Archive for the ‘Food! Wine!’ Category

We were driving down the highway just north of Yountville on a rainy January day. There was no agenda or destination except whatever looked interesting along the way. It was dark and cloudy and there weren’t a lot of people out. It was one of my favorite types of days: haunting and more than mildly Bronte-esque. (Ok, so maybe I’m the only one who thinks of Wuthering Heights when I’m in the country on a dark day.) We were almost past these trees when we both noticed them, rising up in the darkness like some strange creatures from a ‘film noir’ ghost story. We immediately did a u-turn so we could get a closer look. In the car, it sounded more like “OOOOH STOP!”

Peju's haunting driveway

It turns out we were at the Peju Family Winery. Having tasted their wine before, we decided to get a closer look at the trees, then head indoors for a tasting. Some wineries in this area want you to make an appointment. We are truly grateful to the wineries who do not. 🙂

Tom looking jaunty with his umbrella!

Tom’s cellphone rang when we stepped in, so I distracted the lady at the front desk by asking her about the trees. She told me they were Sycamore trees that had been trimmed and trained. They have been working on this strange shape for over 20 years, patiently letting them grow in an arch over the road. I was impressed at the discipline, like a bonsai project of gargantuan proportions.

rain-soaked Peju vineyards

The building, called “The Tower”, is beautiful and reminded me of the estates we saw in the countryside outside of Paris, France. They have an art gallery upstairs, a shop with kitchen goodies and books…and, of course, the tasting room!

The Tower

Inside, we met Mr. Robert Sherman, who let us taste what I will honestly say were my favorite wines of the entire trip. Of course we bought as much as we could afford and yes, they ship! If you ever visit the Peju winery, be sure to ask for Robert – he was awesome and knows his way around a bottle of wine! He also grows tomatoes and we had a fabulous conversation about the hazards of growing them in the unseasonably chilly and short California summers of late. (That made my day!) The good Mr. Sherman even gave me permission to photograph the stained glass wall that was in the tasting room, which is in the main part the “Tower”. This is where I wish my camera had been just a bit better. I have been complaining about it lately…I think it’s getting a bit worn out from the millions of photos I’ve taken with it, so forgive the mild fuzziness of these:

The colors were so vibrant in person. Bright blue irises, red poppies…

…and warm golden pears. No, I think they’re lemons!

Having spent our wine budget, we headed back outdoors to see the formal gardens, which were soaking up the rain.

Yes, I do have to photograph every vine I see crawling up a wall, or a gate, or a…

Rusty iron makes me happy too.

Another favorite detail of this stop was the white marble sculpture by Welton Rotz called “Eternal Cycle.” In all of my travels, I have never seen anything quite like it and I was excited to see a reference to the “Triple Goddess” in such a random place. I walked around and around it until I was dizzy and soaked, but it was worth it.

The maiden, small and moving upward…

The Maiden

…the mother, full and steady…

The Mother

…the crone, shrinking and wizened.

The Crone

And, of course, another quick peek at the Sycamore trees!

Tom at Peju

Thanks to the Peju Family Winery and Robert Sherman for one the highlights of our trip! Every time we open one of the bottles of wine we bought, we get sentimental and all romantic and stuff…and that’s all I’m going to say about that!

Read Full Post »

The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.

~ Galileo Galilei

Grapes Leaves and Sky

Several years ago, Tom and I bought a Cabernet Grape vine while out on one of our shopping excursions. In fact, I think we were at Costco buying food. I always run through the garden section, simply because I cannot “not” go into the garden section. There they were, so we brought them home and planted them by the Gothic iron archway that Gina and Lori had gifted me for my birthday.

Gently Sun-Kissed

They’ve done really well and we’ve had fun watching them grow. The leaves are always beautiful and it amazes me how the vines themselves reach out in fearless exploration, sometimes climbing over the fence into the neighbor’s yard.

I'm always awestruck by ripe clusters of grapes in my very own garden

This year, we decided to try our hand at making grape jelly. The grapes are not sweet enough to really be table grapes and we’re still experimenting with what else to do with them.

Bacchus would approve

We cooked them in a pot with a little sugar.

..in a cauldron...

Then we put them through the food mill to get rid of skins and seeds and ‘whatnot’.

grind and grind and grind and grind

Then back in the pot for the final cook. This is where all the Magic happened. They wanted quite a bit of sugar. We put the final product in jars and ate it on toast. It was delicious!

There is definitely some High Magic going on here!

Next year, I’d like to try making Dolma with the leaves, and maybe a different kind of jam or some juice. Who knows.

Late summer grape leaves and Queene Anne's Lace

As the year fades, the leaves turn yellow then orange and finally, bright red. They dry up and fall, leaving naked vines which I cut back in February with the Roses…and we start all over.

Fading into the Sunset

Read Full Post »

Ode To Tomatoes ~ by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes,

These were warm from the Sun when we ate them. - July 2010

light is
its juice
through the streets.

Beauty on the inside. - August 2010

In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,

We roasted these for sauce. Yum! - September 2010

it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on counter-tops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.

Tomatoes so bright, I gotta wear shades. - August 2010

Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,

Cherokee Purple/Brandywine - September 2010

a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,

Happy Tom making kitchen Magick - September 2010

its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;

Lots of fresh cracked pepper and coarse salt. - September 2010

it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile

an extra ripe "Green Zebra" - August 2010

its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

time for a BLT! - 2010

Read Full Post »

“To enliven the sad with the joy of a joke
Give them wine with some borage put in it to soak”. ~ old English rhyme

Borage - June 2010

Borage (Borago officinalis) is a hardy annual herb. Some of its other names; Bugloss, Bee Bread, Herb of Gladness and Star Flower. It likes lots of sun, grows about two feet high and gets rather bushy. Mine likes to lay down over the lawn after a while and then grow straight up from the reclining stems, which are round, hollow and juicy. It will reseed itself quite efficiently so I try and collect the seeds before they hit the lawn. This is hard to do since the whole process of opening and then dropping seed happens so quickly. Since I have more than one plant at a time, I usually snip several stems with flowers, hang them upside down in a paper bag and let them dry – collecting the seeds later. If I’m lazy, I just pick some flowers and toss them back into the flower bed before they hit the grass.

Bees in the Borage

Bees absolutely love Borage. When I go out to pick it, there are always quite a few buzzing around in the five-petal flowers, which turn from pink to blue when the plant deems the nectar and pollen ready for collection. Bees are very attracted to the color blue, so I think this is rather smart of Mother Nature.

Borage is quite fuzzy

Historically, Borage was believed to cure sadness and boost courage, which I think is awesome. The Romans used it steeped in cups of wine – Pliny said “it maketh a man merry and joyful” – and John Evelyn said it was “of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student.”

still pink around the edges

It was believed to also cure skin problems, bruises, inflammation, stress, colds, fevers…the list goes on. We now know that this is due to the high content of gamma-linolenic acid. It also contains potassium, calcium and mineral salts.

blue means 'open for business' in bee-speak

I found references to it being used as an embroidery subject as far back as the 17th century and quite a few modern stitches as well. Understandable since it’s such a friendly and straightforward flower.


In my opinion, the flowers are the tastiest part of the plant. They can be candied for tops of cupcakes, thrown in a salad or frozen in ice cubes for beverages. I like to toss a handful into a glass of water with a slice of lemon – the beverage takes on a nice little ‘tingle’ from the mineral salts and it instantly makes your dull glass of H2o completely fabulous. Borage tastes like cucumber so it adds a fresh coolness, or maybe cool freshness to whatever it’s with. If you’re into companion planting, it likes to be near strawberries. Who doesn’t like to be near strawberries?

Borage seed

Many sources said it should be taken “in moderation” and the sepals are NOT edible. Besides the flower, the stems and leaves are edible and I found lots of recipes for savory dishes like the ‘Borage Fritters’ by Maria Batali – which I’m planning to try! My absolute favorite way to have it is in a glass of wine, just like the ancients and I can say quite honestly that I’m in a much better mood afterward. 🙂

Borage, Bubbles and strawBerries

Read Full Post »

Evening Primrose

“Be like a flower and turn your face to the sun.”
Kahlil Gibran


Well, here we are again at the cusp of a full moon. THe usual ritual of being mindful of what of was accomplished since the last full moon is proving quite difficult. There is simply too much to note. But, I have a tremendous sense of accomplishment deep in my gut and I intend to open a bottle of one of my favorite wines tomorrow night and share it with my man: 2007 Pinot from ZD Wineries, discovered in Napa on our last visit there.

Foxgloves (separate post for these another day!)

Along with the many goals finally reached, there is a garden full of success to enjoy. This is to be celebrated doubly since we lost quite a large number of seedlings to frost-bite (yes, even in California!) over the last month or so. It’s amazing how cold and cloudy it has been here lately, so some of the babies just up and withered and I all but lost the large rosemary plant. Maybe I can save it at the next new moon. No worries though, enough seedlings survived to cover every square inch of Earth under my care and keeping: I’m all out of dirt!

the Chives are blooming

The BIG item: I finished my first math class (Pre-Algebra!) and did well. Math has always been very difficult for me. Growing up in low-income schools and then struggling on my own at home for high school (home school sucks!) put me at a severe disadvantage in this department and I always thought there was no hope to catch up or ever “get it” – Well, I fixed that and I’ve signed up for more algebra during the summer to be followed by more in the fall…and you know what? – I love it! It’s great feeling confident now, despite the times when I was positive nothing new was going to get into my gray matter and take permanent hold. There were moments of sheer panic and dread, followed by pacing, and I will even confess to a couple of tears, but I pushed through it and am proud of myself. It was awesome to walk into class to take a math final, however remedial, and know what to do after a lifetime of just the opposite. (and special thanks to my fabulous Tom for helping me with my homework and for knowing just what to say and when to say it) It also feels really satisfying to know my parents were completely wrong in not believing I was worth any kind of education and to finally be undoing whatever damage that did to my ego and sense of self worth.

Yellow and White Gladiolus

In yoga practice, I finally figured out how to properly do the King Dancer pose (Natarajasana) without falling on my big ass or wobbling like a clumsy dork. (Well, ok, I still wobble a tetch) It makes me feel strong and light at the same, like I could fly or knock down a wall if I needed to. For the first time in a long time I feel a little graceful. Not an easy feeling for me: I have never EVER been comfortable in my skin. There, I said it.

Natarajasana - King Dancer Pose

After several years of nursing the artichoke plants along, we finally have real live artichokes that we actually got to EAT! NO JOKE! here’s their exciting journey:

Artichoke - the first year or so

Artichokes after 2 years - March 2010

an actual Artichoke! April 2010

Ready to eat Artichoke!

To prepare them: wash well, chop off the top inch and leaf tips if they’re sharp, steam in an inch of water with some lemon-garlic-bay leaf type stuff, eat with some mayo into which you’ve stirred a little saffron – delicious! Don’t forget to eat the heart which is at the very bottom after you’ve scooped off the wooly parts.

Trim the top inch off your artichoke before cooking

Aromatic Artichoke Bath

Artichokes waiting in line. I'll be right there....

Yesterday, I finally put every single seedling planted since February into its permanent home. Next year, I will not do so much seed planting and I will use peat pots so I don’t have to do the “pricking out” either – so time consuming! I never expected so many seeds to sprout and live, so when the last of them (mostly tomatoes and leeks) needed permanent homes I was having difficulty finding Earth-space. The “I’ve run out of dirt” statement is NOT an exaggeration! The good news is I’m starting to harvest big lettuce and all the basil. Just in time to plant seeds for the next batch! And YES we are making pesto!

Endive and Basil

Italian and Sweet Basil 5-25-10


what's left of my radishes

It also appears that there will be squash and beans to harvest in the next day or so. That will be keeping me busy, along with bunches of deferred maintenance; caging up all the tomatoes that have run wild and putting the grape vines on the trellis, pulling weeds and trimming/pruning, fertilizing and lots of watering, harvesting and eating it all up. Hopefully, I’ll have a lot more done before I go back to school June 22nd, when I’ll have to stop gardening for a while. sigh.

Grape vines searching for home

So now, I’m off to FINISH things that aren’t quite finished yet – there are always lots of those! In the garden, I’ll replant seeds for the herbs that have already finished their cycle and I want more of; basil and arugula, tarragon, and more seeds for what didn’t live; morning glory, moonflower, anise etc…By tomorrow night when the juicy swooning moon rises to remind me of the absolute truth of my nature, I will be ready.

Read Full Post »

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.
~ Algernon Charles Swinburne


Wednesday March 17th

I came to a funny realization in the garden this morning: I’m learning the same lessons out there as I am in math class. Slow down, pay attention, don’t skip steps and get ahead of yourself, clean up as you go along, follow the basic rules and you will be rewarded, failure comes from sloppy work and most important – breathe. I never thought I would find my Zen in algebra but you know what? I’m learning all kinds of new tricks lately!


Thursday, March 18th

Note to self:

No vegetable will grow in full, dense shade. These will produce with as little as 3-6 hours of sun or constant dappled shade per day:

Salad and leafy greens/arugula etc
Brussels Sprouts
Swiss Chard

Spring Peas

Sunday March 28th

It was my intention to post the above last weekend in honor of the Vernal Equinox but got distracted studying for an algebra test. Not distracted really, just takin care of business first. A few things did manage to happen while I was away…

For the first time ever, I got enough peas to harvest them and bring them in to share:


So Tom and I planned ahead and made a lobster, pea and asparagus omelet with a side of baby red potatoes and some champagne. Fabulous! and of course, we ate outside.

Sunday Brunch at Chez Northcutt

The “love lies bleeding” that I planted finally sprouted and it came up bright red. I can’t wait to see them grow and bloom:
I got a really cool shot of dew drops clinging to the serrated edges of the rose leaves early one morning:

Dew on the Roses

The double daffodils finally opened:

Double Daffodils

as did the Clivia and the “Martha Washington” geraniums:

Geraniums, Tobacco, Clivia

Everything is coming along nicely. The seeds are sprouting left and right and new blooms open up every day. Some blooms are already finished for the season, giving me a strange sense of urgency, like I’m running out of time. That’s usually a sign that I need to stop and do some yoga or take a bath or do some “nothing”. Or…wait for it…leave the house! Nah!

Jalapeno sprouts

Tree Tobacco blossom

Lavender blossoms

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »