Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dishcrawl

Food, food, food, new restaurants, new faces, more food. That’s the idea of Dishcrawl. You purchase a ticket in advance without knowing the exact locations you’ll be eating or the menu. It’s fun to be surprised!

We attended our first Dishcrawl in San Jose on Sunday. We started with empanadas and beer from the mMoon restaurant served on the penthouse floor of a new luxury condo complex downtown. Panoramic views of the city scene accompanied by the crisp and tasty corn or beef empanadas was a great way to start the evening. I was expecting appetizer, bite-sized servings, but these were the full-sized deal, served with a family secret churri sauce.

After enjoying the view and the Argentine pastries, we “crawled” a couple of blocks to MoBowl food truck. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that the owner, Kevin Wu, is a friend and I have written about his truck before. We enjoyed a sampler prepared specially for the crawlers. Each of us was served a chicken wing, five-spice pulled pork (his signature dish) over rice, salad and a cheesecake eggroll. Excellent as always!

Our next stop was Peggy Sue’s. They serve typical diner fare in a 50’s diner setting. We had a rather long wait to be served, but enjoyed talking with the other crawlers at our table. We had a mini-milkshake while we waited. I chose the rich and creamy chocolate. Other choices were vanilla or strawberry. Apparently we were supposed to get two types of burger and fries to sample - a bacon cheese burger with garlic fries and a pineapple burger with sweet potato fries. But they ran out of the pineapple/sweet potato selection before we were served. No matter - the serving size was large and the fries were quite greasy, so I didn’t need more. 

Our last stop was around the corner at Satori Tea Company. We tried two iced teas - a caffeine-free multi-fruit tea and guayusa, an Ecuadorian tea, along with scones and biscuits. The guayusa was quite refreshing with a light cinnamon flavor that would also make a great hot tea. We finished the “crawl” with a hot rose tea.

The whole event took about two and a half hours for about 35 people. We enjoyed it all, ate entirely too much, and will definitely do it again. You can find the schedule for Bay Area Dishcrawls and a few other locations at Dishcrawl.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

And on to the Cheese...

After visiting two wineries near Santa Rosa on Sunday morning, we were ready to head home taking a roundabout route. Larry had done some research to locate two cheese factories along the way. We drove off into nowhere following the directions on his GPS to the Matos Cheese Factory. The review reported it was located on a farm where they make a Portuguese-style cow’s milk cheese in the tradition of the family’s homeland in the Azores.

We almost missed the roadside sign, but turned down a bumpy dirt road deep in farm country. We finally arrived at a farmhouse where there were cows and dogs and a whirring tractor in the driveway, along with several elderly weather-worn men, none of whom took any note of us.

Then we saw the sign in the window of a shed announcing the Cheese Factory was OPEN.  It looked like a farm shed to me. We gingerly opened the door to a small room with a single wheel of cheese in a display cabinet. A buzzer sounded as we opened the door. After waiting several minutes, an older woman appeared. As we had read, she didn’t speak English, only Portuguese. But she offered us each a nice sized chunk of the cheese to sample.

The St. Jorge cheese looked dry like Parmesan, but had a much creamier texture and a slightly nutty flavor. It was delicious and only $7.99 per pound. We purchased a pound with no hesitation. There was a map of the Azores on the wall and Larry showed her where he had visited in the Navy. She then showed us the different island where her family came from. She clearly understood English, but she spoke only in Portuguese. Although my Portuguese is very rusty and I couldn’t reply, I had no trouble understanding everything she said. I explained to her that I had studied Brazilian Portuguese but understood her. I’m sure we would have sounded very strange to anyone who overheard us. What a kick! She let me take photos in the back room where the cheese ages.

Larry couldn’t resist checking out the happy California cows after our purchase. I kept my distance as I have an irrational fear of cows due to a childhood mishap where I fell off the back of a pickup truck into a group of what I perceived as aggressive, unfriendly cows. But these definitely appeared happy. They kept running around clicking their rear heels in the air; behavior I’d never seen before!

Our final stop was the Marin French Cheese Company-another place you’d never find if you weren’t looking. This cheese factory was a large traditional store, with many samples of their different varieties of soft-ripened Bries and Camemberts available for tasting, along with condiments. This company has been making these cheeses for 145 years. Again, quite delicious. I used some of the Camembert we purchased to make a cheesy polenta for dinner last night.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend, Wine and Weather - Part 2

When I wondered if I could weather a weekend trip yet, I had no idea how much real weather we would encounter. During the course of the day on Sunday, we experienced sunshine, wind, heavy rain, thunder and lightning and three different hail storms. The hail is of particular concern at the vineyards since the grapes are already starting to form on the vines and could easily be damaged at this stage.

But it was a great day for wine tasting. Our first stop, right after a late breakfast at a local diner, was Sonoma Cutrer. We had a coupon for free tasting and read they are known for their chardonnays and pinot noirs. The grounds at the winery are beautiful and they had hosted a croquet tournament the previous day. That meant there were several extra wines open and available for tasting. Their chardonnays age very well and we compared several different styles from 2006 and 2007, as well as a Founder’s Reserve from 2001. Although we hadn’t intended to make any purchases on this trip other than to pick up our KJ club shipment, we bought four bottles here.

Usually one stop before lunch is enough for me, but we were very close to a favorite we discovered on a previous trip, Martin Ray Winery. It was such a great experience we wanted to return. This is a historic winery site with several labels of different price and style of wines. And once again we struck gold! Their pickup party was the night before and they had about 25 wines that needed to be consumed by someone – so why not us??!!

We tasted our way through all the labels comparing their chardonnays, pinot noirs, merlots, cabernet sauvignons, and their high end cabs as well. Also a few others. I gave up at 15. It was all I could manage. This was all before lunch. But we spent several hours tasting and chatting with the server and the other guests, having a delightful morning, while the weather came and went.

And I think I discovered the secret to wine tasting before lunch – pancakes. We went to a local diner for breakfast and when I ordered a short stack, the waitress gave me a “look” and said, “Have you ever seen our pancakes? You only want one.” She was right. It was bigger than the plate and I only ate half. But it served a good purpose. Twenty plus wines before lunch and not even a buzz.



Somehow in one week, between wine club pickups and purchases, we managed to add 24 bottles to our ever-growing collection. Anybody want to come for dinner?

Still to come – dinner at Willi’s and our cheese adventure

Friday, May 20, 2011

Weekend, Wine and Weather

Over the weekend, we decided to see if I could weather a relaxing trip to wine country. I haven’t felt well enough to get out much lately, but my immunotherapy is complete and my energy level is beginning to recover. Originally Larry had signed up for a wood-fired oven cooking class at Kendall Jackson Winery, but it was cancelled at the last minute. So we had no specific plans and I could take it nice and easy. Since we had already made hotel reservations, etc, KJ offered us a complimentary food and wine pairing to make up for the inconvenience of the class being cancelled. Do I need to keep saying how well they treat their wine club members? 

We’ve enjoyed the food pairing several times, but the menu changes seasonally, depending on what's growing in their extensive garden there at the wine center. We always enjoy a stroll in the gardens whatever the season, checking out the flowers, vegetables and herbs. They also offer tours if you're interested.

It was an extremely busy day for the pairings. I counted at least 30 people; far more than any other time we’ve been there. We told Matthew, the chef we’ve come to know and appreciate, to take his time with us as we had no commitments. As usual, they served us several wines to sample while setting up for our tasting.

The menu mixed new selections and old favorites. All pairings were excellent. You can always tell they put a lot of effort into these pairing menus:

Grilled Baby Fava Bean Pods sprinkled with sea salt and lemon juice paired with 2009 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. Perfect.
Potato Leek Soup with a drizzle of olive oil and a Crab Cake with lemon aioli paired with 2008 Jackson Hills ChardonnayPerfect so far say my notes from the tasting.


Buckwheat Crepe with Smoked Ham Hocks and Bellwether Farms Carmody Cheese with 2006 Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir. I should just stop repeating Perfect. The smoky ham with the earthy pinot – perfect.
Here’s where I’m in heaven – Sweet Tea Brined Niman Ranch Pork Belly Slider with Syrah BBQ Sauce with 2006 Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah. This is so exquisite I always save it for last. And if we’re doing the cheese or dessert pairing, I always beg Matthew for a pork belly slider on the side. Divine.
Cabernet Braised Short Ribs and Creamy Grits with 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a new one for me and has a great story. I usually hate grits, but these were delicious. These come from the Old Mill of Guilford outside Greensboro, NC. I couldn’t believe it! Almost everything else KJ uses is local, but Matthew said this is the only place to get grits this good. When I was a child, I lived near this historic mill, but it wasn’t operational then. It was a relic on the side of the road that you could visit as a historic site. I think I went there with my Girl Scout Troop. But we used to drive by it all the time. Now they are back in production and making the best grits in the world!



Buttermilk Pecan Tart with Ruthie’s Meyer Lemon Curd with 2008 Late Harvest Reisling. The apricots in the tart are soaked in verjus, but are not too sweet. And neither is the wine. Perfect.
Mama Frischkorn’s Caramel Corn and 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay. This is the sweet one. Makes your teeth sweat as my friend Cali would say. I don’t love this caramel corn, but it’s addicting. I always eat it anyway. No photo of the caramel corn. You know what it looks like - caramel corn.

And of course, they always bring us an extra treat - a big glass of port and a chocolate truffle to finish off the tasting. Matthew is very good to us. And although we only meant to pick up our shipment. We bought four more bottles of wine – our port supply was depleted. After our 2 ½ hour tasting and a walk in the garden, we headed to our hotel where I slept all afternoon. I woke up just in time to go eat again – at one of our favorite restaurants in Healdsburg, Willie’s Seafood and Raw Bar.

More to come on our weekend – Willie’s, WEATHER, more wine and a cheese adventure.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Magnum Ice Cream Bars

In my first anniversary post, I said I’d never gotten anything free from having a food blog. Well, just a few days later that was no longer true. Through the FoodBuzz Tastemaker program, I received a coupon for a free box of Magnum ice cream bars provided by the manufacturer. The letter said there were two coupons, but I only received one. Oh, well.

The ice cream bars come in a variety of flavors, but my grocery store didn’t have the one I really wanted to try, the double caramel. So I chose almond for the freebie and bought a box of the double chocolate just for good measure. Three bars come in the box.

The almond bars are vanilla bean ice cream dipped in Belgian milk chocolate with almond bits. At 300 calories each, I expected pure decadence. I was a little disappointed. The vanilla ice cream seemed lighter and fluffier than I would have expected and the chocolate coating seemed a little thin and also not very rich for Belgian chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I love ice cream and had no trouble eating all three, although I did split them with my husband.

We devoured the double chocolate version as well. No will power here. Again, the ice cream wasn’t as dense as I expected and this one weighed in at 360 calories. Probably due to the layer of chocolate sauce in between the ice cream and the dipped chocolate layer. This was definitely a unique touch. Somehow this one has 3 grams of fiber!

I might purchase these again, but I’d really like to try the double caramel version when I can find it. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Another Mother's Day

Another year has passed without her. When I was a little girl, my mother sewed amazing, elaborate outfits for my dolls, including intricately knitted Barbie-size ski sweaters. But she really wasn’t a good cook. Maybe that ability, or desire, or both, skips a generation. Her mother was a traditional Southern cook whose Sunday dinners consisted of fried chicken, biscuits and fresh vegetables from my grandfather's garden. I think my mother saw food as a necessity rather than something to enjoy. She delegated much of the cooking to me by the time I was in junior high school. 

I was raised on packaged foods-canned, frozen and boxed. I never had fresh peaches, pineapple or pears, only canned. Chinese and Italian food came from a can as well. When we were growing up, my mother made us eat food that I considered inedible (and still do): creamed chip beef on toast, oyster stew and brussel sprouts. I would lock myself in my room rather than face some of these meals.

In spite of the cringe factor, food binds us together as families. Both good food and bad contribute to the memories we share. My mother would eat most anything, but she particularly despised green peas. As adults, we had an understanding. Whenever she came to visit I would serve her peas, which I love, in repayment for all the disgusting food she served me as a child. She understood and always ate every last pea in penance for the food of my childhood.

My mother died six years ago. Her departure leaves a hole in my life that can never be filled. Today, on Mother's Day, I would give anything to be serving her another plate of peas.

A good friend recently sat with her mother for most of two months as she slipped away, dying of cancer. Her mother was only 63. My mother died suddenly with no opportunity for me to say goodbye. I’m not sure which is harder. At least my mother was much older. As a 12-year hospice volunteer, I have seen many variations of loss. But today I think of all of us who have lost our mothers and reflect on their lives and how they made us who we are. And if you are fortunate enough to still have a loving mother, cherish your time together.

(Adapted from an earlier post)