Category Archives: wine

On a lighter note

I figured I’d share a few favorite things I’ve discovered since I last posted on something other than current events.  In no particular order, here they are:

  • If you are trying to decide between the 20 million charities that are currently asking for donations for Haiti right now, consider Partners In Health.  They have, thus far, been making the best use of funds donated for disaster relief in Haiti, have an established network in the country, and are a pretty fantastic organization all around.  If you want to know more, go check out their website, or read this book by Tracy Kidder, which is well written (as are all Tracy Kidder’s books, but that’s another story).  They are one of those organizations that actually has an effective, efficient, sensible plan for accomplishing their mission, which is one of the main things I look for when I’m choosing an organization to donate to, and they’ve been working in Haiti for decades.
  • The White Mountains are amazing, especially in winter.  We just made our second trip up there, and managed to summit Mt. Lafayette.  It was worth every bit of muscle pain.  I only wish we had summit pictures to show you; we’re still waiting on those from friends, as our camera did not like the cold one bit.  The photo above is from the Falling Waters trail in Franconia Notch, which I highly recommend, but only if you have the gear.  If you go up Brindle Path and down Falling Waters during winter, you can slide down the mountain most of the way!
  • Snow is actually pretty fantastic if you take full advantage of it.
  • Radish kimchi goes with EVERYTHING (er… maybe not chocolate, but that’s another experiment). If you haven’t tried it, go! Now! You don’t know what you’re missing.  I had a breakfast burrito with kimchi, New Zealand cheddar, and fried eggs this morning, and have been known to put kimchi on nachos after a late night at the lab…
  • If you’re stuck in a wine shop trying to decide between the cutesy lizard label and the adorable kangaroos, ask if they have a rioja.  Spanish wines are cheap for the quality, and I think they’re worth trying at least once.  Reservas are even better, if they are in your price range.  Barring that, try a Malbec.  These are Argentinian reds that are also generally pretty good for the price, though they aren’t quite as reliable as the riojas seem to be, in my experience.  Reservas are also a good bet for Malbecs.
  • Steep and Cheap is worth checking out if you’re interested in mountaineering gear.
  • The CSS upgrade on wordpress is worth it.  If you’ve noticed (aka still don’t read blogs in some sort of RSS feed), my site has gotten somewhat ugly since I got cheap on you and stopped paying the $15/year upgrade.  I may have to do something about that one of these night shifts.
  • Two tv shows I really should stop watching on netflix but cannot: Spooks / MI-5, which is a BBC series, and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Clearly I’m about the last person on earth to start watching the second show, but having watched some horrible cooking shows and the shows he’s featured on places I’ve actually lived, I really think he actually tries to treat each place he visits with respect.  That’s hard to find on television these days.

And that’s all for now.  I have an experiment setup to supervise next week and a life to sort out, so we’ll see when I return…

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Filed under books, cabbage, firsts, holiday, travel, wine

Fish stew with garlic aioli

I’m a little late with a post tonight. We spent today spring cleaning, even if our last snow storm was only last week.  It was warm, finally, and oh, how I have missed fresh air and a little bit of sun!  Now that things are starting to get a bit more orderly around here, maybe we’ll get around to throwing a little party — a soup party, to be exact.

James and I have been obsessed with bouillabaisse ever since we had our first taste, courtesy of a friend of my dad’s.  But it took us about a year and a half to get around to making our first pot.  And no wonder — it seems like liquid gold to poor grad students, as bouillabaisse is better with a variety of white-fleshed fish and shell fish.  But even if you only have a few different kinds of fish, it’s still worth the effort.  And it’s a good way to make a scant portion of fish seem extravagant.

This version is adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 2. It’s a bourride, which is a garlicy fish stew, quite like bouillabaisse, but with a pungent aioli to finish things off.  Like my dad’s friend, I add habañeros so everyone can adjust the spiciness of their soup to taste.

Recipe after the jump.

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Filed under eggs, fish, garlic, main, shrimp, soup, Uncategorized, wine

Just the essentials

Melville Winery

Melville Winery

There’s something about driving down an empty road lined with parched grass and grapevines that makes me feel at home. Not that this is a particularly surprising revelation, as I spent, oh, twelve formative years in the state.  It’s funny, though — only now, after a single day trip, I finally feel like a proper Californian. At least, in the stereotypical Sideways sense of the word.  I’ve been wine tasting!  And had “authentic” Dutch pancakes just next door to electricity-powered windmills (I know, I know — a travesty) and cute tourist traps.  I feel, somehow, complete.

Solvang

Solvang

Hah… Don’t take me so seriously. I am perpetually tongue-in-cheek, which makes for some interesting conversations. But it was a good trip, touristy or no — brunch in Solvang at Paula’s Pancake House with P & M was a good start. Paula’s special consisted of Dutch pancakes (crepes, basically, with a bit more air) smothered in baked apples and mounds of whipped cream. It was like my childhood dream breakfast, only with diner coffee and a taste of some not-so-great but hyped dutch sausage. It’s worth a trip nevertheless — just stick with the pancakes.

Paulas Pancakes

Paula's Pancakes

Solvang itself is like a village in Disneyland. It’s so very, very fake, but the tourist information staff are lovely and speak a few words of Dutch. And people are happy there, if only because of the incredible combination of sugary pancakes, bakeries (danishes!), and winetasting rooms every five feet.  How could you not be thrilled to be there?

Of course, there’s only a few blocks to actually explore, before you get to a stereotypical Californian sprawl. Luckily, you can then move on to Lompoc, if you only follow your Sideways winetasting map. We had heard Melville had a nice pinot or two, so off we went, to taste and taste. I think we had 5 or 6 wines for $10, which wasn’t a bad deal. And they were pretty decent. Not as good as the St. Lucia we had at Melisse the night before, but they weren’t bad. I think, to be honest, I preferred the Shiraz I tasted. Of course, I can’t remember the vintage.

Arroyo Burro Beach

Arroyo Burro Beach

After a wayward trip through the neighboring winery’s vineyard (in the car, on dirt roads, complete with apple picking), we headed off to Santa Barbara. Well, more precisely, to the beach, closer to Goleta. I actually lived in Santa Barbara for a few years, though it’s been ages since I’ve been back. It is much the same … Gorgeous beaches (though you might want to wear shoes, unless you want to scrape oil off with turpentine), the main drag with all its cute little shops and posh restaurants, the same old crowd… I think the only change I really noticed was the presence of more chain stores on State Street.  But that’s true of everywhere these days.  After the beach, we headed to dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant called Zaytoon, on Cañon Perdido, which M had found on his last trip to the area.  This place was fantastic, if only for the outdoor seating:

Zaytoon

Zaytoon

Forgetting the slight fear that our dinner would ignite, who doesn’t want a little bonfire in the middle of their table? The food was good, too — we had a vegetarian starter series, which was plenty of food for the three of us. It made for a fairly cheap dinner, and they let P pick one of their lemons. How cool is that?

So yes … California is good, road trips are lovely, and I had a lot of fun. I could see myself going back there one day, if life takes me in that direction. We will see, I suppose…

After LA, I went to visit family in Fresno. It was good to see my grandparents, and the girls, and while I didn’t do much other than play monkey in the middle and show them how to make cookies, it’s always good to see all of them.  And then? Off to Oakland, for a conference full of lots of physics people, eating out at the same bar night after night, and a brief trip to San Francisco.  And so, I’ll leave you with this amazing deliciousness from Mijita in San Francisco, because it was freaking delicious:

Squash blossom quesadilla

Squash blossom quesadilla

Next time? Pumpkin saag, and my current obsession.

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Filed under restaurant review, stories, travel, wine

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Beautiful

I thought I’d share this one while strawberries and rhubarb are still in season. We had a pile of each sitting in our house, wilting in the humidity, and I decided to take matters into my own hands and do something about it before they both went to waste. A good thing, too, given that strawberries were $6 a quart last week, and they weren’t even that tasty.

Compote

I can’t blame them, really — with all this rain, we haven’t managed to actually harvest any of ours before they’ve started rotting. But onto more pleasant things…

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Filed under dessert, local, rhubarb, strawberry, vegan, vegetarian, wine

Camping up the coast

Big Sur

Highway 1 unwinds slowly, precariously, across the state I once called home, inviting only the most daring (or deranged) into the rocky waters of its Northern shores. It’s been decades since I’ve been along this coast, and the first time I’m the one behind the wheel, and oh, it’s so much scarier when you’re the one in charge of navigating its mountainous terrain. But it was good to be home.

Yes, I climbed half dome, cables and all.

I had forgotten how raw the coast of Northern California looks in comparison to Connecticut’s gentle shores. Traversing the whole state is like going through a series of different worlds, as elevation, natural resources, latitude, and human interference transforms the land completely within the span of a few miles. If you’ve never seen it, book a ticket and go. Rent a car and take Highway 1, as long as you’re South of San Francisco. Above SF, you’re in for a bout of car sickness that never ends, as the roads get ever more precarious as you approach its intersection with 101. At the very least, plan to camp along the route; making it to Prairie Creek State Park near Orick from Fresno via SFO in one day was utter madness. Somewhere in there, go inland and check out Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Yosemite (and the hike / climb up Half Dome) was probably the highlight of my trip, though the redwoods in Prairie Creek State Park managed to make us laugh.

Funny

But this is a food blog. I’m not going to go on and on about the trails we took and the places we went. I’ll spare you the experience of seeing an RV, complete with satellite dish, set up in the midst of one of the most gorgeous campgrounds I’ve had the privilege of staying in. I’ll even skip our encounter with the mountain lion (on the trail! Here!) Instead, I’ll tell you how I managed to keep us fed without resorting to bags of chips and MREs, and I’ll try to give you some pointers (so you can learn from my mistakes).

campfire

Before we get started, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. You will miss your oven. Starting a fire without a pilot light or even lighter fluid is not my forte — enough so that getting the fire going gradually became James’s job. We had matches, wood, and whatever we could find around our campsite for tinder: leaves, pine needles, chocolate bar wrappers, etc. So … good luck. And take a few cans of sterno along in case of emergencies (or for morning coffee, which could be considered an emergency depending on your morning disposition).
  2. Don’t plan anything too complicated. Roasted vegetables from roadside farm stands are awesome, and we ate a lot of them. Barring that, roasted vegetables of any kind are pretty damn good. Pair them with a high protein grain (quinoa) or any other protein / carb combination I describe below.
  3. You don’t need a cooler for anything I suggest here. Cheese and butter are fine without refrigeration for a couple of days, and I stuck to mostly vegetarian meals simply out of necessity. This new one checked bag policy is a bitch, but hey, the whole point of camping is to make do with what you have, right? (Ok, tell that to the souped up RV in the campsite next to you. Especially when they turn on their @#$%@#$ generator at 11 pm).
  4. A cast iron pan is a very good thing to bring along. My friend P, who joined us for the last leg of the trip, brought hers along for the trip, and it made dinner so much easier. That said, we did fine with foil and copious amounts of vegetable oil as well.
  5. You don’t need a full pantry. A few must haves for me were salt, flour, powdered milk, yeast, oil, baking soda, honey / agave nectar, coffee (and a coffee cone), s’mores ingredients, cheap wine or red wine vinegar (for flavoring vegetables as they roast), onions, potatoes, garlic — lots and lots of garlic, lemons, quinoa, trail mix, powdered chicken broth, and masa. Everything else was based on what looked best at wherever we happened to shop. Fresh fruit and veg, a bit of cheese, and a few cans of sardines (for protein! If you’re repulsed, pick up some canned beans instead) rounded out the campground pantry. Oh, and you don’t need all of this. We were gone for 2 weeks, so pick and choose as you like.
  6. Bring measuring spoons, or cook by proportions. Baking soda is the only thing to really worry about, but your food will still taste good if your teaspoon isn’t exactly a teaspoon.
  7. Don’t forget the tongs. Seriously. I did, and my fingers regretted it.

Roasting

Ok, so here are the “recipes” and ideas for meals. I use quotes because I didn’t really measure anything on this trip. I also don’t have pictures of everything, just because it was usually late by the time dinner finished, and my camera is afraid of the dark. Oh, and the challah recipe is finally here, as promised. Scroll to the bottom if that’s all you’re interested in. Finally, I’ll have some recommendations for great places to eat (on a budget) San Francisco in my next post.

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Filed under baking, baking tips, bread, breakfast, camping, carrots, cheese, corn tortillas, lemon, main, milk, potatoes, quick bread, roasted vegetables, soup, stew, stories, vegetarian, wine

A day in the life of a grad student foodie

Fair warning: I am taking the piss out of myself and myself alone. If you see a few similarities here or there, you’re either my long lost good twin or in serious need of counseling. Or both? Anyway, hang in there. There’s a recipe for squid ink, fennel, and leek pasta to reward you for your efforts at the end…

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Filed under fennel, leeks, main, pasta, sardines, stories, sun-dried tomatoes, wine