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Wine Stained Lips

2 Jun

Did everyone have a nice Memorial Day last weekend?  The long weekend always denotes the unofficial start to summer, and in the education profession, the difference in students is tangible once they are aware that the long weekend signifies summer is right around the corner.  Even this year, having not been in the classroom, I, too, am more than excited for the summertime.  It will be our last summer in the area, and I have my Oregon Bucket List growing daily.

In the meantime, as I look outside at the beautiful, sunny, warm day, I can’t help but reflect on some of my favorite things we’ve experienced in this area thus far.  The biggest one has to be the wineries.

Having not an ounce of the pretention NorCal wineries can be rumored to have, the Southern Oregon wineries are some of the best kept secrets of the wine world.  Literally, seriously, and truthfully, I’ve had some of the most amazing wines out of barrels and libraries in Oregon, and more importantly, have met even more amazing people in the process.  The Friday of Memorial Day weekend was a perfect example.

Rob and I decided to go to two wineries last Friday: King Estate (a very well-known Oregon winery), and TeSóAria, an up-and-coming phenom. We took our time tasting, enjoying the views, the conversation, and of course the wine.  Also unlike the Napa strip (which I say with love – Louis Martini is on that strip and still, to this day, Lot 1 Cabernet is hard to beat), the Southern Oregon wineries are physically far apart from one another.  Kind of a blessing really, as it forces the legal limits and saves the wallet from purchasing cases of what-was-the-name-of-that-grape-again? slurred through wine stained lips.  So as we make the hour and a half trek over to TeSóAria, we knew we were pushing the 5:00 closing pour.

But then, with a smile and a hug for me and a firm handshake for Rob, John Olson greeted us with exuberance, quickly introducing us to the other couple visiting that day.  One of my favorite songs of all time, REM’s “Nightswimming” was crooning in the background, softening the edges of an already comfortable surrounding.  After catching up, chatting about the new wines, and falling in love with Molly the Jack Russell Terrier, Rob and I realized we had stayed way past our patron welcome; 5:00 had come and gone as quickly as that last amazing taste of the new year’s Bulls Blood.  Stating that we realized we had kept him from his evening, John’s rebuttal was generous and hospitable – to the barrel room we went.  Rob almost skipped (oh I know you can picture it).

John had an unnamed bottle of a red blend – an experiment of sorts – unlike anything I’ve experienced in wine.  It could only be compared to when Robert Plant partnered with Alison Krauss for a duet album: big and bold, but subtle and complex.  Complimentary enough to pair with a steak (which we did), nonetheless multifaceted enough to stand alone (which it did).  While I won’t give away his blend varietals or percentages, I will say that the man is plain genius.

The night proceeded to unfold with private cellar tastings, and the six of us (by this time Joy, John’s wife had joined in on the fun – it would’ve be hard not to as we all, at that point, were standing in her kitchen) helped prep, cook, and enjoy dinner together.  We told stories, exchanged laughs, and marveled at how strange it was that all six of us knew Arizona’s Javelina Leap.  The view from the backyard patio, overlooking sun-kissed estate vines dewing from the evening Oregon mist, was in a word, magical.

We drove home happy, full, thankful, and blessed to have shared an evening with such simply wonderful people.

Like John’s wine, this memory should stand alone, unmuddled by my own soupçon.  So rather than give a huge life-changing feast of a recipe, I’ll leave a small taste, a simple indulgence.  We ate this the day after our dinner with the winemaker. The simple flavors really stand out in this dish; the lemon, and olive oil are like a quiet old married couple, content in love.  Savor the humility of the meal, enjoy with good wine, and create lifelong memories with fantastic friends, and family.

Herbed Pasta Salad (serves 6-8)

  • ½ lb (CHECK THE BOX) mini bowtie pasta
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil
  • 1 tsp chopped mint
  • ½ tsp chopped thyme
  • ¼ tsp chopped rosemary
  • 3-4 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon (you may want more juice when tasting)
  • s&p

In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente (still has a pleasant chew to it).

Meanwhile, mix the herbs in the bottom of a large bowl, and add the lemon zest and juice (really get in there with the juice.  Use a fork to prick the pulp if need be).  When the pasta is done, drain well.  Still warm, add the pasta to the herbs and quickly start drizzling the olive oil over the pasta.  Quickly mix well until everything is incorporated.  Season with s&p, and taste for more lemon. 

I like to garnish the pasta with paper-thin slices of lemon and whole basil leaves.  Serve at room temperature.  

Enjoy! 

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Food for the Sole

18 Jan

I think I’ve mentioned before the different types of “days” we would have that caused kids to rejoice, parents to groan, and school to inevitably be cancelled.  Last year, we had the typical Snow Day.  That was followed in the spring with a Tsunami Day.  In California, we had a Fire Day and occasionally kept the kids inside for recess due to bad air conditions.  I thought that about capped off the tank of the types of “days” causing school closures; that is, until 8pm last night.

Our school district has a wonderfully effective automated alert system used for any type of information that masses of Coos Bay folk should need to know.  However, when I saw “Coos Bay School District” pop up on my caller ID last night, my thought immediately went to what any normal person would feel when work was calling their house way past the 9-5; I’m half-way through dinner, and not enough sips of a drink in to honestly say I couldn’t drive back in to help out with whatever circumstance arose.  But immediately when I answer I hear the familiar automated voice of our Business Director canceling school tomorrow due to, you ready for this, wind.  Wind?  Yes, wind.

Initially, the feeling of ecstatic yay-I-get-to-sleep-in-and-watch-the-Today-Show-!! jubilation came jumping out as I gloated to my husband (and replayed the message on speaker while dancing around the kitchen).  I even called my mom to relay the fun news.  A Wind Day!  I think she even called me a “Lucky Duck.”

But then, as what seems to be happening more and more lately, and at an alarmingly rate, the adult in me kicks in.  Wind?  We live on the Southern Oregon Coast, where hurricane 50+ mph winds is just a stormy winter Tuesday for us.  This was different.  One of the worst storms in years was about to hit the Pacific Northwest, putting Seattle under a blizzard and giving Coastal towns the jolt of a lifetime: 90 mph winds and heavy rain were expected – enough to keep little Siglet from walking in a straight line outside, enough to make us prepare a safe room incase the windows blew out, and definitely enough to close schools.

I know wind – my family had the fortunate experiences of living in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas, all giving us their share of tornadoes – one even on our moving day.  But for some reason, I didn’t feel prepared for this storm.  I know how the Arctic winds howl off the ocean in these parts, and even on a “good” day it can knock you off your feet and chill you to the bone.

When Rob and I went to bed last night, we knew it wouldn’t be pretty.  What neither of us expected was to feel the constant vibrations, shaking, and deafening jolts of winds and rains so harsh and angry that not even earthquakes can compare.  The shaking of an earthquake stops, eventually.  But these gusts of wind just kept on coming with a fast-ball-wind-up to smack our little house daring it to stand a chance.  The neighbor’s forgotten trashcan made hollow noises on the street, like a kid smacking a plastic toy on the wood floor.  The sound of the wind was completely anticipated, yet shocking, like violent waves of an ocean crashing into rocks.  By the morning time, after a night of on-and-off-jolted-out-of-I-finally-relaxed-sleep shenanigans, the wind was more like waves of nausea.

Rob got up and went to work – it was another military realization (for me) that while my profession was put on hold for safety for a day, his was more than expected to perform.  After a power outage that swept the Oregon Coast (Sig and I tried to take a nap in the daytime darkness, but it ended up being last night, round 2), I remembered the thing that Rob and I were so enjoying last night before our wind day preparations began: Dinner.

Our fishmonger had some beautiful Petrale Sole, and I splurged a bit to get some.  Even Rob was excited.  I thought about our usual Sole dishes – Sole Meuniere, Baked Sole, Stuffed Sole, or just plain pan seared with tarter sauce – they all sounded good.  But one thing sounded better: Cioppino.  It was a cold night, we knew a storm was coming, and the spicy warming fish soup just sounded perfect.

And it was.  This might be in the top ten.  I actually didn’t use any other fish that is usually called for in Cioppino because, 1) Rob won’t eat it, and 2) I wanted the subtle taste of the Sole to stand out.  I even left the pieces whole when putting them into the soup to let them delicately break as they saw fit, leaving big fresh pieces the stars among the humble veg and slurpable broth.  Topped with a simple but flavorful tarragon and caper aioli, the flavors were fantastic.

During a day like today, when turning off the outside and getting some sleep was not an option, I was so (so, so, so, so) glad there were leftovers.  Even as I write, the rain is constant and the wind is relentless, but at least Sig is taking a nap by the fire (actually, he’s so exhausted that his head is literally hanging off the edge of the couch… poor guy).  And I got my Cioppino.  Talk about comfort food.  Lucky me.

Sole Cioppino with Tarragon Caper Aioli
(serves 4)

  • ½ lb. Petrale or Dover Sole
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, diced (save about 1 tbsp of the frawns)
  • 1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped or broken up with your hands (discard can juice)
  • ½ c full bodied white wine (I used a buttery Chardonnay)
  • 2 c water
  • ½ a lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • s&p

 Tarragon Caper Aioli
(makes a large ½ c)

  • 3 large tbsp good mayo
  • zest of a whole lemon
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • a couple dashes of Tabasco Sauce
  • 3 tsp capers, roughly chopped
  • 2 full sprigs of tarragon, chopped
  • about 1 tbsp fennel frawns, chopped
  • s&p

 First, make the aioli – combine all ingredients in a small bowl and taste for seasoning.  Set aside (the longer this sits, the more married the flavors will become, which is a good thing). 

For the Cioppino, heat the butter in a large shallow pot over med-high heat.  Add the butter and a pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent.  Then, add in the fennel and celery, a pinch of salt, and sauté until soft.  Add the garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant, about 1 minute.  Pour in the wine, and let it simmer and reduce for about 2 minutes.  Add in the red pepper flakes and bay leaves, as well as the juice of ½ a lemon, and pour in the water.  Also, cut the half of the lemon just used into quarters.  Add the lemon quarters to the pot.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cover for about 5 minutes (this is an important step – it really creates a light and flavorful broth). 

After about 5 minutes, uncover the pot and add in the tomatoes, and simmer again, covered for another 5 minutes.  The soup should be chunky, but still have the presence of broth.  Taste for seasoning. 

Add in the whole Sole pieces – really nestle them into the soup, and cover again for about 3 minutes, until the Sole is cooked through.  Since Sole filets are very delicate and thin, they cook fast and will start to naturally break apart in the soup. 

Ladle into big bowls, and top with a dollop of the aioli.  Inhale the spicy, herby, sea-watery scent, and Enjoy!! 

Veg au Vin

8 Oct

I’m stuffed.  Rob and I are lying here, watching Notre Dame spank the Air Force, bellies full and grumbling with happy digestion.  The thing is, I don’t know what I just cooked.

“What should I call it?” I asked, my hands on hips showing a slight frustration.

“I don’t know,” Rob was not as perturbed as me, “what is it?”

“Well, I don’t really know.  It’s not a stew, and definitely not a soup.  It’s more of a braise,” my voice trailing a bit.

“Ok, then it’s a braise.”  Problem solved in Rob’s eyes – such a guy.

“Yes, but what do I call it?”

The cyclical nature of our conversation was cut short from the overwhelmingly hoppy smell coming from the oven – Cheddar Apple Beer Bread – the perfect side dish for whatever it was I just made.

It’s not a cold Oregon day today, but cloudy and it definitely has a fall vibe.  A day for relaxing, Rob made it clear that Notre Dame football was in the cards, and being a gal who actually enjoying the talking head commentators, muffed roar of stadiums, and the occasional adrenaline induced touchdown dance, there was no argument.   Sig agreed with our plan as well; his sleepy head currently hanging off the side of his bed is a perfect picture of the day’s tangible vibe.  But Sig didn’t get to enjoy what is putting me on the brink of falling into a food-baby coma right now (if sentences start looking like this: ioasdaf;asdfjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj, pardon me – my head probably hit the keyboard).

So what did I make?  Well, it’s already been determined that, well, we don’t know.  But the closest thing I can compare it to is veggies braised in wine.  Thus, Veg au Vin.  Our CSA basket is still providing beautiful and bountiful veg, and having been out of town for most of last week and a bit of this week, the build up meant we couldn’t shut the crisper door.  It was time to do what the CSA basket forces me to do – be culinarily creative.

It was actually a very easy dish to make, and probably one of the best veggie dishes I’ve ever cooked – not trying to toot my own horn here, just being honest.  This Veg au Vin was a discovered concoction of what has to have come from a higher nutritional power, as it did not taste twigs-and-nuts healthy, but rich, smokey, flavorful, and hearty.  Topped with a fresh radish “gremolata” (a gremolata is typical for many braised dishes), and paired with the Cheddar Apple Beer Bread, we had the perfect meal for a football soaked, lazy-bones celebration of a day.

And now, I must let the sounds of whistles and college band fight songs coax me into a nap (Rob and Sig already have a head start).

Veg au Vin

  • 3 strips of thick bacon, diced
  • 4 carrots, halved and thickly sliced
  • 3 celery stalks, thickly sliced
  • 2 bell peppers (I used red and green), chopped into chunks
  • 1 large white onion, chopped into chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 med head cauiflower, chopped into chunks
  • 1 med head broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 2 med zuchinni, halved and thickly sliced
  • 1 large chipotle pepper, minced
  • 1 small sprig rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ¾ c red wine (I used a rich Washington Cabernet)
  • s&p

Brown the bacon in a heavy bottomed pot.  When crispy, remove and set aside on paper towel.  Saute the onion, carrot, celery, bell peppers, and garlic in the bacon drippings.  When just starting to turn soft, add the rest of the veg, and pour in the wine.  Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot.  Add the herbs, cumin, s&p, mix, and cover for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The last 5 minutes, uncover, stir, taste for seasoning, and turn off the heat.

Serve in large bowl with your favorite bread, and top with Radish Gremolata.

Enjoy!

Radish Gremolata

  • 2 large radishes, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients together in small bowl.  Let sit for about 5-10 minutes for flavors to come together.  Top on Veg au Vin.

Enjoy!

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