lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

Monday, September 14, 2015

Chef Dan comes through, the new monster fire in Napa and Lake, and a box wine for zin lovers who know the difference (honest)...

Okay, as promised (or semi-promised, at least) here's a recipe to be copied, used, and cherished forever, at least by those of you who love and understand great soups. I warn you up front, however: this is not your grandma's gentle little creamy kinda-cheesy concoction that you remember from your sniffly-nosed childhood wintry stay-home-sick days that made you feel all warm and cozy. Nope, this is a rich, weighty, almost-a-full-meal-in-a-bowl version of an old-style Canadian rancher's soup that we fussed over for a number of days before we felt we had it right, and I still marvel at the level of perceptiveness that Dan Gilbert brought to this process: he was able to clearly understand how he needed to approach and solve the problem just by listening to me explain as best I could how I wanted it to taste and how it needed to work with the wines being featured on that specific night. It was perfect in the end, and was probably the most talked-about and discussed item on the menu, which was impressive. So, here you go, compliments of Chef Dan Gilbert...

                                    Black Diamond Aged White Cheddar Soup          

                                                         (serves 8)

1 leek, duced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 1/2 cups sauvignon blanc (a medium-weight wine with some grassiness is desirable)
1/2 gal rich chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of cayenne (optional, but preferred)
pinch of kosher salt and white pepper
16 oz grated Black Diamond Canadian White Cheddar
Roux (4 oz butter, 4 oz flour)


Saute leeks and celery in canola oil for 3 - 4 minutes, add sauvignon blanc and cayenne pepper and reduce by half, add chicken stock and heavy cream, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes; add a pinch of kosher salt and white pepper and ehisk in half the roux (soup will become creammy and smooth); you may add more roux if needed. Whisk in shredded lack Diamond cheddar, making sure all the cheese melts and binds together (consistency should be a light to medium thickness and silky); strain with fine mesh strainer.

Return to low heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently; if soup seems to be too thick, it may be thinned with chicken stock or sauvignon blanc; soup is ready to serve. Garnish with a whole wheat crostini. Serve with a medium-to-full sauvignon blanc albarino, or chardonnay

Those of you who are working on new fall and winter menus will want to look closely at this one...

Unhappily, Mr Fire is back among us and is currently kicking butt across wide swaths of wine country.including Napa (again), Lake (again), and Amador counties. The Valley fire (Napa) erupted late Saturday evening and has burned approximately 95 square miles as of this morning's CalFire report; it has already destroyed the little town of Middletown just north of Calistoga, and has burned more than 400 structures. CalFire is calling it a monster and Governor Jerry has declared Napa and Lake counties disaster areas again. Seems that Calistoga and Kelseyville have been designated as regional shelter centers for the hundreds of families that have been evacuated, and normal activities are in turmoil. No one can say what the impact of these fires will be on this years' winegrape harvest, but word is that a number of growers and wineries are struggling to deal with the labor crisis caused by the absence of workers who are looking after their families and property that may be in harm's way or serving as volunteer firefighters. How long this new disaster is going to be with us is far from certain; as of this morning CalFire says it's at 5% containment, but the winds are up and it keeps jumping their lines. As for the Butte fire (Amador), it appears to be almost as nasty as the Valley; one saving grace, I suppose, is that it's burning in an area that's less heavily populated (and tourist-travelled), but it doesn't appear to be any closer to containment and could do any number of things before it's all over. We wish the best for our many friends in the Napa area, and hope everyone stays safe and well...

A happy note to close this letter: we just picked up a copy of Bota Box's latest offering of their "Old Vine" Zinfandel ($18.95 for the 3l box), which is the 2013 vintage; not only is this a good, well-made red wine, which is frequently all you can hope for from a bulk package with a varietal label, but this one actually tastes like a pretty decent zin! Rich fruit, good color and balance, and a berryish finish that is old-time California through and through. It's worth your while if you like having a tasty red on hand that can be gulped down with burgers and pizza without feeling the guilt associated with uncorking a $25 or $30 bottle for your unruly friends to disrespect.

I think that's it for now, but more very soon...


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wine country and the drought, the (rapidly) changing face of residential landscaping in the West, and the coming of the El Nino monster...

Drought + hottest  summer on record + fire  ...what do you get? EARLY HARVEST!!!

So, pretty much everybody who grows wine grapes in California is now up to his or her butt in harvest, weeks and weeks early, due to the effects on vinifera of little water and a whole lot of prolonged heat. It's going to be very interesting, and a little nerve-rattling, to see what the overall quality of this vintage will be, because if, as many scientists presently believe, this growing season is a precursor of what climate change (yes, deniers, it's real, regardless of what Bush and Cheney told you) is likely to make commonplace, then we need to take note and begin learning how to deal with it as it will be. This 2015 harvest's final judgment is, of course, still a mystery to us all, even though most grapes destined to become sparkling wines are safely in,picking in Napa having begun as early as July22 (Mumm, I think) as are many of the aromatic varieties such as sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer, albarino, viognier, etc., harvesting having begun during the first week of August. We will be spending some time in both Napa and Sonoma later this month, as well as the Shenandoah area, so will get a good look and feel for what to expect overall from some folks who are knee-deep in it, and will bring that back to you.

The pall of wood smoke that has been hanging over our end of the valley for the past month or so has been pushed to the east (temporarily, at least) by winds off the Pacific during the last week, bringing cooler temperatures (80s and 90s instead of 100 - 113) but no moisture, at least none that made it over the Coast Range. Many of us are now coming to the realization that lawns and gardens are the least of our worries: they're done. Now we're coming to understand that our trees are entering crisis territory, as well, and we're losing sleep over how to deal with that set of problems. We have several cherished trees on our property, most significantly a 60-foot beauty of a western sugarcone pine that shades the front of our house, and a hundred-year-old valley oak that anchors a big piece of our hillside between the house and the road. We have determined that we will do all possible to ensure that these two trees, in particular, survive this drought: we, like many of our neighbors, have for the past several months been re-purposing and re-using every possible drop of water that runs through our piping: dishwater, laundry water (when possible), even "stale" dog and cat water. We have taken landscape that had been irrigated for decades out of the loops, even to the point of allowing a space I had hand-graded and seeded to fine fescue with the intent of creating a backyard practice putting green go back to dirt and rock, all for the purpose of conserving additional water for our treasured trees. So each and every day we gingerly carry plastic tubs and buckets of murky dishwater or water gathered from other purposes, like washing windows, out to our trees and carefully pour it along their driplines in the hope that these extra few hundred gallons each month will help them weather this nasty experience. We'll see, I suppose, if we live long enough.    

 It's truly a fascinating new world here in the West: almost anywhere you go, whether it's the grocery, a gas station, the pharmacy, a bookstore, or standing on the practice tee at your local (dusty) muny, the conversations overheard will almost invariably turn to the drought and its challenges within a short time. You can bet money on it. People are attacking their particular concerns in different ways, and it's interesting to note that the folks who seem to be most actively engaged are the very ones you might expect to resist change: bless my soul, Jimmy, it's older Californians who are stepping up to the plate in droves...ripping out water-sucking lawns in favor of New Mexico/Arizona-style seriscapes or at the very least replacing thirsty turfgrass cultivars and ornamentals with more drought-tolerant varieties, and replacing outdated irrigation technologies with state-of-the-art systems pioneered by the golf industry. This is heartening stuff, as is much (though not all) of the data coming from Governor Jerry's office each month regarding how we performed during the preceding month in relation to the target reduction rates we've been given, which is generally pretty good. However, there are still pockets of resistors, mostly located in some of our more affluent areas (surprise!!!) who haven't yet gotten on the team, but they will very soon now that the heat is about to be turned up on their sorry asses...more soon on that.

The weather geniuses scattered around the world's brain tanks are still saying that the indicators are all still in place for the successful development of a powerful El Nino in the coming months, and that we here in California are likely in for a very wet winter (though it will not reach drought-buster proportions). This news is quite popular here in our little corner of the West, as you might expect. However, we've heard this song before, so no one is passing out the pointy party hats yet; we'll see.

In closing, a note to my good friend and former chef (twice, in fact), Dan Gilbert, who is presently living and working in beautiful Santa Cruz: Dan, I was thinking of that cream of Canadian cheddar (I think we used Black Diamond) soup that you created for one of our vintner's dinner menus at Del Paso a number of years back. That is one of the most strikingly-flavored culinary creations I can ever recall, and is one of the few dishes that some people still comment on from time to time. If you'll pass along the recipe we'll publish it here for the benefit of the F&B types (and anyone else who cares to try it) who check in from time to time. Let me know...

That's all for now...