Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Little Time Off

We decided to take a little time off, some rest and relaxation, a few days of exploring and seeing another area here in the Pacific northwest, but not too far from home.

Getting ready to travel takes some preparation for us. Perhaps it's a sign of the aging process, but we enjoy our comforts: for example, we like to take our own pillow; select the books that will accompany us; pack lightly; decide on a menu and prepare some of the items in advance. . . ah, and which special bottle or two of wine we will take. A continuation of our daily habits and routine no matter where we are generally yields a good result.

A checklist is made for the various meals, and a cooler will hold those perishable items:

Grind coffee beans and place in small baggies for each morning.
Breakfast Drink: soy milk, cinnamon, psyllium, whey protein powder, and fruit (banana & apple) in a blender with ice
Snacks: all bran apple and pear muffins that I baked yesterday, unsalted almonds. . .
Lunch: tuna salad, turkey slices (for another day), fresh cucumbers (in a diluted rice vinegar), fruit slices, whole wheat bread
Dinner: marinated Korean beef flank, a meat loaf, both uncooked, and a plan of finding some nice fresh seafood we can prepare.

We gathered together apples, pears and figs from cold storage, those fruits collected from the trees several weeks ago, and placed them in gallon storage bags. Additionally, some of the apples were cored and quartered and placed in a storage bag for snacks along the way.

Lemon pepper, a small jar of olive oil, a bit of fresh pepper and kosher salt - that's about all the seasoning we should need - a few remaining garden zucchini and squash for grilling, and by golly, I think we may be on our way.

We'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Morning Glow

This time of year requires little sunshine in the early morning for the glow of the foliage brightens the landscape before us. There is no movement. . . the air is still. As I write, the weather bug reads 32 degrees. 32 degrees?! That's freezing! Quite unusual it seems for us to have temperatures that low. Likely I will not be able to salvage the last of the basil in the garden.

And without warning, a breeze carries the wispy veil of fog to rustle the foliage and seduce the silence of the calm.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friends and a Grand Italian Event

How blessed we were to spend an evening with a few close friends and new found ones as we were invited to join in a Dinner party with Wines from Tuscany. Our dear friends, Ray and Donna, had purchased this 10-person event at an auction with proceeds going to assist a local community charity. A grand affair, but with 16 people, to include the fine couple who donated it, their daughter, our personal sommelier, and the three very talented musicians who entertained us.

Before I tell you about the evening, it is important to note that local people are the ones who understand the needs of a community and always rise to the occasion of supporting those organizations that do good work; it speaks to their compassion and generosity and as the American people who are always willing to give of their time, effort, and hard earned money, guiding and helping others build a better life. It is not government that is to be praised. Having said that, I can now continue.

A romantic and memorable evening from the beginning: as we entered the quaint setting of the local inn and restaurant, the elegant tones of the chamber music beckoned us to join in the old world charm of our private dining rooms. The cellist, violinist and pianist graced this room with intimacy. Other guests had already arrived and were enjoying their first glass of the chardonnay Libaio, a delicate and non-oak wine from La Solatia estate, a nice balance to the beautiful array of appetizers. To add to the enjoyment, we later discovered the wine to be a good value in addition to its quality rating. . . our kind of wine.

Antipasti: Calamari Fritti with an aoili; large Prosciutto Prawns; assortment of salami, cheese, and olives, artichoke hearts; Bruschetta Con Funghi. . . beautifully prepared and displayed, delicious, but my inner voice said to only take a little.

The sommelier suggested we descend the several stairs into the dining area and take our seats at the long dark wooden table, heavily laded with sparkling crystal stemware, and positioned in the center of the room surrounded by wine-filled racks which lined the walls. She offered a brief background about herself and some history of brothers Luigi and Adolfo Folonari who still own controlling interest in Ruffino, a leading Chianti wine maker in Tuscany. And with each food course the new wine was presented along with some characteristics.

We discussed cork versus the new bottle caps, how cork allows red wines to age better, French oak compared to American oak, that American oak has a tendency to evoke harsh tannins and that the better French oak is dependent upon the forest from which it comes. . . Did you know that Italy cannot irrigate the grapes, but grow naturally on their own? And were you aware the growers cannot increase the number of vines, but can only replace them - dig one out and plant one in its place?

Insalata: Butterleaf lettuce dressed with sliced pears, gorgonzola crumbles, toasted hazelnuts and a raspberry honey vinaigrette, and a second Chardonnay, an '06 La Solatia. . .in oak for just 3 weeks, just a little malolactic fermentation for that smooth and buttery flavor, and a splash of Voignier, she explained. A very nice wine to suit the palate.

An '05 Santedame Chianti, a fairly young wine and made from the Sangiovese grape (it has to be 85% of that grape), was served with our third course.

Primi: Ravioli Calabrese, a traditional ravioli with beef, pork, and chicken tossed in olive oil, butter, rosemary and a parmigiano cheese topping. Umm. . . note to self: find a recipe for this one!

Secondi: a local and organic Ribeye steak, grilled and served with a bourbon demi glaze, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and complemented with an '03 Lodola Nuova, another made from the Sangiovese grape. . . with 10% merlot and aged for 24 months in French oak and one year in the bottle. Delicious! but I must confess to eating only a small amount and requesting a doggie bag.

Dessert: Typically we do not eat dessert, but I did indulge a bit on this dense and decadent flourless Chocolate torte, and served with a Rustino Reserva Ducale, which means reserved for the Duke and would indicate a much higher price tag, made for that fine combination of a dark chocolate and a nice soft lingering finish in this wine.

Spettacolare! and a night to write about and remember. I do believe a six-month stay in a villa in Tuscany would be in order sometime in our future. Thank you my friends for allowing us to be a part of this memorable evening.

Should you like to read more:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Little Scotch

Our evening walks in the garden are beginning earlier this time of year, and as the sun no longer wraps its rays around us, a nice sweater or jacket is in order.

For years our ritual has been to stroll casually with a glass of wine in hand, but of late we have opted for a vodka martini with a couple of olives, followed by a glass of wine with dinner. Tonight will be different.

Several nights ago we spoke of having a little scotch for a change. . . a warming touch for the cooler nights. And I can still remember my first taste. . . in fact it was my first drink. My date suggested I have it with a little soda and so I did. Now I cannot verify, but I believe it may have been Glenlivet, and it wasn't too bad.

Over the years I have tried a variety of scotch, and with having traveled to Scotland, there was an opportunity to taste many fine ones, namely Oban, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie. . . And, a little Glen Ford has always been to my liking! ;)

But it so happens that what is available this evening is Macallan 12. Hm, I had forgotten: beautiful amber color, a little sweetness, smooth and full flavored, like a good wine, and with a very pleasant smoky finish.

But, so as not to forget about the garden, let me share these evening treats with you.

So very special is this radiant and bright yellow David Austin rose, 'Graham Thomas', a very upright specimen, still heavily laden with blossoms, and that decided to lovingly lean into the laburnum for a little extra support.

As the pampas catches the final glow, I wish you a pleasant evening, and here is a toast to a few friends who are also known to enjoy their Mac. . .

Prost. . . Luggy, Rocky, and Dick!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Beginning Fall Color

As a gentle stroke of morning sun begins to paint the quiescent landscape, the phormium, white fir and 'Swane's Golden' Italian cypress are first defined...

and with a broader brush the expanse revealed.

I must admit to * redoing another area of the garden: the mound, as we call it, situated outside one of the large windows in the studio and that serves as the central spoke in the garden, is positioned just behind Carrie and the coral bark maple. (* for another discussion)

To add to the birds' winter delight, the Rosa rugosas have formed their winter's rose hip, and

planted neither for the delicate pink summer flowers nor the foliage, but for this fall showing, Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion' is aptly named for its abundance of somewhat pearlescent purple clusters.

This six foot shrub will soon shed its leaves and allow the drupes (berries) to shimmer and reign in the garden. A native of China, it was named for Emile Marie Bodinier, a French missionary who first collected and introduced it to Europe.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vegetable Garden Cleanup

Today we will be one with the vegetable garden, cleaning up and gathering what may be left of the fresh produce, for unwittingly I did not anticipate this early morning to be at 36 degrees. Yuk! I was relishing in the cooler daytime temperatures but not a plunge into cold.

At this point the fresh tomatoes are relatively considered 'history', and we will pick the green ones available. Surely we can salvage the eggplant, peppers and a few more zucchini, squash and cucumbers. More apples will be plucked from the trees and placed in cold storage along with the potatoes and onions. So my work has been defined for the day.

Happily, the electricity should not be interrupted as there are no workmen here. Oh, I guess I didn't tell you that we are having a generator installed and that has required a revamping of the electrical system.

Usually once or twice a year, the power upon which we rely (100%) is interrupted, and consequently we cannot cook, run water, shower (a most unpleasant thought), as all comes to a halt. Several years ago we were without for 5 days and of course lost everything in our refrigerator and freezer.

It seems that the substantial number of Douglas Fir trees in the Pacific northwest cause most of the interruption during the winter and early spring months. The shallow root base, soggy grounds and winds will find these towering monsters taking down power lines throughout the region. We always hope and pray that we will be the first to have our power restored, but sadly so our area is generally on the tail end of the crew's priorities.

I say let the winds blow. Oops... not yet. Let us first see the completion of the plan.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dry Rub Ribs For Dinner

What a crisp and beautiful morning! Blue sky, a chilling breeze, and following a very early morning rain, the air is sweet and fresh.

I went out to cut a few bay leaves and snip some rosemary to be used in a brine for the baby back ribs we will have for dinner tonight, and dally I did as I watched a sparrow tap atop a silver light fixture and tree branches and grasses sway about in their own free style form of a waltz.

Grilled ribs (dry rub only) and some cauliflower (olive oil, chopped garlic, freshly ground pepper, kosher salt, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes) baked at 425 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, should be enough for dinner. . . and accompanied by a nice white wine to complement the spice of the ribs. Shall we have a Riesling?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Country Living and Propane

We have talked for years about adding propane to our all-electric home. It seems at least once a year we have a power outage due to a Doug fir falling on a power line or some other incident when we experience high winds. We can be without power for days, and in one instance it was five.

About a month ago we finally had propane tanks installed, followed by adding a gas cooktop in addition to the electric one we have, a Rinnai tankless water heater, and a gas heating stove that replaces the wood burning one in our kitchen-great room area. Last week a generator was delivered, and we should soon see the final hookup. When complete, at least we can heat one room, cook, and all the food in our refrigerator and freezer will not spoil. Now that's a plan.

A county inspector has to check all steps of the installation during the process. When this particular one arrived for the first look, he grimaced and shifted his eyes, slightly tilted his head and rather disdainfully proclaimed, wow, as I drove up the driveway and looked around... you really have it all.

I was so taken aback by this man who had just made a rash and surface judgment, one who had no idea of who we were, the condition of the property we bought 15 years ago, nor how we have personally labored to get it this way. It is amazing what people may say without thought. . . but that would be another story.

The good news is that we should be up and running in short order, and we'll be cooking with gas!