Greek Wines on a come back

Greek wine waiting to be tastedThe Greeks were one of the first to commerically export wines around the civilized world.  However, history was not kind to the Greek wine makers with occupations from civilizations not favorable to the art of wine making.  It was not until the 1960’s that the art returned to this ancient country.  Embracing the uniqueness of the land and weather, this new generation has reacquainted with the historic Greek vines such as Moschofilero, Roditis, Asyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Kotsifali and Mandilaria as well as adding more internationally recognized vines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and even Semillon.  On Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend a food and wine pairng of Greek wines by Tom Martin.  Tom gives an excellent history and accounting of these historic wines and brings you up-to-date with some excellent wines.  If you can find one of his seminars, it is worth attending.  Greek wines are characteristically high acid and low fruit making them excellent for food pairing.  Initially, white wines dominated with 65% of the production but now there is a rough 50/50 split with the reds.  My own personal favorite?  I have discovered Agiorgitiko.  This is perhaps the Beaujolais of the Greek red wines.   Mild, low fruit, easy to drink, mild tannin, just a great wine to drink with mild to low intensity foods.  If you have not experienced Greek wines due to their rightly deserved history, then now is the time to give them a new chance.  You will be surprised.  They have come that far and are worthy of sharing a meal with you…OPAH!

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The Monarch Butterflys of Pismo Beach

Monarch Butterflys are everywhere in the grove

Mary finally convinced me to go see the butterfly grove in Pismo Beach.  What a great place!   The Monarch’s winter here from their summer sites in the Sierra’s.  Tens of thousands of these Monarchs winter in this grove.  These butterflies live up to six months while wintering but the rest of the year they survive only weeks.  This means that the ones who spend the winter are not the ones who leave to return to the summer sites and the ones who arrive at the summer sites are not the ones who come back to Pismo.  Yet, somehow the descendants find their way back.  Absolutely fascinating.  The grove is easy to find and the tour is short.  But, it is something to add to your list of things to do if you have never been there.  Great information is available at the Pismo Grove Website.  I was pleasently surprised and had a good time.

Munch’s trip to Disneyland on Dad’s Birthday

Juat a cute Munchkin

Just a cute Munchkin

A new friend has started joining us on our journey’s.  Her name is Munch and she is special for two reasons.  First,  our daughter’s favorite animal is an Okapi.  She saw one at the SD Animal Park and it just so happens our new travel friend is an Okapi.  Second, when Kim was a toddler, her Grandma Waldau once affectionately called her a “munchkin” .  It stuck and became her nickname.  In her early teens, she said she was too old to be called Munchkin, but after some thought said I could still call her “Munch” if I wanted.  Well, many years later and here we are…a stuffed Okapi called Munch who travels with us on our special trips.  Enjoy Munch’s journeys……

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Credit for this idea came from a friend’s blog, Scent Weakly, Check it out.

Wine and food dinner, Laguna Culinary Arts & Tablas Creek Winery

The menu for the night
The menu for the night

Our good friends, Jeff and Annette are BIG fans of the Tablas Creek Winery.  In addition, Jeff and I have taken a few culinary classes at  Laguna Culinary Arts.  So, when he saw that the they were going to have a food and wine pairing dinner featuring the culinary skills of Laguna’s Executive Chef Laurent Brazler and the fine wines of Tablas Creek, Jeff just had to go.  To top it off, since it was my birthday weekend, he made it a gift.  So, on Saturday, Jeff, Annette, Mary and I went off for what turned out to be a memorable wine and food pairing.  The Culinary Arts kitchen is located in the beautiful Laguna Canyon.  The national sales manager, Tommy, from Tablas Creek was there to greet and educate us on the wines of the evening.  The executive chef Laurent spoke to us between every course making our mouths water in anticipation.  This had to be be one of the best food and wine parings we have ever attended.  The food from Chef Laurent was well constructed.  His delicate sauces accented the main element of each dish yet allowed to taste of that main element to come through.  It is a special form of cooking that is hard to achieve.  The pairing with Tablas Creek’s Rhone style wines was done such that both the wines and food shown well.  Although all the dishes were well received and wonderful, most of us kept talking about the Black Mussel soup.  A great creamed puree that was both delicate and flavorful at the same time.  In all fairness however, all the courses and pairing were favorites to someone that night.  The wines were typical of Tablas Creek, well developed and even though young, paired well and gave a glimpse to how great they will be in a few years after some more aging.  These wines are noted for aging well for years.  We all walked away from the evening very impressed and are committed to checking out the next offering.  Chef Laurent gave us a magnificent dinner worthy of any fine restaurant and developed the dishes to take the most advantage of the high quality Tablas Creek Wines.  We are even bigger fans of both now than before the event.  What a great birthday present. 

A walk in Irvine Park

Irvine Park - View across the lake

Irvine Park - View across the lake

Irvine Park is the gem of Orange County parks.  It is nestled in the hills in east Orange and was part of the Rancho Lomas de Santiago.  It was ultimately acquired by Jame Irvine and eventually deeded to the county with the stipulation that the 160 acre Oak grove portion should be kept “as natural looking as possible”.  The park is now around 500 acres and somehow has been able to keep that rustic, rural feel when other county parks have succumbed to the sterile, concrete modern look.  In some areas of this park, you can’t help but imagine what it was like back in the last 1800’s when it was a personal picnic ground for James Irvine.  Over last couple years, my wife and I have developed the habit of taking a morning walk on weekends.  There are many articles and reports that well document the benefits of  physical exercise of this type.  However, we have also discovered the mental and marital advantages of walking with the proper surroundings.  We have found a walk around Irvine park to be one our favorites.  First of all, one of the perks is that it gets us up and out of bed early on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  We can often be found at the park as early as 7 to 8 AM.  That’s an accomplishment for us.  Likewise, the morning finds the park quiet with the peacocks actively feeding and a few other early risers grooming their horses at the stalls on site.  Occasionally, you can see and hear the wild parrots in the trees.  The oak grove is still there in the natural portion of the park and while walking through it,  one begins to image what the area was like back around 1870.  A walk around the park takes about an hour and the loop covers the entire park.  Mary and I have also discovered that without the distractions of phone, radio or TV we are free to relax and talk a lot.  We probably talk longer,about more things and make more plans during our walks than any other time.  And, by the time we finish, its time for breakfast…..Which is another story.  So, get up early, grab your spouse (or significant other) go to your favorite place to walk, enjoy the sights, listen to nature, watch life in general and have a great deep talk with the one you love.  And, Oh,by the way, get some exercise at the same time…..

Tuna a la Nick Saturday Night

Seared Tuna with marinated cucumber salad and couscous
Seared Tuna with marinated cucumber salad and couscous

While Mary and I were shopping Saturday afternoon, a nice selection of Tuna steaks caught Mary’s eye and she immediately new what she wanted for dinner.  My challenge now was to figure our how I wanted to prepare the tuna and then build a dinner around the main course.  I traveled to my local grocery store for provisions to match the expectations and decided on a sesame pepper encrusted seared Tuna topped with a garlic- shallot-soy reduction, accompanied with a cucumber salad marinated in rice vinegar, basil and salt.  As a starch, I added a seasoned couscous.  The recipe follows:

Salad:  remove the skin from a cucumber and then, using a peeler, cut long strips down to the seeds.  Collect the strips in a medium bowl adding a 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, two teaspoons basil and a pinch of salt.  Stir and place in the refrigerator.

Couscous:  Saute a chopped clove of garlic and a chopped shallot in olive oil.  In a medium pan, boil 1 cup of water.  When the water boils, add the garlic-onion mixture, a pinch of salt, about 1/2 teaspon olive oil with a cup of couscous.  Stir, cover and remove from the heat.  Allow to set for at least 5 minutes.

Tuna:  Now the main course.  Rub the steaks with olive oil and then season liberally with sesame seeds and fresh ground pepper.  Place the steaks in a hot saute pan with olive oil that is just smoking over a medium-high heat.  Cook on one side for about 2 minutes and turn and cook for another two minutes or until the middle is warm, (not cooked).  Remove the Tuna to a warming oven.  Add chopped garlic and shallots to the pan and saute.  Deglaze with dry white wine and then add soy sauce for volume.  Slice the Tuna against the grain of the meat and plate.  Drizzle the pan sauce then add the salad and couscous.

Overall:  Wow, what a meal.  The Tuna was flavorful with an accent of the seasonings complemented by a nice contribution of the tart cucumber salad and the mediterranean influence of the couscous.  Served with a nice Foley Chardonnay and we had a meal worthy of a night out.  This is a very quick meal requiring minimal cooking.  The prep takes the longest and that is just to chop a few items.  Very impressive for guests.  As a variation, try pan searing the tuna for only about 1 minute on each side and then move to a hot outdoor grill and finish.  The heat of an open fire will add a toasting to the meat and the added grill marks always looks good on the plate.  Enjoy!