Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Busy, Not Lazy

We have been very, very busy lately, partly vacationing and that was good fun. Two weeks ago we were here: Here would be the beautiful waters at Kailua, Hawaii where we spent a week with cousins Michelle and Rod. We ate lots of pineapple, drank lots of wine and saw the entire island of Oahu except for the dirt road that connects the west coast with the north shore. We came home late last Tuesday and Wednesday we were harvesting our Cabernet Franc grapes due to the extremely warm weather before we left. Here I am, running the crusher/de-stemmer for all 200 pounds of fruit. The Cabernet Sauvignon's are not ready yet, but soon. The wine is now fermenting in the chamber, which in other seasons is used as a powder room. Tomorrow we will attend a canning and preserving class at VIVA, The Culinary Institute of Florence in Sebastopol. Friday, if we are lucky, Daisy (Greyhair's mommy) will be visiting for a few days.

Busy, busy, busy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Saturday Rituals

Here at La Dolce Vita we have a Saturday routine and cookfest that takes up much of the day. Every Saturday, unless we are out of town, we have a ritual that we both eagerly anticipate so much you wouldn't know we are retired and can do whatever we want to on any given day.

Close to 10:00 am, we load our bags into the car and head for Starbucks to grab a coffee, then to the Farmer's Market, rain or shine. Living in places of agricultural abundance (first Visalia, then Santa Rosa) has taught us that we can always find fresh seasonal produce at the Farmer's Market. En route, we start our NPR-a-thon with Car Talk.

After we've trolled the F.M. and come away with fresh eggs, tomatoes, corn, berries, garlic, cucumbers, nectarines, grapes, onions, pork and green beans (this week) we drive through the historic district of town and on to other errands unless the weather is too hot. Whilst doing all this we are listening to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" also on NPR and usually answering the questions correctly because it is a current events/news quiz and we are paying attention to same.

Finally, we go to Oliver's an independent market and competitor to Whole Foods, but locally owned. There we pick up whatever we didn't get at the F.M. and head for home listening to "This American Life," also on NPR. While I put the groceries away I continue to listen to TAL, my favorite program on radio or TV of all time and then its time for lunch and a nap.

This particular Saturday, we bought 15 pounds of pickling cucumbers and 2 boxes of pint jars for same. Why pickle, when so many companies make delicious dill pickles? White vinegar. Made from corn, a no-no in Greyhair's diet these days. Plus, no telling how many other additives that are not advisable to eat So, pickle we did. His Greyness has been checking out recipes online and comparing them to his Dad's recipe that we fondly call "Bill's Dills." Since we've opted to water bath process the pickles, we needed some tips and we found them online in droves. First, we got the cucumbers soaking in an ice bath for 2 hours to increase crispness. Perfect--nap time. When we got up, I skinned 6 heads of garlic (so fresh it would hardly peel) and then helped with the slicing. In one hour start to finish we had 24 jars of dill pickles. Last time we made these, our boys Scott and Daniel called them "Cu-ples" and we had to hide them in order to get some for ourselves.

Then we did our dinner prep so we could relax outside for a couple of hours. Green salad with homegrown Romaine lettuce, Caprese salad, Calamari steak and rice noodles with homemade pesto.

Good dinner and good times with my best friend......

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Yep, we're still kickin' hear in ladolcevita.

It's summer. And an unusually busy one at that. Jan is going off in 10 different directions for various duties and I'm ..... well frankly ..... I'm just feeling lazy. We've had a good spell of weather that is just about to be destroyed by 95'+ heat. The fires still burn and we still have smokey days. We had a few clear days and it was a pleasure to not see the air. But now with high pressure settling in again it looks like it's going to be hot and smokey ...... again ..... still. I know a lot of people have a lot worse. But that won't stop me from complaining.

The hobbies continue apace. I'm going to be bottling the 2007 harvest in the next week or two. Still waiting for a bunch of pig meat from my friends at Black Sheep Farms while the grapes out in the back forty continue to plumpin (ask msjan). I know it's early yet, but it sure feels like the dog days of summer to me.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gasping For Breath

The sky continues to be as murky as an overcast January day and the breathing ain't easy. You can see why when you look at this satellite photo from Earth Observatory at the NASA website.

The site has several mailing lists you can subscribe to for weekly updates and photos, as well as a huge archive of satellite photos. I don't know about you, but I love looking at our Big Blue Marble from space.

As most readers know, we are located just north of San Francisco, and every day is a "Spare the Air Day" this week, even though the powers-that-be have not declared them as such.

Update: The 5 o'clock news on ABC 7 says that there are now 1000 fires burning in California and the levels of particulate matter in the air is higher than recorded in years.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Testing To Not Wheeze

One of the things you have to do in la dolce vita is make sure that your hobby's don't kill you. Whether it's using the proper bacteria to make cheese, using the proper salt content to prevent botulism in cured meats, or using sulfites in wine.

Unfortunately, testing of sulfites in wine is tricky. Many of the less expensive methods on the market are frankly useless. The home wine maker is left with essentially two options. One is to send wine samples out to a lab. The other is to purchase lab equipment that can do the test properly. Sending out samples is a hassle, expensive, and time consuming (and that's for someone who lives in wine country).

So guess what I finally did:

The above picture shows the Frankenstein's lab-type equipment that must be used to do a proper test.

To do the test, air is injected into a soup of wine and phosphoric acid (left, red solution) which releases sulfur dioxide into a diluted hydrogen peroxide/indicator solution (right, purple). After 15 minutes, you then drip sodium hydroxide into the purple solution until the color changes from purple to red. Whatever the amount dripped is then multipled by 16 to give the amount of "free sulfites".

During the wine making process, potassium metabisulfite is added to the wine to increase the amount of sulfites. The sulfites preserve the wine ... the color and flavor. It's very powerful stuff and easily misdosed. For example, a 1/4 teaspoon in 5 gallons will usually equal 50 parts per million. Usually. So why not just weigh it out and use the right amount? Because when you add sulfite, "some" is immediately "used up" doing it's job, killing bad guys and removing oxidation from the wine. So the bottom line is you never really know how much "free sulfite" (an amount available to do it's job later on) will be in the wine without a test.

Why else do I care about sulfites (and why should you)? Because I'm allergic to sulfur, as are many people. I want the absolute minimum amount of the stuff in my wine .... enough to do the job and not so much that I suffer from an asthma attack. Thirty parts per million is considered the ideal amount. At these levels, if you open a bottle of wine and let it sit open for a half hour or so, most of the remaining sulfites will "blow off" into the atmosphere, leaving pure wine (which is what you should do whenever you open wine .... the so-called "breathing of wine). However, if you have up to 200 parts per million the blow off time is much much longer. And if you go beyond 200 parts per million, your wine will have a definite yucky sulfur taste.

So I test. I just hope that my club hands can handle all that glass carefully everytime I have to set up shop. Otherwise the whole magilla might get expensive.

All Fired Up

Weather problems abound in the world these days, and we are getting our share in Northern California these days. Right now, it seems like half of NorCal is on fire following last week's heat wave and dry lightening strikes. And this on top of another dry spring with more lightning predicted for this weekend.

Oy vey.

The photo above is the view from our deck on Monday.

Here is our normal view, across the valley to the coastal range that separates us from the Pacific Ocean.

I took this picture because the sun was shining under a cloud layer and illuminating the valley floor in an unusual way.

The air is horrible and smells like fire and smoke at all times. The weather guessers say that a warm-up is coming over the weekend.

Oh boy, can't wait.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Gratuitious Yard Pics

Been really busy, not a lot of blogging time. More to come. In the meantime, a few pics:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


It's meat time again!

My first batch of cured coppa is finally ready. The pics below show the results (seriously, click to enlarge to get the full effect):

The casing has a very nice and very thick covering of mold. The mold has a quite mild, almost creamy milk-like taste (probably because it's a lactic bacteria). The meat was dry enough to cut, but probably could have used another couple of weeks. This particular cut is a pork butt taken from one of those pig!


A bresaola and the salami's were all ready as well. I got out the handy slicer and went to work, cutting it all up into thin deli slices, vacuum packed and put in the deep freeze for later consumption. The bresaola is very prosciutto-like, but nearly void of any fat because it's made from a well trimmed beef eye-of-round.

Since I now have room in the curing chamber, it's time for more. I've started two more pork butts to be made into coppa's. One is the usual dry rub cure, the other is a dry rub made from the same spices used to make Gallo Salami, which is a "San Francisco" style salami. I've also made another batch of salami using the gallo recipe. Still waiting for the delivery of a pork belly, pork loin and another pork butt from my friends at Black Sheep Farms.

More to come!

It Must Be Something in the Water

The young ones left the nest a week ago, so we have an empty nest once again.....but not for long!

I was watering my Meyer lemon tree (next to the Eureka lemon that was home to nest #2) and out flies a parental unit from a brand new nest with four more eggs!

This is our 3rd nest of the season, all in the area of our deck that is protected from dog invasion. As ever, the mama or papa bird was giving me six kinds of hell from afar. You'd think they would know by now that I'm more of a guardian than a danger. The best part about this nest is that I can take pictures without disturbing any of the plants that surround the nest, so I may do a day-by-day journal.

At left, you can see parental bird on top of ornamental bird.

More later......

Monday, June 16, 2008

Something To Crow About

As promised, we went to the California Gold country to see Sheryl Crow. She was appearing at the Ironstone Winery amphitheater, a venue we had never seen before. Here's the best image I could find to give you a sense of the set up:

Ironstone is located in the middle of nowhere in a town (Murphys) with a population much less than the number of folks that fit in the amphitheater (6500). It was hot during the day, but the night cooled nicely and the venue was spaciously laid out, and quite well managed.

We arrived early, having purchased the "platinum" package that included dinner. We were introduced to the winery tasting room for wine and hors d'eouvres. The wines were pretty good, particularly if you like the more fruit forward type of wine. At dinnertime, we entered a large banquet area where we were fed salad, shrimp appetizers, filet mignon and desert. The food was "ok", and the company was terrific. We met quite a few folks from the Sacramento area who were fun concert goers of every strip.

At showtime, we were ushered out to our seats ... fourth row (thanks MsJan!). The opening act was Los Lonely Boys who were quite good.

Their feature musician, guitarist Henry Garza, was awesome. I would describe his style as something that merges Stevie Ray Vaughn with Carlos Santana. The "Boys" as they are known, kicked butt and would get a look-see from me again any ole' time.

Right at the time the sun went down, Sheryl et. al. came on stage and began their show. I'll not give a blow by blow, but it was awesome. MsJan and I both stood and danced through most of the show. I was hoarse the next day from singing. I took some pics. Pictures were not supposed to be taken, but the picture police ultimately gave up because everyone had a camera of some sort and was shooting. I was courteous enough to not use flash, thus the pictures are not all that hot. Here are a few of the best (as usual, click to enlarge):

My hero, Peter Stroud on lead guitar ....

Our vantage point. Left to right Ken Button (in back on bass) Peter Stroud (guitar), , back up singers, Sheryl Crow (guitar), Tim Smith (guitar) and Mike Rowe (keyboards) ...

Artsy fartsy shot of Peter Stroud in a typical facial expression ...

Another shot from our view ....

Henry Garza of Los Lonely Boys ....

We ran into one of our dinner mates on the way out of the concert. I asked her how she liked the concert. She said it was great, but she thought Sheryl would sing "slow songs".



You go to see Sheryl Crow because you want rock n' roll played beautifully and flawlessly. They put on the best, most professional, show I've ever seen. We're considering seeing her August where she'll be at the South Lake Tahoe Harvey's amphitheater.

MsJan adds: To get a sense of what we experienced, get the "C'mon America Tour" on DVD from Netflix. This is the concert we saw in 2003. Close the windows and turn up the volume.
It was the best birthday present I've ever had the pleasure of receiving.