Monthly Archives: May 2013

Easy Like Wine Country Evenings

The easygoing sounds of The Easy Leaves beckon us from the top of hill. We trudge up the path, vineyards on both sides, and the smell of barbecue wafting our way as we stroll past partygoers sitting on picnic tables underneath oak trees, filling their faces with pork ribs, brisket and potato salad. After a few hugs and hellos, we seek food and drinks for ourselves and take a seat at the foot of the vista. And we settle in. Friends arrive in twos and threes, joining in a circle of lip smacking, sipping and chatter. If there is one thing I’ve missed since leaving Healdsburg, its nights like this, where friends can effortlessly come together.

We can’t get enough of the landscape, and snap countless photos from various angles as the sun shifts in the western sky. “The food is so good,” says Jon, “the potato salad, and the beans; the beans are amazing.” Yes, the food is good. The drinks are good. The music is good. The company is good. This place that I call home has managed to once again, amaze me. People from near and far travel to wine country to get a taste – pun intended – of the wine country lifestyle; but we still have our secrets, our a little magical pieces that are for our eyes only. They are nights like tonight: an intimate barbecue on a hilltop vineyard, no city lights in sight, just the un-paralleled panorama of Alexander Valley. Vineyards stretch out below us, and hills roll in the distance, the sun casting a golden glow over it all, warming our backs and faces as the temperature starts to dip and the winds start to stir. We clutch our cocktails and tap our foot to the music. And smile. And laugh.

It’s kind of hard to achieve perfect moments like this, but when they happen, it’s almost dreamlike. You start wondering how you are so lucky to know people who would invite you to their secret utopia for an evening. You wonder how you got to have such good friends to share the evening with. And you realize how blessed you are to live in this beautiful place. The sun sets on the food, the drinks, the music, and the company; and we hike back down the hill, through the vineyards, and say goodnight to picture-perfect evening.

 

***Here’s what we were drinking — among other things that evening — Whenever you put bourbon in my hand, I’m a happy camper. Add barbecue, folk music and friends to make the night complete. ***

Gold Rush

2 oz. bourbon

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1 oz. honey syrup

To make the honey syrup: mix one part honey with two parts hot water. Stir until fully incorporated.

To make the drink: combine all the ingredients in a shaker full of ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.

If you like your cocktail on the stronger side, use less syrup.

Mother’s Day Musings

As a child, I was a momma’s boy (and still am, and proud of it). My mom was a huge inspiration and an integral part of shaping me into the person that I am today. I appreciate her now more than ever. And she is continually a muse for my stories.

1st birthday

I celebrated mother’s day with my mom yesterday, instead of today. I took her to lunch and we got cupcakes afterward and did a little window-shopping around town. After returning home, we sat on the living room floor and looked through old photos.

The funny thing about your childhood photos is that you know that that’s you in the picture, but you’ve grown so much that you hardly look like the same kid. And even though my mom has changed her hairstyle several times and has aged a bit, every picture looks exactly like I remember her.

I have a blurry spot in a memory involving Mom and jazzercise. The popular jazzercise took off in the 80’s in Southern California, where I was born. My memory recalls brightly colored, skin-tight spandex and legwarmers. I can actually still smell the combination of synthetic spandex, mixed with sweat and perfume in workout room, watching Mom, who at that time had kept her short haircut that she adopted after three kids, me being the last, all who loved pulling at her long hair.

Short-haired Mom lasted well beyond my toddler years. I remember her big round glasses and magenta housecoat with white frills down the chest. And I remember days on the river, her donning a visor and pink nylon shorts. Those were the days of falling asleep in Mom’s lap. On the couch, at the dinner table, or underneath a table at a restaurant, when I was ready to check out, I did so in the comfort of Mom’s lap. Occasionally Mom recognized my waning attention and sleepy eyes, and invited me to her lap.

Moms have instincts that few other individuals in this world can achieve. Moms have and always will know, since the days of diapers to now. My mom can still tell when I’m tired, not feeling well or hungry. Nothing has changed since I was a babe.

Fam photo

And it’s nice to know that now and then, you can still retreat to her when you need to. There will always be safety and peace in Mom’s arms.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Mom is her love for food. Mom spent countless hours in our garden and kitchen growing up. The culture of good food instilled in her was transferred to me. Her first clue that I would turn into a food lover was when she used to repeatedly catch me breaking things as toddler. I started walking earlier then most children, and often found myself digging into kitchen drawers and cabinets. Around the time that I found what I was searching for, which unfortunately was plates and china and glass serving dishes, Mom was always not far behind, “Aaron! Put that down!” And so I did, on the floor, only now it was in pieces. She quickly learned to place valuables out of reach, and I found new things to terrorize, and other ways to get injured.

And then, I was always tagging along in the garden and the kitchen with Mom. If I wasn’t following close behind her, gathering produce while she watered, I was hanging on her coattails as she made dinner. For those lucky enough to grow their own produce, they know about the magic of food. I’ve grown vegetable gardens almost every year since I was six years old. My mom taught us kids at an early age how and when to plant certain vegetables and how to take care of them throughout the year, tending to their needs for water, space, and sunshine. It’s amazing to watch a seed turn to sprout, turn to stalk, turn to plant, turn to eatable items.

Yesterday at lunch, we both swooned over a perfectly dressed arugula and zucchini salad, and quaffed a delightful strawberry rosé shrub. Shrubs are the perfect drink to made boozy for Mom’s day brunch, or virgin for hot summer days. I’m convinced I’ll find myself sipping on shrubs all summer long, so here’s a recipe so you can too.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Strawberry Shrub Adapted from Food 52 http://food52.com/recipes/12924-strawberry-shrub

Makes about 3 cups

  • 2 pounds fresh strawberries
  • 3 – 3 ½ cups white balsamic
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus additional to taste
  1. Wash strawberries well, and drain well in a colander. Remove stems and slice or quarter the berries, then transfer them to a non-reactive container that can be tightly sealed.
  2. Pour the vinegar over the berries. Seal the container and allow to rest at room temperature (or in refrigerator if leaving things out freaks you out) for 3 days, stirring once to twice daily.
  3. Transfer vinegar and berries to a non-reactive saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, then reduce heat to low. Simmer as gently as possible, uncovered for half an hour, stirring on occasion. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Discard leftover fruit.
  4. Pour a tablespoon or two of the mixture into a glass. Add seltzer water, then taste. Add sugar if desired. Once it is the desired sweetness, for 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer liquid to a bottle or glass jar, cool to room temperature, seal, and store in the fridge.