Dream of launching your own boutique wine label one day? Whether or not you fancy yourself as the next Robert Mondavi, the lovely, lofty fantasy of heading a Wine Country dynasty is close to the heart of many a wine aficionado.
Dream of launching your own boutique wine label one day? Whether or not you fancy yourself as the next Robert Mondavi, the lovely, lofty fantasy of heading a Wine Country dynasty is close to the heart of many a wine aficionado.
Pop by downtown Petaluma's Vine and Barrel Wine store this Saturday and for a mere $20 of your weekend fun money (come on, admit it, the economy may be tanking, but you've a spare twenty somewhere around the house for a bit of a respite from all the penny pinching during the week) you'll taste the love of 24 of the best zinfandels produced in the state of California.
Proprietor and Sonoma Country Life pal Jason Jenkins says: "We will have the best from this year's ZAP event at Fort Mason in January....thus, referring to our event as the Half-Zapped!" Kick starting the day by roasting an 80 pound pig at 7 o'clock in the morning, Jason plans a perfect afternoon pairing with all the Zinfandel he'll be pouring (plus plenty of cheeses to taste).
"This event is a classic and not be missed," says Jason. "Meet with Carol Shelton, herself, Scott Harvey, Ed Meades, gold Medal winner at Harvest Fair, Kenwood and Adobe Road! Madrigal, Trecini, Blue Nose, and more!"
If you can't make it in for the Half-Zapped extravaganza Saturday afternoon, the Vine and Barrel wine bar is open Friday and Saturday nights for the summer. Friday is live music night and Happy Hour is from 5-7pm when all glasses of wine are $2 off. Great way to unwind after a long week.
Vine and Barrel is located at 143 Kentucky Street, Petaluma. Call Jason at 707 765 1112 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation for Saturday's event.
You do have to admit to having heard of the increasingly common term of a "locavore"to describe those amongst us who are diligently and earnestly attempting to source the growing contents of our pantry, kitchen cabinets and fridge from familiar food sources in the nearby general growing vacinity.
So now that you are comfortable with that hip, contemporary term of endearment, it's time to move on to the next. And that is the fabulously trendy term of "Frugalista", first imparted to me by my good friend Lawrence, who knows more than any other fella in P'Town the full spectrum of modern terminology pertaining to anything remotely connected to trends (seeings as his wife brings him thousands upon thousands of her cutting-edge commercial photographs to photoshop to perfection).
The Frugalista knows how to shop smart. Not only for gently used clothing, but household goods, used bicycles, second hand cars. You name it - she's got a number speed-dialed into her (not previously used) I Phone. Downloading directions to second hand stores all over Sonoma County, our local Frugalista will most definitely be heading down to Petaluma's downtown Alphabet Soup Thrift Store, not only for a re-useable bag-load of back-to-school sweatshirts and PYSL soccer shorts, but with a Prius-trunk load of her own boisterous offspring's outgrown clothes and footwear, books, bikes, skateboards and all things worthy of another child's closet.
For Alphabet Soup is stepping up its Back to School campaign for keeping Petaluma's kids in the latest fashions, with good-quality hand-me-downs turning up on a day by day basis. Located at 213 Western Avenue, Alphabet Soup is a direct fundraising program for the Petaluma Educational Foundation. Operated by a dedicated team of volunteers and staff, the thrift store will for the first time be carrying a selection of brand-new basic back-to-school desk and backpack supplies. West-side kids can finally find a binder and pencil set within walking distance of home. That's a big deal in these days of gas economy.
Dropping off a couple of bag loads of loot the other day, I drooled over a beautiful, vintage road bike in the recently assembled back-to-school themed window display. "It's already sold," said Chair of Alphabet Soup Committee for PEF and store volunteer, Oralee Bean. Now this was the perfect example of a failed attempt as Frugalista-at-large, as I'm currently on the look-out for a good, used road-bike for environmentally-conscious (cash-tight) teen. Oh, well, will have to be quicker off the mark next time.
I did spot an adorable shabby/chic pale green, vintage bed frame and dresser, with dainty, antique roses painted on the drawers and headboard. Would have made a gorgeous set for any little girls room. Seeings as I don't have girls, it didn't make sense for me to make off with this particular Frugalista find.
A special "Back-to-School" celebration event will take place at Alphabet Soup on Saturday August 9th, from 10am to 5pm. Look out Frugalistas for a store-wide sale, plus a giving-tree for local students in need.
All profits from Alphabet Soup Thrift Store go directly to Petaluma area schools K-12 via PEF's excellent grant programs. Next time you are thinking of sorting through the over-stuffed closets of your well-dressed kids, do make a point of packing up the excess and outgrown and dropping it off at Alphabet Soup. It's sure to make some thrifty young shooper's day when they discover that pricey pair of quicksilver shorts, and barely worn skateboard shoes in their exact size.
Sunday afternoons are meant to be spent swathed in girlie pink, sipping raspberry mimosas and munching on delectable dainties before diving, in most ladylike fashion, of course, into magnificent serving of freshly concocted wine country-style, party Paella and drop-dead decadent mini desserts.
Stunning rose-petal-pink baby shower celebrations for fellow P'Town Brit Debbie (and not co-incidentally Wild Fox pastry chef extraordinaire) fully diverted a festive crowd of lovely ladies of all ages at the Wild Fox Restaurant in neighboring Marin. Highlight of the afternoon for the younger girls in their frills and summer party frocks was the grand entrance of the claw-toting main course (pictured atop).
At least two of the baby craw-fish ended up with a reprieve in the function room fountain. The Paella was a most impressive party piece and quite delicious, too! And the mum-to-be was perfectly aglow amidst an enormous pile of baby pressies!
Crikey, what on earth do we do with all the zucchini growing like crazy in the veggie gardens of wine country at this time of year. Plant any more than one little starter specimen back in May and you could have your own farmer's market booth by late July.
It's unbelievable how prolific those plants are here in Petaluma. Must be the perfect growing conditions. If I don't check on my two Jurassic Park-like leafy monsters every morning, I'm overwhelmed in super-sized zucchini the next. If only I'd had so much success with some of my other vegetable growing intentions this summer. For apart from the herbs and tomatoes (and grapes, goes without saying), the corn and pumpkin and salad leaf patch completely dried up in the heat of mid-July.
That means that I've had to be very creative with the culinary use of my number one crop right now. Zucchini every which way. The boys love zucchini muffins, with a little bit of cinnamon and a light sprinkling of brown sugar on top prior to baking. But how many zucchini muffins can anyone manage to consume in one month? That's where the freezer comes in handy. Have also whipped up several batches of zucchini bread to slice and wrap for the concession stand for middle son's soccer team commitment during upcoming Kickin' Chicken soccer tournament.
Youngest of my three sons is the most promising of the offspring in the fine arts of stocking the vineyard kitchen. He actually confessed to enjoying grating a mound of zucchini the other day, and has since accepted his summer-time fate in taking this tiresome job off my hands. He's surprisingly deft with the grater, painstakingly peeling each zucchini down to the last tiny piece.
Keeping a bowl of airtight, grated zucchini in the fridge saves time when cooking with this common garden veggie. My big thing this past couple of weeks is to whip up deliciously simple, super tasty half- recipe zucchini frittatas for breakfast, saving slices in the fridge for lunchtime sandwhiches and salads. Make a full sized frittata with dinner and it's the ideal side dish for barbecued meats.
Here's the recipe for the full-sized frittata, which serves up to eight people. Half this if you'd like a smaller one for breakfast! And don't discard those beautiful yellow blossoms. You can arrange them on top of the frittata before broiling for a brilliant, tasty effect.
Wine Country Zucchini Frittata (recipe by Frances Rivetti)
6 large eggs
3 egg whites
1/2 cup of milk
1 cup of grated ricotta salata
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/4 pound of grated zucchini
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons of freshly chopped herbs
1 garlic clove, minced
Whisk eggs, ricotta salata (also a delicious and distinctive alternative to parmesan for topping a summer pasta dish), milk, salt and pepper. Cook zucchini in a preheated oven-proof, olive oil coated skillet over the stovetop on a medium heat for sevenor eight minutes or so. Add herbs and garlic for another minute or so. Pour egg mix over the top of the zucchini and continue to heat for another five minutes. Lift the edges slightly with a spatula to allow the egg mixture to seep underneath the zucchini. Set blossoms in a design on the top of the moist frittata and broil on the top rack of the oven for three or four minutes until the frittata is bubbling slightly and golden. Remove from broiler and let rest for a few minutes. With a spatula, carefully slide the frittata on to a pretty serving plate and slice in wedges. To make a smaller version, cut the cooking time in each stage as appropriate. It's not hard to figure out!
It was bound to happen. The writing was on the wall. My beloved laptop is on its last legs and dying a long, drawn out death at the ripe old age of seven.
What can I say. I'm the loyal type. And I truly loved that trusty pc, with its funky, customized faux-wooden-jaguar-dashboard cover. It did me proud for many a year and many a freelance writer's project. All around the world, in fact.
But truth of the matter was an illicit affair with that hunky beefcake of the computer industry, Mr Mac was brewing. Every time I passed by one of those incredibly attractive Apple Stores, a sense of inevitability stole over my senses. Time for a switch back from PC to Mac.
Especially as I'm one of the kazillion Americans in the cue for a new I Phone. Might as well make the love triangle complete.
So I deliberately went out of my way to sign the two youngest Rivetti boys up for one of those way cool Apple Store summer camp sessions where they get to play around with the latest and greatest creative software with affable Apple camp counselors on hand to keep them occupied for an entire morning of high-tech discovery.
This was my alibi for the perfect excuse to implement my devious plan to put the old pc out to pasture. Some several trillion dollars later and right about the time the three hour camp got out, my impassioned infiltration to 'the other side' of the computer industry was almost complete.
Even sneakier was my plan to set the boys up with their new-found skills on the testy installation process for my beefcake of a new computer. Almost done. This may be one of the last few blog posts from the old favorite. Something tells me I'm well on my way to becoming a Mac Maniac.Once we step over the line, there's no going back....
Seems like every time I read a travel section of a favorite magazine or newspaper there is a story on tent and cabin camping in the vineyards somewhere or other in scenic wine country. Winery owners with savvy are sending summer season profits soaring with exclusive offerings for simple overnight stays and weekends amidst the grapevines. Wine country cuisine and stellar varietals making pricey overnight tickets all the more plausible, I presume.
Some wineries are going so far as to offer boot camps for sleepover visitors, who are happy to pay top dollar to be a part of the vineyard action, rolling up their biodegradable cotton sleeves and diving into various hands-on duties of the winemaker and vineyard crew.
Now this wouldn't be nearly so appealing if the grub wasn't so incredibly great. It's astonishing the lengths that city dwellers will go these days for a slice of the locavore lifestyle. Throw a couple of bottles of premium Pinot Noir into the package for dining under the vineyard stars and late night libations and the concept of camping in the vines is all the more romantic.
Anyone who has ever been into tent camping will know that this is not an overnight date opportunity with Mother Nature that transpires without a whole lot of (tent) strings attached. One of my fondest memories of tent camping with a car full of kids and canines and cousins from the UK, involves losing an entire collection of sleeping bags and pillows along River Road. Seemed my bungie-chord on the roof-rack technique was not as hot as the tarmac on the winding route home.
So the concept of camping somewhere bucolic where the tent or ideally, safari-style canvas cabin is up and ready for arrival, is certainly a tempting though costly alternative to pitching one's own. And cutting out the incredible amount of organization which goes into cramming one's kitchen contents into an oversized plastic container for all of 24 hours away is not nearly as enticing as a winemaker's dinner al fresco. Real plates. Wine glasses. Wine. Washing up included.
The boys were keen to go camping this summer. We even scoped out a couple of sites. Somehow leaving the tranquility of a short trip by foot to the top of our vineyard property seemed a bit silly. And so trusty old blue tent went up in the yard. Overlooking the vines and just far enough up the hill for us not to hear the giggles and ghost stories of the boys and their friends.
When the weather heats up once again, as it's bound to do, I'm planning on pumping up the airbed, hauling up some pretty linens, and having my own super-exclusive grown-up vineyard camp out up there under the stars. With dinner prepared in the kitchen down below. And a great bottle of house wine. Hold the camping reservations elsewhere, we're set!
Awoke with a start early this morning. My six o'clock reverie to roll seventeen year old son off his makeshift bed on the couch and send him off to his twice-weekly summer high school program in the city is a revelation in itself.
For unlike many of my closest forty-something girlfriends, I suffer from no lack of sleep whatsoever. I love to sleep. It ranks right up there with my top three or four favorite activities. Though, clearly getting up at 6am is an incredible opportunity for a work-at-home mother of three. Great time to blog, read the paper, do some research.To be honest, it's not like I haven't thought of it before. But I just can't bring myself to take on the sprite, early-riser regime.
We all know those relentless friends who formulate highly functioning lifestyles around 5am stints in the gym on work week days. One pal's husband actually drives from Petaluma to Mill Valley, parks, cycles over the Golden Gate Bridge to his office in the city, showers, works a full day, cycles back to his parked car, drives home and helps with the nightly bedtime routine of his three young kids. Mind boggling, brilliant, but not for me. Plodding around barefoot (even in winter) and be-robed, I'm a seven thirty, English Breakfast Tea type of girl. Always have been. Even on school days when it's a mad rush for the bathroom and boys waiting for rides in every direction.
This morning's 6am spectacular awakening was in the midst of a mad dream. Possibly because I am a good sleeper and I spend my full days and evenings in a constant round of productivity, I've a proclivity for the most vivid dream life.
Today's revealing episode was directly associated with the fact that we are now officially in the middle of week seven of the ten and a half week annual summertime school vacation. The first couple of weeks always start out on a positive flurry of day trips and an overnight or two, a determination to take in the beautiful natural surrounds of summer in Sonoma County. You know the sort of thing, beach afternoons, mornings down by the river, hikes, bike rides, maybe a ferry ride into the city. By week three the action-packed activities are beginning to wane. By week six the kids are not to be left alone with the remote control for any more than 20 seconds or the square eye syndrome will kick in. The novelty of sleeping in the tent in the yard has worn off. Friends are away on vacation. Things begin to get a little bit boring.
I sent the youngest boy and his friends out one afternoon while I was writing an assignment on deadline. "Go do what we used to do and have an adventure," I said. He's almost 10, not five or six. An hour later they came racing back home on their bikes, wide-eyed and adrenaline pumped. "We made a fort in a bush by the side of the street," they puffed (side of the street, being peaceful, quiet West P'Town neighborhood with neighborhood assn common land along the sidewalks). "A man in one of the houses behind the hedge starting yelling and screaming at us to get away." And that's how it is, "Go home," the man had hollered. "What the hell are you doing out here?" This, I am afraid is a sorry statement on modern American attitudes towards school vacation. Keep the kids locked up in institutional summer camps, send them to someone else for the sunny season, but don't let the little blighters bother us.
So back to the dream. I was driving a station wagon of some description. Night time. In San Francisco. And it was raining pretty hard. The car was packed with kids. Extra kids, not just my own three lanky lads. Two were strapped into the front passenger seat which I thought at the time was a little un-wise. Visibility was worsening by the minute and I was making my way across the hilly city by looking at the lights in the sky and the tallest landmarks lit up against the rain. I had a sense that the car would stay on track if I kept my sense of direction with my head held high. Don't look down. Don't look down! We stopped the car at a warehouse were we lined up inside with several bridal parties and a bunch of tourists to sample candies from around the world. Like you do. Back in the car with all the kids. A slightly disconcerting inner-city roller coaster ride with me at the helm was rudely interrupted by the alarm clock.
According to my handy "Dreamer's Dictionary" which offers 3,000 magical mirrors to reveal the meaning of my dreams, to dream of driving oneself is a warning to avoid gambling and be cautious in money matters for the next few weeks. Well, who would have guessed? And I was thinking it was that slightly 'out-of-control' parenting phenomena that only seven weeks of school vacation can produce.
Having so far in my life successfully managed to elude the gravitational pull south for the legendary Gilroy Garlic Festival, it was with some slight irony that my first encounter with this central valley city came a mere seven days ahead of the big, annual bonanza.
If you have been pining for my blog post missives over this busy weekend, a brief respite from the keyboard was required in order for necessary gadding around in the greater Gilroy region, on a girls-only roadtrip to descend upon far-flung book group member, Michelle, who happened to have her lovely, large, freshly landscaped home and swimming pool all to herself for the night.
The lengths that we women will go for the simple pleasures of an in-home, spa-style overnight, complete with margaritas, a no-nonsense summer salad supper, hot tubbing til midnight, girl talk and most of all, a change of scenery.
Granted, Gilroy may not be the first location to pop into mind when conjuring up an ideal get-away, but there are some surprisingly pleasing attributes to be enjoyed the further the excursion into the central valley.
The main one being that balmy ninety degree afternoons routinely mellow into marvelous alfresco dinner opportunities, with little call for the sweatshirts and outdoor heaters of famously fogged-in Sonoma County evenings.
After a couple of glasses of chardonnay during dinner, conversation naturally turned to the upcoming cultural festivity highlights of the Gilroy Community. Had anyone at the table ever attended the Garlic Festival? Not that anyone would admit to this extravagant indulgence in the Northern Californian entertainment calendar, though Michelle was planning on cementing her status as a fully-fledged Gilroy resident by making a point of popping in for some garlic fries next Saturday.
Perhaps Michelle will get a glimpse of plucky Miss Gilroy Garlic 2008, Ariele Combs,a 24-year-old university grad who beat out a bevy of hopeful Garlic Goddesses for this year's 30th anniversary festival with her smashing "Biggest Garlic" speech. The mind boggles, but it's all in a good cause, as the Garlic Festival has attracted several million visitors over the past three decades, making tons of money for local charities.
"Now that you have mentioned garlic," said Laura in between sips of wine, "I can smell it in the air." All five of us stopped mid-dinner and inhaled the glorious Gilroy evening air. "It's true," said Michelle, resident expert on Gilroy aroma. "Some days when it is excessively hot the whole region smells like garlic bread."
Now that would take some getting used to, wouldn't it? Unless you are really, really into garlic. The type who travels two hours to visit the festival for a scoop of garlic ice cream. Ugh! Though, it can't be any more disconcerting than a whiff of that pervading Petaluma poultry manure we are exposed to on the fields surrounding our fair Sonoma County city, I suppose.
Stopped off in Menlo Park on a detour back up North. Lunched with a former book group buddy who lives in what she describes as America's over-achievement municipality, not far from Stanford University.
"Everyone has either competed in an Olympic sport at some point in their life or they invented a multi-billion software component a year out of college," said Linda. Now that's a lot of pressure to perform.
Felt pretty content to crawl back over the Golden Gate Bridge through Marin and into Sonoma County. Plenty of food for thought in a 24-hour escape from Rivetti Mountain! It's not the destination nor the departure point, but the people we meet in between who color our lives with alternative perspective on home!