to maximize the flavor in the grapes through vineyard management and has helped me save last year’s aging wine from turning into another grotesque tasting vintage through aging-wine care and maintenance.  All aspects from vines to wines have been addressed.  He is an exacting task master, keeping me working…HARD…too tired and sore each day to contemplate anything but a hot shower.  He is also a positive feedback teacher, which kept me going when I wanted to give up.  Amid the long hours and relentless amount of work, I feel lucky to be learning from a genuine pro. 

Like anything worth learning, my husband and I are finding out that the more we learn the more we need to learn.  We are the type that like to do everything ourselves with a little (okay, a lot) of help from friends and family.  After all….

“How hard could it be?”

Ferrito’s Cannoli Recipe (this is well worth the effort!)

Cannoli Filling

This is a homemade sweetened ricotta cheese stuffed into or put on to just about anything!!!!

Ricotta Cheese

1 gallon whole milk
1 quart cultured buttermilk

Heat to 175 to 180 (no more or it will scald.)
Stir constantly.

When desired heat is attained, TAKE OFF THE HEAT.

Scoop the forming curds into a cheesecloth covered funnel and place in refrigerator overnight to drain.

Makes about 1 quart of ricotta cheese.

MAKING FILLING:

Take sugar and process in food processor for 1-2 minutes until superfine – remove.

2 cups of processed sugar
2 cups of fresh ricotta cheese ( drained overnight at least)
1 tsp of cream
4 tsp of vanilla

Process all of above ingredients until very fine but not over processed, as it will get grainy.

REFRIGERATE OVERNIGHT – this will allow all of the components to meld together.

Then stuff filling in cannoli shells.

Traditional sprinklings on Cannoli are chopped pistachios, chocolate chips(mini), or citron.
A chocolate ganache over the top could be the ticket as well.

Third Time’s a Charm?

Wine Country Living

Name Change

Well, here I am again, wanting to write, wanting to change the focus of this blog, wanting to change the name to reflect that change.  As gluten-free awareness has exploded the last three years, there is less and less need for a gluten-free sleuth.   Expanded, detailed information and research have obsoleted my hard-earned and, many times, painful original research to discover the landmines of hidden gluten.

With the new government regulations of 20 ppm of allowable gluten in foods labeled GF, those of us that are super sensitive or have an extreme case of Celiac disease already know we still have to read ingredient lists even when the food is labeled GF.  For example, teff flour has some gluten in it, but falls under the 20 ppm of gluten allowed by the FDA.  One day of eating something with teff flour does not affect  me; whereas, consecutive days rip my stomach apart.

While I am not thrilled that the FDA arbitrarily decided on our behalf that any ppm of gluten is ok for Celiac disease and gluten intolerance, the new labeling guidelines at least point me in the right label-reading direction, saving me time in the grocery store.  For that, I am thankful.

So…my daily focus has swerved to GF Wine Making and GF Wine Country Living.  The blog name needs to reflect this new direction.  After this entry, I will be changing my name to GF Wine Country Living. Again, I hope I do not lose any of you, but in case I do, the new name will be the following:

GF Wine Country Living.

www.gfwinecountryliving.wordpress.com

Last time I changed names, you did not have to do a thing.  WordPress automatically carried you along.  Hopefully, this third name change will be “the one.”  Thanks for your loyalty, and stay tuned for a new, fun focus.