We've been getting rain, which is so needed, but it means I don't have the DIY post I had scheduled for this week. Instead, read about my birthday weekend over on my other blog. It was a beautiful few days. :)
My weekend warrior-ness was struck down this weekend by the flu, but I didn’t want to let February slide by without at least commenting on my third blogiversary.
On February 17, 2010, I started Book Syrup, my blog on the page named after my online alter ego, pixyofwhimsy. (Back in the olden days of the internet, my handle was whimsy, but as service providers grew and combined and short names were no longer available, so did my handle.)
When I started the blog, I just wanted a place to write. I’ve been writing for as long as I’ve known how to string a sentence together, but this wee blog called to me as a way to share more of who I was, what my interests were.
Being trained to be a journalist, I had learned to take myself out of my stories, and Book Syrup has allowed me to put myself back in, to be my own story.
I love this blog so much, and I really appreciate all of you who take the time to wander on the meandering paths of my mind with me.
It began with a quest for writing freedom, morphed into a place for me to expound on my foodie side (that blog now exists in a different form elsewhere), and finally into me sharing the struggles of trying to nice-ify and create a home from a house that was built as a cookie cutter 70s vacation home in a little town called Nevada City.
Writing about home has taken on different aspects through the years, until I shared the internal monologue of the home of my mind as much as home improvement tips. My hopes for the year are to continue to give you, my glorious readers, more access into who I am, as well as writing about more home projects. Plus, I’ve been itching to write short stories again, so my goal is to share one with you each week, hopefully on Thursdays.
To many more years of blogging, writing, expounding, and interacting!
(Re-posted from my food blog.)
The skies were dreary and overcast. My wool pea coat was a must and was destined to be drenched multiple times. A pub and a pint by a crackling fire beckoned, but I was on a gastronomic mission – to eat at as many great restaurants in Winchester as possible.
We were visiting my sister, a recent Masters graduate from the Winchester School of Art. People had made fun of our culinary pursuits while in England – don’t they boil everything? – but we persevered and were rewarded with a week’s worth of wonderful meals. Winchester is actually a hub of a town with a teeming culture.
To begin our eatery extravaganza, we did in fact choose a pub. We were in England after all! At the Royal Oak, I opted for the Fish & Chips, and I was not disappointed. The haddock had wonderful flavor, the batter light and crunchy. The serving was huge – too much to consume in one sitting. The only unfortunate aspect was that it was presented on a wooden tray that had obviously been abused with frequent washing. (I was also not a fan of mushy peas, sorry!)
Trying Indian food was a must. I grew up in Yuba City (it’s often referred to as “Little India” because of the large Sikh population), which means that I also grew up with Indian cuisine, and I was curious to experience the differences – if any – from across the pond. The waiter didn’t believe that I could handle the spice in my meal, I ordered madras, but I could have handled more. We shared some lovely garlic naan and a bottle of Riesling for a very satisfying meal.
At Rimjhim, we waited – and waited – for the bill. We had encountered the lovely, non-pushy restaurant culture in Great Britain. They’ll let you sit there for hours if you don’t tell them you’d like the bill that last time the waiter or waitress stops by and asks if you’d like anything else. (When we ended up wanting dessert at another place after our meal, we had to practically pounce on a member of the staff in order to procure our bill.) After being left alone for what seemed like an eternity, we finally walked up to the register.
With traditional pub food and Indian out of the way, the next stop on our culinary journey was, of course, Italian. Zizzi was a bit haughty, and they sat our riffraff selves in a corner behind a life-sized statue of a horse, but my Ravioli Di Capra was divine, and the Barbera De Asti Superiore 2010 D.O.C.G., Chiarlo Piemonte was quite lovely with the food. It did sport more than a touch of Brett, to which I’m very sensitive (I think it tastes like Band-Aids), so it wasn’t my favorite, though that Brettanomyces, along with its restrained mineral characteristics, made it very European.
On our last day, we kept it Mediterranean and headed to Spain. El Sabio had a wonderful assortment of tapas. My choice of three dishes, Croquetas De Setas y Queso de Cabrales, Ensalada Mixta, and Albóndigas en Salsa de Tomate were perfect and packed with flavor. We shared a bottle of Tempranillo, Marqués de Verdellano for a very easy-going, and very filling, lunch.
I think our favorite stop of all was The Black Bottle – not a restaurant, though they do offer food, but rather a wine bar. With a card that had been charged from money given at the register, you could choose wine by the glass in 125 ml, 175 ml, or taste sizes. I had a grand time skipping around and sampling various wines from the automated dispensers until I happened upon my favorite, Masseria Pietrosa Malvasia Nera, and had a glass. I love it and am hoping to find a distributor here in the States. Thank goodness I live with a wine buyer!
All in all, our gastronomic tour of Winchester was a rousing success. We had a wonderful experience, and with all of the walking we did, I managed not to gain any weight, so, WIN!
The sun gifts us with the first light of day.
As it climbs higher in the sky, I will experience a slight ache in my back, an amazing sense of satisfaction, and a very minor buzzing in my head – the ache from harvesting grapes grown in the traditional, Italian way (tight rows and low-hanging fruit), the satisfaction from working as hard and as quickly as possible among the vines, and the buzz from the amazing champagne brunch that is our payment for a job well done.
For the past three seasons, my Charles and I have helped in Montoliva’s harvest of its estate-grown Sangiovese grapes. Each year, it’s gotten easier. In part, this is because we’re getting a bit better, but more of the success has come from nicer weather.
The harvest in 2010 was on Halloween. It was cold and stormy. It had rained the night before, so even though I was wearing a sweater underneath my raincoat, I was drenched and shivering within five minutes. 2011 was warmer and more pleasant, though there had been some moisture, so we dealt with a small amount of rot. Plus, I forgot to bring our gloves, so my Charles and I both managed to nick ourselves with our clippers. 2012 was hot and dry. The bunches were big and beautiful and dusty – no moisture, and therefore no rot, to be found.
This year’s crew was also outstanding. For the first time, the entire estate was harvested on the same day, and not only that, it was harvested in a few hours. Everyone kicked some major ass and took some major names. My Charles and I were home by noon, feeling good, though tired, and cheered by a beautiful, warm morning spent out amongst the vines.
2012 is going to be an amazing year for California wines.
Our little house is a shambles right now, though I'll be updating you as soon as we've made some progress on the repairs. So far, we're replacing studs and the header supports that have dry rot. It's much of the same type of work that we did the last time. We hope to have a new sliding glass door installed in the next couple of days, so when my Charles and I attempt that, I'll bring you the play-by-play. Until then, please enjoy my recap of my recent trip to Portland, originally posted on my food blog.
I just got back from a business trip in Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately due to luggage restrictions/items I needed to bring, I had to leave the camera at home. Since I didn’t get any Portland photos, I did the next best thing — I’m sharing one of the awesome velvet paintings my friend, Chris, has created for me. Chris lives in Portland, ergo, Portland photo! Erm, sort-of, right? Anyway… let’s move on. Portland is a foodie paradise, and even more, a beer-lover’s dream. I consumed way more beer than was good for me, but I had to pack so much consumption into such a short space of time, you really can’t blame me.
The first evening found us at Deschutes Brewery. There, I had the great presence of mind to order a Hop in the Dark. I was a bit skeptical — a dark ale with hops? The resiny flavor played nicely with the chocolate sweetness of the malt. Who knew the two could be such great friends?
My next stop was dinner. While I’ve been told the restaurant at Deschutes is dynamite, I was overruled by my group, so we moved on. After being disappointed that all of the food trucks were closed, we continued to what appeared to be (at least on the outside) a hole-in-the-wall eatery with some nice, outdoor seating. I have to say, the Dan & Louis Oyster Bar makes a spectacular salad. I enjoyed a half salad of the Dungeness Crab Louis with a marionberry vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was spectacular. I can’t recommend it enough. I’m going to need to replicate it, in fact. Dinner was washed down with a Fish Tale Organic Amber Ale, a beer I know quite well and just wanted to enjoy.
There was no hesitation when it came to our next stop, plus it was just down the street. It’s almost a requirement to get a unique concoction at Voodoo Doughnut when you’re visiting the City of Roses. I had their Bacon Maple Bar. It was… weird — keeping Portland as it should be, I guess. I ate the whole thing, odd or not.
Then it was on to a nightcap at Rogue. By this time my head was spinning, what with all of the, um, sugar and socialization, so I opted for an old favorite — Dead Guy Ale. I did indulge in a sample of Rogue’s ode to Voodoo Doughnut, its Bacon Maple Ale. I’m sad to admit that it was the first Rogue creation I haven’t enjoyed. The liquid smoke flavors coupled with the maple sugary-ness just weren’t my thing.
After a full day of learning, my next dinner excursion was at The Original. Holy mother of … really, there should be a special award for places that make food this delectable. I intended to get the beef stroganoff and had ordered my beer accordingly, but I was wooed by the braised pork shank. I was completely under the spell of the so-tender-it-was-falling-off-the-bone meat drizzled in a brown butter sherry sauce. I have no words. Recalling how staggeringly good that meal was makes me want to weep. Fortunately, the sauce allowed my equally amazing beer to compliment the meal. The Original had Fort George Bourbon Barrel Cavatica Stout on tap. What a gorgeous beer! Black, malty, sweet, and smooth — I wish I had purchased a case.
And that was it, a short adventure filled with brewed and culinary pleasures. I gained a lot of knowledge on new, awesome techniques in social networking, gained some new friends and colleagues, and most definitely gained some pounds. It was great. Stay weird, Portland, and stay yummy!
Recently, I needed to create a new food blog location for work. Seizing the opportunity, I created it for me, too. I'll be posting most of my recipes, coffee, etc. writing over there. I'm still deciding on wine and beer -- I may post both places, I may just post there. But if you enjoy my foodie nature, please visit Sapid Cellar Door.
I had this amazing idea in my mind -- writing this awesome tutorial for turning an IKEA dresser into a bench. I thought it would be, well, epic. It was maybe an epic fail, but not a very good tutorial. I purchased a RAST. The idea of a $35 converted bench was so exciting. I ended up managing to make a seat -- for a little kid. It's small. It's cheap pine. It tried to split each time I waved the drill in its general direction. It didn't work. It is now destined for the thrift store
Dinner tonight was a definite win. Cypress Grove's dill chevre, PsycheDillic, spread on Breadnik's Bread of the Month, Sunshine Bread -- basically a savory sweet potato bread -- and topped with fresh blueberries, walnuts, and local honey. I served it with a Navarro Gewurztraminer and a green salad... amazing doesn't even cover the awesomeness of the meal. Seriously, try it with comparable ingredients in your area. You'll thank me. You will. I'll accept gifts inspired by your gratitude.
There's a bit too much Anne Shirley in me. I have a habit of getting into scrapes (more on my most recent one next week) and of not being able to follow recipes properly.
Case in point, my Thanksgiving turkey this year. I got a recipe from Food Network in my inbox and thought, "This sounds mighty tasty." I'm a big fan of brining turkey, and the list of ingredients intrigued me. What's more, I was teaching a former vegetarian friend how to cook a turkey this year, and I thought the instructions sounded quite easy to follow.
Thank goodness for my friend, Aimee! I picked up the ingredients in advance and began to prep the veggies that would be put in the brine. She noticed that instead of purchasing apple cider, I had gotten apple cider vinegar. Classic Mellisa cooking in action. We used the vinegar instead -- I thought the tang would be interesting, and the extra acidity would help with tenderizing the bird.
The next morning, I was regretting that decision. What if we pickled our birds? This was Aimee's first Thanksgiving turkey -- what if my inattentiveness had ruined it? I racked my brain for options. I knew it needed to be in the same flavor profile as the vinegar. It needed to be sweet to balance the tanginess. What to use? Ah, apple butter would be perfect! The sweet and spicy and apple-y-ness would work wonders (I hoped). I picked up a couple of jars, dropped one off at Aimee's house, and took one home to my turkey.
After patting the bird dry, I separated the skin from the rest of the carcass then liberally coated the between part with the apple butter and one stick of butter. I coated the cavity as well to make sure that everything would be graced with the apple numminess and followed the rest of the directions from the recipe PROPERLY.
Thankfully, it turned out wonderfully. I may use the altered recipe again next year. It would make a splendid Christmas turkey, too. Of course, I could always try to follow the recipe correctly, but that might just be an impossible feat.
My favorite lasagna recipe involves seasonal acorn squash and oodles of ricotta. It's a Martha recipe, but of course, I can't follow her directions to the letter, so my creation is a little easier to make -- I layer squash AND cheese on the same layers. Scandalous, I know! Of course, I also use whole wheat noodles I have to cook as well as real acorn squash I have to treat the same way, so in that sense, I've made it a more difficult recipe than the original. Be that as it may, I've made this dish a few times this fall, and it's always a hit.
To prepare the squash, cut it in half and scrape out the seeds. Rub butter on the cut halves and place in a 350 degree, preheated oven. Cook about 45 minutes or until a fork easily slides into the squash. Let cool and scoop out of the shell. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and mash with a fork until nicely combined. Then follow The Martha's directions to create some tasty, tasty lasagna.
After a late frost and a couple of heavy hail storms, it looked like stone fruits weren’t going to happen this year. I get as excited about peaches and apricots in summer as I used to as an eight-year-old on Christmas Eve, so I was feeling very heavy hearted when the farmers saw the blossoms on their trees falling.
What may have been considered a Christmas miracle, a bit early perhaps, happened when stone fruit actually began to appear in the local farmers markets, and when Chaffin Orchards offered a deal on a lug of peaches, I jumped at the chance. I couldn’t suppress my eagerness, actually, and purchased two lugs, basically 45 pounds of peaches!
That many beautiful, heirloom orbs of sweetness meant that I needed to do some heavy canning this weekend. I love to preserve food. There’s something almost supernatural about preparing food, putting it in jars, and making it become shelf stable with a thing as mundane as boiling water. Hearing jars seal makes me feel like I’m magic.
My favorite creation of the weekend was Peach Vanilla Bean Jam. It was an interpretation of a recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and another from smells-like-home.com. I’ll include the recipe for my jam as well as including the measurements for a smaller batch.
Peach Vanilla Bean Jam
Makes 18 pints (or 4+ pints)
15 pounds peaches, blanched, skinned, and pitted (3 pounds)
1 ¼ cups lemon juice (1/4 cup)
2 packages Pomona’s Universal Pectin (1/2 package)
6 vanilla beans, cut open (1-2 beans)
20 cups evaporated cane sugar (4 cups)
Sterilize jars in boiling water, 10 minutes for sea level. Add a minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level. For instance, we live at 3600 Ft., so I sterilized the jars for 14 minutes.
Place peaches in a food processor and mix until peaches are crushed or crush by hand. Put crushed peaches in a very large pot, add lemon juice and pectin, and stir well. Place on high heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a full boil. Add vanilla pods. Add sugar and heat again to a full boil, stirring constantly. Cook for one minute more, remove from heat, skim if needed, remove vanilla pods, and spoon jam into hot jars using a ladle and wide mouth funnel. Leave ¼ inch of headspace.
Screw on both pieces of the lid and process in a boiling water canner. Process for 5 minutes at sea level to 1,000 Ft., 10 minutes for 1,001 to 6,000 Ft., and 15 minutes above 6,000 Ft.
Remove jars using a pair of canning tongs. Place jars on a towel on the counter and let sit until cool. As jam cools, the sound of the lids sealing will occur, and it sounds so cool!
This jam is the dream of anyone with a sweet tooth. It would be amazing on vanilla ice cream as well as being used on English muffins, pancakes, or anywhere else you can imagine jam hanging out. It’s also pretty awesome spooned straight from the jar.
A blog about writing, art, projects, or whatever else tickles my fancy.