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May 30, 2013

Celebrating food 24/7 & 365: Is it overkill?

While looking at online recipes this morning I stumbled onto the June 2013 calendar at Food.Com, and was instantly intrigued. Why? Because every single one of June's 30 days is given over to the celebration of a particular food, an entire category of foods, or--once in a while--a drink.

For example, June 2 is Rocky Road Day, June 18 is Cherry Tart Day, June 15 is Lobster Day, and June 19 is Martini Day. Some days in June announce that the entire month celebrates other culinary/beverage delights (June is Candy Month, Soul Food Month, Seafood Month, Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Month and Turkey Lovers Month).

"Wow," I thought. "June is really important for food."

But then I clicked to the next month, and it was deja vu all over again. Every single day in July is given over to food celebrations such as Creative Ice Cream Flavor Day, Eat Beans Day, Caviar Day, as well as Hot Dog  Month and Grilling Month. I was unclear about June 8, which is Kevin Bacon's Birthday (is it celebrating Kevin, bacon--or both?).

And so it went as I glanced through the months, with every single day given over to some food or other throughout 2013 and well into 2014. August is Catfish month, and contains such highlights as Oyster Day (5th), Filet Mignon Day (13th), and Whiskey Sour Day (25th). September is Honey Month, Chicken Month, Rice Month, Mushroom Month, Better Breakfast Month and Cherries Jubilee Month, during which you can also celebrate TV Dinner Day, Rum Punch Day, and many other gustatory delights.

Some of the oddest days, at least to me, are November 1 (Vinegar Day), October 9 (Moldy Cheese Day), December 30 (Bicarbonate of Soda Day).

A day that makes a lot of sense is January 1, which is Bloody Mary Day (good for hangovers). And a day on which you won't find any real men in the kitchen is May 20 (Quiche Lorraine Day).

As for me, I'm just going to pretend that every day is December 31--Champagne Day!

May 23, 2013

A rejuvenating whitewater getaway

Me (front left) going over Devil's Cesspool, one of the day's many highlights.
 What is it about a spontaneous getaway? Somehow they always seem to crackle with energy and unexpected discoveries. Surely it has something to do with the fact that such getaways are unplanned. You haven't been anticipating the trip for weeks or months; you haven't delved into restaurant reviews or methodically laid out a list of activities to enjoy.

Instead, out of necessity, you leaped into the unknown, knowing little or even nothing about your destination.

I'm thinking about such things because last week I took off on a spontaneous getaway and it couldn't have worked out better. It was only a quick 1.5-day trip from the Bay Area, but I came home feeling as rejuvenated and refreshed as if I'd been away for a week.

It all started one day last week when my San Francisco-based travel writer pal, Donna Peck (editor of Celebration Traveler), asked me to run up to the Gold Country for a one-day whitewater rafting trip. We'd get rooms in Placerville, spend the night, go rafting the next day, and return to the Bay Area that same evening.

Two days later we arrived in Placerville and checked into the venerable and historic Cary House Hotel. Built in 1857, the solid-brick building's past guests have included Mark Twain, Billy the Kid, and Elvis Presley; it's also believed to be the place where the egg/oyster/bacon dish, Hangtown Fry, was invented. Both our rooms were very comfortable, furnished with antiques, and possessed kitchenettes and full baths. The downstairs lobby was filled with historic memorabilia such as documents, photographs and clothing.

We'd both been completely focused on going whitewater rafting, and hadn't really given any thought to Placerville. Neither one of us had ever been there before, although I'd driven by many times over the  years on my way to South Lake Tahoe.

So it was a pleasant surprise to discover what a gem this Gold Rush town is. We spent the afternoon exploring Main Street, which still looks a lot like it did back in the rough '49er mining days when Placerville was called Hangtown (not because of the egg dish, but because of the enormous numbers of hangings that occurred here).

We browsed antique shops galore, perused restaurant menus, and spent quite a bit of time in photographer Jim Powers' photo gallery at 360 Main Street (huge photos with vivid coloration of local landscapes, either matted and framed or--my favorite--printed on aluminum). We also enjoyed a tasting at Synapse Wines (304 Main Street), a consistent award winner in major competitions such as the SF Chronicle and California State Fair competitions. I thought the '08 and '09 Syrahs were remarkably good.

 We asked everyone we talked to where we should eat, and a few names came up repeatedly. We arbitrarily chose one of them, Brick's (482 Main Street), and that was definitely the right thing to do. A friendly wait staff, an open & airy atmosphere with lots of art, and delicious, moderately-priced and healthy  food. I had the Turkey Burger with mushrooms, parsley, jalapeno & pepper jack cheese on whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato & red onion with chipotle aioli ($9.95). Donna went for the Quinoa Burger with avocado, onion and chipotle aioli ($9.95). They had a great selection of local wines and local craft beers.

We topped off the evening at Cozmic Café & Pub (594 Main Street), which was having its weekly Open Mic night--no cover, great entertainment, really fab. It's in the old Pearson's Soda Works Building, built in 1859. Downstairs is the café (think imaginative wraps, sandwiches, salads, smoothies, etc.), with a very inviting atmosphere; you can also walk down the hall and grab a table under the rocks in the former gold mine on the premises. Upstairs is the pub and a room with good sound for entertainment such as the Open Mic session. There's always something going on in this place, as the calendar indicates.

Next morning we had time before rafting to take a tour of the Gold Bug Mine, just a mile or two from Main Street. We both loved the self-guided tour (with audio) of this hard-rock Mother Lode mine, which has wood flooring and lighting installed. It was simple, straightforward, and extremely informative.

We became seriously lost on the way over to meet our fellow rafters on the American River (at Henningsen-Lotus Park in Lotus), heading the wrong way on Highway 49. Eventually we figured it out and got going the right way, but wondered if we'd make it on time. But we both agreed that we'd had such a good time so far that we'd go home content if we had missed the boat.

Lucky for us we made it, and soon we were wet-suited-up and paddling down the river. Our rafting company was Adventure Connection. Our guide, Riley Cathcart, was among the best river guides I've ever had. His instructions were simple and easy to follow; he was low key and amiable; and he knew that river inside out, so that we skirted around rocks with precision and played some fun games with rapids.

The South Fork's whitewater runs and rapids are mostly Class III, or Intermediate. The waves and rapids on rivers are classified into six categories ranging from Class I, which translates to easy and fast-moving water with ripples and small waves, to Class VI (so extreme and dangerous that it's intended for experts only).

I've rafted in the past on everything up to and including Class V, so I had a good idea that the South Fork's Class III would be fun, fairly easy, and still filled with thrills. And it was, for the entire 13 or 14 miles. The scenery all along the way was gorgeous. Usually we had long-reaching vistas before us, and once we were in a long rocky gorge. The river flowed swiftly and we moved right along. Despite wet suits and a rafting jacket, I was completely soaked through almost from the beginning, but the day was sunny and warm so I didn't feel cold until I stepped from the raft five hours later.

Donna dropped me off in Sonoma late that evening. Walking into the house 1-1/2 days after I'd left I was tired and a bit achy in the arms from paddling, but who cared?

I'd been off on another spontaneous getaway, the kind that crackles with energy and discovery.

May 20, 2013

California Rosé Wine Competition

For years Rosé has been the Rodney Dangerfield of wines -- it just couldn't get any respect. That's because many people, including me, had bad experiences early on with cloyingly sweet wines that bore the name Rosé.

It took me years to try a Rosé again. When I finally did I was somewhere in France on a very hot summer day. My travel companion insisted that my misgivings about Rosé were baseless and urged me to try again. As you might guess, the wine was light, refreshing and dry, and I've been a Rosé fan ever since.

And now my old friend Bob Ecker -- a long-time wine writer and a frequent judge at wine competitions over the years -- has just coordinated the first-ever professional Rosé wine competition held in California.

Held on May 6, 2013 at Napa Valley's Meritage Resort, "First Blush" was a blind judging of California Rose wine. A total of 89 Rose wines competed, resulting in 4 Double Gold Medals, 6 Gold Medals, 36 Silver Medals and 19 Bronze Medals.

There were three Double Gold winners in the Dry Rose category:
  • Jelly Jar Wines of Lake County (category winner)
  • Handley Cellars of Anderson Valley
  • Curtis Winery of Santa Barbara
The fourth Double Gold was awarded to a sweeter wine, Menage a Trois from Trinchero Family Estates (Delta/Lodi/Coastal). The biggest winner among appelations was Paso Robles AVA, with 10 awards that included 2 Gold Medals.

You can read about all the winners here.

 I'm saving the best news for last. You can celebrate the winners and sample their wines (and enjoy good food and live music) on Saturday,  June 8, 1-4 p.m., at Meritage Resort. Tickets are $25, and you can purchase yours here.


May 16, 2013

Why eat insects?


It’s not as outlandish as it might seem.

According to a new report by the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), insects already form part of the traditional diet of more than 2 billion people around the world.

The most-eaten insects globally are beetles (31%); caterpillars (18%); bees, wasps and ants (14%); and grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13%). Many insects are protein-rich, provide good fats, and are high in calcium, iron and zinc.

Geographically, insects are eaten the most in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Western countries, not so much. The report addresses the question of why insects aren’t popular in the First World; one reason: early, successful and widespread domestication of plants and animals.

According to the report, “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security,” three main reasons exist for entomophagy (the practice of eating insects): health, environmental factors, economic/social factors.

Health:
  • Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish (from ocean catch).
  • Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc.
  • Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets. 

Environmental:

  • Insects promoted as food emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock (methane, for instance, is produced by only a few insect groups, such as termites and cockroaches).
  • Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require the clearing of land to expand production. Feed is the major requirement for land.
  • The ammonia emissions associated with insect rearing are also far lower than those linked to conventional livestock, such as pigs.
  • Because they are cold-blooded, insects are very efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).
  • Insects can be fed on organic waste streams. 

Economic/Social Factors:

  • Insect harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers entry even to the poorest sections of society, such as women and the landless.
  • Mini-livestock offer livelihood opportunities for both urban and rural people. Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment. 
To learn more, download the 201-page report. It’s a fascinating document, rich with historic, cultural, and sociological information as well as detailed information about popular edible insects.

No recipes, though. Maybe I should get busy compiling a few for a cookbook. But to do that I'd have to become a entomophagist, which seems unlikely (I still haven't stopped talking about eating fruit bat soup in Palau a few years ago). I"m always open to adventure, but bugs? That just might be too large a cultural shift.

If you're open, though, consider purchasinng The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, Revised: 40 Ways to Cook Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin.



May 14, 2013

Celebrate Santa Cruz Mountains’ wines at “Roots That Rock”

Roots rock 3
 As if you needed an excuse to head to Santa Cruz, the 24th annual “Roots That Rock” Vintners’ Festival—sponsored by the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association—is coming up the first two weekends in June.

On the agenda: more than 50 Association member wingrowers will offer special attractions such as barrel tastings, winery tours, new wine releases, meet-the-winemakers, live entertainment, artists and artisan food producers.

“This year’s Roots the Rock Vintners' Festival is an evolution of previous events,” said Megan Metz, the Association’s executive director. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for wine lovers to connect with our region’s great winegrowers and their award-winning wines, touring and tasting at individual wineries located throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as at a new street faire in Downtown Santa Cruz that will feature local wine, artisan foods, music and live entertainment.”

roots rock graphic
Metz noted that the area’s “unique mountain terrain, marine influence, varied micro-climates and distinctive biodiversity combine to produce some of the finest conditions in the world for winegrowing.”

The Santa Cruz Mountains Viticultural Appellation was federally recognized in 1981. It was among the first appellations to be defined by mountain topography, following the fog line along the coast to encompass the highest vineyards on ridgetops as high as 2600 feet elevation.

The region encompasses the Santa Cruz Mountain range, and extends from Woodside in the north to Watsonville in the south; from Monterey Bay along the coast to Silicon Valley inland. Here one can find intimate, artisan wineries tucked among the redwoods along scenic mountain roads, or perched atop ridges with sweeping views to the sea. Visitors can meet with and talk with the winemakers, and drive from the mountaintops (where it snows in winter!) to the coast and enjoy a sunset walk on the beach. Wine tasting here is as much an experience of the natural beauty of the region as it is a delightful discovery of unique world-class wines.

Here’s what you need to know about Roots That Rock:

Dates & Locations
  • June 1, noon-5 p.m.: Participating wineries, Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties.
  • June 2, noon-5 p.m.: Participating wineries, Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties.
  • June 8, noon-5 p.m.: Participating wineries, Cruz County.
  • June 9, noon-5p.m.: Participating wineries, Santa Cruz County.
  • June 9, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.: Downtown Santa Cruz Street Faire, Pacific Ave. (between Locust & Walnut Sts.)
Tickets
  • Winery Tour and Downtown Santa Cruz Street Faire tickets are $40 per person online in advance and $50 at the door. Ticket price includes four days of wine tasting at all participating wineries and entry at the Downtown Santa Cruz location (including 10 tasting tickets). Tickets available online at http://scmvintnersfestival.eventbrite.com.

May 7, 2013

Wineries set to celebrate Mother’s Day 2013

Happy MD

What a difference a few years can make!

Just a generation ago few, if any, wineries planned a Mother’s Day event. Today, in California at least, exceedingly few wineries don’t have something very special lined up to celebrate good ol’ Mom on Sunday, May 12. There are events designed for foodie moms, for bold moms, for moms who love to relax, and on and on…

As an example, here’s a look at a few events planned for “Bold Moms” this Mother’s Day:

  • Zip-Lining with Mom Over Vineyards at Ancient Peaks Winery in Paso Robles Wine Region (Central Coast):  Soar over vineyards, valleys and oak trees on four epic zip-lines with Margarita Adventure Tours, then head over to the Ancient Peaks tasting room to discuss your adventures over artisan wines from the vines you both flew over ($99 per person).
  • Horseback Ride and Music at Cooper-Garrod Estate Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Region (Central Coast):  Start your morning at Garrod Farms where you can take a guided horse ride through Cooper-Garrod’s certified sustainable vineyards ($45 per hour). Order a delicious lunch from Picnic Guild (by May 8 for delivery to the winery on Mother’s Day) to enjoy in front of the historic Fruit House tasting room with wines ($5tasting). That afternoon, the winery is hosting Music at the Vineyards, featuring flamenco guitarist Tans Gauntlett under the trees with wines for purchase by the bottle or glass.

To learn about more events, visit Discover California Wines, the website of the Wine Institute of California. You can either enter “Mother’s Day” into the search box at the top of the page or click the Events link on the right side and scroll to May 12.