Aug 17, 2012

Mission-to-Mission Horseback Ride

If you love visiting California's ancient missions when you travel around the state, a story I wrote this week will appeal to you. It involves a group of equestrians setting out this Sunday from the mission in Sonoma (built in 1823, it was last of the 21 missions). They'll be heading south, visiting each mission until they arrive in San Diego, where the first mission was constructed in 1769.

Here's the story:
This weekend Sonoma has the honor of being the starting point for a unique and historic adventure, one that involves the city’s treasured Mission past.

Two long-time friends, writer Leslie Dunton-Downer and filmmaker Gwyneth Horder-Payton, are embarking on a Mission-to-Mission horseback ride. They’ll be heading in the reverse direction in which the Missions were built, leaving from Sonoma’s Mission San Francisco Solano (completed in 1823) and ultimately arriving at the earliest mission, San Diego de Alcala, which was founded in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra.
 The story continues here.

Jul 13, 2012

Farm Stays in Sonoma County

Just about everybody enjoys a farm stay, from urban sophisticates who revel in the farm-to-table food, to couples who want a quiet but interesting stay in the country.

But, let’s face it, nobody could love a farm stay more than a kid. They encounter many new sights, experience much that they’ve probably never done, and there is plenty to learn. And whether it’s looking or doing or learning, it’s all tremendous fun.

Full House Farm in the Sonoma County community of Sebastopol – in striking distance of Russian River wineries – has long been known for its farm stays...

To read more, connect to this post on Sonoma County Tourism Bureau's "Inside Sonoma" website.

Apr 3, 2012

Grown Here vs. Made Here: A battle is brewing

Paul and Kendra Kolling in a Sonoma County Orchard. Photo: John Burgess/Press Democrat.

More and more quality growers across the nation are realizing that the fruit and vegetables they produce reflect not only careful nurturing and sustainable growing conditions--but also qualities inherent in the climate and soil where they are grown. Just like grapes, veggies and fruit also reflect terroir.

For example, Sonoma County has long been famous for producing apples (grapes aren't alone in responding favorably to coastal fog and volcanic soils). Some apple varietals, such as the Gravenstein, are most successfully grown here.

So if a company ships inexpensive, mass-produced apples from another state into Sonoma County, presses them, and slaps a label on the bottle that says "Made in Sonoma County," is that fair to someone who grows organic apples in a sustainable manner in Sonoma County?

I don't think so, and I'm certainly not alone. More and more people are beginning to see the value in packagers meeting legally-mandated requirements when placing the growing area on, say, a bottle of apple juice.

An example: if you want to put the words "Sonoma County" on a bottle of wine, 75% of the grapes in that wine must have been grown in Sonoma County. Doesn't that make sense for apples, too?

Read my story, Nana Mae Organics: Grown and made in Sonoma County, to learn more.

Mar 19, 2012

There's really nothing new about artisan cheese...

Historic Vella Cheese Company is run by Chickie Vella (right) and her son, Gabe, the third and fourth generations to be involved in the family enterprise. (Photo: Jeff Kan Lee/Press Democrat)
Sonoma, California, where I live, is definitely on the forefront of the sustainable/organic/artisan food trend. That's one of the reasons it was named in 2009 as the first Cittaslow ("slow city") in the United States by Cittaslow International.

It's the kind of place where people have been hand-crafting foods in the same way for so long that their methods had time to go out of fashion and circle around to being trendy once again.

For instance, Sonoma's award-winning and family-owned Vella Cheese Company has produced hand-crafted cheeses for more than 80 years in a gorgeous stone building--a former brewery--that dates back to 1904.

“They call us artisan cheesemakers now,” third-generation owner Chickie Vella told me. “But we’re just doing exactly the same things we were doing in 1931. People’s perceptions have changed, but we haven’t.”

Vella's father, who died last June, won more than a hundred gold and silver medals throughout his long career as a cheesemaker. He was so esteemed by cheesemakers throughout the United States that, in 2006, he was honored with the first-ever lifetime achievement award by the American Cheese Society.

Read the story of Vella Cheese Company here.

Mar 2, 2012

Graphic for Mac & Cheese Lovers

mac & cheese small

Love mac & cheese? Then get yourself – quick! – to the ingenious “Mac-and-cheese-o-matic” graphic created by illustrator Laura Stanton at The Washington Post.

The graphic was developed to accompany an article, “Mac and cheese: A macrocosm of variations,” that discusses the infinite variety of macaroni and cheese dishes. As the article states, “you can make macaroni and cheese 365 days a year and never do it the same way twice.”

The graphic offers an instant take on variation. Just choose from the various components (pasta types, aromatics, sauce additions, protein, cheeses, toppings, fruit/veggies, and more)  what appeals to you at the moment (or what matches what’s in the fridge). Voila! You’ve thrown together a brand new take on mac/cheese.

And for good measure, here’s a link to the Washington Post’s update on the “Classic Macaroni and Cheese.” Nothing wrong with that!

Feb 28, 2012

Livermore Valley pairings shine at winemaker dinner

My favorite pairing of the evening: Mesquite-Grilled Flat Iron and 2008 Nth Degree Syrah
Last Friday night I attended Livermore Valley's "Taste of the Best Winemaker Dinner," featuring medal winners from the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (I was covering the dinner for Tasting Panel magazine).

The event was held at Wente Vineyards, where Catering Executive Chef Jeff Farlow created very successful pairings (see below).

I've included each wine's SFChron Competition award in the lineup:

2009 Cuda Ridge Wines Merlot, Livermore Valley
Best of Class
Ahi Tuna Carpaccio
Black Olives, Pickled Red Onions, Fried Caperberries,
Micro Greens, Herb Oil
2009 Bent Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley
Best of Class
Creamy Herbed Polenta
Wild Mushroom-Oven Dried Tomato Ragout,
Charred Red Peppers, Focaccia Crisp
2008 McGrail Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Livermore Valley
Red Sweepstake Winner
Smoked Grimaud Farms Guinea Hen Confit
Braised White Beans, Radicchio, Bacon Broth
2008 Nth Degree Syrah, Livermore Valley
Best of Class
Mesquite Grilled Flat Iron
Carrot Puree, Roasted Cipollini, Salsa Verde

Another commitment forced me to leave before the dessert reception. Held in a separate room, the desserts were paired with a specially selected wine from each winery.

 BTW, my favorite pairing was the last--the Syrah with the mesquite-grilled flat iron steak. Each component was perfect on its own, but melded together in a way that transported me heavenward. Yummy!

The richness of the Ahi Tuna Carpaccio was refined by a surprising (and appealing) tart-salt edge, all of it mellowed and coming together beautifully with a sip of Cuda Ridge Wines Merlot.

Feb 21, 2012

Wine tip for Oscar night

Wondering what wine to serve at your Academy Awards party on Sunday? Here's a perfect--and perfectly appropriate--choice: the Director's Collection of wines from the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, owned by the legendary filmaker.

The winery knows it's on to a good thing with Awards night, too. One of the ideas they've had fun dreaming up is a $65 "Oscar Gift Set," which includes one bottle each of the Director's Cabernet Sauvignon and Director's Chardonnay; Fleur de Sel caramel popcorn; black truffle and cheddar popcorn; red wine snaps; white wine snaps; and Francis Coppola Winery chocolate.

You can also buy the $80 Director's Four Pack (Director's Cut Pinot Noir 2010, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Chardonnay 2009, and Merlot 2008). Or you can buy just one in the cast of Director's Cut characters: Cab Sauv (about $21), Chard ($17), Merlot ($21) or Pinot Noir ($21).

And someone at Coppola had a good time coming up with this passage: "The Director's wines are made of grapes carefully sourced from various plots of land throughout the Sonoma Valley. The result is a complex finished production with the style to match the greatest cinematic achievements of the year."

For more info or to purchase, visit

Feb 16, 2012

Free until Saturday: Top 10 San Francisco travel apps

Today and tomorrow you can download my top-rated travel app, San Francisco Waterfront, along with 9 other top-rated apps covering the San Francisco Bay Area. For free!

Why? Most of us app authors have known each other a long time through various travel writer organizations, and we've decided to collaborate on this giveaway. Many thanks to Karen  Misuraca, author of many print guidebooks and the wonderful travel app, California Coast North, for spearheading this project.

To download the apps, go to this page on Karen's site.You'll see all the apps listed and you can choose which ones to download. Ignore the prices you see: when you get to the iTunes store, the apps will be shown to be free. 

Download the apps and then come visit and leave your heart in San Francisco!

U.S. wine exports reach new $1.4 billion high

Click to enlarge. To convert liters to gallons, multiply liters by .26418. To convert liters to cases, divide liters by 9.
The Wine Institute sent news via press release early this morning that U. S. wine exports increased 21.7% in 2011 over the previous year, for a record high of $1.39 billion. Ninety percent of the nation's wine exports are from California.

Here's the entire release:


SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. wine exports, 90% from California, reached a new record of $1.39 billion in winery revenues in 2011, an increase of 21.7% compared to 2010. Volume shipments were up 5.8% to 455.7 million liters or 50.6 million nine-liter cases. 

“The quality, diversity and value of California wines have propelled us to another record year for wine exports,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, Wine Institute President and CEO.  “Our success in removing trade barriers and opening new markets as well as significant marketing investments by our wineries will allow us to reach our goal of $2 billion in exports by 2020.”

“Our global Discover California Wines campaign with its link to California’s iconic and aspirational lifestyle resonates with consumers, media and trade throughout the world,” said Linsey Gallagher, Wine Institute’s International Marketing Director.  “We have significantly increased our focus on and investment in the China market over the past year in this top priority market.  Our goal is to connect the lifestyle that is associated with our state with the understanding of California as a world class wine producing region.”

“Wine Institute’s work with the U.S. government and key international organizations such as the World Wine Trade Group, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and FIVS continues to have a valuable impact in facilitating trade.  Export growth in 2011, however, reinforces the need to continue eliminating unreasonable trade barriers, particularly in the Pacific Rim where wineries are burdened by protectionist tariffs and duplicative regulations costing Asia-Pacific economies close to $1 billion per year,” said Wine Institute’s International Trade Policy Director Tom LaFaille.

Thirty-four percent of U.S. wine exports by value were shipped to the 27-member countries of the European Union, accounting for $478 million of the revenues, up 10% from 2010.  Volume shipments to the EU reached 28 million cases in 2011, edging up 1.4% from the previous year.  Other top markets were: Canada, $379 million, up 23%; Hong Kong, $163 million, up 39%; Japan, $105 million, up 39%; and China, $62 million, up 42%.

“California wines continue to grow in popularity with both trade and consumers in the Canadian market,” according to Rick Slomka, Wine Institute Trade Director for Canada.  “Some of the recent growth comes from new brands with eye-catching labels and clever names.  Also contributing to this growth is the ongoing strength of the Canadian dollar which has made California wines more competitive compared to wines from other major wine regions.  Our continued success with premium wines in the Quebec market and in LCBO VINTAGES, indicates that Canadian consumers see good value in California at all price points,” said Slomka.

“In a challenging economy, the UK wine market does not stand still, and new sectors and opportunities have arisen.  California has been responsive to these, and has built on the bedrock of its major branded wines with successes in the independent retail sector and on-trade outlets.  Growth in these areas introduces our wines to new audiences, and enables California to demonstrate its diversity at higher price points.  This growth is by no means exhausted, and augurs well for the future here,” said John McLaren, Wine Institute Trade Director for the United Kingdom. 

"California wines fared well in most European countries.  In Sweden for instance, sales growth of California wines were the highest of all wine supplying countries in Sweden.  The story was similar in Germany, where California again experienced the highest growth rate of all wine exporting countries.  However, a significant portion of California wine imported into Germany is re-exported and actually sold in other European markets.  Additionally, as a word of caution, the 10% change in the Euro/Dollar exchange rate of the past few months may have an effect on exports to Europe in early 2012,” said Paul Molleman, Wine Institute’s Trade Director for Continental Europe.

“The outlook in the world’s emerging wine markets remains positive as most markets continued to post strong gains in 2011.  Hong Kong remained California’s third largest export market by value, although growth slowed to 39% from 150% in 2010 compared to 2009.  China’s growth remained buoyant at 42% compared to 2010 and is now the fifth largest export market by value, up two places from last year.  Vietnam posted the strongest year-over-year gains (+266%) among the top 25 markets.  Elsewhere, there is significant optimism in South Korea due to the recent ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and in Mexico where the 20% import tax on California wines was repealed in late October 2011," commented Eric Pope, Wine Institute’s Regional Director, Emerging Markets. 

“U.S. bulk wine exports to Japan have been growing as major Japanese importers are now importing popular-priced California wine brands in bulk and bottling in Japan.  This reduces the burdensome import duty to a certain extent and makes inventory control easier.  As per bottled U.S. wine, Japan is now importing more expensive California wines than in the past.  Unlike other new world wine exporting countries, California wine is well represented at high-end restaurants because of our successful annual restaurant promotion,” reported Wine Institute Trade Director in Japan, Ken-ichi Hori. 

Since 1985, Wine Institute has served as the administrator of the Market Access Program, an export promotion program managed by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.  For more information, see:

Feb 8, 2012

Win a Charles Krug t-shirt

Here's something fun.

Founded in 1861, Charles Krug Winery is the oldest winery in Napa Valley. Krug pre-dates a lot of devices that have been around forever, and which we take for granted -- like lightbulbs, airplanes and the telephone.

The winery's longevity gave its marketing department an idea: they would show just how very old Krug is by pairing the invention of ancient devices with Krug's existence. As an example, take a look at that photo of the Wright Brothers at the top. They invented powered flight in 1903, but Charles Krug had already been around for 42 years at that point, which leads to the photo's quote: "Charles Krug, always the right wine, quite possibly a Wright wine."

About that t-shirt...

Go on over to Krug's Facebook page and see if you can come up with a clever caption for the Statue of Liberty photo you find there (she didn't arrive in the US until 1886, 5 years after Krug had been founded). If you can dream up a winning quote for the photo, you will win what has been described to me as "a very special t-shirt" and get Krug bragging rights in the bargain.

Good luck!

Feb 7, 2012

Maybe lard's not so bad after all...?

There’s been a lard conversation going on lately, one which seems to be re-thinking the artery-clogging dangers of lard (rendered pig fat). I hadn't really paid much attention until a short audio article entitled “Who Killed Lard?” was broadcast on NPR’s “Planet Money.”

Apparently there is some evidence that lard has gotten the kind of bad rap that's not entirely deserved.

A century ago, lard was used in every kitchen in America. It was the #1 cooking fat, used by everyone. But when lard fell from grace, it was a quick and steep plunge.

Author Robert Smith traces that fall from grace: “Lard didn’t just fall out of favor,” he writes. “It was pushed. It was a casualty of a battle between giant business and corporate interests.”

Smith refers to the old-time, big-money lard business as the “lard-industrial complex.” It’s an amusing, and at times fascinating, tale. You can read the audio text or listen to the audio here.

Feb 2, 2012

5 Food trends for Super Bowl Sunday

The National Restaurant Association estimates that 48 million Americans will order takeout/delivery food while watching the Super Bowl this Sunday, February 5.

The five most popular food items of the day: salsa/dips/spreads (69% of survey respondents), chicken wings (63%), pizza (61%), desserts (50%), and healthful food items (42%).

In addition, 12 million people are expected to visit a restaurant or bar to watch the big game. Younger adults 18-34 years old constitute 52% of this group. The next highest percentage is people with children, at 40%.

People on the West Coast are nearly twice as likely to watch the game at a restaurant or bar as people on the east coast (9% in the west, 4% in the east). This is probably due to the earlier kick-off time in the west.

Feb 1, 2012

Best glasses to savor single malt and other whiskeys

Single Malt and other fine whiskey fans know that the shape of a glass can maximize enjoyment of its contents. Part of this has to do with aesthetics—the simple pleasure of holding and admiring a beautifully-designed glass. But equally important is that a glass with the right size and shape enhances aromatics, and thus taste.

Back in 1992, in a quest to develop the ultimate whiskey glass, famed Austrian glassmaker Riedel brought together a panel of Scotch whiskey experts to test nineteen different glass shapes. Later, with the help of master distillers in Scotland, the company continued making refinements.

The result? The perfect glass for any fine whiskey. Shaped like an elongated thistle on a truncated stem, the Riedel whiskey glass possesses a slightly outturned lip. This long glass, warmed by the  hand, permits the release of aromatics perceived by the nose in a slowly-unfolding, multi-layered sequence of discovery. And that’s even before the shaped lip directs the whiskey to the tip of the tongue, from where it expands into the mouth for that first velvet feel.

Experts consider Riedel’s line of glasses to be the finest for wines and sprits. Robert Parker, writing in The Wine Advocate, stated that “the finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel.”

Riedel makes two versions of its whiskey glass. I don’t recommend the expensive, hand-blown Riedel Sommeliers Series Single Malt Whiskey Glass, which cost about $55 each. They’re extremely thin and--a major drawback for me!--they break easily.

However, the machine-made, reasonably-priced Riedel Vinum Single Malt Whiskey Glasses offer beauty, utility, and value: a set of two costs $47. The glasses are beautiful and thin (but not so thin that they break if you look at them the wrong way). They possess no “machine” seams, and the Riedel name is etched on the base. They stand 4.5” high and hold 7 ounces. Although they’re dishwasher-safe, hand-washing is recommended.

And if you want to learn more about single malt scotch, you can't do better than British writer Michael Jackson's classic Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch. It's the 2015 updated edition.

Jan 25, 2012

Global wine consumption rising fastest in US and China

According to a marketing study by Vinexpo, wine consumption will  continue to grow swiftly in the US and China over the next four years. Conversely, a tough economic climate will create little increased demand in the "mature" (read "already-saturated") European market.

In 2011, the US officially overtook France and Italy to become the world's biggest wine consumer by volume. However, China is expected to overtake the US, becoming the world's largest wine market, within twenty years.

Between 2011 and the end of 2015, the US and Asia will drive a 6% increase in global wine consumption. By comparison, consumption rose by 4.5% between 2005-2010.

Read the whole story and a lot more statistics at just-drinks.

Jan 23, 2012

16 tasting rooms on Sonoma's 19th-century plaza

Click to enlarge. You can obtain a free copy of the map at the Sonoma Valley Visitor Center on the Plaza.
A bit more than a year ago I wrote an article about Sonoma for a travel website. At the time there were maybe half a dozen wine tasting rooms on the town's mid-19th century Plaza.

Today there are fourteen, with two more set to open soon.

Collectively known as the “Sonoma Square WineWalk,” the tasting rooms are rapidly gaining a reputation as Sonoma County’s premier destination for sampling top-notch, small-lot wines. They even have their own WineWalk map, which you can obtain for free at the Plaza’s Sonoma Valley Visitor Center (the back side offers 2-for-1 tasting coupons). Many, though not all, tasting rooms waive the tasting fee if you purchase one or more bottles.

To learn more about the wineries, read my recent newspaper article, "Take the Sonoma Square WineWalk."

And while we're on the subject of Sonoma, why not enter to win a Wine Country Getaway?

Jan 20, 2012

Paula Deen makes it onto 2011’s "worst cookbook" list

Ingredients in Deen's "Lady's Brunch Burger" include butter, ground beef, eggs, glazed donuts and English muffins. Photo:
I've never paid much attention to Paul Deen for the obvious reason: way, way too much fat and sugar in her recipes. Apparently I wasn't alone in my feelings.

On January 4, nearly two weeks before news of Deen’s 3-year-old diabetes diagnosis was revealed to the world, PCRM – Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – included her Southern Cooking Bible on its list of 2011's worst cookbooks.

Getting on that list means a cookbook’s recipes exhibit a complete disregard for health. Specific to Deen, the organization stated in its January 4 press release that “Deen, who made it into PCRM’s Worst Cookbooks of the Decade list two years ago, is back on this year’s list with her latest cookbook, which contains recipes like Burgoo—a stew that calls for 3 pounds of chicken, 2 pounds of beef, and 2 pounds of lamb…One serving of Hot Buffalo Wings (three wings) contains 910 calories and 85 grams of fat; meat-heavy diets raise obesity risk.”

There is also compelling evidence that such diets lead to Type 2 Diabetes.

Suffice to add two paragraphs from WikiPedia:
Deen has faced extensive criticism for the high amounts of fat, salt, and sugar in her recipes. She faced particularly strong objections with the release of Lunch-Box Set, a cookbook aimed at children, with Barbara Walters saying of the book, "You tell kids to have cheesecake for breakfast. You tell them to have chocolate cake and meatloaf for lunch. And french fries. Doesn't it bother you that you're adding to this?"Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain commented in 2011 that he "would think twice before telling an already obese nation that it's OK to eat food that is killing us."
On January 17, 2012, Deen announced that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago, a disease for which a high fat diet is a major risk factor. It was also disclosed that Deen is a paid spokesperson for the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. She was called a hypocrite for continuing to promote her high fat diet while only disclosing her medical condition when it benefits her in representing the drug company to market their diabetes management program.Deen stated on the January 18, 2012 episode of The Chew that a portion of her compensation would be given to charities.
BTW, the other four books on the "worst cookbooks" list:
  • Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes: “One serving of the Meatball Sandwich contains 1,182 calories, 47 grams of fat (including 18.5 grams of saturated fat), 185 milligrams of cholesterol, and 2,352 milligrams of sodium, according to a nutritional analysis based on estimates by PCRM dietitians.”
  • Guy Fieri Food: The Jambalaya Sandwich is “loaded with bacon, pork butt or pork loin, smoked sausage, Andouille sausage, chicken thighs, and Havarti cheese.”
  • The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: More than 50 pages of recipes featuring grilled meat, which increases cancer risk.
  • The Neelys’ Celebration Cookbook: Bourbon Bread Pudding is saturated with butter, half-and-half, and whole milk; high-fat diets increase heart-disease risk.
“The high-fat meals in these cookbooks are real recipes for disaster,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., and PCRM’s nutrition education director. “It’s scary that despite all that we know about the close link between high-fat foods and obesity and diabetes, cooks like Paula Deen continue to tout unhealthy meals. The real key to healthful eating is moving away from high-fat, meaty meals that increase the risk of these diseases.”

Jan 18, 2012

Enjoy Port? Maybe you'll win an iPad 2

Port, warehoused and stacked in barrels. Copyright All rights reserved by Center for Wine Origins
The Center for Wine Origins, devoted to protecting/promoting “unique wines from unique locations,” is giving away an iPad 2. Here’s the scoop:

January 27, “Port Day,” celebrates Portugal’s renowned fortified wine. As part of the celebration, the Center is hosting a contest encouraging U.S. consumers to photograph their favorite authentic Port wines.

To enter the contest and possibly win an iPad 2, send a picture of an authentic Port label to with the subject line “Port Day 2012 Photo Contest Entry.” Alternatively, you can post the picture to your Facebook profile, tagging yourself and the Center for Wine Origins in the picture.

One Grand Prize winner will be selected randomly on January 25 to receive an iPad 2. Complete contest rules are available here.

Jan 13, 2012

CG Shops: Quick and Fab Breakfasts

Starting today, I'm adding a new feature to The Culinary Gadabout. Primo shopper Suzy Shepherd--always on the search for quality items at a value price--will occasionally write about a find geared to people who love to cook, enjoy a glass of something spirited, or take off on a trek to places far and near.

Today's CG Suggestion: Back to Basics' Egg & Muffin Toaster/Egg Poacher

Want a hearty breakfast before you rush out the door in the morning...but don't have time to fix it? I recently found the solution under the Christmas tree: a nifty and very efficient device that makes a delicious breakfast sandwich in less than 5 minutes. It's received a solid 4-star rating (out of 5) from more than 900 Amazon purchasers.

No kidding. The Back to Basics Egg-and-Muffin 2-Slice Toaster and Egg Poacher really makes delicious egg/muffin (or toast) sandwiches. It also contains a tray that warms up pre-cooked bacon or sausage patties, which you can then add to the sandwich. And it does even more.

The number of simultaneous functions employed with this handy 3-in-1 device is up to you. Maybe you'll want to toast bread while poaching or steam-scrambling an egg and warming up some bacon. Or maybe you'll just want to toast half an English Muffin. About the same size as a conventional toaster (7"x15"x8"), the BB Toaster/Poacher poaches one egg at a time (or boils up to four). Other features include light-to-dark toast settings, automatic shut-off, an easily-cleaned control touchpad (small  photo), a removable crumb tray, and built-in cord storage.

The Back to Basics 2-Slice Toaster and Egg Poacher comes with a 1-year warranty and only costs $34.

Cooking for a crowd? Consider the $55 Back to Basic Egg ‘N Muffin 4-Slice Toaster/2 Egg Cooker.

Disclosure: If you click on a link and end up ordering something, The Culinary Gadabout will receive a small commission from Amazon, at no additional cost to you.

Jan 11, 2012

Wente Vineyards Introduces "entwine" tours

This past summer TV’s Food Network and California’s family-owned Wente Vineyards collaborated to create entwine wines, a portfolio of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that retail for $12.99.

Beginning in late January, Wente Vineyards is offering visitors a special behind-the-scenes tour of its historic Livermore Valley winery, where entwine wines are produced. The tour will include an exclusive tableside food and wine pairing experience.  

This month’s tours will be held on Thursday, January 19, at 12 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Saturday, January 21, at 2 p.m.

 Thereafter, tours will be held on the third week of each month, from Monday-Thursday (twice daily at 12 p.m. and 4 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m. only). The fee of $25/person includes a tour of the winery and winemaking facilities, specialized entwine and food pairings, and a 20% discount on all entwine and Wente Family Estates wines purchased the week of the tour.

Advance reservations are required, with tour groups limited to 25 people. For more information, including how to book a tour, please visit  
or call (925) 456-2306.

A little background: The initial inspiration for entwine came from viewers’ requesting the Food Network to introduce them to the world of wine. Food Network partnered with Wente Vineyards because Wente makes great wine and has a deep connection to food as embodied in its vegetable garden and on-site restaurant.

Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards is the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned winery in the country; owned and managed by the fourth and fifth generations of the Wente family. In 2011, Wente Family Estates was named American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast and a top 30 wine company by Wine Business Monthly.

The Food Network  is a lifestyle network, website and magazine connecting viewers to the power and joy of food. Food Network is distributed to more than 100 million U.S. households and averages more than 9.9 million unique web users monthly.

Jan 9, 2012

Nancy Cline of Cline Cellars & Jacuzzi Family Vineyards

The  Mission Museum's 1939 replica of the San Luis Rey Mission.

One of the best things about being a freelance writer living in wine country is that I get to to meet and interview so many wine industry people who love the work they do, from winery owners and winemakers to tasting room tenders and cellar rats.

I particularly enjoy profiling wine country folks who use their profits to accomplish a bit of good  in the world.

On that score, I've admired Fred and Nancy Cline from the moment I stepped into the small museum they built on the grounds of Cline Cellars. The California Missions Museum houses a one-of-a-kind collection: large, hand-crafted replicas of all 21 California Missions. The replicas were built in 1939 by a team of German woodworkers for the World's Fair held that year in San Francisco.

The collection managed to stay intact until the late 1990s, at which time it was set to be auctioned off piece by piece. The history-loving Nancy Cline, believing that the Mission replicas should remain a set, purchased them all at auction. The Clines then built a home for them at Cline Cellars, opening the doors to the public. Admission is free. Last year 4,000 California 4th graders visited the museum as part of their history curriculum.

Just this year the Clines purchased and refurbished an historic hotel in Tonapah, Nevada. It makes for an interesting story, which you can read in my recent published profile of Nancy Cline.

The Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, NV

Jan 4, 2012

Behind the scenes with

Wine.Woot founders, brothers David (left) and George Studdert, sampling wines. Photo: Christa Jeremiason/PD.
 One of the Internet's earliest and most successful flash sales sites, wine.woot, keeps a deliberate low profile. So low, in fact, that I had no idea the company was founded and based in the town of Sonoma, California, where I live. An offhand remark at a party tipped me, and I ended up doing a story about wine.woot for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat--it ran on Sunday, January 1.

Here's an excerpt:
Prior to starting wine.woot, George had successfully run national sales programs for major corporations before founding his own boat lift company in 2001. David had earlier worked at Airborne Express, specializing in direct-to-consumer wine shipping. In 1998, when the states’ attorneys general declared this practice to be illegal, he started his own company to “help wineries ship legally to consumers in non-reciprocal states.”

The company did well until the U. S. Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm ruling opened the door for wineries to ship directly to consumers. While that was great news for wineries and consumers, it essentially put David out of business.

But another door opened almost simultaneously. David had recently read a Wall Street Journal article about a new company,, that had pioneered the one-discounted-deal-a-day online business model in 2004 ( was purchased by Amazon in 2010). He was intrigued by the one-daily concept and loved the site’s humorous sales approach.

“I was talking to George, worrying about the end of my business,” David recalled. “Suddenly he said: ‘Why don’t we sell wine on woot?’ He was half-joking, but I had a major epiphany, with bells and whistles going off in my head.”

The next day David sent an email to woot’s founder, Matt Rutledge, who immediately saw the possibilities in wooting wine. Talks ensued and, in May 2006, “almost a year later to the day,” wine.woot became the first offshoot launched by woot.
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