Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Breaking and Entering in the Russian River Valley

Here I was, my body half way through the small bathroom window, clad only in my plush terry cloth robe, in a Pilates bridge-like position with my feet feeling for the top of the toilet and my shoulders resting on my husband's crouching back as he knelt on the hot tub cover. 

The day began early in Philadelphia, as we left the house at 5:30am to catch a plane to San Francisco and begin a week long wine tasting marathon. The early part of this trip is a belated 25th anniversary celebration. I am the usual holiday planner, but my husband has organized this entire trip. I did nothing...and loved letting go (my friends and family may find this difficult to believe, but it's true!). With our son home watching the dog and the house, we were ready to go.

All the travel logistics came off without a hitch. By 12:30, we were in San Francisco, looking across the bay from the Ferry Terminal Building Market, where we stopped for a brief lunch of tea and dim sum before heading north to Wine Country.

Our first stop in Russian River was Copain Winery, where Dave had arranged a private tasting, sampling 5 wines: a Chardonnay, 2 Pinot Noirs, a Syrah and a bold blend. These were accompanied by tastes of cheeses, marcona almonds, dried figs and truffle salami. The wine maker had lived for a couple years in the upper Rhone Valley in France and was striving to make wines in that style: subtle flavored, lower in alcohol than the bold reds California has become known for. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience; our host was taking a break from his career in stage management and did an admirable job in guiding us through the tasting. And the views...outstanding!

From there we journeyed along River Road to Applewood Inn, our home for the next 2 nights. It's a lovely, terra cotta colored haven perched in woods near the river. After unpacking, we went to our couples, 90 minute massage...I love my husband! We came out well oiled and relaxed. We leisurely dressed for dinner and drove 15 miles to the Rivers Edge Inn in Jenner, which sits just at the mouth of Russian River, where it meets the Pacific. 

Our table had an excellent view of the sunset, where we spoiled ourselves eating local, just caught salmon, and duck from a nearby farm. We made our way back to the Inn and prepared for a dip in hot tub on the wall enclosed private patio.

And that's how I ended up with my butt hanging through the tiny bathroom window. When we were given the tour of our room, the inn keeper warned us of the locked door leading to the patio. But after satiating ourselves on a lovely dinner and wine, as Dave, clad in his towel and me in the robe stepped onto the patio, we forgot this detail until I heard the ominous click of the latch. We were locked out!

There was a small opening leading to the adjoining patio but the room was dark. There were lights on in a unit two down and on the upper level, so I called out "!" several times to no avail. Just as I was ready to scale the wall, Dave called out in triumph as he got the screen off the small window leading into the toilet room and the window, thankfully, glided open, being unlocked. Since he has back issues and broad shoulders, I volunteered to shimmy through the window. 

So thank goodness for all the Pilates and Yoga...I made it through, feet first, resting my shoulders on Dave as wiggled myself in and finally unlocked the door! We celebrated with a nice long and well deserved soak in the tub, prepared to start tomorrow fresh and ready for wine!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cooking Mayhem...

By the end of the week, I'm usually tired of cooking but since it's a rainy day, and I still have some vegetables left from last weekend's farmer's market, I decided to make dinner tonight. I gave Dave the choice of a pork tenderloin with balsamic glaze or a braised chicken/coq au vin dish that I had printed off from Fine Cooking. My inclination was to make the pork but Dave said the chicken sounded good so I decided I would make him happy and make the chicken.'s taken two hours, I've just degreased my kitchen which I almost burnt it down, but the chicken is braising in the crockpot. What a nightmare!
The recipe started with frying 12 ounces of chopped bacon in a 10" inch pan. I should have known something was off, because there was no way to fit all that bacon in a single layer of the pan as directed. Then after browning the chicken in the bacon grease (yes, this is a really healthy recipe!), I was to put the vegetables in the pan to soften before adding them to the crockpot....over 7 cups of vegetables in one 10 inch pan....they were piled up 3 inches above the height of the pan and I was tossing veggies all over the kitchen as I tried to stir them. I finally gave up and just added them to the crockpot.
Next step was making a roux out of tomato paste, some more grease and flour. To this, nearly a cup of brandy was to be added and boiled down. Thank god, I'd been wiping the outside of the pan down each time I emptied it, because even though I added the brandy with the burner turned off, of course due to the heat of the grease, the brandy immediately ignited! So I had a 10 inch pan filled with bacon grease, tomato paste and flour flaming away on my stove...quite aggressively.
Now as a sidebar, Dave was working at home today, and it's always tough when either of us is working for one of us not to talk to the other (it's particularly hard for me not to talk to him). I've been working on this and so as the flames are shooting out of the pan, the thought is going through my head: "hmmm, should I say something to him about this or wait until it's a real emergency?"
Well, I decided to wait...knowing that when the alcohol burned off of the brandy the flames would die down, but in the meantime, I pulled out the kitchen fire extinguisher, and a lid for the pan, though the pan had pouring spouts and I was afraid if I put a lid on the pan, fire would shoot out like a blow torch from the spouts! As the fire started to dissipate, I gently poked at the stuff in the pan with a whisk and of course the fire flared up again. Patience and calm were called for and even though I downed a cup of espresso as I started the recipe, I fortunately kept my head (and all my hair!).
So, as I said, everything is now cooking away in the crockpot, but again, I think the quantities are off as the crockpot is filled to the brim, so who knows how this is going to turn out. We may end of ordering pizza tonight. This recipe is going in the trash...needless to say, I'm not going to provide you with a link as I do NOT recommend it!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mother's Day

It just hit me this week that this is my first Mother's Day without my own mother.

I've always felt somewhat ambiguous about Mother's Day. I guess that is because in my family growing up, my own mom never wanted it celebrated with much fanfare. It was on a Mother's Day that her own mom deserted her and her brother. As the story goes, her mom sent the two of them to a movie and when they returned, there was a letter on the mantle, saying "I've stayed with you long enough and have gone to live my own life" or words to that effect. My mom was 17 and her brother 14. Can kind of sour the sentiment of a day honoring your mom for you.

It feels to me like one of those "Hallmark holidays" ....I'd much rather have my kids call me regularly and express their love and appreciation for me in small ways throughout the year than make a big deal on one arbitrary day. Not that I'm one for turning down a brunch or dinner or a little pampering.

And I have to admit, I get confused on this we honor our mothers or should I be honored?We've always lived near my husband's mom and she seems to like the day, so we will usually do something with her, which is fine with me, especially since it was never a big deal for my own mom.

I think my favorite Mother's Day was when the boys were young, about 3 and 6 and we went to Valley Forge Park. We picked up a picnic lunch of sushi; put some kites, a blanket, and a chair for my mother in law in the car. We planted ourselves in a field in the park, flew the kites and enjoyed the beautiful weather and each others company. No hype, no stress...just a perfect sky, a simple meal and a day with those I love. Now that is Mother's Day.