lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

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...