crystallized violets

crystallized violets

You know those crystallized lilacs or violets that you’ve always wanted to buy and put on a cake but they are so hard to find and expensive and often all broken that you never do?  Like those on top of Rose Levy Beranbaum‘s White Lilac Nostalgia Cake, in The Cake Bible.  For several years I have admired this cake from afar.  I have always wanted to attempt it.  But then I take one look at the beautiful crystallized lilacs carefully laid by hand and I freeze…for the reasons above.  I suppose you can make these crystallized edible flowers–lilacs, violets and roses.  Ms. Beranbaum makes it sound pretty straightforward.  But even in my days of more free time, they didn’t seem easy.  So I have resigned myself to just admiring the photo in the cookbook.

Tonight, we opened a bottle of Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir to go with Uzi’s impeccably grilled bacon-wrapped pork chops.  Yes, my husband is a non-observing Israeli.  And yes, this is related to White Lilac Nostalgia.  Hang with me for another minute.  The Oregon Pinot paired perfectly with the pork, both parts of the pig.  That was no surprise.  I have yet to meet a pork and Pinot pairing I didn’t like.  What surprised me was that this wine was not love at first whiff, as I’d imagined it would be.  I wasn’t getting much aroma at all at first.  I was worried.  Did we buy this bottle under the spell of Oregon wine country tasting room allure?  Thankfully, it turns out it just needed a little time.  Once the aroma came through, this Domaine Drouhin suddenly took me back to the days of dreaming about baking that beautiful cake with candied lilacs because that what I was getting on the nose–candied lilacs, or maybe candied violets.  Later, after sitting open for an hour or two, the aromas evolved into those of soil and earth.  I didn’t get a lot of fruit, this is different from some of the more fruit-forward Pinots of California.  In fact, it is a different Pinot than most.  Lovely smells of…gardening.  And nostalgic thoughts of that gorgeous cake that I just may try to conquer now.

This past Sunday we participated in the annual Corona Creek Olive Harvest.  Corona Creek, in addition to it’s excellent Pinot Noir vineyard, has an olive grove.  Chris makes the most incredible olive oil out of these olives.

A crowd of about 50 volunteers descended on the olive grove early in the morning and got busy pulling, shaking and generally having a good old time helping Chris, the owner, bring down as many olives as we could before the lunch feast at noon.

Picking olives

Kathryn setting up the olive capturing tarp

Ben 'working'

french baby picking olives

One of the main reasons we elected to source grapes from Corona Creek is due to the fact that it is a small family farm with sustainable practices growing a variety of vegetables in addition to the grapes and olives. In other words, it is far from a mono culture farm.  In fact, it is quite multi-cultural.

In any case, olive picking was a lot of fun.  We met a lot of people from all walks of life.  The kids and dogs had a great time through the trees and the vineyards and we learned a bit about what makes good olive oil while enjoying our fellow pickers’ company. Afterward we enjoyed a lovely meal along with some of Corona Creek’s own Pinot Noir.  To top it all off, a lively singing trio was on hand to entertain the crowd during lunch.

Singing trio


Berkeley turkey

Everyone this time of year seems to be either writing or wondering about what wine goes with turkey.  Personally, we always serve three types of wine for Thanksgiving at our house — a bottle of bubbly, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.  We open the sparkling wine to drink with appetizers while the turkey finishes in the oven.  Then the Chardonnay (which goes well with traditional side dishes such as sweet potatoes) and the Pinot (which goes well with turkey) are opened and served with dinner.   But you can find articles in the Wall Street Journal, Wine Spectator, SFGate, etc., to tell you what wines to serve at the Thanksgiving table.

What I want to tell you about is what went really well with Uzi’s famous spit-roasted pork loin seasoned with rosemary and garlic the other night–Pinot Noir.  We opened a special bottle of premier cru Chambolle Musigny to go with it.  And just to gauge our winemaking expertise against this Burgundy benchmark, we also opened a bottle of our 2007 garagiste Carneros Pinot Noir.   Though they are very different wines and I almost hesitate to mention the two together in the same breath, they were both fantastic and both went splendidly with the pork.

So go cook one of these later this week when you’re tired of turkey and open up a bottle of Pinot Noir.  And next year, when you’re planning your Thanksgiving dinner, consider a 2008 Stomping Girl Pinot Noir to go with the turkey.

Pork roast and Pinot

Pork roast and Pinot

1991 Calera Mt Harlan Chardonnay

1991 Calera Mt Harlan Chardonnay

We recently had our good friends over for dinner and were looking forward to opening a special bottle from the cellar.  It was a 1991 Calera Mt. Harlan Chardonnay we had picked up on a visit to the Calera winery last year.  Calera has an incredible and inspiring story and their wines are really quite unique for California Pinots and Chardonnays.

Look closely at the picture above and you will see the large (some may say disturbing) amount of tartrates. Tartrates had solidified and ended up on the bottom of this old bottle of Calera.  Looks bad but it is not a fault.  It was a 1991 for god’s sake.  And, in fact it is a testimony to the quality of the wine and the natural winemaking methods used.  Read more about tartrates here.  The Calera was fantastic and was a perfect match for rich halibut we served.

By the way, for those of you looking for Thanksgiving wines, an old Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan would make an excellent addition to your turkey dinner…so would a Pinot Noir.

our fig tree

our fig tree

Sausages.  Figs.  Grill.  Pinot Noir.  Need I say  more?

Now that figs are in season, both in our backyard and at our neighborhood market, I’ve had a steady supply in my kitchen.  So I also picked up a package of Niman Ranch (Andouille, I believe) sausages and thought that with a few additional ingredients I’d come up with an impressive dinner.  Dinner time rolled around and I found myself out of time.  So I just threw the sausages on the grill, whole.  When they were almost done, I put on the figs, halved, cut side down.  I sliced a baguette and opened a bottle of Pinot Noir and we found ourselves enjoying a very tasty and easy summer treats.  And it was that simple.  By the way, if you want to serve this as an appetizer that doesn’t require a knife and fork, do this:  slice the grilled sausages crosswise, top each slice with a halved or quartered fig and stick a toothpick in.  And don’t forget the Pinot. 🙂

For my previous Pinot Noir-friendly food post, click here.  Now, I have to get back to harvest.

Blue cheese walnut spread     

Blue cheese walnut spread

We kept the food at our recent Stomping Girl barrel tasting event super simple and Pinot Noir-friendly. We didn’t want to overpower the wine but did want to serve something–seems prudent to offer a bite to eat when people are drinking wine, even if it is small pours.  I served two spreads–my favorite go-to blue cheese spread and a new smoked salmon spread recipe–and water crackers.  They are both very simple, tasty and can be prepared ahead of time.

My blue cheese spread is, roughly:

  • 2 oz. Pt. Reyes Original Blue Cheese (or other quality blue cheese)
  • 6 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 oz. butter, softened
  • handful chopped walnuts

Mix together cheeses and butter with hand mixer.  Toast walnuts in dry skillet over medium heat.  Stir cooled nuts into cheese mixture.  Transfer to small serving bowl.  Sprinkle a few walnuts on top and serve with crackers or sliced baguette.  Yum!  Many people have told me that although they are not blue cheese fans, they like this spread.  I myself can devour a crock of this mildly flavored spread in no time.

The smoked salmon spread was an Ina Garten recipe from Food Network.  I left out the horseradish–too strong for Pinot Noir–and slightly reduced the amount of sour cream.  The fresh dill was a nice touch and was not too much for the wine.

So next time you need a quick appetizer to impress your friends with, whip together one of these spreads (I recommend the blue cheese) and pop open a bottle of Stomping Girl Pinot Noir.  If you can’t wait until January 2010, our release date, I suppose another bottle of Pinot would work, too.  Cheers!