lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fire season returns to Northern California; more good stuff from Rodney Strong Vineyards; and a late spring storm system brings rain and snow to Shasta and the Lemurians...

We've been waiting to get some indication of what this upcoming fire season was going to look like, given that we've been blessed so far this year with substantial rainfalls and a healthy snowpack, both for the first time in more than a few moons. Several regions on the state have actually been removed from the "drought" classification, and water restrictions eased or even lifted in a few areas. Whether that will prove to be a wise decision remains to be seen, because people will be people, but we shall see how things play out as the summer goes on.

However, be that as it may, we have now gotten a look at what the forests are going to do when summer stresses materialize, particularly the ever-present reality of pop-up lightning storms in the mountains. Right now, and for the past 2 weeks, the Pony Fire complex is burning in the Klamath National Forest, about 15 miles southwest of Happy Camp, and just west of Hwy 96 near Klamath. More than 1200 firefighters were committed to the fire at its peak, which finally grew to 148,000 + acres before being contained as of this morning's InciWeb summary of the official briefing. The area is isolated and contains heavy understory growth and a good deal of dead material on the ground that remains from earlier fires, primarily from the summer of 2008, I would guesss. I suppose that what we've learned so far is that the forests are still very receptive and ready to ignite at the first opportunity, so we'll follow along and see what happens. We've already seen a few small grass/brush fires here in the Whiskeytown Lake area over the last several weeks, stuff in the 15-40 or so acre range, but nothing dramatic as yet. However, it's only a matter of time. Southern California is getting its first early dose, as well, with the Sherpa Fire burning at 7600+ acres in the Los Padres National Forest west/northwest of Santa Barbara, which is claimed to be 45% contained at present' However, they're dealing with terrible conditions in the way of high temperatures and high winds.  We wish them luck.

Moving on, we're pleased to see that the folks at Rodney Strong continue to do the right things with sauvignon blanc; their 2015 Charlotte's Home (Northern Sonoma) model is a very pretty and well-made wine that is as good an example of what the grape can do while still being priced at a level ($12.99 at retail locally) that anyone can justify shelling out for an evening's good time. Bouquet is expansive and floral, color is bright straw, and the fruit is lush and persistent. All in all, very tasty and a perfect accompaniment to cold chicken and shrimp salads, or equally nice as a cocktail wine on a hot afternoon.

I'm finishing this (I admit falling asleep immediately after the conclusion of O J: Made In America last night, which is without doubt the best work I've ever seen on this tragic event) early (relative term, I guess) in the day after a night that brought our part of the state one last (probably) spring storm system that pushed through a massive wall of soft, steady drizzle here in the far North Valley, as well as a big mother of a snow dump in the higher elevations of the Sierra and Cascades. Great surprise this morning to get my first peeks at Mt. Shasta as it struggled to shed the cloud cover hiding its new snow. Exactly what we needed heading into summer! Enjoy, Lemurians!

More in a few days.


Friday, April 22, 2016

We're back and we have a ghost (a good one, we think); spectacular springtime on The Hill; Redding Farmers' Market opens; and the likelihood of a hutchinsongolf Fall wine tour...

As some of you noticed, we've been absent for the past several weeks. Other responsibilities and obligations diverted our attention from this letter and refocused it on the ongoing effort at trying to make a living, but we're back now, at least for the present, and trying to catch up.

Interestingly, and unusually, there's been a lot going on here since our return. For one thing, we've finally come to terms with the fact that we do, indeed, have a ghost sharing our house.  We've suspected it for a number of years, probably from the first year. Occasional crashing noises in various parts of the house at odd hours of both day and night (as if someone had dropped a stack of books on the floor, maybe), but no evidence of anything being out of place when investigated; on a few occasions, usually at night, the sound of running feet that seemed to come from upstairs if the listener was downstairs, and vice-versa at other times; and sometimes hearing bits and pieces of what sounded like conversations coming from areas where there there was no one. After a while we sort of accepted these as just quirks of an old mountain house, and none of us, my wife or myself or the dogs, ever felt any discomfort with it. However, the house has seemed to be a good deal more active over the last several weeks, the highlight of which occurred two weeks ago. Catherine, my wife, had fallen asleep on the sofa while watching tv upstairs, and I was downstairs in my office working. Sometime around 1 am I called it a night and fell asleep after reading for a short time; I thought she was still watching tv, so I remained in my office, turning in on the small bed there. According to her, she awoke sometime between 3 and 4 am, she thought due to a noise, but not certain. She sat up, thinking her cat had probably wanted to go out, and saw the figure of a man standing directly behind the sofa she had been sleeping on, which is positioned in the middle of the room beside a large picture window looking onto the deck. She says that the figure spoke to her: she believes that he asked her "Is there anything I can do?", but it might have been "anything we can do?" or "anything you can do?" Then he vanished. She is of the impression that he was dressed in casual clothing that appeared to be from an earlier era, maybe the 40's or 50's, and wore glasses. Beyond that, she remembers nothing more, except that he was completely non-threatening. So much so, in fact, that she didn't bother to tell me about the experience until the next morning, going back to sleep a short time later.

So we're accepting our ghost, or ghosts if he's not alone, and going on with things just as before. However many there are, as long as we're all happy and comfortable with each other, we'll all be fine.

Beyond that, we're experiencing a spectacular spring here on our little mountain. Everything is already in full bloom and blossom, including wildflowers we've never seen before in the entire nine years we've been here. The abundant rain and mild temperatures have spurred growth in unexpected ways: the valley oaks' leaves are already fully formed and are almost neon-bright in their lime green color; the honeysuckle vines in those oaks are ripe and already so heavily perfumed that by late afternoon they can almost overpower you, and the little honeybees are trying hard to keep up. The native grasses are coming knee-high for the second time, having already been knocked down once this season, and our resident gray fox has (I think) a litter working somewhere here on the property; she's awfully busy, at least, and seems to be staying really close to a particular brushy area just a hundred feet or so to the north of the house. Lulu has expressed some curiosity about it, but has stayed respectfully clear of the thickest part, so I'm assuming that's where the den is located. We'll know pretty shortly, I would think; in the past she has begun parading her kits around as soon as they're able to navigate without falling on their faces every few steps. We'll see.

Another great benefit of spring's arrival is the opening of our local farmers' market, which took place a couple of weeks ago, although pickings are still pretty sparse. What there is, though, particularly the strawberries and early peas, is beautiful to behold, and is a pretty great predictor for all that's yet to arrive. The food vendors are already out in force, including our old friends the Colimas with their tamales. Thank you, Lord. As usual, more on the market as the season goes along.

There seems to be some interest building among some of our old friends regarding the possibility of our putting together a new Fall Wine Country Golf Tour for 2016; so, maybe we'll do it. As before, if we do go ahead with it, we'll begin organizing and scheduling in early June, and we;ll poist details here as things develop. If we do go this year I'd really like to move a bit into the Sierra winegrowing areas and take the opportunity to play several of the great old courses that are tucked away in the foothills. it'll be a trip worth doing, I promise. Stay tuned.

Okay, that's all for now. Back much sooner this time.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Shasta and Lassen looking springtimey from the Hillside; Raphael Ravenscroft's saxophone, and ghost golf courses...

Lulu and I spent a good while on the deck this evening watching the fat clouds roll in over Mt. Shasta to the north and Elephant Butte and Lassen in the east, with darkness creeping across the valley as the sun disappeared behind us in the west, behind the coast range. Thank you for this, Lord.

It seems that we're about to get kicked in the butt by another early spring; days are warm, nights are cool but moist, and everything with roots in the ground is putting out green shoots and new leaves. We've gotten a lot of rain so far this year, with more in the long-range outlook; reservoirs and lakes are rising, streams, creeks and rivers are up and running high. The water picture is brightening, at least here in the North State, but the drought is far from being broken, nor will it be this year even if we were to have our wettest 12 months ever, according to the people who are supposed to know. And, in keeping with human nature as we know it, most of the reporting cities and water districts have missed their conservation marks during the past 2 months, believing that since it is raining everything must be okay. Way to go, guys.

So, anyway, surveying the North Valley from here both Shasta and Lassen are showing solid snowpacks from top to timberline, but with the aid of binoculars we can see shades of new green popping out at lower altitudes. If this warming trend continues, and it seems that it's likely to do so, both mountains will probably be active by mid-April at the latest. For tourists, this should be a superb spring and summer for a North State visit, especially hiker/climbers and kayakers. The last couple of seasons have been drought-crippled, and understandably so, with rivers and creeks drying or pitifully thin due to the drought, and forests brown and tinder-dry, but things are beginning to look as though a green year is in our immediate future. This is a good time to look at a Norcal vacation, friends, particularly if you've never been north of Sacramento or west of Reno/Tahoe. You'll be amazed at what you've missed. You may even find yourself looking at retirement or get-away real estate, and there probably won't ever be a better time, given the local market. I'd buy more if I could afford it. Check us out; both Shasta and Trinity counties have pretty decent web representation; look with enthusiasm and you'll find lots of information about us and all we've got to offer those of you looking for something and someplace a little off-center and new to kick back and enjoy life for a while. You don't know what you're missing.

New subject. I was prowling through a shelf of almost-forgotten albums last week and stumbled onto an old copy of Gerry Rafferty's City to City. For those of you who don't know, never knew, or have forgotten, this was a cornerstone album of of late '70s rock and roll from the former front man of Stealer's Wheel, a more or less edgy Scottish band that came and went very quickly for a number of reasons, but which left a small legacy of pretty strong music behind. Anyway, it isn't Rafferty's vocals that caused my addiction to this odd collection of tunes; rather, it was (and is) the incredibly spooky and powerful saxophone work of Raphael Ravenscroft, which still, to this day, after a thousand or so times sitting captivated, can stop me cold. I only discovered, a few days ago, that he had died a couple of years ago, in 2014, at the tender age of 60. A sad discovery it was, too. Ravenscroft, as brilliant as he was at his particular craft, was never acknowledged for it by rock fans in general, and actually took some unwarranted abuse in later years from internet rock psychos who resented his work on the City to City album. Not being psycho myself, I never really spent any quality time trying to understand their arguments, which had to do with some other player they felt should have been on the record, and I don't care now, either. All I know is that I love the man's playing, and we're poorer for his passing. If you want to know why, pull up and listen to the album, or better yet, just 2 tracks: Island and Baker Street (considered the most famous saxophone performance in rock and roll history by many). You'll never forget
his sound. RIP.

Okay, more soon...


Friday, February 26, 2016

Beautiful Albarino from Lee Family Farm in Monterey; 9th Circuit Court of Appeals screws up tip-sharing tradition for us; and True Crime in the West

If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit that we are, indeed, deviating more and more often from the original intent of this more-or-less regularly written letter, which was conceived as a means of communicating informally with friends and clients regarding the goings-on in our professional realm, that being the food and beverage/golf areas of the hospitality industry, focusing specifically on the West. That remains a major part of the effort, and always will.

However, over the past year we've found ourselves focusing on other matters, such as sporadic attempts to convey to our readers the charm and attraction of our home ground, that being the foothills and mountains of far Northern California. And, the more closely we've looked at our surroundings, the more frequently we've been struck by things that we only noticed in passing before, situations and events that for one reason or another we feel compelled to examine more closely, and perhaps comment on here. Further, for whatever reason, over time it has begun to be clear that there are people out there who have an interest in these letters despite, or maybe because of, these detours. We now have a group of regular visitors/readers that stretches across continents and oceans: not only our own country, but England, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Romania, Mexico, Poland, Canada, Venezuela, the Philippines, and perhaps some I don't know about. We;re pleased about that, and appreciative, and it points up the fact that people all across the world are interested in the American West, probably for a hundred different reasons.

So, I suppose we'll continue doing what we're doing, and see where it takes us.

Having said all that, I have to get back to basics for a moment and acknowledge a wine we just stumbled across several days ago, purely by accident, but which we're really happy that we found, that being Lee Family Farm's Albarino. We've touted albarino here before, most notably that of New Clairvaux Vineyards in tiny Vina, near Chico. We like New Clairvaux's style a lot. Lee's take is significantly different, however, and equally impressive in a very different way, which is likely due both to fruit sources and to winemaking styles . This is an interestingly complex wine from front to back. Medium gold color, with a busy but pretty and intriguingly structured bouquet of dried apricots, lychee, and vanilla, leading the palate to believe it is going to get something that is significantly different from what actually comes next: the fruit is rich, lemony, and focused, with the apricot notes from the nose returning along with some white peach, kiwi and a bit of a green-olive undercurrent that pins things together. Finish is tropical, and makes perfect sense in context. Overall, a remarkable wine, and a great bargain at the $17 price we paid. I'm going to buy several more tomorrow, and would urge you to do the same. Have members/customers you want to do a favor?; turn them on to this wine. You're welcome. It's interesting and important enough to mention that Lee Family Farm is a label owned/produced by one of our favorites, that being Morgan Vineyards of Carmel. High rent, for sure, but the wines are surprisingly reasonably priced, and always good value.

Something else I've become aware of lately is the fact that we have a bunch of weird crime here in California. Now, being a native Texan, I know more than a little about weird-ass crime and criminals, but I have to admit that California, particularly Southern California, has at least as much and maybe more than even Texas. Seems that way, anyhow. I think the main difference may be that Texas seems to have more crime committed by and/or against rich folks than does California, although both states appear to send equal numbers of the poor (read minorities) to prison for long terms for seemingly minor offenses. And, for some reason, California seems to be an environment that breeds more arsonists per capita than anywhere else in our great country, at least at a casual glance. Some fascinating stuff goes on, though, in both, no question about it. For the present, though, we'll focus on California, since Texas Monthly magazine has a pretty good handle on the nonsense in Texas. Of all the murders, kidnappings, and other stuff currently in the public eye in California, for instance, we have our choice of many, many cases to look at, one that fascinates me is the recent conviction in San Francisco of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, head of Chinatown's Ghee Kung Tong, of 162 counts of racketeering, murder, and assorted other crimes. The case nailed a number of other more or less high-profile folks, too, including state Senator Leland Yee, a member of one of the state's most influential families, who was convicted of corruption as a a result of his association with Shrimp Boy, among other things, including arms trafficking. There's no need to dig too deeply into the case here; check it out on the L A Times' website, if you're interested in details, as their coverage of the case was outstanding. Bottom line is that we'll take a look at some of these really fun cases as they float to the surface, so stay tuned if that sort of thing interests you. Thank the Lord for California.

Last, but far from least, is the news that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that tip sharing. or pooling, is no longer an acceptable practice for restaurants, hotels, clubs, or any other establishment doing business in any of a number of states, including California. This is, in our opinion, wrong-thinking and uninformed for a number of reasons, and is going to cause financial pain not only for employers wishing to see that all their employees are fairly and equitably compensated, but also for a whole class of workers who contribute at least as much, if not more in many cases, to customer satisfaction as anyone else in the house. I'm speaking of the "back-of-house" workers, the cooks, pantry staff, dishwashers, bussers, and all related, who labor to create and send out the food and clean up the accompanying messes, that brings paying patrons off the street day after day. Diners and bar patrons do not generally return week in and week out for the pleasure of a waiter's company or because they like the decor; rather, it's the quality of what's on the plate, more often than not, that causes them to drive across town and sign the check over and over again. Other factors play a role, certainly, but great food and drink overshadows all else.

Problem is, the folks out front are the only employees who typically have the opportunity to meet and interact with the guests, thereby creating for themselves the further opportunity to generate a tip, thus substantially enhancing their take-home pay. It is not unusual, at least where tips are not pooled and shared, for these front-of-house employees to create for themselves a situation where they are making two or even three times as much as those in back who make it possible for them to do so. Fair? No, I think not.

For those of you who aren't struggling to make a living in the hospitality industry, the concept of tip-sharing, or pooling, simply means that all tips left by customers/members/guests (or whatever you prefer to call those folks who pay you good money for what you do) go into a common fund rather than to the individual server or bartender who served the party. Then, prior to paychecks being written, the fund is divided up among all (or most, depending on the policies of the individual house) employees; the percentage of the pool  each employee receives is determined by the application of some formula created by the owners/management, and will vary from place to place depending on the particular philosophy of the house. If you're a Republican you may turn red in the face and scream "Socialists!", and maybe you're right, but so what? It levels the playing field and gives everyone the chance to be fairly compensated for their contribution.

And, as you might have imagined, a fairly large number of lawsuits have been filed over this practice, most of them contesting management's right to participate in the sharing of the pool, and rightfully so. In most cases management and supervisory staff make several multiples of what the average hospitality worker earns, and have no business dipping into the tip pool unless they are performing the same jobs as the line workers, which is rare, indeed.

Unfortunately, the 9th Circuit seems to have taken the position that the only person entitled to a tip is the one to whom it was directed by the customer, thereby effectively telling the back-of-house employees that their contributions don't count. That's wrong, pure and simple. However, it puts management in thousands of restaurants, hotels, resorts, clubs, coffee bars, and wherever else in the position of having to try to find a way to make up for that pay cut to a critical segment of their workforce, and one with a collection of skillsets that far exceeds, in certain positions, that of anyone working out front. (Sorry, wait staff; you know I love you, and you also know it's true.) Given that most restaurants work on razor-thin margins already, that almost certainly means that we can expect to see significant increases in menu pricing almost immediately. Operators are searching for alternatives to raising prices, because they understand the repercussions, but there aren't many, if indeed there are any at all that make sense.

This is a problem of major proportions, believe me, for those of us who have spent our lives trying to be the best restaurateurs we could be, which also means taking care of our employees as best we could, and giving them the opportunity to live full lives free of the worries associated with living on the financial brink. We will follow this closely.

More rain coming tonight, breaking up a string of beautiful spring-like days. More soon, and hope you're paying attention to all around you...


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Rain and sleet (lots) on The Hill; end of the line in Oregon; discovering Dottie Smith; and that ain't no restaurant, that's a techno-cafeteria...

Three solid weeks of rain, sleet, and a little snow have done wonders for our corner of paradise, especially the lakes, rivers and streams, which are all roaring full and, at least in the hills and mountains, over their banks. It's good to see, and it has been a long while since we last saw it. The past couple of days have been spring-like; sunny skies, mild breezes, and lots of cold-season grasses waving bright green. Nice, but coming to an end soon, with another Pacific storm due to roll in over the Coast Range on Thursday. Thank you, Lord.

Big news yesterday morning, at least for us: seems the feds and the Oregon State Police finally decided they'd had enough nonsense out of the lunatics holed up at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon, and intercepted the leadership of the group as they were cruising in a couple of SUVs on their way to a meeting with concerned locals in the little town of John Day, some 100 or so miles away. Details are still sketchy, but apparently there was some level if resistance from at least one of the armed terrorists, with the result that he was shot and killed. As I said, we still, at least as of this hour, don't have many details, but, as unfortunate as it is, it was bound to happen sooner or later despite the restraint the authorities had displayed over the past three weeks. Turns out you can't just decide to take up arms, invade  a national wildlife refuge belonging to the people of the United States, threaten federal employees, intimidate the citizens of the surrounding countryside, and defy orders from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to vacate the premises and surrender your weapons without some consequences. These home-grown militants were given every chance to walk away peacefully, but were so deceived by the fact that the lawmen on scene were keeping their distance and exercising remarkable levels of tolerance in their dealings with them that they assumed (incorrectly) that their bluff was working, and so kept escalating tensions with nonsensical rhetoric and displays of weaponry. I don't know where the line in the sand was, but at some point they stepped over, and the curtain came down.

As many of you know, this particular group of "patriots" and "constitutionalists" claimed to be doing what they were doing as a protest of federal management of public lands in the West, which is another way of saying that they wanted to open up millions of acres of lands belonging to you and me to commercial exploitation by loggers, oil companies, and, most importantly to many of them, who happened to resent the fact that they were required to pay a modest fee for the privilege of grazing their cattle on our grasses, to ranchers for open grazing purposes. Here in the West, that last-mentioned item is an integral piece of the lifestyle we like to refer to as "cowboy welfare", and the two leaders of the band of outlaws at Malheur are sons of one of the highest-profile welfare ranchers yet exposed, one Cliven Bundy, who grazed his cattle on Nevada public lands to the tune of more than $1 million in fees, which he has steadfastly refused to pay and which, as far as we know, is still owed to you and me. (It might be pointed out, too, that ranchers who contract with the government for the right to graze public lands pay a small fraction of what it costs those who buy grazing rights on privately-owned lands, but some of them refuse to pay even that, claiming that they should have unrestricted access to do as they wish). So, in effect, these people are stealing from us, the public. Not to mention the fact that they're giving our part of the world a black eye just by the fact that they're here.

All of this is the long way of saying that neither these particular anarchists, nor any other of our increasing inventory of domestic terrorists, can be allowed to bully and intimidate the law-abiding citizens of our land, particularly when it's for no other reason than their own self-interests. They can put lipstick on it and call it what they want, but a pig's still a pig. So, congratulations to the folks of Harney County, Oregon, for getting their lives back, and thanks to the law enforcement agencies involved for the reasonable and rational way they dealt with this mini-crisis that could have been so much worse.

Now, on to Dottie Smith. I stumbled onto her, or at least her writings, when a byline of hers in the Redding Record-Searchlight caught my eye a year or so ago. I've forgotten what that particular article was about, but since then I've read dozens of her columns, and I've learned more about the history of Shasta County from her than I ever expected to know. Dottie is a retired teacher who has made a life's work of travelling this part of Northern California up, down, and from side to side, searching out and recording the stories, people, and places that make it what it is; the good, bad, and the ugly, as it is everywhere. What I love about Dottie is that she pulls no punches; she calls'em the way she sees'em. Proof of this would be two of her more recent columns, both dealing with unpleasant and inconvenient episodes in local history; one tells the story of the Chinese experience in the area, and the other with the shameful treatment endured by the Native American tribes of the region, both centered around events that occurred in the mid-1800s. The folks who settled this part of the state were probably no better or worse, on the whole, than any other group of pioneer settlers in our country's history, but they undoubtedly shamed themselves by some of their actions, and Dottie tells the tales with a clarity and economy of words that is a pleasure to read, attempting to gloss over nothing. For those of you who might be planning a to spend time in our part of the state, and who have an interest in the history of the places you might travel through and see, I can't recommend highly enough a website Dottie has created where you'll be able to find these articles and more Dottie: It's time well spent, I promise.

Okay, lastly in this long letter, just a quick observation on a recent LA Times article I've been brooding about. The subject is a new concept restaurant in the Topanga Canyon area of Canoga Park called eatsa. First of all, everything about the eatsa concept is at least semi-radical, at least to an old f&b guy like me. The menu is built around quinoa; in fact, quinoa is about all there is. Lots of different iterations, for sure, but still, it's quinoa. Oh, you can get a hand-crafted soft drink, or house-made potato chips or salsa, but basically it's all quinoa all the time. Which is okay if you love quinoa. The curve ball, though, comes in the way the quinoa comes at you: no wait staff, no tables, no chairs...just iPads to place your order on, after which (in about 3 to 4 minutes, they claim) your name lights up over a glass cubicle which you then enter by knocking twice (cool) to claim your custom-prepared quinoa bowl. Problem is, then you have to go find a place to sit and eat it. Maybe it's more fun than it sounds. However, I love innovation in restaurants, and I wish them luck. There's also a San Francisco location (where else would it be?), according to the article, with more to come. If you go, give us a heads-up in the Comments area.

Good night; see you soon...


Thursday, January 21, 2016

More Yosemite ranting; and what about the bozos at Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, busily counting their gifted dildos while squatting on my (and your) property? Also, Franciscan's

The Hillsider has gotten himself completely outrage-besotted over the Yosemite debacle, as you can probably tell from my last post. And, as we wrote only a week or so ago, and still persisting, we also have the bold "militiamen" (armed, by the way) who have taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge's compound in Harney County, Oregon. These folks, too, have greatlty annoyed me, although they do have the redeeming quality of inspiring a lot of funny, sometimes outrageous, internet activity generated by a growing legion of pranksters who find them and their actions inspirational, at least at times.

First, though, let's take a fresh look at Yosemite, the National Park Service, and the good citizens at Delaware North. It's interesting to see how the two parties responsible for this mess have chosen to portray it to the public, each version of the story having just enough truth in it to make it defensible should it be necessary: Park Service, for its part, would have us believe that Delaware North is a sly and greedy corporate vampire flitting about filing trademark applications behind the Service's back in an attempt to steal iconic names of places and things that rightfully belong to the American people and, at the same time, attempting to extort vastly-inflated sums of money for the transfer of trademarks it already controls to the use of the new parks concessionaire (Aramark, no less, a company with which I have had a number of unsatisfactory dealings over the years), which recently  won the contract to manage those facilities from DN. It should be noted that most of that appears to be more or less true. Delaware North, on the other hand, would have us believe that this is all just a business dispute that will work itself out through negotiation or, at worst, in the courts, which is also more or less true. However, as we all have learned the hard way, the mean old devil is in the details. Right?

Let's see, where to start? I guess we could start by noting that there's a $48 million spread between what Park Service thinks the trademarks (or "intellectual property" as the lawyers like to call it) are worth ($3.5 million) and what DN would like us tho accept as their true value ($51.2 million). I'm not sure whether the $51.2 million also includes the rights to the name "Space Shuttle Atlantis", one of the several trademarks that DN has made recent application for without telling Park Service it was doing so, and which, by the way, you would also think belonged to We the People, not a commercial foodservices purveyor, but what the hell, right? Their lawyers are sneakier than ours, apparently, and maybe smarter, but I guess that's capitalism for you.

Then, on the other hand, we have to ask "How the hell did Park Service let all this slide by?" How is it that these iconic names that belong to/with our national treasures are rattling around unprotected from the predations of people like those at Delaware North? I've always had the highest regard for the folks at National Park Service, and I truly hope someone representing the Service is going to present some sort of justification for this kind of thing to have been possible, but right now it appears to me that We, the People, have been screwed again. We're paying close attention to this one, and will continue to rant and froth at the mouth until we hear some kind of explanation that satisfies us, although I can't imagine what it might be. Does anyone really believe that Yosemite National Park should pay $52 million dollars to continue using names of places and institutions so iconic they are literally part of the park's continuing history? The majestic and rustically beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel has to be renamed? I don't think so.

Now, on to the goofballs at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, who are still squatting on our (yours and mine) property, insisting that it be turned over to local authorities (who don't want any part of this nonsense) to be opened up for commercial exploitation. They claim to be "patriots, defenders of the Constitution", and swear that they are only there to restore the rights of the common people who have been trampled on by Big Government. Oh yes, they're also all carrying guns, but have assured the locals they won't shoot anyone unless they're forced to do so. By that they appear to mean that they're intending to shoot anyone who attempts to remove them by force. So far law enforcement has shown remarkable restraint, maybe too much, and has been content to just wait them out, but that strategy hasn't been productive, mainly because they allow friends and family of the band of clowns holed up inside to visit and bring food and other supplies. I'm not sure who decided that was a good idea, but it probably needs to be revisited.

It should be pointed out that the geniuses behind this occupation are the Bundy brothers, progeny of good ol' boy Cliven Bundy, who, a year or so ago, took offense at the federal government's insistence that he pay his many years of delinquent grazing fees (owed due to his grazing of his cattle at deeply-discounted rates on government land) and summoned a similar band of wanna-be militia guys with guns and camo jackets and all sorts of other let's-pretend-we're-soldiers stuff) and conducted a stand-off with the authorities that finally resulted in everybody just going home. So, I suppose the Bundy boys feel entitled now.

Problem is, these guys are just thugs and yahoos with nothing else to do; they're not patriots, or heroes, or defenders of the Constitution. Nor do they take their inspiration and direction from God, as one of them, Ammon Bundy, indicated early on. They're publicity-loving anarchists who have made careers of finding ways to live out of the public trough. And, worst of all, they're disrupting the lives of good law-abiding citizens of the Hillsider's part of the world, and causing them embarassment and stress. The good folks of Harney County have made it abundantly clear that they want their towns back; they want all the outsiders to go back wherever they came from and leave them in peace. Time to strike the big top, load up the clowns and their handlers, and hit the road, Bundys. And don't come back unless it's to watch birds.  

We're not through with this one yet, either.

Clearly, we're not happy with these situations. At first glance it may seem that all this dust being kicked up by the Hillsider is out of character, and not in keeping with the purpose of our newsletter. However, that would be wrong. As those of you who've been reading us for a while know, we love our little part of the world; Northern California and the greater Pacific Northwest are special places, a blessing of Nature. We resent it deeply when they are abused by anyone or any institution and feel a duty to address it here so as to focus the attention of others who share our feelings on the things that need watching. We will continue to do that.

In closing, and more to the point of what we usually try to address here, we felt it necessary to acknowledge what might be the best little white wine buy in the market today, that being Franciscan's 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley), which we've been buying consistently at $8.99 for more than a month now. The winery must have a lot to sell, because I've been seeing the wine floor-stacked in several outlets since well before Christmas, and there doesn't appear to be any end to it, at least yet. Like virtually everything Franciscan does, it is pretty much flawless: brilliant pale straw color and a rich, flowery-citrusy nose lead into expansive, grassy-grapefruityness on the palate that finishes long and ripe and balanced. This is a gift at the price, and is definitely something for those of you who are looking for winter whites that match well with soups, pastas, and (especially) risottos. We recommend.

Back in a few days.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Are these people serious? Yosemite National Park becomes ground-zero for another act of outrageous corporate greed...

Okay, now they've done it...they have pushed me into that dizzying wilderness of frothing-at-the-mouth outrage that leads to rape, pillage, and plunder. Problem is, I'm not sure (yet) who to be the most pissed off at: Delaware North Companies, a Buffalo, New York based hospitality services amalgam of assets owned by Jeremy Jacobs (who also owns the Boston Bruins), or the leadership of the National Parks Service.

The reason it's difficult to determine who deserves to be loathed most in this particular instance is this: On the one hand, we have another gross example of government incompetence in the management of the people's assets and heritage, while on the other hand we see a prime demonstration of corporate sleight-of-hand and greed being used to hold what rightfully should be iconic intellectual assets of the American people as ransom bait.

In brief, the issue is this: We the People have just been informed by the National Parks Service that it will soon be changing the traditional names of a number of hotels, lodges, cabins, restaurants, and other cherished sites and public accommodations within the bounds of Yosemite National Park, such as the rustically beautiful old Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels, Yosemite Lodge, and Badger Pass Ski Area, among others, all much closer to 100 years old than not. Why? Glad you asked.

 It seems that Delaware North, which has been the concessionaire operating the hospitality venues in Yosemite for a number of years, has recently lost that contract to Aramark, which is another can of worms in my professional opinion, but which is not presently relevant. And, as we are just finding out, due to practices of successive Parks Services administrations over many decades, it seems that many of the venue trademarks in the park (such as Ahwahnee, etc.) have been allowed to remain in private hands rather than We the People's, being transferred (apparently) from owner to owner each time the concessions contractor changed. This situation was created due to the government's practice in the early days of the parks system's creation of allowing individual entrepreneurs to build and own public accommodations and recreational facilities within the parks; naturally, they also owned the names of those facilities, and this situation was never addressed. So, now that Delaware North has lost out to Aramark (think you had problems in the past, Park Service? Just wait til Aramark gets through with you.), Delaware North is suing the Service (or, us) for about $44 million more for the transfer of the Yosemite trademarks, claiming that they were undervalued in the deal with Aramark. It's worth noting, I think, that according to the Los Angeles Times this includes the rights to additional trademarks that Delaware North acquired during its time as concessionaire, although it didn't see fit to notify the Service that it was doing so. (How does that happen, I wonder? Seems a little underhanded, don't you think?) Of course, the Parks Service totally rejects this argument, swears it won't pay it, and has decided that the smart (?) thing to do is just change all the names.

That's the short version of how this kettle of crap soup came to be. Much legal maneuvering continues, of course, and many lawyers are wondering how the hell they're going to spend all the money they're going to make off this debacle, but I'm sure they'll be up to the task. Question is, what about us? We, the American taxpayers, will of course be the ones who are screwed, no matter how this turns out.

The Hillsider isn't through with this, I assure you. It seems that our public lands, the People's greatest treasures, are under attack from all sides: government incompetence, anarchists calling themselves patriots and militias, and all manner of corporate ne'er-do-wells who simply want to exploit what's left for their own greedy purposes. To those of us who cherish our wild places, and our freedom to use and enjoy them without being exploited each time we do, this is unacceptable, and needs to be exposed and resisted...



Friday, January 15, 2016

Back to Zinfandel Grille (as promised); a near-term opportunity for golf with long-term implications; and do-gooders at Sierra Nevada Brewery...

I had good intentions; I was determined, after our now-traditional Christmas Eve dinner at Sacramento's venerable Zinfandel Grille last month, to take a fresh look, if only briefly, at where they find themselves these days. Let's face it, 30 years (okay, 28, if you want to nit-pick) is a remarkably long life for an independent  restaurant in this country, especially here in California where many trends in food, wine, and pretty much everything else come and go so quickly that many of us never even knew that they were here.  So let's give credit where it's due; the folks at Z-Grille have locked into a formula that has weathered a number of storms, including the Big Meltdown, and have kept on doing what they do best to a packed house most nights of the week. I can honestly say that the restaurant is one of the few that has never disappointed me; I haven't always been thrilled, but never disappointed.

  The Grille bills itself as being "Mediterranean inspired", and I suppose that's a reasonable thing to say if only because of the number of pizzas and pastas on the menu year in and year out. However, many of the things they do really well don't have much of a claim to Mediterranean heritage, but so what? They taste good.

The menus are re-written on a more or less seasonal basis, but fish always plays a prominent role in the restaurant's offerings, and they have always had a nice touch with it, especially salmon. The current dinner menu's variation is a grilled version with a Meyer lemon beurre blanc and ginger-teriyaki glaze, and is very nice. The shrimp piccata with angel hair pasta is also excellent, as is the Mustard Chicken. And, although I've had a few that are every bit as good as this one (although not many), the always-available  because so many people love it and order it every time they walk in (me included), the Spicy Black Bean Soup, with its life-giving roasted tomato salsa, is not to be ignored. Ever. All in all, and allowing for a little of the usual inertia inherent in the nature of long-term successful restaurants, the kitchen is, and always has been, solid.

Surprisingly, though, all things considered, the wine list is not dazzling. Nor has it ever been, at least in my experience. The white wines side of the menu is a disappointment, being composed mostly of the same old tired representatives of the high profile and hip, with only a few stars shining. The reds fare better, though, with listings of really nice examples (and good values) from folks like Justin, Boeger, Trefethen, Ridge, and Martin Ray, as well as sturdy war horses like Simi, Louis Martini, Franciscan, and Clos du Val. There is a good bar with (usually) solid bartenders in residence, and it is almost always busy. We recommend. In short, Zinfandel Grille is still a dining establishment where all is well; good food and drink at fair prices, with service to match.

Now on to another subject near and dear to me: golf. Almost everyone connected to the game, particularly those connected in a commercial way, are, and have been for quite some time, concerned with the significant fall-off in numbers of new players entering the game, and most acutely with the dire situation that many private golf/country clubs now find themselves facing. And. as you can imagine, there as many theories making the rounds about the reasons why this is happening as there are people concerned, and most of them are, to one extent or another, valid. I, like many, am convinced that the greatest challenges lie with the facts that the game is expensive by the average person's standard; it requires a substantial portion of a day to play a full 18 hole round; that players are, at least at many private clubs, still governed by repressive (and sometimes ludicrously so) codes of behavior and standards of dress which make little sense to most individuals under the age of 40; and the game is hard, and requires serious attention and dedication in order to become proficient at it.

A few of those issues will never change: the game, as it exists in its traditional form, will always be hard, it will always require a significant amount of time to play, and it will always be expensive, at least relative to many other pastimes such as tennis or softball/basketball/soccer leagues, or bowling, to name a few. There is only so much that can be done to address change in those areas without negatively impacting the game, itself, and I have no interest in that; it's not a viable solution. However, there are some positive measures that the industry can take to alleviate some of the pain associated with the other concerns of many new players:

First, and this applies for the most part to many, but not all, private clubs, re-write your bylaws and general rules to discard the silly and repressive guidelines for dress and behavior that are no longer relevant to today's families and lifestyles. Prohibitions against the use of cellphones on club grounds, or discussions concerning business in certain areas of the clubhouse, or restrictions of times during which "juniors" are allowed on the course or practice areas, as well as a myriad of variations on those themes and other similarly nonsensical ones, are no longer acceptable to most of today's young families, and are best left in the past, where they belong. The selection of which local club to join by young families today goes far beyond which has "the best course in the area". Successful recruiting campaigns these days are the ones that address the needs of every member of the family. If your club happens to be in the enviable position of neither needing nor wanting new blood, then I suppose you can do whatever makes you happy, but if not, then you'd better pay attention to what prospective members want, rather than what you want them to have.

And next, I urge that you invest in your staff. Recruit the best, pay well, and spend money to advance ongoing professional education opportunities for key personnel. Your members expect the best when they come to their club, and both Management and boards of directors are responsible for seeing that it is provided to them, within the club's means. From many years' experience I can tell you that there's no more valuable asset to a hospitality organization, whether club, resort, hotel, or restaurant, than a happy, committed, and well-trained staff; they will make or break you.

And, finally, set your dues at a level that will support an operation of the quality that you intend to provide your members/guests. No matter what else you do, DO NOT OVERPROMISE AND UNDERDELIVER. That is the deadliest of sins. Do only what you can do well, and afford. If the demographics of your membership are not such that it can or will pay for the vision, then the vision has to change to serve reality.

Good luck. The golf industry is presently facing the greatest challenges of my career, which spans more than 30 years, and the private club sector, in particular, is vulnerable and exposed as never before. I believe that only those leaders who are forward-thinking and aggressive in their planning and execution of their visions will succeed and prosper. The landscape is already littered with the carcasses of hundreds of marginally-operated private clubs that floundered and died during the disasters of the economic crashes and sector meltdowns of the recession, and there will be more, I am sure of that. I hope that you won't be responsible for any of those.

Finally, before closing this letter, I feel obligated (almost) to acknowledge the local activism of the good people at our down-the-road neighbor, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, in Chico. I find it interesting, as well as encouraging, that they are so relentlessly persistent in their determination to do the right things for the environment (their water-conserving initiatives have been front and center in the community), for example. They have also been leading-edge pioneers in the area of composting (brewing generates a great deal of organic waste that has to go somewhere, so why not use it productively?) and had the first, and for a long time the only, HotRot system in the country. Hot Rot is a pioneering method of super-composting through the use of an innovative bit of engineering manufactured in New Zealand, and it enabled the brewery to achieve the first-ever coveted Zero Waste Platinum Certification from the US Zero Waste Business Council in 2013, in recognition of the fact that they are diverting 99.8% of their waste from landfills and incinerators. And, among many other initiatives, Sierra Nevada is a major supporter of the Public Broadcasting System in the North State. And, they make great beers.

Thanks for you efforts, and please don't ever stop producing Torpedo.

Back soon...


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

El Nino has arrived! foolin'; home-grown terrorists at the Oregon bird sanctuary; Bogle's surprisingly good (outstanding, in fact) 2012 Phantom red blend; and Christmas Eve (again) at Zinfandel Grille...

How great is this???Rain, fog, sleet, and snow right here in the North State! Most of us had forgotten what it was like, so those of us who spend time outdoors are like a bunch of kids strolling around oblivious to the cold and wet, trailing wet dogs, mud and cold drafts into the house behind us and generally making nuisances of ourselves to those trying to maintain some sense of cleanliness and order. The only real drawback is that so many folks have apparently misremembered everything they ever knew about driving automobiles under winter conditions, as well, and you feel (with some justification) that you're taking your life in your hands every time you venture onto the highways and byways of our little part of Paradise. But, in fairness, it's getting better now that we're into the third full week of the pattern; most who were going to have accidents have already had them. At any rate, we're spending most of our time sitting by the window where it's snug and warm, just catching up on stuff (like this) that we should have done several days back.

One upside to procrastinating, however, is that I still hadn't begun writing when the newest crop of clowns and bozos descended on the quiet little town of Burns, Oregon, which is almost close enough to be called a neighbor, allegedly in order to defend the freedoms and restore the rights of its citizens, who were, unbeknownst to most of them, being trampled on by that Great Satan, the federal government. What that means is that the self-styled "militiamen", led by the Bundy brothers who, along with their father Cliven, made news a couple of years back by facing off with the Feds at their ranch in Nevada over a little matter of roughly $1,000,000.00 in unpaid fees for many years of grazing their cattle on public lands. Apparently the Bundys feel entitled to use the people's lands for their own private benefit for free, and the government doesn't see it that way (nor do I, for that matter). Anyway, rather than make a fuss and cause bloodshed, the Feds backed off, the Bundys declared victory, and now believe that they're bullet-proof and can do anything they damn well please. Which brings us to the present day, with them and several dozen more of their ilk occupying a Federal nature sanctuary headquarters compound in southeastern Oregon, waving their guns around and claiming they're going to liberate the land. They also are claiming that they're communing with God, but that's another issue. Bottom line is that they're a bunch of thugs who have turned to domestic terrorism in order to try and further enhance their cowboy-welfare lifestyle (i.e. living off the American taxpayers), and the people of Burns want them out of their town and their lives. And it appears that the Harney County Sheriff, a plain-spoken man named David Ward, may be prepared to remove them and send them on their way if the Feds don't have the fortitude to do so. (The FBI says that it is "monitoring" the situation, but has somehow decided that it's a "local law enforcement problem" rather than theirs, which is strange given that the terrorists are unlawfully occupying a property belonging to the federal government and have declared that they are never leaving until the government surrenders ownership. Sounds like a federal problem to me, but what do I know).

Anyway, all this annoys the hell out of me. In the first place, I don't like bullies or terrorists of any race, creed, color, or persuasion, least of all home-grown ones who are supposed to know better. In the second place, I don't like bullies screwing around with my part of the world; I'm with Sheriff Ward. Let's get them out of there before they hurt someone, then lock'em up. Last I heard, threatening someone with physical harm or death is a crime and needs to be dealt with. Okay, enough for now.

A rare thing happened over Christmas: my mother-in-law, who drinks a total of maybe three bottles of wine a year, one glass at a time, presented me with several bottles that had been recommended to her by a clerk at her favorite Sacramento grocer's. Two were pinot noirs, which shall go un-named (sorry, Barbara), but one, a red "Rhone-ish blend", turned out to be an outstanding find. That wine is the 2012 Phantom, from Bogle Vineyards. Phantom is an interesting concoction of petite sirah (41%), zinfandel (31%), cabernet sauvignon (20%), and merlot (8%). Surprisingly, the cab is out front on the palate, providing lots of black cherry notes, and a leathery-dusty component in the nose. The zin and petite sirah contribute deep purple-black color and a jammy-briary rusticicity to the flavor profile that is perfect for winter stews, roasts, and soups. I didn't detect the presence of the merlot anywhere, but I didn't biss it either; don't know what it could have added to this really nice offering froma winery that we overlook too often here. We recommend it, particularly at the $17-21 price tag, depending on where you find it. More workingman's wine.

And, in closing, congratulations are due little Mt. Shasta City which, not surprisingly, sits at the foot of Mt. Shasta just outside the park entrance. A pretty, quaint and laid-back mountain village, it has just been named America's Top Hippie City for Stressed-Out Progressives  by This comes as no surprise to The Hillsider, being a close neughbor, but it may to some, especially given the fact that it topped such high-profile bastions of hipdom as Madison, Wisconsin, Ashland, Oregon, and Berkeley, not to mention Marfa,Texas and Madrid, New Mexico. Far out is right.

Later. Happy snow.  

PS: Sorry, but ran out of time before I got to Zinfandel Grille (one of my favorite restaurants). Coming next...