Tag Archives: wine

Happy Harvest Season

8 Oct

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Is there anything better than the start of autumn? The cooler weather, fresh and breezy air, and all the yummy food that arise at this time all bring about a welcomed reset button. At the first feel of a slight wind, I’ve got 5-year olds yelling, “It’s autumn! Can you feeeeeel it?!”

Years ago, when I lived in Orange County, California, I worked at a year-round school where we started the year in July and received a 3-week fall break come the end of September. Oh holy goodness that break was so exciting! For the last week in September, and half of October, I gallivanted around SoCal visiting farmers markets, specialty food shops, and cooked most of the days away. The very best part, however, was taking a yearly trip up to Napa to visit my friend, Heather, who just happened to work for a very prominent winery.

Traveling to Northern California specifically during the grape harvest is simply special. There is a magic in the air matched only to that first nose, first swirl, first sip of fabulous wine.   The wine in Napa is big and exciting – tastes of fruit, mineral, and spices inevitably convert the faint of heart. Those in Sonoma are intricate, earthy, hitting the front of the tongue with brightness and pungency and almost leaving a feeling of urgency for more. Even the everyday oyster crackers served to cleanse the palate tasted better in wine country. As written endlessly in boundless foodie mags, the restaurants are fabulous, the food is fresh, and the locavore movement is thriving. Just thinking about the smell of hot, vine-laden grapes (sweet, earthy, and pungent) and the sight of the Russian River Valley (breathtaking does not do justice), literally makes me want to pop open a bottle right here and now.

Please excuse the drool.

Moving from California to Oregon created some initial sadness, but as Rob and I quickly warmed to the cold and wet climate, and we found a whole new world of wines. Not only was the now-infamous Willamette Valley a mere day-trip away, but the Umpqua Valley wineries proved to be some of our favorites. They were smaller, quainter, and not at all stuffy as the winemakers themselves would be happy to pour a perfectly Oregon-air-chilled glass of Baco Noir and chat the day away. Our Oregon wine excursions created a brand new set of memories of the Harvest Season. We would pack a lunch, sit on a picnic table in the vines or one overlooking the cascading evergreen hills with pockets of clouds blurring their branches, sip wine, and just be. It was quiet; not much talking, and there were never any hooting wine tour buses tainting the experience, nor the pressure to “hit up” as many wineries as possible. The whole experience was so relaxing, so picturesque, so perfect it felt unreal.

Recently, my mom and I went antiquing and I found a gem of a book: West Coast Cookbook by Helen Brown. The copyright is in Roman Numerals (which I’m convinced were invented only to make people’s shoulders drop and eyes roll), and after too-much-for-an-educated person-deliberation, I figured the copyright was 1952.

This book has more character and personality then expected in a dusty, antique find, and filled with so much culinary information. Aspics, cheese, bread, game meat, coffee, chocolate, all have sections devoted to their significant history rooted in the West, and Ms. Brown discussed it with mouthwatering eloquence. Phrases like, “You can’t turn off a cow,” and “tortillas are the staff of life,” keep the pages turning and the stomach grumbling. That is, until my eyes stumbled upon this:

“This is a vinous book. Good food is nothing without good wine, and our generous use of it as a beverage and as a necessary part of our cookery has much to do with the pleasure of our table…. When I speak of our wines, I mean Californian. The amount produced in Oregon and Washington is negligible.”

What?! Oregon, Washington – insignificant wine? Sorry Helen, you’re wrong on this one. While California has its fancy viticulture charm, the Pacific Northwest has its own delicious backbone of wine history that California would be envious of (but surely never admit).

Alas, it’s a pain in the neck to hold a grudge, so I won’t. Helen is still a cool gal. So as I’m remembering Harvest Days memories, and enjoying my antique find, a fantastic meal dedicated to the West during the Harvest Season is in order. Turning to the Fish & Shellfish section of the cookbook, Ms. Brown states “fish is not a food to be eaten only when nothing else is available, but is, when properly prepared, food as good as it comes.”

Ain’t that the truth?

So here it comes: good food! To be paired perfectly with good wine, no less!

There are a few parts to this Smoked Salmon Layered Salad. First off, layering salads should be the new thang if you ask me. They are so pretty and so much fun to eat. Oh, and a whole meal served on one giant plate, family style. Easy? Yes. No fuss?   No problem. And the gourmet-ish mushroom croutons? Get out of town! Such a show stopper.

Pair this meal with a great glass of Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay, and you’ve got yourself a West Coast, harvest-inspired meal. Enjoy!

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Smoked Salmon Layered Salad
(serves 4)

  • 2 tins of quality, hot smoked salmon (for the canned version, King or Coho would be best; Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston, OR, and Josephson’s in Astoria, OR both ship throughout the country).
  • 1 lb. fresh, end of the summer green beans, cleaned and stem-end removed
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced into ½ -in pieces
  • 1 head tender lettuce – either romaine, red lettuce, or the baby lettuce mix from a bag. If using romaine or red lettuce, roughly chop.
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

** This meal pairs perfectly with Oregon Pinot Noir (I love Giradet from the Umpqua Valley), California Rose (Louis Martini makes a good one found in the heart of Napa), and Washington Chardonnay (Three Rivers is a great Columbia Valley un-oaked version).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the sweet potato dices on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, s&p. Roast the sweet potatoes until the edges are browned and the insides are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the green beans by seething them in a large sauté pan. Seething is a combination of steaming and sautéing in one pan. Put the green beans in the pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil, ¼ c water, and a good pinch of s&p. Heat over medium heat, turning the green beans often, until the liquid has cooked away, and the green beans are bright and cooked through (the beans should still retain a bit of a crunch – they should not have the texture of a stewed bean). When the beans are done, set aside.

To make the mushroom “croutons,” simply put the mushrooms in a sauté pan with the 2 tbsp of butter on med-high heat. Stir, then let be to brown, stir, then let be to brown, until all the mushroom pieces are so browned and lovely, and almost crunchy. Transfer mushrooms to a paper towel-lined plate, season with a bit of salt, and let cool. They will continue to crunch-up while cooling. (Seriously, these things are addicting. They may not even make it to the salad.)

To make the dressing, mix the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, and a pinch of s&p together. While pouring in the extra virgin olive oil, whisk until combined and smooth. Set aside.

For the smoked salmon, open the container, drain if necessary, and flake the salmon using a fork. Set aside.

Now for the assembly! On a large serving plate, first put down the lettuce, and then sprinkle over the sweet potatoes, and the chopped thyme. Then evenly spread out the green beans, and the smoked salmon. Top with the mushroom croutons, and serve with the dressing in a carafe on the side for individual drizzling (I’ve found that this salad has enough flavor as is, that some enjoy without the dressing).

Dig in, image you are sitting among the vines, and enjoy!

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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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