It was just a little over two years ago that The Garagiste Festival was a mere gleam in the eyes of co-founders Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick. Much like the recently departed annual Paso Robles wine event Hospice du Rhone, it started with a simple idea to draw attention to an undiscovered piece of the wine world. When they decided to use the term "garagiste", few people even knew what that meant. It's a term originally coined by the big Bordeaux chateaux to denigrate their renegade winemaking neighbors, who were working in their “garages” and refused to follow the “rules.” Then, due to the influence of Robert Parker many of them went on to be recognized as making some of the best wine in the world. America has its own burgeoning population of stunning small lot producers also making some of the best wine in the world and the heart of this renegade group is right here in Paso Robles.
While it may be an exaggeration to say that now the world knows -- Wikipedia certainly does -- “Paso Robles represents the core of the American garagiste movement,” - thousands of passionate wine consumers from California and across the country now trek to Paso and the Central Coast not just for its fair, its beautiful oaks or its larger wine producers, but also for its over 125 garagiste winemakers and the annual Garagiste Festival, which is on its way to becoming a Paso institution after only two years. This November 7 – 10th, the Festival is showcasing the talents of 66 winemakers, all of whom handcraft under 1,200 cases of wine per year.
Thirty miles from San Francisco, Sonoma County is one of the world's great destinations. With beautiful farmland, a dramatic coastline, fields of wild flowers, world-class wineries and upscale restaurants, the valley offers travelers, especially oenophiles and foodies, the best of the best.
My wife and I needed some serious R&R. We wanted a trip somewhere casual, where we wouldn't get stuck in traffic jams, could enjoy beautiful countryside, have some good meals and do a bit of wine tasting. So we put our suitcases in the car with a plan to explore Sonoma County, from the inland wine growing valleys to the coast. There is nothing like a road trip to clean out the cob webs and refresh the soul.
Driving on Sonoma County's two-lane black-tops in summer, the sun owns the sky, shining down on well-tended fields and big-sky landscape. Mustard flowers blanket the fields, corn grows tall, the vines are fat with ripening grapes and cattle stroll lazily across green pastures in search of shade.
Largely agricultural, mom and pop businesses are much more common in Sonoma than in Napa, which is dominated by wealthy investors and large corporations. The 200 wineries along Route 12 and Highway 101--near the towns of Schellville, Sonoma, Glen Ellen, Kenwood, Sebastopol, Graton, Forestville, Fulton, Windsor, Healdsburg and Geyserville--are family run, for the most part.
I admit it. I eavesdrop. I love it, but sometimes I end up a buttinsky. I start chatting with random people in a restaurant, and it’s so transparent that I have been leaning way far over in order to hear it all. One time, in New York, I overheard a first date. They met on Match.com. Two middle-aged people (pushing 70, so maybe not middle age) were having a conversation and the cuckoo bird woman was telling her date she was a princess in some obscure country no one has heard of. I’m not kidding. I wanted her to go to the bathroom so I could tell the guy to make a run for it. And it was SO none of my fucking business. And yet, I continue this pursuit even though the hearing is now diminished in my right ear and I have to be seated just so in order to overhear everything.
I’ve been in Quebec the past week and can’t often eavesdrop because everyone is speaking French, damn them -- and me for not learning the language. But, the other night I did spend a great deal of time totally engaged in other diners’ conversation. We were in a small room, three tables of families. The middle table asked the couple by the window how long they’d been coming to Gibby’s. I perked up because hey, it was in English. Apparently, the couple drove many miles, from Laval, to come to this small village, Saint Sauveur, as did the family in the middle who came from Saint Agathe. They agreed it was a wonderful experience and worth the drive. Then the conversation went into a whole boring part with questions from the middle table about the window table’s drilling business. Don’t you hate when other tables’ conversations get boring?
Before leaving on my recent trip to Ireland I was thinking that while there, I’d write about the butter. I even remarked that I thought I had a “butter piece” in me. Limited thinking, that’s what that was!
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t, nor will I ever, lose my taste for Irish butter. It is truly the creamiest, dreamiest butter on earth. Truth be told I am a girl who could and would be happy to spend the rest of her days eating bread and butter. Fresh French baguette, slathered in Irish butter washed down with an ice cold American coke in a glass bottle, now that’s my heaven!
Once in Ireland, though, going from county to county with my brave husband behind the wheel of our rented car with said wheel being on the wrong side of the car and himself (as the locals say) driving on the wrong side of the road, I discovered two new Irish loves.
One could be called a relative of butter; a third or fourth cousin several times removed. The second, funnily enough, could be called the anti-butter or even the antidote to butter.
Google Maps will tell you that "we could not understand" the location of Las Aradas, Honduras. Weather.com advises to check your spelling. My trip coordinator suggested looking up the "nearest town over" which was a two and half hour drive away. Packing for a trip like this was a bit of a moving target. Las Aradas is a mountain village, six hours out of San Pedro Sula. For those of you who haven't been browsing the State Department's travel warnings lately--Honduras is not a stable country. The PeaceCorps pulled their volunteers out last year.
Was I scared? Yes. Sometimes. We joked about it a lot. Honduras is the murder capital of the world. Like, actually. Reference the state department website. San Pedro Sula, where I flew in and out of and stayed two nights has more homicides than any other city in. the. world. However, the people that I was traveling with were INCREDIBLE. They make me want to change my life. They make me realize what is possible to do in life.
Anyway, back to Las Aradas. Remote. Good tortillas. Minimal gun shots. (You have to celebrate St. Patty's day or a soccer win somehow.) They have running water, but no electricity. The roosters start crowing at 3:00 a.m. That sort of thing.
Diamond Head is just about the most prominent landmark visible when you are in Honolulu and Waikiki on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. As you lay on the beach, it is a great reminder that the beautiful Hawaiian Islands were all formed from volcanoes. It's kind of amazing. Diamond Head crater itself is said to have formed with a single, brief eruption about 300,000 years ago.
My boys were dying to get to the top of the crater on our last trip to Hawaii. This was my third time taking the historic trail to the summit. And it had been about twelve years since I had done it last. To my surprise the trail had been improved since my last visit. The tunnels are now lit and the crazy spiral staircase can now be bypassed.
Overall this is not an extremely difficult hike if you are prepared. It is only 1.5 miles round trip. However, the trail to the top is uneven and steep, with lots of stairs, make sure you are wearing the appropriate shoes.
I saw so many people wearing thin sandals and wedge heels. I can't even imagine how uncomfortable this could be, not to mention how easy to twist your ankle. And don't forget a water bottle for everyone on the hike. Hawaii, is warm and humid. Water is a necessity when it comes to getting to the top.
The tremors began on the couch.
Shannon and I were leisurely thumbing our way through an Hawaiian tour book, making lists of potential activities for the trip we had just booked.
“Swimming with dolphins sounds like fun.” We wrote it down.
“Let’s go to the volcano!” More notes.
“How about skydiving?”
I clasped my hands together so that he would not see them shake violently.
“Sure.” I replied, nodding robotically. “Sure. Sure.”
“You okay honey? You look a little pale.” Shannon got up to get me a glass of water and I tried to calm myself down.
I think skydiving is one of those things that everyone considers for at least a moment or two. It’s a thrill that you might feel 100% capable of or interested in when you’re sitting, say, at a bar or a restaurant in the middle of New York City in the dark depth of winter. But here it was on the table for real.
Almost every night for the last month I keep having the same dream: I am biting into a smoked grape, enrobed in a soft Arizona goat’s cheese and covered with chopped pecans and pistachios, served on a long skewer. Typically, I panic at some point in my dream because the platter is getting empty and that’s enough to wake me. Usually it is 4am, I sit up and try to comfort myself by saying “well, you ate the other 6, though saying that doesn’t help me get back to sleep. I was served these sleep altering morsels at a Heitz Cellar wine dinner at the Arizona Biltmore hotel. I never would have tried them with what I know now. “Just one more” I heard myself saying to several waiters! Have these amuse-bouche changed my sleeping pattern forever? I am no longer amused...
The two very young chefs created this amuse-bouche by smoking red and green grapes, lightly. Then, they are chilled and covered with a creamy goat cheese and rolled into a 50/50 blend of finely chopped pistachios and pecans. It wasn’t the only thing I ate that night but it’s the only thing that haunted me. There was a 5-course dinner to accompany the smoked grapes along with a line up of all of the Heitz wines for each course.
When the main course of Veal Osso Bucco arrived I heard guests at all the tables that surrounded ours say “they didn’t bring the Martha’s Vineyard this year!” This revelation circulated around the dining room like pouring water on a grease fire. Talk about ‘wining’! I was fine with it, I still had the smoked grape taste in my mouth and nothing mattered.
Have you ever tasted Limburger cheese? So you think you're eating a pair of regular socks. Then you realize you're eating your brother's socks.
How did I come to enjoy this delight? As it turns out, flights around the holidays to Costa Rican crunchy granola yoga ranches are unusually pricey when you attempt to book them a few weeks in advance. Vacation #1 scrapped. Vacation #2 born - depart home-base (Chicago) with my partner in crime and spend a few days enveloping ourselves in the beer and cheese of Wisconsin.
Day 1. Monroe, WI
In Monroe, I fell in love with an unattractive older swiss man, seduced by his cheese tour of the Roth Kase plant. Did I know that parmesan sat in the salt brine for 2 weeks? No, sir. I didn't even know what a salt brine was before this tour. I'd been consuming passionately but ignorantly for 30 years. The tour group discussed and debated what gave cheese it's flavor -- the cultures! the aging! the milk! the land! whilst I peppered them with questions and succumbed to the brain tingles.
When I landed at LAX I didn’t have the heart to tell my father all I wanted for dinner was some delicious Prime Rib from Lawry’s. But, I didn’t need to wait long because just as we entered the house he announced we would be getting dinner there that very night. Needless to say, the Martini, Lawry’s Cut, and all the sides had me full, content, and very sleepy after a long day of travel.
I also had a mission on my LA trip. I really wanted to find some delicious tacos. As luck would have it, my dear friend Almie moved to Loz Feliz and suggested we try Ensenada’s Fish Tacos. We were not dissapointed. For a mere 6 dollars we got Fish, Shrimp, and Potato Tacos with fresh homemade salsas and a particularly interesting radish slaw.
A couple days later my dear friends from Birthright, Mike and Julie, toured historic Downtown with me where we saw the new Grand Park, and many beautiful buildings, on foot. We stopped in to Mr. Ramen to grab a quick lunch and it was delightful. Just the kind of excellent Ramen I remember LA having.
by Lisa Dinsmore