Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Happy Place: The Anderson Valley (and its Wineries)

When life gets too hectic, my favorite escape is to the Anderson Valley, specifically to The Other Place . I wish I could say that it is really my other home, but sadly that is not the case :). It is a dog friendly rental home perched high above the town of Boonville and Hwy 128, and we like to go there once or twice a year for our vacation -with-the-pups. They get a couple of fenced acres of their own to run around unfettered, and dig for moles and voles to their hearts' content. Sammie likes to swim in the pond, which also doubles as Kevin's Kayaking training area. And then there's a few hundred acres of private land to hike around on. Our favorite cottage is The Oaks, named after a couple of ancient oaks that shade it, and it offers 270 degree views of the mountains that surround Boonville.

I love the bucolic Anderson Valley -- It is green and lush and still a whole lot unspoiled, at least compared to Napa & Sonoma. No fancy tasting rooms, low/ no tasting fees, no attitude, and no drunken frat boys veering wildly on the road. It is mercifully free of fancy hotels and resorts, and celebrity chef restaurants.

What is has instead is several very good wineries -- most specializing in dry Alsace Whites and dustier, earthier Pinot Noir. Navarro is a long time favorite of ours and we served some of their dry whites at our wedding - they are also very dog friendly, and have a nice picnic area -- make sure to taste their late harvest dessert wines -- sweet, but with enough acidity to make it interesting. We also like to stop by Roederer (preferable to go during the week when it's less crowded) Greenwood Ridge (the prettiest picnic area, and a very cool tasting room designed by one of Wright's disciples), Handley Cellars (with a female wine maker making some kick-ass wines) and Husch (their lighter white and dessert wines are a great value) and a comparatively new presence in the area: Zine Hyde Cunningham. I would be remiss not to mention, Golden Eye - they are the pinot arm of the venerable Duckhorn empire, but that venerability comes at a slightly higher price, at least by Anderson Valley standards. It is certainly worth visiting, especially if you can do a tasting in their beautiful outdoor tasting area overlooking the vineyards.

Our latest winery discoveries here are two of our favorites next to Navarro, and definitely fall in the category of not-to-be-missed. And it is not just because they are really nice dog people, but also because they make great wines and are warm and welcoming when you visit. The first is Londer - chances are you will be tasting with Shirlee Londer in her kitchen, with her dogs at your feet. My favorite is their dry Gewurtaziminer but I also like their syrahs and pinots, especially the Anderson Valley Pinot. The 2nd is Toulouse, which we found entirely by accident
since they were one of the last ones open at the end of an afternoon of wine tasting. We really liked their wines and enjoyed talking to the owner, Vern, and his friends and bought a couple of bottles. The next day we went back and retasted the wines to make sure that our judgement had not been impaired the previous evening. We liked the wines almost as much, and bought quite a bit more. We have pretty much drunk our way through our Toulouse stash, and recently when I called to see if we could restock, learned that they had sold out of all our favorites. And that is also when I looked through their website and discovered that some their wines had been reviewed very favorably by both the Wine Spectator and SF Chronicle. Go Vern, we said, but we were just a little bit sad that it was no longer "our" secret winery. But we are happy at their most deserved success and wish them all the best!

A warm salad for a cold day

True to form, the weather here now has cooled down to the point of being categorised as sweatshirt weather in the evenings and early mornings. In other words, Masala is sporting one of her now famous sweaters.
So, I made a warm salad, or at least a salad that warms me up!
The World's Easiest Goat Cheese Salad
*Several Handfuls of mache or watercress (very tender baby spinach or baby arugula could be possible substitutes)
*Several clementines or mandarins peeled and "strings''removed, or segmented oranges (Though to me segmented oranges are not synonymous with any "easy" recipe) or even canned mandarins in a pinch
* Finely shaved slices of sweet red onions or shallots (optional)
* Spicy Pecans from Trader Joe's (or lightly roasted pecans/ walnuts plus a tiny bit of crushed red pepper or cayenne or a couple of flavored croutons) - ground coarsely using a mortar-pestle or any similar implement of your choice
*a small log of goat cheese
Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 350.
Place the nuts on a side of a large cutting board. Cut or divvy up the goatcheese into about 1 to 2 Tb portions, and shape each into a disk no more than 1/3 inch thick. Break each disk into half and roll it in the crushed nuts. Shape it back into a disk again and roll it in the nuts again to make all outside surfaces are covered, and be sure to press the nut bits (he heh he) into the cheese. Set aside.
Now make your easy-peasy dressing: Add freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice (or a mix or lemon and orange juice, or even plain lemon juice if you like) to a small jar with a tight fitting lid. Add sugar or splenda, salt, pepper and cayenne to taste and shake vigorously to mix. Add Extra Virgin Olive Oil to taste. I like 1/3 as much EVOO as the juice, but if you like your dressings oilier, you can use a 50-50 ratio of juice to oil.
Place the previously prepared cheese disks on a non-stick cookie sheet and place in the oven. Set your timer to three minutes, and start tossing your salad of greens, oranges and optional onion/shallot. Divide the salad onto individual plates (or large pasta bowls like I do).
As soon as the timer goes off check the cheese to see if it is just slightly melted, and warm to the touch (If it is too melted, you will need to set your oven to 300 next time.)
Place a disk on each plate on top of the salad and serve immediately. And more importantly, be sure to eat it immediately!
Bon appetit!

Did I just hear you say Canine Pilates?

"Did I just hear you say Canine Pilates?" Yes, that was my reaction last week when Masala (my 13 year old wirehaired dachshund diva extraordinaire pictured here) went to see the Doggy Orthopedist. As many of you know, Masala is the "mini" love of my life, what some might call my soul dog.

She is a client of Dr Andrew Sams, http://andrewsamsclinic.com/who is not only an extraordinary doctor, but also a nice guy. He checked her out, pronounced her in fine shape and attributed her slowing down to her age. And he had a solution to the slight problem with her spine (after all she is a doxie!) - rest and then rehab. Resting we had done for the last 6-8 weeks, and now it was time for rehab.

So off we went -- to see Sarah Johnson, his rehab specialist. Sarah has a Masters in Canine Rehab and used to be a a pilates teacher in a previous life. And she is the one that suggested doing Pilates and related exercises with Masala to build up her core. Now, I have been trying to build up my core as well, so I thought "hurray, we can do this together", and had visions of rebonding over sweaty sessions at the Pilates Studio. I even had quasi-matching outfits picked out for us.

The reality thankfully (and I can just hear my husband thanking the 330,000 Indian Gods that he does not even believe in!) turned out to be a little bit different. It was determined that Masala is too little (she is only 9 lbs, and her legs are barely 3 inches tall) to do most of the exercises on the "Canine Pilates DVD" that Sarah has put together. Same with the equipment in her exercise studio. Necessity being the mother of invention, we had to improvise. First Masala was made to walk around on exercise mats of different thicknesses and densities, and with different levels of squishiness. Then she had to walk all over, and balance herself on, a wobble-board http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000G0ON2U, fitness disks of different heights
(Disclaimer: I am not connected to the sale of these in any way :))

Funny, my butt hardly fits on the BOSU, and here she was walking around on it! And whereas I can barely balance myself on any of these objects, Masala walked around on them like Nadia Comaneci on the balance beams. She pranced around like she belonged there and had been practising as long as Nadia.

We concluded the session with a nice relaxing massage for Masala as Sarah showed me how to do this at home. And guess what, just like me, Masala is only able to partially relax on the massage table. As she worked on Masala, Sarah told me "Wow, this little one has some really well muscled hamstrings!" Ummm, swell! I have been trying to build up my hamstrings forever, but they are still puny shrivelled little twigs, while my quads have begun to look more like miniature tree trunks. And Masala has nice hamstrings without even trying? But then nobody ever said life was fair, did they?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Celebrating Laura

Yesterday June 21st, my very very very good friend Laura (she blogs at http://musingsfromtupelost.blogspot.com/) turned _0. We had a Girls' Night to celebrate this big milestone -- After all, she had warned us repeatedly that she did NOT want a surprise party (hmmm - maybe she is well aware of my penchant for throwing surprise parties?) . So, we had a lovely dinner at Massimo's in Fremont with just "The Girls" -- a dinner party that lasted four fun hours, and a good time was had by all!

I was happy to be there to celebrate a great friend and a great woman -- she has influenced me in more ways than she realizes. Her influence ranges from the profound (she was my first & primary role model to be unapologetically childless by choice), to the mundane (how to talk to strangers and have a good time doing it). She has been there for me through the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, through boyfriends good and bad, for the breakup of one major long term relationship, and the birth and nurturing of another. Laura and I first bonded over our love of gardening, and our dislike of a manager who harassed us both. We went on to discover our shared appreciation for architecture, liberal politics, Mexican food, and being unabashedly opinionated.

We both changed jobs, but managed to stay in touch. In fact, our friendship blossomed away from State Farm. We travelled to the Big Apple and to Los Angeles to indulge in our shared passions of museums and food, and surprise surprise, had a good time! She was part of our wedding two years ago, and I hear even had a role to play in the planning of Kevin's wedding proposal.

But for Laura, I might never have been a regular concertgoer. Or a KFOG Kaboom devotee. Or ever done the AidsWalk. Or gone traipsing through the homes of perfect strangers while on the Annual SF Victorian House Tour. It does not matter that I am an adventurous eater and she is not. Or that I love both spicy food and cilantro, but she detests them both. Or that I'm an oenophile wanna-be and she's a teetotaler. Or that she loves football and I can barely tolerate it. Or that she's a cat person but I am dog lover.

I love her for who she is: for her warm heart & her generous spirit. For her love of Pearl Jam & Ryan Gosling. For the fact that she makes a killer spinach dip. Because she says she is jealous of my dog Junnu's ultra long legs (but then who isn't?). Because she is never afraid to speak her mind. Because she cares about the environment and Women's Rights. Because she has one of the biggest hearts ever. And because she is Miss Laura.

But in spite of (or perhaps because of?) all our differences, we are good friends -- the kind my 10 year old niece would likely describe as BFF. And amazingly enough we've now known each other for 14 years -- as Laura herself would say, "Good Night, Irene"!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

a cool salad for a hot day

For the past 4 days the temperature in my home town of San Mateo has been hovering around 100. I love hot weather, and besides, as my friend Madhu said in her blog (post called Summer Solstice), this is nothing that a Kolkata girl cannot handle! http://lifeinallitsrandomness.blogspot.com/ .

It is too hot to use the oven, so what to eat? These are 2 of my favorite eats when the weather heats up.

Summer Stone Fruit Salad with quick & easy dressing

A couple of handfuls of mache, arugula or mixed baby greens
2 medium ripe (but firm) nectarines/peaches/pluots - cubed, and preferably slightly chilled
A dollop or two of goat cheese - optional
1/8 to 1/4 cup spicy nuts ( I like the spicy pecans from Trader Joe's)-optional

Salad Dressing
Get a small jar with a tight fitting lid.
Add Balsamic Vinegar, Splenda or Sugar, salt and cayenne to taste.
Shake all the above and taste and adjust as necessary
Add Extra Virgin Olive Oil to taste (I swap the traditional percentages, and
like to use only 1/4 to 1/3 the amount of oil compared to the Acid.

Add the dressing at the last minute, just before serving.

Lassi (Indian Yogurt Drink)
About 20 ounces of non fat or low fat yogurt (I prefer to use TJ's or Fage Greek Yogurt for its high protein content)
juice from half a regular lemon or 1 small meyer lemon or lime
Splenda or sugar to taste (I like 5 packets of splenda)
A smidgeon of salt
A smaller smidgeon of cayenne

Mix all the above with a fork or stick blender - adjust seasonings
Add about 20-30 oz of cold water to taste and mix again.
Add a few ice cubes if you want yours colder.

Voila! you have a cool, refreshing drinkable entree, with lots of protein, zero to no fat, and lot of water to keep you hydrated on a hot day.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

I recently finished reading "The Ten Year Nap" -- a slightly sprawling saga of 4 New York women in the present day who have all followed the "mommy track" to raise their kids. It weaves back and forth between the lives of these 4 women, and their mothers who were/are very different from their daughters. Although I was mildly annoyed at first by the mothers' stories (I was anxious to learn more about the 4 women of today) but soon figured out that it was necessary to understand the mothers in order to understand their daughters.

There is no mystery, no great reveal, no secrets, but Meg Wolitzer's writing and story line really held my interest all the way through. It actually made me want to go to the gym and do my hour on the elliptical or bike, just to have a chance to read more of this book. Not a bad thing, huh?

Now I am looking forward to reading some of her older books, most notably, The Position and The Wife, considered by some to be some of the best modern writing about women and sex.


And something said by one of the minor characters in The Ten Year Nap really resonated with me:
"But mostly, though, he knew that if you longed for what you did not have, then you would be one of those unhappy people you could find anywhere in any setting, the ones who couldn't appreciate what they had as long as they saw something they did not have. "

We're ramping up!

Yes, we are ramping up, as in putting ramps all over our home for our dowager doxie princess, Masala. Ramps after all are a fact of life for all dachshund owners, and we have finally come to accept our fate.
And the photo to the left is the crowning glory of our rampyness: My hunky handy hubby built this ramp and its associated "fence" (yes, those are Ak Mak Cracker boxes!). Obviously, ramps are easier on the long backs of dachshunds, but why the fence you ask? It is a "training fence" -- as in a fence to train Masala to use the ramp. It is just high enough to detract Masala and direct her towards the ramp, but short enough for the rest of us to step over it. Ingenious, isn't it? :)
And this is also the definitive proof of why he is not in charge of decorating our home! I love the man dearly, but he does have a way of getting carried away by his love of duct tape.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A couple of recent local food finds

food wise, these are some of my more recent finds
In no particular order:

1. The potstickers at Tong Kee (and I most of the time I don't even like potstickers!) - they are light and airy, not at all greasy, and filled with the most delicate pork and veggie filling. They are so good, that they require no sauce (wow, did I really just write that? :)

Tong Kee Restaurant

2055 Gellert Blvd
Daly City, CA 94015
(650) 878-9811

2. The frozen yogurt at Harmony frozen yogurt in San Carlos. The "natural"flavor at harmony has a clean, slightly tangy taste and is made from Strauss Organic Milk. It is less tangy that some of the others I have tasted, and not at all grainy in its texture. And best of all I like it with any of the fresh fruit toppings, but would skip the mochi topping in the future. This was unlike any mochi I've ever had - small white slightly sweet chunks with a chewy texture and a mild bitter aftertaste and had no business being anywhere near this pristine scoop of frozen yogurt. But minus the mochi, and with or without fruit, it is plain divine!